Mihnea Berindei (b. 1948, Bucharest, Romania; d. 2016, Venice, Italy) was a Romanian historian specialised in Ottoman studies, public intellectual, and civic activist. After immigrating to France in 1970, he became a prominent member of the Romanian exile community in Paris. During the period 1977–1989 in particular, he was actively involved in the exile opposition movement against Nicolae Ceausescu’s regime in Romania, being an important intermediary between Romanian dissent and Western public opinion and political circles. He was born on 22 March 1948, as the son of Dan and Ioana Berindei. His father, historian Dan Berindei, came from an old boyar family originating from Wallachia, which had achieved a certain degree of prominence in the political and military affairs of the Romanian Kingdom in the nineteenth century. On his maternal side, his grandfather was Ioan Hudiță, a historian and university professor in Iași and Bucharest, but also a distinguished and active member of the National Peasant Party (PNŢ) during the interwar period. His family was subjected to the harsh repression of the newly installed communist regime in the late 1940s and early 1950s: both his paternal and maternal grandparents were arrested for their earlier political activity and for their membership of the outlawed democratic parties during the interwar period or for their “unhealthy social origins.” His mother was also incarcerated in Văcăreşti prison, where his sister, Ruxandra, was born in 1951. Between 1966 and 1970 Mihnea Berindei attended the courses of the Faculty of History of the University of Bucharest, being especially interested in the field of Ottoman studies. In 1970, as a fourth-year student, he managed to obtain a scholarship for a brief study trip to Istanbul. After a short stay in Turkey, he left for Paris, where he continued his studies at the Sixth Section of the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes (EPHE), which would later become the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (EHESS). He graduated from this institution in 1972, and further pursued his specialisation in the field of Ottoman studies at the Fourth Section of the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes and the National Institute of Oriental Languages and Civilisations (INALCO). He later became a researcher at the EHESS and at the Institut des Sciences Sociales du Politique of the National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS). Between 1971 and 1991, Mihnea Berindei continued his research on the history of the Ottoman Empire. He was also a member of the editorial board of the historical journal Turcica (1980–1989) (Lența 2016). Until 1977, he focused almost exclusively on his scholarly interests. In the context of the emergence of the ”Goma Movement,” of the growing labour unrest in Romania, and of other manifestations of resistance to the Ceaușescu regime, Mihnea Berindei gradually became closely involved in the activity of the Romanian exile community in Paris. He took part in the multi-disciplinary research groups which were interested in the communist countries and the relations between Eastern and Western Europe. During a public lecture held in Iaşi in December 2011, he stated that he had “felt compelled to do something” for his country. In the late 1970s, he became one of the most important members of the anti-communist, democratic Romanian exile community in the West. He was a founding member of the French Committee for the Defence of Human Rights in Romania, created in 1977 with the explicit aim of supporting the “Goma movement.” When the French Committee for the Defence of Human Rights in Romania was converted into the Paris-based French League for the Defence of Human Rights (affiliated to the Fédération Internationale des Droits de l’Homme), he acted as its spokesman and vice-president. In the following period, until the fall of the Ceaușescu regime, he was directly and fully involved in the systematic monitoring of the situation of Romanian dissidents, as well as in organising demonstrations in favour of those persecuted by the authorities in Romania and other countries of the Soviet bloc. He was concerned in particular with the violation of human rights in communist Romania. He was one of the initiators of Opération Villages Roumains, the European-wide campaign of protest and solidarity against the destruction of villages threatened by the communist regime’s plan for the systematisation of the Romanian territory. Mihnea Berindei had close connections with exiles from other East European communist countries and with international human rights organisations (e.g. Amnesty International, Helsinki Watch, Human Rights Watch). An important direction and focus of his activities was the French press. Thanks to his systematic contacts with a number of French journalists, frequent news articles and analytical pieces about the situation in communist Romania were able to be published in important newspapers and journals, such as Le Monde, Le Figaro, Le Quotidien de Paris, and Le Matin. He also contributed to securing broadcasts on the same topics at Radio France International. Since 1978, he had a close relationship with the RFE/RL station, especially with the RFE Romanian language service, where some of Mihnea Berindei’s close friends and collaborators, such as Vlad Georgescu and Mihai Dim. Sturdza, were employed. Berindei also served as a permanent collaborator, author, or even co-editor of several periodicals devoted to the situation in Eastern Europe and printed in exile. These included, in particular, L’Alternative (1979–1985), La Nouvelle Alternative (1986–1990), and L’Autre Europe (1986–1990). Mihnea Berindei published rigorous informative and analytical articles on the situation in Romania in all these journals. He wrote several articles about dissidence, the fate of national minorities, and religion in communist Romania, and produced detailed analyses of the social, economic, and cultural policies of the Ceaușescu regime. He also facilitated the publication of the writings of Romanian dissidents in the pages of these two periodicals (Stoica 2016). He worked closely with several prominent representatives of the Romanian exile community in France, notably Monica Lovinescu, Virgil Ierunca, Dumitru Ţepeneag, Eugène and Marie-France Ionesco, Maria Brătianu, Sanda Stolojan, Constantin Cesianu, Matei Cazacu, etc., and also managed to attract significant support for the Romanian cause from a number of French intellectuals concerned with the region, including Catherine Durandin, Claude Karnoouh, and Anne Planche. Mihnea Berindei also got involved and participated directly in protest actions against the Ceaușescu regime. These included demonstrations in front of the Romanian Embassy in France, collecting signatures in support of dissidents persecuted by the communist authorities, gathering information about the opposition in Romania, and raising the awareness of the Western public about the fate of those who dared to protest against Ceaușescu and his policies. His activity was closely monitored by the Securitate. He even received death threats from an organisation called “The Sons of Avram Iancu” (Fiii lui Avram Iancu), which was one of the covert agencies of the Romanian secret police abroad. After 1989, Mihnea Berindei became enthusiastically involved in the efforts to democratise Romania and to report the abuses of the neo-communist regime in Bucharest. He made an essential contribution to the birth of civil society in post-1989 Romania, mainly as a co-founder of the Group for Social Dialogue (GDS) and the weekly paper Revista 22. Although he had never formally belonged to a political party, he was involved in constructing the political project of the Civic Alliance Party (PAC), which he saw as a democratic alternative both to the National Salvation Front and its successor parties and to the traditional “historical” parties re-founded after 1989. Berindei also worked tirelessly for the democratic consolidation of other societies in the region after 1990, especially in the case of the Republic of Moldova, Bulgaria, Kosovo, etc., using his extensive connections in French and European political circles for this purpose. Mihnea Berindei, however, continued to display a constant interest in the communist period in Romania’s history. Thus, in 2006 he became a member of the Presidential Commission for the Analysis of the Communist Dictatorship in Romania, making an important contribution to the drafting of its Final Report. From 2007 until his last years, he was involved, together with Armand Goşu and Dorin Dobrincu, in working on a collection of documents originating from the highest echelons of the Romanian party-state, which was published in several volumes under the heading The History of Communism in Romania. These volumes represent an essential contribution to understanding the functioning of the communist regime. The current collection reflects the variety of its creator’s interests and concerns, emphasising Mihnea Berindei’s civic and political engagement in exile, especially during the period 1977–1989. These activities mostly left his academic preoccupations in the field of Ottoman studies in the background, although he was planning to focus on them again toward the end of his life. His friends and collaborators (especially Monica Lovinescu) often noticed his altruism and his absolutely disinterested and sincere involvement in the activities of the Romanian exile community. He was attacked in the early 2000s by certain individuals and circles close to the former Securitate, being accused of collaborating with the Romanian secret services (a charge which was never substantiated). However, Mihnea Berindei remains an example of moral fortitude and constant civic engagement, qualities which were rarely to be found even among some opponents of the Ceaușescu regime. His political beliefs, which drew him closer to the left-liberal spectrum, remained constant both before and after 1989. In this sense, Mihnea Berindei represents a remarkable and impressive figure of the Romanian exile community in France and of the democratic opposition to the Romanian communist regime.
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- Cusco, Andrei
- Marin, Manuela
Lența, Cătălin. 2016. “A murit istoricul Mihnea Berindei (The historian Mihnea Berindei dies).” Accessed May 19, 2018. https://www.rfi.ro/societate-87798-murit-istoricul-mihnea-berindei-unul-dintre-fondatorii-gds, accessed on May 19, 2018.
Stoica, Monica. 2016. “A murit istoricul Mihnea Berindei (The historian Mihnea Berindei dies).” Accessed May 19, 2018. http://www.mediafax.ro/cultura-media/a-murit-istoricul-mihnea-berindei-fost-director-al-arhivelor-nationale-am-pierdut-un-prieten-vladimir-tismaneanu-a-fost-sufletul-exilului-democratic-de-la-paris-15500502