Doina Cornea

* 1929

  • "Leontin Iuhas: Jumping over several stages, we will surely get there.... The attitude of the Securitate, or at least a part of the Securitate, on November 18, 1987 - we only learned about it after reading our files. During the uprisings in Braşov, when I was visiting my mother and we were talking about the course of events, my mother wrote some leaflets - in her own hand. I came by to fix the car and she asked me to go with her and distribute some manifestos. They expressed solidarity with the workers in Braşov, at least most of them.... Some read: „Workers in Braşov on strike”. I told her: „Mother, it's not ok, let's drop the word strike”. She said: All right. We spread them around.... In front of factories, in front of the university, so it wasn't a very large action, there were less than 200 copies. Doina Cornea: 160, to be precise, 160. Neither more or less than that."

  • "What else happened between 1983 and 1987? Doina Cornea: I kept sending letters. What I forgot to tell you is that, after every single letter I sent, I had to pay a fine of 5.000 lei.... compared to the salary, you can imagine!... A fine for what? Doina Cornea: For the letter I sent to Radio Free Europe. Is that what it said: because of the letter? Doina Cornea: Yes, because I had addressed a radio station with a hostile attitude towards our country and order of things; this was the wording back then. But if I paid the fine on the spot, it was reduced to... Leontin Iuhas: 500 lei, if I remember correctly? Doina Cornea: Yes, I paid 500 lei. A quarter of my salary. And how many letters were there in total? Doina Cornea: There were... Ariadna Combes: Wait a minute, I think there were 13-14 before 1987, am I right?!!! Doina Cornea: Yes. Ariadna Combes: To be honest, I can't remember exactly. I knew them by heart, but I forgot them. So you received them? Ariadna Combes: Yes, I received them. And since they were manuscripts, I had to typewrite them for Radio Free Europe. After the situation increasingly deteriorated, my mother started using a magnifying glass, writing on sheets of paper that looked just like rolling paper for tobacco, which I would then have to decipher and typewrite, using a magnifying glass as well. I even received a note in a toothpaste, a small sheet of paper rolled together and wrapped in plastic, then tucked into the toothpaste. I had reached an agreement with the people working for Radio Free Europe, to warn me about the exact date when the letter would be read, so I could check what was going on with my mother after publication. But from 1986 on, it was basically very difficult for me to talk to my mother and Tin-Tin. Why? Ariadna Combes: Because the phone was mostly disconnected, the phone lines interrupted. They started interrupting them in November 1986. Definitely, practically in the summer of 1987; I remember talking to my mother-in-law, she kept asking me if I wasn't worried and urged me to call my mother back. I explained her I was already used to the situation, that calls were often interrupted and that I didn't worry, I knew they just wanted to harass us this way. This is how it happened that I didn't know anything about their arrest, the phone was disconnected, all communication interrupted. Back in November 1987 I couldn't even call our neighbor anymore, Miss Marioara Boilă, her phone was also disconnected."

  • "Doina Cornea: There were quite a lot of instances of harassment, but there was a really serious one. Not during the investigation, but... Doina Cornea: One yes, during an investigation I didn't mention anything about. At home? Usually, when foreigners came to Cluj, when there were visitors who wanted to see me, the regime would be more strict. Immediately, I didn't know why, how could I have known that... And all this while the police officer was standing at the gate. Doina Cornea: Yes. They kept a close watch on us, for several days. They wouldn't allow us to leave the house. Once, we weren't allowed outside for three days, we had no bread left. I pushed the gate and the police officer grabbed my hair, in the middle of the street, I was already out on the street, he forced and pushed me into the courtyard, I fell on my back, there, on the cement.... lying flat on the ground. When did this happen? Ariadna Combes: In Mai 1989, I remember I was in Brussels at that time. Doina Cornea: Stubborn as I was, I got up, lying in wait, because I would hear bus no. 46 passing by, going up the hill towards Observatorului Street: I had noticed that people on the bus would automatically turn their heads when passing by our house; you would see their heads turning in our direction. Ariadna Combes: One man even shouted: „Murder on the right”... (laughter). Doina Cornea: Then, when I thought the bus was going up the hill, I tried to re-open the gate. This time, the police officer grabbed my hand, forced me into the yard and knocked me down on the grass. He realized that knocking me down on the cement ground was too much! So he knocked me down on the grass and started kicking me with his booths, in the thighs. Then, I got up again and tried to get out, he pushed me once again, yelling: „I'll kill you!" I no longer felt any pain and told him: „Kill me, I don't care, you'll pay for this!” And this happened four times over all, with the police officer."

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    Cluj-Napoca, Romania, 16.08.2002

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…I looked at a photo from „Scânteia” newspaper of Ceaușescu surrounded by people. He looked quite well, like a free man. But the others… some of them were sitting with their hands crossed over their bellies, others were having a pen and a notebook. They had fat faces with no cast. Then I had a revelation: „How on earth, we have changed even our features?!” (...) And this scared me. It really scared me! What it is happening with us, the Romanians?

Doina Cornea
Doina Cornea
photo: Arhiva foto a Memorialului Victimelor Comunismului şi al Rezistenţei

She was born on May 30, 1929, in Braşov. After the outbreak of the Second World War, in the context of Transylvania being ceded to Hungary in 1940, Doina Cornea attended a Hungarian school. After graduating from high school, she pursued a degree in French language and literature at the Faculty of Letters of the Babeş-Bolyai University. In 1958, Doina Cornea started teaching in the French Department at the same university she had studied at. In 1976, Doina Cornea’s daughter left Romania, having been awarded a scholarship for a one month stay in Grenoble, along with other 29 Romanian students. After completing the scholarship, she decided not to return to her country. In the early 1980s, inspired by the anti-communist movements from the late 1970s (the Jiu Valley miners’ strike; the emergence of the ‘Goma Movement’), Doina Cornea got her first protest actions under way against the regime led by Nicolae Ceauşescu. In 1980, Doina Cornea finished her first ‘samizdat’ manuscript (she made manual copies of Mircea Eliade’s Ordeal by Labyrinth), which she passed around among her circle of acquaintances.  In 1982, Doina Cornea wrote her first protest letter against the regime (entitled To those who haven’t stopped thinking), which she sent to Radio Free Europe with the help of her daughter Ariadna Combes. After the radio broadcasting of the letter’s content, in December 1982, Doina Cornea was called in for questioning by the Securitate, and then, in 1983, dismissed from her position at university. Between 1983 and 1987, Doina Cornea continued to write protest letters. Many of them were written on paper similar to rolling paper, and were sent to her daughter in France, who would decipher them and then send them to Radio Free Europe. After each broadcasting of one of her letters, Doina Cornea would be obliged to pay a fine of 5,000 Lei. On November 18, 1987, following the anti-communist rebellion of the workers in Braşov (on November 15), as a sign of solidarity, Doina Cornea wrote 160 manifestos together with her son, Leontin Iuhas, which they distributed in Cluj. The following day, on November 19, the Securitate searched both Doina Cornea’s and Leontin Iuhas’ home, both were taken into custody for further investigation at the Securitate headquarters in Cluj. After over a month of investigations, on December 24, 1987, Doina Cornea and her son were released from custody. After being released, Doina Cornea’s house was put under surveillance, while she was constantly monitored and harassed by the agents of the Securitate. Nevertheless, Doina Cornea persevered in sending protest letters until the fall of the communist regime in 1989. After 1989, she participated in all efforts to rebuild the civil society, and was regarded as one of the most authorized voices of the civil society. Doina Cornea talked about her actions before and after 1989 in several books, for instance in ‘Jurnal. Ultimele caiete’ (Journal. The Last Notebooks), published by the Civic Academy Foundation in 2009. Doina Cornea is now living in Cluj.