Nicolae Dragoș Collection at National Archive Moldova
This ad-hoc collection is related to the activities of the first explicitly anti-communist organisation of the post-Stalinist period that operated in the Moldavian SSR, the Democratic Union of Socialists. The materials within this collection focus on the activity of the founder and main ideologue of the group, Nicolae Dragoș, a schoolteacher who challenged the political and ideological monopoly of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union under the impact of Khrushchev’s “thaw” and aimed at creating an alternative political movement based on a platform of “democratic socialism.” The Dragoș case files, originally held in the Archive of the Intelligence and Security Service of the Republic of Moldova (formerly the KGB Archive), were transferred to the National Archive of the Republic of Moldova in 2012.
Chișinău Strada Gheorghe Asachi 67, Moldova
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Name of collection
- Nicolae Dragoș Collection at National Archive Moldova
Provenance and cultural activities
The Nicolae Dragoș ad-hoc collection was defined by separating it from the collection of judicial files created by the Soviet Moldavian KGB concerning persons who were subject to political repression under the communist regime. At present, the materials of this collection are held at the National Archive of the Republic of Moldova following their transfer to this depository in 2012. Dragoș was personally present on this occasion and received a scanned copy of a part of his file. The group headed by Nicolae Dragoș (known as the Democratic Union of Socialists, DUS – DSS in Russian) appears to be the first explicitly anti-communist organisation of the post-Stalinist period that operated in the MSSR, and which also had a certain impact on other Soviet republics, such as Ukraine, Russia and Belarus. The ideological platform of this organisation could be summarised under the label of “democratic socialism.” The views of Dragoș and his associates focused on challenging the political monopoly (“dictatorship”) of the Communist Party, the cult of personality of the Soviet leaders, the privileges of the nomenklatura, and social inequality. In fact, their criticism amounted to a questioning of the entire Soviet project of “building communism.” They advocated the restructuring of the political and economic system along democratic lines, including through the restoration of the authority of the Soviets and the creation of an alternative political party resulting in a competitive electoral system. Intellectually, these views had a striking similarity to the dissident “revisionist Marxist” movements emerging in the Soviet Bloc after Stalin’s death. It is hard to evaluate to what extent Dragoș and his group were influenced by developments in other communist countries than the Soviet Union. It is nonetheless clear that the small network around Dragoș used their “creative” reinterpretation of Marxism-Leninism to undermine the ideological and intellectual domination of the CPSU, in spite of their claims to limit themselves only to a reform of the system. Thus, they were perceived as particularly dangerous by the Soviet authorities.
Besides Nicolae Dragoș, who was the founder, main organiser, and ideologue of this group, it consisted of a small core of another five active members (Nikolai Tarnavskii, Ivan Cherdyntsev, Vasile Postolachi, Sergiu Cemârtan and Nicolae Cucereanu). The total following of this small network did not exceed twenty people (including family members, supporters, and acquaintances of the above-mentioned core of activists). Although socialised within the Soviet system (all of them were in their thirties or early forties), these people were “children” of Khrushchev’s Thaw; marked by the revelations about the cult of Stalin’s personality that the Soviet leader made at the Twentieth Congress of the CPSU. During his trial, Nicolae Dragoş emphasised the impact of Khrushchev’s reforms and of the general atmosphere of liberalisation upon their activities. After a period of planning and ideological clarification, Dragoş initiated the active phase of his oppositional activity in late 1962. The main idea, which Dragoş articulated in his meagre written output and during his testimonies at the trial, was the creation of an “alternative” political party, called the Democratic Union of Socialists (DSS). Somewhat paradoxically, he believed that, although the Soviet Communist Party had established a “dictatorship” in the USSR, placing the political system and society under its control, it could survive if it allowed for serious contenders. Dragoş thought that Khrushchev’s revelations made in February 1956 undermined the authority of the CPSU. This authority could, in his view, be partially restored, provided that it recognised the existence of a new party, espousing a platform of “democratic socialism” and acting in the interests of the people. Dragoş and his associates planned to print a series of leaflets through which they intended to propagate their views. These leaflets were to be sent by post to the main cities of the USSR. Apparently, this channel seemed the most effective method for spreading their message. In the summer of 1963, Dragoş and his main associate, Nikolai Tarnavskii, started to make preparations for setting up an underground printing press. For this purpose, Tarnavskii acquired the relevant professional experience in a local printing house in Tatarbunar (a settlement situated near Dragoș’s native village of Serpnevo). Tarnavskii also stole the necessary printing equipment from the press (mainly ink and letters for typesetting). The next stage of the group’s activity focused on collecting the addresses to which the organisation’s messages would be sent. Tarnavskii and the other members of the core group (including Nicolae Dragoș’s brother Vladimir, who served as an intermediary between Dragoș and the other members) travelled to several Soviet cities throughout the second half of 1963 (including Lviv, Minsk, Leningrad, Kiev, Rostov-on-Don, Kharkov, Moscow, Kazan, and Gorki), compiling a list of over 6,000 addresses of Soviet citizens.
The most active phase of the organisation’s activities occurred during the fall of 1963 and the winter and early spring of 1964. Besides recruiting more members of the core group (including Postolachi, Cemârtan, and Cucereanu), Dragoș and Tarnavskii spent the entire period printing the leaflets at the clandestine printing press set up in Dragoș’s apartment in Serpnevo. During this period, Dragoș was allocating more than half of his salary as a school headmaster to the organisation’s activities. As a result, by April 1964 more than 1,300 leaflets bearing the headline “Justice to the people” (Pravda narodu) had been printed in Russian. As many as 850 envelopes with leaflets were sent to Chişinău (over 200) and to other cities in the Soviet Union, including Odessa, Moscow, Leningrad, Gorkii, Cheliabinsk, Novosibirsk, etc. Most of these leaflets were sent between 26 April and 1 May 1964. Dragoș personally travelled to Odessa to spread the leaflets, while his associates were emulating him in Chișinău and Kiev. The remaining leaflets were either destroyed by the organisation members in order to cover up the traces of their activity or confiscated by the KGB during searches of their apartments. By early May, the Soviet police were closely following the group’s activities. Dragoș was arrested on 16 May, while his associates were taken into custody three days later. They were found guilty under art. 67, part I and art. 69 of the Penal Code of the MSSR: anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda / participation in an anti-Soviet organisation aiming at committing dangerous state crimes, receiving prison sentences from five to seven years. The longest prison term was reserved for Dragoș and Tarnavskii.
The documents stored in this collection consist of two main categories. The first type of materials includes the texts produced by Dragoș, mainly the above-mentioned leaflets and a letter to the First Secretary of the CPSU, Nikita Khrushchev. These documents are valuable testimonies that allow one to reconstruct Dragoș’s main criticisms toward the regime and his overall world-view. The leaflets (under the title “Justice / Truth to the people” / Pravda narodu) consisted of a six-page typewritten text in which Dragoș expressed his critical political views and reform projects. The criticism against the CPSU focuses on the “dictatorship” that the party had established in the USSR, undermining the role of the Soviets. According to Dragoș, this dictatorship had been justified in the first decades of Soviet power, but subsequently it had become contrary to people’s interests and hampered the further development of Soviet society. Dragoș mentions a number of negative consequences of the CPSU’s policy, notably: the cult of personality of the Soviet leaders, mainly of Stalin and Khrushchev; the ideological pressure on workers; the lack of social equity in the distribution of goods; the increasing privileges of the party nomenklatura and their corrupt practices; the mounting bureaucratisation and fake reporting etc. Soviet foreign policy and economic development under Khrushchev were also under attack, as was the whole project of “building Communism.” Concretely, the group members argued for the liquidation of the party dictatorship and for “establishing a true democracy for the working people” through transferring all power to the Soviets, which “alone should direct the political life of the country.” Other demands included: respect for democratic rights and freedoms; increasing the role of the trade unions in the political and economic life of the country, including through the co-opting of the peasants into their ranks; abolishing all party privileges in all spheres of activity; introducing meritocratic criteria in the selection of cadres; reforming the agricultural sector through the transition to the “common property of the people”; regulating prices and wages and adapting them to the people’s needs. The members of the self-proclaimed “Democratic Union of Socialists” also demanded the revision of Soviet foreign policy and the elaboration of a new constitution that would reflect true “democratic socialism.” In order to achieve these aims, they envisaged “the creation of a mass democratic party of socialists, because the political struggle between this party and the CPSU for influence within the Soviets will put an end to the dictatorship of the CPSU.” This criticism of the Soviet system has a curious resemblance to the “revisionist” Marxism of the dissident movement in Eastern Europe. While not challenging (ostensibly) the essential foundations of the Soviet system, Dragoș’s programme amounted to a vision of “democratic socialism” not entirely different from the agenda of the Prague Spring that was to emerge four years later. Without exaggerating the importance of this small movement and the possible impact of the thaw, coupled with the Hungarian example of 1956, its emergence is symptomatic for oppositional tendencies slowly developing in the USSR in the mid-1960s.
The second category of the collection sources consists of interrogations and testimonies provided by Dragoș himself and his closest collaborators during the inquiry initiated by the KGB and the subsequent trial. Of these, only those acknowledged by the accused and relevant to the wider picture were selected for this ad-hoc collection. Although produced under pressure at the KGB headquarters, these signed testimonies can be regarded as valuable sources of information on Dragoș’s projects and the organisation’s activities. Dragoș’s “partial” confession during the trial, held from 28 August to 19 September 1964, is especially interesting in this regard. The defendant elaborated on his gradual development of critical ideas and a coherent “world-view” based on his extensive readings in the fields of philosophy and politics. He also provided a detailed account of his dealings with the core of his associates. From this account, it became obvious that his links with Tarnavskii and Cherdyntsev were especially close, whereas the other three members of the core group joined the organisation later (in the summer and autumn of 1963) and had a secondary and subordinate role. It was also clear that for Dragoș the criteria of ideological affinity and personal loyalty were paramount (as proven by the cases of rejected or marginal potential members, i.e., the student Grachev). People who had been invited to join the organisation, but who had refused for different reasons, were subpoenaed as witnesses. The witnesses were residents of the village of Serpnevo, as well as of Chişinău. The witness accounts were used by the court to incriminate Dragoș and his co-accused. However, when the case was reconsidered in the late 1980s, resulting in Dragoș’s rehabilitation, the same testimonies were reinterpreted to support the main defendant’s argument that, in fact, his activities were not “anti-Soviet” and did not undermine the regime, but only aimed at reforming it.
In response to the announcement of the court’s verdict of “guilty,” Tarnavskii, Cherdyntsev, Postolachi, Cemârtan, and Cucereanu admitted that they were “guilty” of participating in the actions of which they were accused. Nicolae Dragoş was the only one who had a separate opinion, admitting his guilt only partially. Nicolae Dragoş and Nicolae Tarnavskii were sentenced to seven years in a high security labour camp. Ivan Cherdyntsev and Vasile Postolachi were sentenced to six years in a high security labour camp, while Sergiu Cemârtan and Nicolae Cucereanu received a five-year prison term, under similar conditions. Additionally, Dragoş and Tarnavskii were condemned to three years of prison under article 81, paragraph 2, of the Criminal Code of the Ukrainian SSR, for stealing the printing equipment from Tatarbunar. The court also ordered the confiscation of the main defendants’ property. However, as they possessed no significant property, the confiscation measure was suspended.
Description of content
The collection mainly contains archival files (a total of seven volumes) focusing on the case of the group led by Nicolae Dragoş. These files were originally preserved in the depository of the former KGB (later the Archive of the Intelligence and Security Service of the Republic of Moldova) and were transferred to the National Archive of the Republic of Moldova in 2012. The main types of documents within the collection consist of trial records (interrogations of the accused and of the relevant witnesses), official reports, other categories of judicial files, and documents produced by Nicolae Dragoş and some of his associates. The latter include the “anti-Soviet” leaflets that were confiscated from several of the defendants during the searches conducted by the KGB, several copies of the letter that Dragoș sent to Khrushchev in early 1964, as well as a number of private letters. The files also include a number of photos, mostly official photos taken during his arrest. The trial records comprise two main categories: interrogations of the accused (including supporting evidence provided by witness accounts) and texts produced by the defendant and his associates. The first category of documents comprises approximately 85 percent of the archival files. These documents detail and summarise the main findings of the inquiry and provide a coherent narrative of the suspects’ “anti-Soviet activities.” They also refer to the contacts established between Dragoș and his associates, providing valuable details on the concrete activities of the defendants, the recruiting strategy for the organisation, etc. The rest of the materials consist mainly (another 10 percent) of documents produced by the defendant and confiscated by KGB operatives upon his arrest or during their searches of Dragoș’s apartment. As noted above, these consist mostly of the leaflets that the defendant did not manage to destroy and copies of his letter to Khrushchev. Finally, there are other types of procedural documents (about 5 percent of the total), which mainly consist of search protocols, expert conclusions, and other similar papers corroborating the existing evidence. The trial records show, first, the skilful defence strategy of the accused (mainly Dragoș himself), who insisted that his activities were not aimed against ”Soviet power” as such, but against distortions and mistakes in the party’s activity. This manipulation of Soviet legal provisions naturally had no impact upon the outcome of the trial, but foreshadowed similar strategies by later generations of dissidents. Second, the absence of any national arguments or motives in Dragoș’s activity is striking. Although coming from an ethnically mixed periphery, he completely ignored the national dimension, focusing instead on a general, all-Union, project of political and institutional change. This peculiarity sets this case apart from later displays of “national opposition,” prevalent in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
- manuscripts (ego-documents, diaries, notes, letters, drafts, etc.): 10-99
- other: 500-999
- photos: 10-99
Place of founding
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Important events in the history of the collection
- parts are closed to the public
Author(s) of this page
- Cusco, Andrei
- Petrescu, Cristina
Pogor, Eugenia. 2012. ”Nicolae Dragoș, disident: Comunismul înseamnă dictatură sângeroasă” (The dissident Nicolae Dragoș: Communism means a bloody dictatorship), Adevărul.md, 23 October. Accessed June 12, 2017. http://adevarul.ro/moldova/politica/nicolae-dragos-disident-comunismul-inseamna-dictatura-sangeroasa-1_50aea59d7c42d5a6639eb97f/index.html
Tașcă, Mihai. 2010. "Nicolae Dragoș: Susținând comuniștii, nu veți obține nimic” (You will gain nothing by supporting the communists). Timpul, 10 November. Accessed June 12, 2017. http://www.timpul.md/articol/nicolae-dragos---sustinand-comunistii-nu-veti-obtine-nimic-17547.html
Cașu, Igor , interview by Cusco, Andrei, June 07, 2017. COURAGE Registry Oral History Collection