Culianu & Petrescu Private Library
The Dan Petrescu and Thérèse Culianu-Petrescu collection includes representative Western books that offer critical analyses of the communist regimes in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, brought semi-clandestinely into Romania and used as alternative sources of intellectual formation. An example of moral resilience in the face of communist dictatorship, this collection illustrates the cultural nonconformism of an informal grouping of young intellectuals known as the Iaşi Group, out of which, at the end of the 1980s, in a period of profound despair, the critical discourse, lucid and courageous, of Dan Petrescu made an impression through the intermediary of the Western mass-media. The story of dissidence in Iaşi, in particular that of Dan Petrescu, was until 1989 that of a confrontation between the truth of critical intellectuals and the lies of dictatorship. The dichotomous story of dissidence during communism turned after the opening of the files of the former Securitate into confrontation between each of the protagonists with the collective past of the group. Preferring marginality to stardom, Dan Petrescu and Thérèse Culianu-Petrescu are among the few heroes who did not lose this status even after the files of the secret police brought to light betrayals and complicities hitherto suspected but unproven.
Iași Bulevardul Ștefan cel Mare și Sfânt 10, Romania 700259
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Name of collection
- Dan Petrescu & Thérèse Culianu-Petrescu Collection
Provenance and cultural activities
The beginnings of the Dan Petrescu and Thérèse Culianu-Petrescu private collection are linked to the first moments in which Dan Petrescu realised that he might become a target of the Securitate, the armed branch of the communist regime in Romania, as the secret police was characterised in the period. Dan Petrescu considers that the inaugural moment of his surveillance was during his high-school studies in the city of Roman. Later, he was active in a local literary cenacle, where he made a name for himself with his nonconformist prose, the favourite subject being the freedom of young people, a theme with which the communist regime was obviously uncomfortable: “Probably I came to their attention shortly after I finished high school. But I didn’t know; I wasn’t aware of it. […] I had an experience in 1976. I was at a cenacle in Roman. I read something there. But I don’t think it was someone from Roman who informed on me. […] There was an exchange of experience – the cenacle members from Roman were sent to the house of culture in Piatra Neamţ. I read a piece of prose that was published, later, in a collective volume at Albatros [publishing house], however the text was massacred [by censorship]. At the end of the meeting in Piatra Neamţ, a guy came up to me and said that he was interested in what I wrote and that he’d like to exchange addresses. I don’t remember if he gave me his address, but I gave him mine. The consequence was that I found myself being searched. There were two of them, a civilian and a militiaman; they came up to me where I was working, in the factory, and accused me of stealing something from there. I said to them: ‘Look around a bit!’ Round about were huge parts, lathes. Each one weighed several tonnes! ‘Which parts do you want me to steal from here?’ Finally they made a search, but they didn’t look very carefully. They didn’t take anything. At the end, when they drew up the minute, I realised why they had come. It said something like: ‘No compromising manuscripts were found.’ That was what they were looking for, in fact. Then the penny dropped. In the documents that I consulted after 1989, the situation is reported as follows: ‘We are looking for writing by him and writings by his father, if he has left anything of the sort. The pretext for the operation is that he supposedly took parts from the factory.’ They were sometimes comical…” The documents preserved in the CNSAS archives indeed record that Dan Petrescu came to the attention of the Securitate because of a prose text he read, not at Piatra Neamţ, however, but at the cenacle in his home city of Roman. The “source” who informed on him was a person who attended the public reading of this text. From the few pages of the story planned under the title Albastru (Blue), it emerged, according to the evaluation of the informer code-named Cezar Alexandru, that the subject matter treated by Dan Petrescu concerned young people and “their freedoms in the capitalist state, in comparison with young people in our countries, who in his opinion are restricted in certain rights to speak, to live independently.” This information indeed launched a house search for the purpose of confiscating the text that was propagating “tendentious ideas,” as nonconformist writings were stereotypically characterised in the wooden language of the Securitate.
Dan Petrescu’s entry into the Faculty of Philology of the University of Iaşi was a twofold turning point. On the one hand, it meant a new stage in his surveillance by the Securitate, and on the other, it meant a new stage in his professional development, paralleled by the creation of his collection of Western books offering critical analyses of the communist regimes, brought semi-clandestinely into Romania and used as alternative sources of intellectual formation. Due to his move to Iaşi, Dan Petrescu entered the files of another county inspectorate, corresponding to his new address, and his surveillance also entered a new phase because in Iaşi he came into new company, including individuals who were themselves under informative surveillance. As Dan Petrescu says of what he discovered in the CNSAS documents regarding his own person: “At a certain point – I discovered this after 1989 – the people in Roman asked those in Iaşi if I was to stay with them, under their surveillance, or if I was to pass into the zone of the people in Iaşi. In the early 1980s, when I came to Iaşi. Division of labour, as they said in those days.” As he himself recalls, his meeting with his future wife, Thérèse Culianu, provided the Securitate with additional reasons for keeping their eyes on him: “I became even more conscious that I was a ‘problem’ in Iaşi, when I came here in 1982. I said to my wife: we’re making a union of two files.” His entrance to the University of Iaşi was also the occasion for his meeting other young nonconformist students with critical views on the communist regime. Together they formed an informal debating group, which later became semi-official through the beginning of their collaboration with the student magazine Dialog, whose editor-in-chief was one of the university professors, Alexandru Călinescu, and Opinia Studențească (Student opinion), which his colleague Liviu Antonesei edited for a while. From a young rebel isolated in Roman, Dan Petrescu became a student who was very active in a nonconformist group in Iaşi, and this was noted by the secret police, whose main aim was to prevent solidarity developing among those with critical opinions regarding the regime.
Dan Petrescu’s move to Iaşi was the event that triggered his systematic collection of books procured semi-clandestinely from the West. The atmosphere in the university city of Iaşi was an exceptional one given the cultural autarky imposed by the Theses of July 1971, by which Ceauşescu condemned the habit of writers and artists of taking inspiration from the West to produce their works. As a result of this cultural policy, very few Western books were translated in communist Romania in the 1970s and 1980s, and those that were published were obviously selected or censored to suit the official ideology. Furthermore, the possibility of bringing books from the West personally was very reduced as very few people could travel beyond the Iron Curtain. Those who received exit visas to go to a Western country were people favoured by the Securitate and little inclined to take the risk of bringing back with them books that might be considered dangerous. In spite of these restrictions, Dan and Thérèse Petrescu, like others in their circle of friends, had access to channels by which they managed to procure, very quickly after their publication in the West, not only works of fiction but also volumes analysing the communist regimes. These books then circulated among friends, and were read, commented on, and even quoted in the articles that they wrote for the magazine Dialog. Regarding how these books were obtained, an informative note of the secret police written by an informer from within their circles includes the following: “The Petrescu family possesses numerous books of a socio-political (Western) character, some of a plainly anticommunist character – it seems that they procure them with the greatest of ease as they declare, ‘from a special source,’ without stating anything precisely but letting it be understood that this source is the French language assistants – foreigners – in Iaşi. […] On my asking them for indications as to how I could have a certain book that does not exist [...] the offer was made to facilitate my connection with these gentlemen who ‘can get me anything,’ […] perhaps even place an order abroad to procure the material. A part of the books of this sort – of a political, somewhat or directly hostile character – […] which Dan Petrescu owns may probably be explained by these connections. Such materials they then lend or put into circulation. […] A part of these materials are reproduced by photocopier.”
Moreover, the existence of foreign language assistants, especially the French assistants, in the University of Iaşi was fundamental for the intellectual and professional formation of the Iaşi Group in general and the Petrescu family in particular. According to the Securitate, this interaction was profoundly harmful because it meant above all else critical debates on the political, economic, and cultural situation in Romania, which might give rise to problematic articles. In a note drafted for the Securitate, a “source” refers to the direct connection between the books brought by foreign assistants and the articles written: “Very many French books at Dan Petrescu’s, some original, others photocopied, they come […] apparently from the foreign language assistants. Dan Petrescu maintains that it is very easy to become well-documented in Iaşi and easy to write; in peace and going unnoticed, while in Bucharest writers do not have access to the books of politico-social information that those in Iaşi have.” Systematic direct interaction with these people who came from beyond the Iron Curtain constituted both a formative experience and a channel of transnational communication – for sending letters abroad and bringing books back to Romania. In this connection, Thérèse Petrescu-Culianu says: “We met the foreign assistants in Iaşi, and through their intermediary we sent letters abroad. […] The French were, for us, the only interlocutors that we did not have to fear. There was among us an atmosphere of camaraderie. That began in 1976 and lasted for many years.” A report proposing that Dan Petrescu be issued a warning evaluates the effect of the camaraderie with foreign assistants as follows: “He discussed in a profoundly hostile manner, with satirical accents directed at realities in Romania, making a mockery of authentic cultural values and of those with obvious patriotic content, making negative appreciations regarding the state of mind in our country and the people towards the leadership of the Party and our state. […] He sang in a derisive manner songs such as: The Party, Ceauşescu, Romania, The Five-Year Plan in Four and a Half Years, etc., joking and commenting negatively on these songs.” The evening parties organized in the flat of a French teaching assistant, to which this report alludes, were indeed moments in which the young nonconformist intellectuals of the Iaşi Group could socialise intensely with the foreign language assistants in an informal setting. In such a context, serious discussions in a tragic key regarding the political problems facing the communist world were replaced with bizarre activities of this sort that deliberately highlighted the ridiculousness into which a regime like that of Ceauşescu sank as it exacerbated the difference between appearance and reality. The solemn singing of patriotic mobilising songs like Cincinalul în patru ani și jumătate (The five-year plan in four and a half years) during parties at which people normally drank and danced, putting aside the fact that the communist regime existed, constituted a very subtle critique in a ludic key of the failure of this regime, and this did not escape the notice of the Securitate.
The alternative readings modelled a nonconformist intellectual horizon for the whole Iaşi Group, which came together around the student magazine Dialog, headed by their professor Alexandru Călinescu. The articles published in this magazine could not have been written without alternative sources of information, without books that analysed the communist regimes from a completely different perspective from the one endlessly transmitted through the Party-controlled mass media. In the 1980s, censorship officially no longer existed, following Decree no. 472/1977 regarding the ceasing of the activity of the Press and Printing Committee. At the same time, according to Decree no. 471/1977 for the modification of the Law of the press in the Socialist Republic of Romania no. 3/1974, responsibility for keeping the content of books, periodicals, newspapers, and radio or television programmes in conformity with the official ideology was delegated to publishing houses, editorial boards, and the national radio and televisions stations. In this context, there were no longer clear censorship rules, and the direct effect of this state of affairs was, on the one hand, the transformation of censorship into self-censorship with the aim of writing publishable texts, and on the other, a differentiation of publications according to the ideological insistence of those running them, which might be relatively reduced in the case of a limited-circulation periodical like Dialog. Thus, the more nonconformist authors published in such periodicals, though obviously they could not publish explicitly critical texts, but rather masked their criticism with coded language, so that it could not be easily spotted by the reading public; it was addressed only to those with a relatively high level of general knowledge. In the period 1981–1983, Dan Petrescu published a number of articles in the student press into which he slipped very subtle critical allusions to various current political, social, and cultural problems – allusions that only a few readers could understand, and which at the time were known as “lizards.” “It was clear to me that they were prowling around me, since I had chosen to write texts with such content,” says Dan Petrescu. Of course, these “lizards” that had slipped past censorship or had been allowed to appear in the hope that they would pass unnoticed might at any time be pointed out to the Securitate by collaborators capable of deciphering them, with unfortunate results for the author. In the case of Dan Petrescu, his articles are characterised in the report quoted above as being texts with “virulent content with veiled attacks on social-political realities.”
The Dialog experiment was abruptly interrupted when the whole group came under very serious surveillance following their participation, at the end of 1982, at the Young Writer colloquium in Buzău, where Dan Petrescu together with Sorin Antohi read pages from an as yet unpublished collective novel, “Brazde peste haturi” revisited (“Furrows across the baulks” revisited), the title of which was inspired by a proletkultist prose work about collectivisation by the Hungarian writer István Horváth, which had been translated into Romanian. The four authors were taking turns to write chapters, passing the manuscript from one to the next. According to the Securitate’s evaluation, in this novel “the policy of the Party regarding co-operativisation is ridiculed, […] with suggestive allusions to the higher leadership of the Party and of the state.” The public reading of the manuscript at this colloquium effectively meant its dissemination at national level, and what might just about have been tolerated at local level became dangerous when it came to have an influence on others. The pretext for taking harsher measures against the whole group was arranged by the blackmailing of one of the foreign language assistants, who was persuaded by the Securitate to accept from Dan Petrescu a letter to his brother-in-law Ioan Petru Culianu, and then to allow the letter to be found on his person by customs officers when he crossed the border. Culianu, who was living in exile in the Netherlands at the time, had left Romania illegally many years before, but he had constantly followed events in the literary world of communist Romania, and the letter in question was an update full of humour on the latest developments in the field. The letter confiscated in 1983 was four pages long. It has been discovered in the CNSAS Archive and a photocopy of it is currently in the private archive of the Petrescus. In his letter, Petrescu told among other things how the team at Dialog were trying to make a mark through their professionalism, but were held back by those who had won their prestigious positions on the basis of obedience towards the official ideology rather than professional value, and whom he characterised as “a gerontocracy of zero value, but which survives by playing the game of power, allowing itself to be manipulated, so that when the politics are not up front, they are disguised as literary politics, which consist especially in decapitating anyone who tries, on different, true, bases, to raise their head, and in the careful selection of their successors, of individuals who to this end have offered convincing proof of platitude, conformism, and lack of character. Censorship,” Dan Petrescu continued, “no longer exists, officially, which paradoxically makes it all the more drastic. […] Someone was nostalgically recalling to me the days of Stalinism, when you knew pretty much exactly what you were supposed to write. […] While nowadays, he lamented, […] no one knows anything; you can write something completely neutral and find yourself under accusation; the arbitrary reigns everywhere.” It was the content of this letter than never reached its destination that provoked searches at the homes of the publishers of Dialog, on 18 May 1983.
The search organised by the Securitate on 18 May 1983 was a turning point, both for the destiny of the Petrescu family and for their private collection. Similar searches took place simultaneously in Iaşi at the homes of other problematic contributors to the magazine Dialog, including the editor-in-chief Alexandru Călinescu. On this occasion, many of the objects in the collection Dan Petrescu–Thérèse Culianu-Petrescu collection were confiscated: books; audio cassettes – including one with a recording of a broadcast by Virgil Ierunca on Radio Free Europe, in which he was full of praise for Dan Petrescu and other young intellectuals in Iaşi for their articles in the student magazines Dialog and Opinia Studenţească; rolls of tape recordings; photographs; letters from various senders; pages of notes; and a folder labelled “Furrows across the baulks – feuilleton novel of the collectivisation,” containing forty-five leaves of the manuscript of this collective novel. Among the books confiscated were volumes that later became classics of the critical analysis of the communist system, but which were very recent publications at the time, for example La Nomenklatura, les privilégiés en URSS by Mikhail Voslensky (1980) and L'Union Soviétique survivra-t-elle en 1984? by Andrei Amalrik (1977). There were also critical works on Romanian communism published by Romanian writers in exile, such as La cité totale by Constantin Dumitrescu (1980). The couple managed to save some books from confiscation, but of those removed from their home by the Securitate only one was given back to them, though it is not clear on which criteria this particular book, Les Sources et le sens du communisme russe by Nikolai Berdyaev, was returned – perhaps because it dated from 1938, so was much older than the others. Thérèse Culianu-Petrescu recalls how they managed to hide some of the most critical, and implicitly the most incriminating books: “The next day, 18 May 1983, at six o’clock sharp in the morning, the guys burst in. […] At first they were very pleasant. They gave us time to get dressed, and those minutes gave us a chance to remove some books, to give them to my aunt, who stuck them under her jacket, under her overcoat. Solzhenitsyn, for example. We saved the Gulag and a few others. My aunt took them into her room, where they had no mandate to enter and where they didn’t think of entering. [… Wherever they had a mandate,] they left nothing untouched. Nothing, nothing. You realised that you could hide something anywhere, in the garden, in the house, in the woodshed, and they would rummage around and they could find it. They were capable of moving everything, of going through everything.” And regarding the immediate consequence of the search, interrogation at the Securitate headquarters, she adds: “The search lasted approximately five hours. From six in the morning to eleven. […] Then they took us up – ‘up’ meaning to the Securitate. It was on a street named Triumfului. Now after 1989, the gangs of Securitate people have built a district of apartment blocks that they own.” Dan Petrescu adds, with regard to the manner in which those who came conduct the search acted in order to find what interested them, underlining that the Securitate was particularly interested in a cassette with the recording of a Radio Free Europe broadcast, in which some young Iaşi writers had been highly praised, among them himself, and in the manuscript of the collective novel: “They had come on the basis of information, for they were looking for certain things. They were looking for a recording of a broadcast on Radio Free Europe where [Virgil] Ierunca praised us and… they were looking for books […] They confiscated a lot of books from us. Only one was given back to us, after the search. Berdyaev – his book about the sources and the meaning of communism. At the same time they asked me about the novel ["Furrows Across the Baulks" revisited]. I said to them: ‘Why are you still looking for it? Because you’ve already got it.’ They had taken it from George Pruteanu. […] It didn’t exist in more than one manuscript. There were no copies. It passed from one to the next and each one added to it. They were also looking for letters in the search.” Dan Petrescu adds, to give a clearer picture of those months, another detail that casts a new light on that moment: “The search took place, at our home, in May 1983. In March, I found out later in documents at CNSAS, the Securitate guys had made new recruits in literary circles in Iaşi. Ten new names. In editorial boards of periodicals, publishing houses, that sort of thing.”
Another effect of the search and the massive confiscation of books from the Petrescu family’s collection was the intensification of their surveillance by the Securitate, which proceeded to continuous observation. In spite of their direct contact with the Securitate, with the officers who had made the search, with those who had carried out the interrogation, the new dimensions of their surveillance were not immediately detected by them. “I didn’t feel their presence beside me. That’s the extraordinary thing. You know what happens in this world? It happens that if you’re not forewarned, you don’t see something that is blatantly obvious. You don’t see it.” Reading years later the documents produced by those charged with their surveillance, Dan Petrescu observes that many of the informative notes of those who were following him and his wife would also make interesting contributions to an anthology of humorous writings about the Securitate in the communist period: “In those documents there are reports made by people I don’t know. Somewhere it says: ‘I saw Dan Petrescu, he was in the street, he had an arrogant air and he was carrying an empty basket in an ostentatious way.’ I did indeed have a basket, because I was going to buy bottles of mineral water, as we did in those days; and it was more convenient for me to put them in a basket. But I wasn’t at all arrogant or ostentatious; I simply wanted to get mineral water. Probably I was on the way out, not on the way back, with this basket; the person who informed on me saw me with empty bottles, with the empties in full view… [considered unlucky in Romanian culture]. There’s another nice thing: the job of following was done by some guys who didn’t know very well who you were, the person they were following. They gave you a code name and noted down: ‘Paul, so-and-so, came out of the house, went to...’ and so on. It was done by intervals – from such-and-such a time until such-and-such a time. Those who did this work were the lowest in the Securitate hierarchy – ‘the footsloggers of the Securitate.’ They also took pictures of you. There was one – I spotted him in time – who had a briefcase [equipped with a hidden camera] and was taking pictures of me. Then they gave all this material to another service who made the identification – ‘Paul is so-and-so, the other one that he met so-and-so…’ There are also notes of this sort: ‘He went to the market, he wanted to buy tomatoes but he couldn’t find any.’ Or this, which I think is brilliant: ‘The two’ – meaning my wife and I – ‘went out into town and looked at buildings.’ Full stop. That’s all.”
It was not only Dan Petrescu and Thérèse Culianu-Petrescu’s collection that suffered as a consequence of the search in May 1983, but also the Petrescus themselves, who from then on until the fall of communism had to manage on a single salary. Dan Petrescu lost his job and remained unemployed until the fall of communism. Recalling how his cultural opposition turned into political opposition, he looks back not only on key moments in his own trajectory, but also on the reaction of the Securitate to his actions: “1976 – a small alarm signal that I was in their radar; 1981–1982 – I start to write texts with ‘lizards’ in the student press; it’s clear to me that they are prowling around me; 1983 – a turning point, with the search. The problem became acute from the moment they took action. They began with the search, with the interrogations – they kept me unemployed for seven years. In their documents, they say that I didn’t present myself for work, but that’s not true; 1987 – I go to the West, with great difficulty.” Dan Petrescu was prevented from leaving Romania with his wife in 1986, but received a visa the following year. This unusual freedom given to a person who was problematic for the communist regime was due to the fact that the case had become public through the intermediary of Radio Free Europe, where the poet Dorin Tudoran, one of the leading Romanian dissidents, who had emigrated to the United States in 1985, made a programme in which he complained about the travel restriction placed on Dan Petrescu. This episode is worth mentioning because it illustrates that the Securitate did not act automatically to suppress certain rights, but carefully evaluated each separate case in order to find the most efficient answer to a fundamental question with regard to those who criticised the regime: what and how much should they be allowed in order to “shut their mouths”? In the vision of the secret police, all those who criticised the regime were doing so in order to obtain personal advantages. The idea of criticising in the name of abstract ideas of human rights was incomprehensible both to the Securitate and to many other Romanians. In the words of Dan Petrescu: “Then the Securitate officer who had begun to deal with us turned up. He was Captain Coman, who presented himself as Codrea. Indeed he gave quite exact reports on us. In fact, I realised later, there were two tendencies in the Securitate: some were saying that I could create a big stir, other’s that I couldn’t. Codrea said that I could. […] The next day [after Dorin Tudoran’s broadcast], the Securitate guy who dealt with us came and brought me a bottle of wine. And he said to me: ‘Did you listen to Dorin Tudoran yesterday evening on Free Europe?’ He knew that it would be easier for me to leave. It’s true that we didn’t drink that wine – we gave it to the neighbours. (…) The consequence was that, after the broadcast, they gave me the visa. For 1987. And they clearly intervened at a couple of periodicals, which published a couple of my texts. And the man who dealt with us told me the following: ‘You see, some of your problems have been solved.’ My right to publish, lifted in 1983, was restored in 1987, but just for a few texts. In fact the ban remained in force until 1989.”
While he was away in France, Dan Petrescu was asked by Mihnea Berindei if he would be willing in future to give interviews to French journalists who came to Romania. His positive answer was practically equivalent to assuming the role of dissident, to use a concept that is probably inappropriate for those who did not criticise the communist regime, but which is the term accepted in the majority of analyses as it was assumed by the majority of Central European dissidents, who were much more visible in the West before 1989. On his return to Romania, Dan Petrescu soon became openly a dissident, after the first interview he gave for the international press, specifically the leftist French daily paper Libération, and thus began the final, hardest phase of permanent surveillance: “And then I began to talk to the press. I talked to the French reporter in stressful conditions, afraid in every moment that they would come down on us. It was not fear, it was the stress that the situation might be missed. That it’s possible to miss a very good chance. I was precipitate, making categorical statements, in short sentences. That was the Libération interview. It was a dialogue that ended with the idea that it would be easier to kill Ceauşescu than to change the communist mentality. It was taken in the autumn of 1987 and published in January 1988, right on 26 January, Nicolae Ceauşescu’s birthday. Then I send a few more texts – some appeared in La Nouvelle Alternative and another one in Libération, ‘A small study of the anatomy of evil.’ For the French text I added ‘Romanian evil.’” Unlike most dissident critiques in Romania, which concentrated on Ceauşescu and his arbitrary power, this text identified the “source of evil” not only in the person of the dictator, but also in all those who willing agreed to submit to this dictatorship.
After the publication of the first interview, and especially after it was broadcast on Radio Free Europe on 5 February 1988, any meeting with Western journalists became more and more difficult, due to increasingly strict surveillance by the Securitate. Effectively, in order for each of these interviews to be published, considerable imagination was needed. It was necessary to anticipate how the secret police were most likely to react in order to find a breach in their system of surveillance and to transmit messages outside Romania, in spite of the efforts of the Securitate to prevent any sort of transnational communication: ‘Before coming to Romania, the journalists received some indications of names, who to go to. Well, when those from the Gamma agency came, […] Tess told me that some guys had come to Luca Piţu’s home to interview me. I went and I talked with them, but I was tense. Because I had come after an interrogation at the Securitate; I had the feeling that it was the same thing, that someone was interrogating you. I was in the same state. Well, those who took the interview wanted to take the cassette with them, but Luca told them not to. His argument was that the ‘guys’ were waiting for them, that they would check them and confiscate it; they were sure to be on their trail. We kept it here and agreed that we would send it to them later. The next day, I had proof: the journalists carried on interviewing, this time in the street. They found someone, a mathematics teacher, who was harsher about the regime. The Securitate people tracked them down straight away and confiscated everything. The cassette [with my interview] remained with us, and after a while it was sent via the French language assistants. […] There were consequences, of course, here too, in front of my house: they put all sorts of guards at the gate.” Since the broadcast of the first interview and until the fall of communism, the Securitate employees kept watch on the home of the Petrescu family day and night in teams of four individuals changing every eight hours.
In spite of being under surveillance, in the last two years of communism in Romania, Dan Petrescu nevertheless found channels of transnational communication to make possible two achievements unique among dissidents in Romania: he sent a book for publication in the West and he gave telephone interviews to Neculai Constantin Munteanu from Radio Free Europe, Dorin Tudoran from Voice of America and Jean Stern from Libération. Written “two-handed” together with Liviu Cangeopol, the book in dialogue is an analysis of the deeper Romania of the late 1980s. Though it is the work of two intellectuals in the humanities, without sociological training, the book remains valuable to this day because of the examples and observations collected “in the field,” at a time when professionals in the social sciences, completely marginalised or annihilated by the Ceauşescu regime, did not carry out many such studies. Regarding the context in which the book was created, and the manner, truly thrilling and unusual, in which it was got out of the country, Dan Petrescu explains: “The Italian language assistant [Anna Alassio] took the book out of the country for us. My problem was how to get a typewritten book, my conversations with Cangeopol, out. A book written two-handed. It was not a book written in silence, as has been said [by Cristina Petrescu]. Of course we spoke badly of the regime, we conversed between us, but that was nothing unusual; in reports to the Securitate, it was an obligatory reference in our case – we spoke badly of the regime. But we spoke in a somewhat coded way, because they didn’t realise what we were going to write in the book. Anna, the Italian assistant, told me that she would take anything out of the country for me, but that the Securitate guys mustn’t find out. […] It occurred to me that the regime’s people were expecting something written. So, regarding the game that you had to play with them, one in which you had to anticipate what they would think you were going to do and not do it, I decided to do something different. And so I ended up reading the text. I went to other friends, to Emil and Dana Coşeriu. They gave me a separate room, situated right beside the hen-yard – at a certain moment you can hear the noise of the hens on the tape. For several days I recorded there. An audio-book avant la lettre. From the time of communism. The book, in its read form, was the length of five cassettes. But it wasn’t enough just to do that. I then took the cassettes apart and removed the tapes, so that, for transport, they would occupy as little volume as possible and not resemble anything we had sent out before. The rolls of tape occupied a very small space, and could be easily hidden and then remounted very easily. Which is what happened later, thanks to Dan Alexe.” Unfortunately, this Romanian tamizdat took too long to get to the West for it to be published before the fall of communism. Passages from the book were broadcast on Voice of America, but the book could only be published in February 1990 in the journal Agora, the first and only alternative cultural magazine in Romanian, published in the United States by an editorial team led by the dissident poet Dorin Tudoran.
In the last months of the communist regime, Dan Petrescu gave a striking interview on Radio Free Europe, the first interview given in Romanian, from Romania, for a radio station beyond the Iron Curtain. The story of this interview is also worth telling as a reminder of how complicated it was to communicate with the free world outside a dictatorship like that of Ceauşescu at a time when there was no internet, and not only the mail but also the telephone connections of those known to the Securitate for their criticisms of the regime were under surveillance. The dialogue, which according to the recordings lasted approximately half an hour, touched on several very important themes in the last years of Romanian communism – social, cultural, and political. The context in which it became possible to communicate with Radio Free Europe is summarised by Dan Petrescu: “Anna Alassio, the Italian assistant, had left. Dana and Emil Coşeriu, our friends, the ones at whose place we recorded the dialogue that was sent on tape outside the country, […] arranged a telephone meeting between Anna Alassio and Luca Piţu on such-and-such a date at such-and-such an hour [when they went to Italy and France]. Telephones were then in the following phase of surveillance: you spoke, and if you said something dubious, the connection stopped. […] Someone was careful to notice any small clue that something was out of order, they would call a superior to decide what to do, and if the call was allowed to continue, they left you alone. That’s what happened. While Luca Piţu was waiting for Anna’s call, Filip Răduţi came to me, one of those who had signed [the open letter] for Ceauşescu not to be elected at the last PCR Congress, and told me that he had this friend and to give Anna her phone number, for us to be phoned at her place. Because Filip Răduţi’s friend’s telephone wasn’t under surveillance. I told Luca Piţu about this, not believing that such a thing would be possible. But Luca Piţu went to Emil and Dan Coşeriu’s phone, Anna Alassio called and he managed to tell her about the change of plan. He said this: ‘Our friend can be called at such-and-such a number, on 9, 10, and 11 October from midnight onwards.’ And so it was. First Ioan Petru Culianu, my brother-in-law, called. Then Neculai Constantin Munteanu [from Radio Free Europe] called, then Dorin Tudoran [from Voice of America] and then Jean Stern [from Libération]. Luca Piţu also spoke. This was the first live interview on [Radio] Free Europe.” The day after the interview, the Petrescus again tried, at the discreet location from which they had succeeded on the night 9/10 October, to connect live to the most listened-to radio station of the free world in Romania at the time, but it was no longer possible. “The next evening, I couldn’t get through, we were blocked,” says Dan Petrescu. “We left our home and got into a trolleybus. There were a few other people with us. Inside, Thérèse told me that they were all Securitate. At the first stop, we waited till the last minute and then made for the door. That’s what we did. They all piled out after us. More than that: when we got out of the trolleybus, an ARO car passed very close to us. It was a car with its own story.” It was the car of the Iaşi Securitate, which Dan Petrescu had detected following him on other occasions too. “The same car passed by us when we got out of the trolleybus. The Securitate people didn’t know where we had spoken on the telephone from, and so they followed us. We didn’t manage the second evening; we turned back.” Immediately after giving this interview on Radio Free Europe, Dan Petrescu was prevented from leaving his home and fined for transmitting “defamatory data contrary to the interests of the Romanian state.” His typewriter was confiscated. While Dan Petrescu was now effectively under house arrest, Thérèse Culianu-Petrescu could leave their residence only under the escort of two armed Securitate agents. If she stopped to queue for food, a Securitate agent would stop too, and he often did his own shopping on this occasion. Nobody was allowed to talk to her, while the few individuals who dared initially to salute her were immediately put under surveillance. Several times, she was brutalized by the Securitate. This strict surveillance lasted from 12 October until 22 December 1989, the day the dictatorship of Nicolae Ceauşescu fell.The files compiled by the Iaşi County Inspectorate of the Securitate against the names of Dan Petrescu and Thérèse Culianu-Petrescu have disappeared without trace: they were probably among those destroyed immediately after the change of regime. Documents about the couple were preserved in the files on other members of the Iaşi Group, which has a post-communist history much more complicated than its communist history due to the belated opening of the Securitate files. With a single exception the confiscated books never came into the Dan Petrescu and Thérèse Culianu-Petrescu collection, but part of the manuscript of the collective novel “Furrows Across the Baulks” revisited, also confiscated from Dan Petrescu on 18 May 1983, has been discovered and recuperated from the CNSAS Archives. The collection has been enriched by gathering from the former Securitate archives all the documents discovered in other files that refer (also) to Dan Petrescu and Thérèse Culianu-Petrescu. They represent the story of their lives as told by the Securitate. This story told by the secret police is mirrored by the texts that Dan Petrescu sent to Radio Free Europe, copies of which it was too dangerous for him to keep before 1989. These texts returned to the Dan Petrescu and Thérèse Culianu-Petrescu collection in the form of copies of the original documents preserved in the Vera and Donald Blinken Open Society Archives in Budapest.
Description of content
The Dan Petrescu and Thérèse Culianu-Petrescu collection contains books and various other publications, both Romanian and international, correspondence, photographs, and copies of documents in the CNSAS Archives. An important characteristic of this collection is the fact that the number of items has fluctuated, given that many of them were intended to be sent abroad, for example letters and various periodicals, while others disappeared due their confiscation by the Securitate. The collection took shape in the early 1980s. The most important items were the foreign books, procured through the intermediary of various acquaintances who received a visa to travel to Western countries and via the foreign language assistants attached to the University of Iaşi or sent by Ioan Petru Culianu, Thérèse’s brother, who was professor at the University of Groningen. The Securitate identified these publications received from abroad as being of “denigratory” or “hostile content” with regard to the politics of communist Romania and the “Party leadership.” During the search on 18 May 1983, the majority of items that could be considered to have “denigratory content” were confiscated: books, mostly in French; cassettes, one of them containing a recording of a Radio Free Europe broadcast in which Virgil Ierunca, a prominent member of the Romania exile community, had commented favourably on the student magazines in Iaşi in which Dan Petrescu published; rolls of recording tape; photographs; letters; manuscript pages; and a folder containing the manuscript of the feuilleton novel “Brazde peste haturi “ revisited (“Furrows across the baulks” revisited), an alternative novel of the collectivisation, which at that moment consisted of forty-five typed leaves. Out of these confiscated items, only a copy of Nikolai Berdyaev’s book Les sources et le sens du communisme russe, was returned to its rightful owners. The minute of the search is preserved in the collection, together with the fines issued for giving a telephone interviews for Radio Free Europe and Voice of America on the night of 9/10 October 1989. After 1989, twenty-three pages out of forty-five of the novel “Furrows across the baulks” revisited returned to the Dan Petrescu and Thérèse Culianu-Petrescu collection, together with a series of documents created by the Securitate in the course of their surveillance of the couple. These are, however, from other files than the personal files opened against their names, which are presumed to have been destroyed before the documents were transferred into the CNSAS Archives. Finally, the collection has also recuperated, in the form of photocopies, the texts sent by Dan Petrescu across the Iron Curtain to Radio Free Europe, the originals of which are preserved in the Vera and Donald Blinken Open Society Archives in Budapest.
- grey literature (regular archival documents such as brochures, bulletins, leaflets, reports, intelligence files, records, working papers, meeting minutes): 100-499
- manuscripts (ego-documents, diaries, notes, letters, drafts, etc.): 10-99
- publications (books, newspapers, articles, press clippings): 1000-
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
- Petrescu, Dan and Liviu Cangeopol. 2000. Ce-ar mai fi de spus: Convorbiri libere într-o țară ocupată (What remains to be said: Free conversations in an occupied country). Bucharest: Nemira.
Author(s) of this page
- Petrescu, Cristina
- Pătrăşconiu, Cristian Valeriu
Chișcop, Emilia. 2004. “Povestea Grupului disident de la Iași “(The story of the dissident group in Iași). Ziarul de Iași, December 12. Accessed October 31, 2018. http://blog.ziaruldeiasi.ro/emilia-chiscop/povestea-grupului-disident-de-la-iasi/24/
Petrescu, Cristina. 2013. “’Free Conversations in an Occupied Country:’ Cultural Transfer, Social Networking, and Political Dissent in Romanian Tamizdat.” in Samizdat, Tamizdat & Beyond: Transnational Media During and After Socialism, edited by Friederike Kind-Kovács and Jessie Labov, 107–136. New York: Berghahn Books.
Petrescu, Cristina. 2013. From Robin Hood to Don Quixote: Resistance and Dissent in Communist Romania. Bucharest: Editura Enciclopedică.
Petrescu, Dan and Liviu Cangeopol. 2000. Ce-ar mai fi de spus: Convorbiri libere într-o țară ocupată (What remains to be said: Free conversations in an occupied country). Bucharest: Nemira.
Petrescu, Dragoș. “The Resistance That Wasn’t: Romanian Intellectuals, the Securitate, and the ‘Resistance through Culture’.” In Die Securitate in Siebenbürgen, edited by Joachim von Puttkamer, Stefan Sienerth and Ulrich A. Wien, 11–35. Cologne: Böhlau Verlag, 2014.
Pițu, Luca. 2011. Artelul Textual – “Brazde peste haturi” revisited: Pagini salvate dintr-un samizdat colectiv (The textual [c]artel – “Furrows across the baulks” revisited: Saved pages from a collective samizdat). Iași: Editura Opera Magna.
Petrescu, Dan, Culianu-Petrescu, Thérèse, interview by Pătrăşconiu, Cristian Valeriu , Petrescu, Cristina, August 30, 2018. COURAGE Registry Oral History Collection