Marian Zulean Private Collection
The Marian Zulean personal collection is an illustration of the fact that any act of cultural opposition is dependent on the societal context that generates it. It implicitly highlights the fundamental difference between Romania and other communist states in the last years of the period 1980–1989. The more than 400 newspapers, magazines, brochures and books, originating especially from the Soviet Union in the Gorbachev period, epitomise a reformist political discourse that had become relatively official in the rest of the Soviet bloc, but was considered dangerous by the Romanian Securitate.
București Bd. Unirii 88, Romania
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Name of collection
- Marian Zulean Collection
Provenance and cultural activities
The making of this collection could not be considered an act of cultural opposition in any of the other former communist countries of Europe (with the possible exception of Albania), where the message transmitted by the publications collected by Marian Zulean had already become official. In Nicolae Ceauşescu’s Romania, however, the systematic collection of such magazines, although tolerated, became dangerous once the ideas in question became the subject of public debate. The story of Marian Zulean, who did not break any law by gathering the materials in his collection, but came under Securitate investigation for it, illustrates this. It was in 1986 that the first publications initiated the making of the collection, which came to include over 400 diverse items: newspapers, magazines, brochures, and books. Marian Zulean mentions intellectual curiosity and a passion for collecting as the principal reasons why he started collecting publications in which the narrative of communism was, sometimes explicitly, often implicitly, formulated in a different way compared with the discourse of the communist regime in Romania. “During my military studies in Sibiu, I became aware that I wanted to do something other than follow an army career. I started to inform myself, to gather alternative data to the official education, which at that time was ideologically Marxist education.”
As regards how he obtained the magazines in his collection, Marian Zulean emphasises that, on the one hand, they were basically accessible to anyone who was interested, though they were not promoted, while, on the other hand, access to this type of magazine coming from other communist countries was becoming more and more restricted. “Among the methods available was the possibility of taking out a subscription to the press in Romanian, and sometimes in English, from socialist countries, especially the GDR and the USSR. The Romanian Post Office had a catalogue from which you could choose the publications to subscribe to. From year to year – I actually observed this – titles would disappear from the Post Office list. Apparently they were dangerous or radically different from the official discourse.”
Alongside this official channel, there were also channels that were tolerated by the communist state for diplomatic reasons, such the informal or semi-informal distribution networks of the embassies of Western states. Talking about the sources from which he obtained his personal collection, Marian Zulean explains: “Another route by which these publications could be obtained was the American Cultural Center. Also the TIBCO [Tîrgul internațional de bunuri de larg consum – International trade fair for consumer goods], which was held annually in Bucharest, where these countries’ embassies or cultural centres has stands with brochures in Romanian. The FRG and the USA especially had this sort of material, which we could now call ‘advertising’ and which the communists here apparently classed as ‘capitalist propaganda’. And the USSR had publications at the same fair that showed an obvious openness towards another type of political system. At the TIBCO, at the stands of these embassies, there were very long queues – hundreds of people. You didn’t know if you were under surveillance, but no one explicitly banned your from getting at these magazines. The majority of these publications couldn’t be found at newspaper kiosks. And, talking about censorship and control, even with publications that came by subscription, there were issues that we didn’t receive; when that happened, you knew that there was something ‘heavier’ than usual.” Publications such as these, freely accessible in appearance, but to an extremely limited public and liable to be censored at any moment, illustrate better than any other category of publications the way in which the line between the tolerated and the forbidden constantly fluctuated. These changes were even more rapid and more unpredictable in the extremely volatile context of the 1980s, when the Soviet Union and the rest of the communist countries in Central and Eastern Europe were trying to reform the system in order to maintain it, while Romania was trying, with the same aim, to keep it unchanged.
Started in 1986, the Marian Zulean Collection grew steadily, and by the end of that year it contained over 100 items, including a cultural weekly, several monthlies, and various books and brochures. The annual growth rate of 100 items continued almost unchanged over the following years, so that by the fall of the communist regime the collection comprised approximately 400 distinct items. It continued to grow after 1989, in the first two years of democratic transition in Romania, especially due to the fact that Marian Zulean continued his subscription to Literatura şi arta, a weekly magazine published by the Writers’ Union of the Moldavian SSR (later the Writer’s Union of Moldova) until 1991.
The principal location where the items making up this collection were deposited was initially Marian Zulean’s own home in the city of Craiova. Later, when he moved to Bucharest, the greater part of the collection was moved to his parents’ home in the country. Only a small part of the collection was moved into Marian Zulean’s present home in Bucharest.
Marian Zulean knew that the officials of the communist regime in Romania were not very comfortable with the items that he was collecting. There was, he mentions, even a tense moment following which he was investigated by representatives of the Securitate: “It was in 1989 that it happened. Ceauşescu was more and more isolated, while Gorbachev was moving further and further from the iron laws of communism. In these conditions, what appeared in Literatura şi arta was really very critical of what was happening in Romania. I remember that there were even special issues in which the policy of perestroika and glasnost was explained in detail. And at a certain moment I lent them to a friend, also in the army. He held a sort of cultural evening in student hostels starting right from the themes of these issues of the magazine. The result was that they spent a whole night under arrest, and the papers were confiscated. They were released, they weren’t held for long, but they got to the original source of the papers: in other words, me. The counter-intelligence officer had a long talk with me, and asked me to keep these papers just for myself. I also had to sign a declaration about how they had come into my possession. It was simple: I told them the whole story, the only true one, about my subscriptions and the Romanian Post Office. My subscription to them was as official as could be, but dangerous at the same time. They told me explicitly just to read them myself at home and that I wasn’t allowed to popularise them.” This incident illustrates, on the one hand, the Ceauşescu regime’s aversion towards the policy initiated in the Soviet Union by Mikhail Gorbachev, about which absolutely nothing was said in the official speeches in Romania in those years. On the other hand, the incident to which Marian Zulean fell victim suggests how volatile and context-dependent was the line between the permitted and the forbidden: in the understanding of the secret police, these magazines and the ideas they contained became dangerous only when their reading was public and thus a potential catalyst for collective action against the regime (D. Petrescu 2010, 320–22).
Following the change in the location of the Marian Zulean Collection, a large number of the items that composed it suffered deterioration or were destroyed. In particular, the issues of Literatura şi arta disappeared, as the newsprint on which they were printed was the most perishable. At present, only a few dozen items are still preserved, especially monthly magazines and books or brochures. It is Marian Zulean’s opinion that: “What is left could constitute a significant basis for studying our recent history.” The limited circulation of these publications from other communist countries, which in normal circumstances should have been available for sale at newspaper kiosks, brings to light new facets of the substantial differences that existed in the late 1980s between Romania and the other states in the Soviet bloc. In this connection, most researchers have emphasised the exceptionalism of the economic crisis, which affected Romanian to a degree unparalleled among the communist states of Europe, though without provoking notable social convulsions. However, if such aspects alone are taken into account, it is impossible to explain why communism in Romania fell in the same year as in five other countries in Central and Eastern Europe, in spite of the obvious differences. The publications in this collection are evidence of one of the forms of transnational circulation of reformist ideas in the late 1980s, which was essential in the Romanian space, where ideological dogmatism was officially maintained right up to the fall of communism. Together with the messages transmitted by Radio Free Europe, such publications contributed to the taking shape of a revolt in December 1989 and led to the change of regime, violent in the Romanian case but simultaneous with those in the other countries of Central and Eastern Europe (D. Petrescu 2014, 297–99).
Marian Zulean intends to donate the greater part of the documents making up his collection of publications to the COURAGE project. In response to this intention, the Romanian researchers involved in the project plan, by the end of their activity, to create a UB COURAGE Collection at one of the UB libraries, which will comprise all donated materials, including the Marian Zulean Collection, as well as the items that they themselves are creating while working on the COURAGE project, such as interviews, video recordings, and photographs. What lay behind Marian Zulean's decision was, in the first place, the fact that in this way it can be ensured that the documents will receive institutional protection that will allow them to be preserved in suitable conditions. Furthermore, he remarks, these documents may be important for various lines of research on recent history, the history of communism, and the condition of the press in the period of Romanian communism: “Passionate researchers, with a fresh view on history, may find in these publications numerous references to what communism was like, at the level of detail, in various European countries. And they can compare what it was like there with what we know we had here, in Romania.”
Description of content
At its largest, the Marian Zulean Collection included over 400 items. Only a few dozen are still preserved today. The collection still contains up to ten books and brochures. There are also approximately fifteen issues of the monthly magazine Jazz Forum. This Polish publication was the first magazine in the Soviet bloc dedicated to jazz and to the popularising of this genre of “music of freedom”, which was developed in Poland and in other communist countries. The magazine had correspondents in Romania from the 1960s, notable among them being Cornel Chiriac, the editor of an extremely popular musical broadcast on public radio, which, after his emigration to the Federal Republic of Germany, moved to Radio Free Europe (Udrescu 2015, 56). This variety of music was not approved of by the communist regime in Romania, however, as they considered it a type of “propaganda for the decadent capitalist system.” Jazz Forum was also printed in English from 1967, and became available in Romania in the 1960s by postal subscription (Udrescu 205, 62). It is not without interest that, in the late 1980s, Marian Zulean obtained these fifteen issues of the magazine through the intermediary of the American Cultural Center in Bucharest.
The collection also contains three different issues of the magazine Noi despre noi (We about us), a publication offering information about the Federal Republic of Germany, published in Romanian in order to reach as wide a public as possible. There are also three issues of the monthly magazine, also translated into Romanian, Uniunea Sovietică (Soviet Union). Both publications were productions of high quality, printed in colour and and on glossy paper. Their appearance, before anything else, made them extremely attractive in a country in which most books had come to be printed on newsprint by the late 1980s. Marian Zulean recalls: “At the level of ideas, perestroika and glasnost were key concepts, but what I read was much more than just the repetition of these. Because they had begun to be operationalised, discussed in detail. It was like a sort of new vision – and compared with what we had here in Romania, it looked very good. A vision in which that grey and oppressive communism was no longer unitary or even privileged. On the other hand, I felt that these speeches by Gorbachev, which I collected, seemed, so to speak, to be ‘targeted.’ They were made to break the logic of the Ceauşescuist communism in which we still lived.”
The Marian Zulean Collection still preserves three different issues of Soviet Soldier, a monthly magazine published to a high graphic standard and normally having eighty A4 pages. There is also a single issue of the weekly New Times, a Soviet foreign policy publication, and one of the monthly magazine Nistru, published in Chişinău in Romanian written with Cyrillic characters, as required by the Soviet standard for the “Moldavian language.” The collection also preserves some issues of a magazine entitled Meridian, produced in the Romanian diaspora in the United States.
Of the magazine История (History), a monthly publication in Russian, six issues are preserved in the Marian Zulean Collection. This magazine appeared under the aegis of the Зна́ние (Knowledge) publishing house in Moscow. Each issue appeared with the same slogan: “What is new in life, in science, and in technology.” The publication appeared monthly, starting in 1962, and was a magazine for the popularisation of science and history. An average issue had sixty-five pages, in pocket format. As a rule, each month there was a thematic file, in which various perspectives were offered on an important subject in modern and contemporary history. With the help of this magazine, Marian Zulean strove to learn Russian. His collection also includes approximately twenty issues of the monthly publication Socialism: Theory and Practice, printed in Moscow to a high graphic standard, which problematised existing socialism in a critical manner. This was also in pocket format.
Marian Zulean recalls one concrete result of his reading: “In 1988, I was on a parachute course where there was political-ideological education. It was like a sort of traditional university course. There were themes such as: classic propaganda of communism. Compared with my colleagues, I was one of the most oriented towards what is now called political science. Consequently I was delegated to speak on such themes. I had to be responsible for dialogue with the teacher of Marxism, who was one and the same persona as the party secretary for the army unit that I belonged to. At a certain point we were given as an assignment to demonstrate the superiority of the socialist system over the capitalist one, in honour of some speech or other of Nicolae Ceauşescu. I couldn’t restrain myself any more, and I spoke, just as I had read in the critical magazines I was gathering at home. I answered that I couldn’t demonstrate such a thing. And I was very close to getting into serious trouble. I used statistical, qualitative indicators, straight from those magazines. I got a lot of threats then from the communist officials in the army unit. My colleagues, who were of the same generation as me, showed extraordinary solidarity with me. Something much worse than just threats could have happened.”
The publications that Marian Zulean collected before 1989 offered him access to an alternative discourse to the characteristic one of Romanian communism: “On the one hand, it was the last decade of Romanian communism – and that was, in many ways, terrible. On the other hand, what came from over there, from a USSR led by Gorbachev, was much livelier, fresher, more open, more free of hostility.” And he concludes: “There were messages that came constantly from these publications and which correlated with those of Radio Free Europe and Voice of America. Somehow they correlated. In a way, at least as far as I was concerned, that’s how the critical spirit was born.”
- grey literature (regular archival documents such as brochures, bulletins, leaflets, reports, intelligence files, records, working papers, meeting minutes): 10-99
- publications (books, newspapers, articles, press clippings): 100-499
Geographical scope of recent operation
Date of founding
Place of founding
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Important events in the history of the collection
- visits by appointments
Author(s) of this page
- Petrescu, Cristina
- Pătrăşconiu, Cristian Valeriu
Udrescu, Mircea. 2015. Metronom ’70: Cornel Chiriac în documentele Securității (Metronom 1970: Cornel Chiriac in the Securitate Archives). Bucharest: Editura Universitară.
Petrescu, Dragoș. 2014. Entangled Revolutions: The Breakdown of the Communist Regimes in East-Central Europe. Bucharest: Editura Enciclopedică.
Petrescu, Dragoș. 2010. Explaining the Romanian Revolution of 1989: Culture, Structure, and Contingency. Bucharest: Editura Enciclopedică.
Zulean, Marian, interview by Pătrăşconiu, Cristian Valeriu , April 25, 2017. COURAGE Registry Oral History Collection