Ghiţa Ionescu (b. 21 March 1913, Bucharest – d. 28 June 1996, London) was a British political scientist of Romanian origin who stood out during the 1960s as one of the most influential specialists in the study of Romanian communism in the West for his comprehensive monographs on the first two decades of the communist regime in Romania. He also manifested a vocal critical attitude towards the communist dictatorship in Romania, either as the head of the Romanian service of Radio Free Europe during the late 1950s and early 1960s, or as a British political analyst specialising in the study of East European issues.
Born into a Romanian middle class family in Bucharest, he graduated in law from the University of Bucharest and followed a career in diplomacy. During the 1930s, he published in the left-oriented Romanian press such as Era Nouă and displayed an anti-fascist attitude. In 1947, when the communist takeover in Romania was in its last stages, Ionescu was a member of the diplomatic staff of the Romanian Embassy in Ankara. Ionescu chose not to return to Romania, preferring to join the Romanian exile in the West, where he was involved in Romanian anti-communist organisations such as the Romanian National Committee. The latter was founded in 1949 by Romanian former politicians in exile and claimed to represent the legitimate political leadership of the country, hoping that the West would “liberate” Romania from communist dictatorship and reinstall the interwar democracy. Ionescu was its secretary from 1955 to 1958. From 1959 to 1963, he was the head of the Romanian service of Radio Free Europe (1959–1963). At Radio Free Europe, he accumulated an expertise in East European affairs which later was a good ground for building an academic career as specialist in the Eastern Bloc. He moved to the UK and obtained there an assignment to write a book about postwar Romania, a topic on which at that moment there were no comprehensive contributions in the West. This book was published in 1964 by Oxford University Press under the title: Communism in Romania. 1944–1962 and is considered a classic monograph on the first two decades of postwar Romania. This contribution, alongside his second book entitled: The Reluctant Ally: A Study of Communist Neo-Colonialism (1965), which was among the first to analyse the Romanian communists’ split with Moscow, asserted him as a renowned specialist in the study of communist regimes in Eastern Europe. Later on, he extended his fields of research into various areas such as the comparative study of communist regimes, European integration, and populism. Among his most appreciated contributions on these topics may be mentioned: The Politics of the European Communist States (1967); Opposition: Past and Present of a Political Institution (co-authored with Isabel de Madariaga; 1968); Populism: Its Meaning and National Characteristics (edited by Ghiţă Ionescu and Ernest Gellner; 1969). Comparative Communist Politics: Studies in Comparative politics (1972); Between Sovereignty and Integration: Introduction (edited by Ghiţă Ionescu; 1974).
Ionescu taught political science at the University of Manchester and at the London School of Economics. At the latter, he launched in 1965 together with the historian Isabel de Madariaga the academic journal Government and Opposition. Ionescu was also involved in the activities of professional associations of political scientists and became chairman of the research committee on European Unification of the International Political Science Association.
Ionescu’s contributions on Romanian communism did not only open new research fields in Western academia, but also represented a foundation on which post-1989 Romanian historiography dealing with the recent past developed. As the political scientist Vladimir Tismăneanu has emphasised, Ghiţă Ionescu was not only an internationally appreciated specialist on East European affairs and a role model for the post-1989 generations who embarked on the study of political science, but also an “academic with a deep ethical vocation,” who dedicated his entire life to promoting democratic values (Tismăneanu 2013). In this respect, he was also a source of inspiration for post-1989 Romanian civil society.
London, United Kingdom
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- Bucharest, Romania
Date of death
Campbell, John C. 1996. “Obituary: Professor Ghita Ionescu.” The Independent. July 5. Accessed January 14, 2018. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/obituary-professor-ghita-ionescu-1327471.html
Ferdinand, Peter. 1997. “Ghiţă Ionescu and Comparative Communist Politics.” Government and Opposition 32: 201–214.
Ionescu, Ghiţă. 1964. Communism in Romania. 1944–1962. London: Oxford University Press.
Ionescu, Ghiţă. 1965. The Reluctant Ally: A Study of Communist Neo-Colonialism. London: Ampersand.
Ionescu, Ghiţă. 1967. The Politics of the European Communist States. New York: Frederick A. Praeger. Ionescu, Ghiţă. 1972. Comparative Communist politics: Studies in comparative politics. London: Macmillan.
Ionescu, Ghiţă, and Isabel de Madariaga. 1968. Opposition: Past and Present of a Political Institution. London: Watts, 1968;
Ionescu, Ghiţă, and Ernest Gellner. ed. 1969. Populism: Its Meaning and National Characteristics. New York: Macmillan.
Ionescu, Ghiţă. ed. 1974. Between Sovereignty and Integration: Introduction. London: Croom Helm.
Tismăneanu, Vladimir. 2013. “Amintirea unui mare gânditor politic: Ghiţă Ionescu (1913–1996)” [Remembering a great political thinker: Ghiţă Ionescu (1913-1996)]. Evenimentul Zilei, March 26. Accessed January 8, 2018. http://evz.ro/senatul-evz-amintirea-unui-mare-ganditor-politic-ghita-ionescu-1913-1996-1029923.html