Emil Cioran was born on 8 April 1911 in the village of Răşinari, in the southern part of Transylvania, and died on 20 June 1995 in Paris, France. At that the time of his birth, his native province was still a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. His father, Emilian Cioran, was a Romanian Orthodox priest involved in the political emancipation movement of the Romanians in Transylvania. Emil Cioran had a happy childhood (Liiceanu 1995, 16) in his native village, a place which at the beginning of the twentieth century was still not changed by the rhythms of modern life. According to Ilinca Zarifopol-Johnston, the fact that Cioran was born in a historical region where Romanians had a marginal social and political position marked his personality, and this aspect strongly influenced his intellectual work because he wanted to overcome a complex of inferiority (Zarifopol-Johnston 2009, 25).
In 1924, his family moved to Sibiu, where the young Emil Cioran was already attending middle school. The experience of a cosmopolitan city like Sibiu, where Transylvanian Saxons, Romanians, Hungarians, and Jews cohabited, was important for Cioran’s intellectual formation. Here he was introduced to German language and culture, which influenced his entire intellectual work. In the period 1928–1932, Cioran attended courses in the Faculty of Letters and Philosophy at the University of Bucharest, graduating with a Bachelor thesis concerning the work of the French philosopher Henri Bergson. During his university studies in Bucharest he was strongly influenced –as were other intellectuals of his generation – by Nae Ionescu, professor of logic and metaphysics at the University of Bucharest, who had a PhD in Philosophy from the University of Munich (1919). Ionescu was also an active journalist, who shaped public opinion through his articles in the newspaper Cuvântul on key issues such as democracy, nationalism, and Orthodox Christianity. He questioned the process of modernisation in Romania based on Western political values and institutions, and criticised the democratic system, following the organicist approach of Oswald Spengler (Petreu 2016, 15–16). Nae Ionescu considered that democracy was foreign to Romanian political tradition, and displayed an anti-liberal discourse (Petreu 2016, 16–17). At the end of 1933 he became an active supporter of the Legion of the Archangel Michael and thereafter he manifested an increasingly virulent anti-Semitism.
The adjustment to the new cultural milieu was difficult for the young Cioran, who had been raised in a school system with strong German influences. The cultural elite of the Romanian capital was more oriented towards French culture, which caused him inferiority complexes. In the early 1930s, he managed to enter into the so-called Criterion group of intellectuals. Criterion was a cultural association which in the period 1932–1934 brought together young intellectual such as Petru Comarnescu, Constantin Noica, Emil Cioran, Mircea Vulcănescu, Sandu Tudor, and Mihail Polihroniade. Criterion aimed at organising lectures open to the general public on a broad variety of cultural topics. Within the Criterion group, Cioran developed lifelong friendships with intellectuals such as Mircea Eliade, Constantin Noica, and Petre Ţuţea. During his student years he published articles in the Romanian cultural press. His book debut took place in 1934 when the King Carol II Foundation published Pe Culmile Disperării (On the Heights of Despair). The book received literary awards and was a best-seller in interwar Romania, making him one of the most prominent young intellectuals. Afterwards he published several volumes in Romania: Schimbarea la faţă a României (The Transfiguration of Romania), Cartea Amăgirilor (The Book of Delusions), Lacrimi şi Sfinţi (Tears and Saints), Amurgul Gîndurilor (The Twilight of Thought).
In 1933, Cioran was awarded a Humboldt fellowship and he spent the period 1933–1935 in Berlin. During his stay in Germany, he was influenced by his readings of Georg Simmel and Ludwig Klages (Zarifopol-Johnston 2009, 84–86). He was strongly impressed by the Nazi movement, which he perceived as “vitalist”, a “solution” for the crisis of European civilisation (Laignel-Lavastine 2004, 152). Starting from the Nazi example, he considered that a similar revolution would solve the political problems in interwar Romania, a country where democracy was weakened by rampant corruption and the authoritarian tendencies of King Carol II. This experience led him to write Schimbarea la faţă a României (The Transfiguration of Romania), a book which was on the one hand a virulent critique of the social and political situation in Romanian, and on the other a call to a violent revolution and to the end of the interwar Romanian political and social system. The nationalism promoted by Cioran was different from that displayed by Romanian far-right movements (such as the Legion) because he rejected the mixing of nationalism with Orthodox Christianity and was critical of the worship of the culture of the Romanian peasantry (Laignel-Lavastine 2004, 175–176). According to Zarifopol-Johnston, Cioran’s book “reflects the country’s increasingly radical political climate in the 1930s” (Zarifopol-Johnston 2009, 92). The experience of Nazi Germany and the influence of his professor Nae Ionescu made Cioran draw close to the Legionary Movement. From1933 onwards, Cioran openly manifested his support for it through his articles in the Romanian press.
In 1937, Cioran received another fellowship from the French Institute in Bucharest, and he spent the period 1937–1940 in Paris. In the autumn of 1940, when the Legion came to power alongside general Ion Antonescu, he came back to Romania. During that period, in the course of a radio broadcast, he delivered praise to Corneliu Zelea Codreanu, the leader of the Legion murdered in 1938 by King Carol II’s regime. Due to his political involvement, Cioran was appointed in 1941 “cultural adviser” at the Romanian legation in Vichy France. He prolonged his stay in France in 1942 with a fellowship from the Romanian School at Fontenay-aux-Roses. In 1945, Cioran decided not to return to Romania and, during the late 1940s and 1950s he lived a modest life, living in student dormitories and taking meals at student cafeterias. In 1942, Cioran met Simone Boué, who became his companion for all his life. From 1945 onwards, he decided to give up writing in Romanian and chose to write in French. After the publication of his first book in French (Précis de decomposition) in 1949, he became integrated in French literary circles and he was awarded several literary prices. He continued to publish several books of essays in French such as: Précis de decomposition (1949); Syllogismes de l'amertume (1952); La Tentation d'exister (1956); Histoire et utopie (1960); Le Mauvais démiurge (1969); De l'inconvénient d'être né (1973). Although he became a famous writer in the West, Cioran avoided giving interviews to the press. Alexandra Laignel Lavastine has argued that this reluctance and his weak public reaction to the political repression in communist Romania targeting his former friends were caused by the “constant psychological threat” that his fascist past might be uncovered (Laignel-Lavastine 2004, 477, 547). According to the literary critic Matei Călinescu, Cioran tried to deal with his past by rewriting his former texts. Călinescu considers that through his 1956 essay “Un peuple de solitaires”, Cioran “wanted not only to communicate directly with his Western reader, but also to revisit his Romanian older texts in order to distance himself from them–but under the seal of secrecy” (Călinescu 1996, 207–208).
- Paris, France
Emilian Cioran (born 30 October 1884 in the village of Răşinari - died 17 December 1957 in Sibiu), the father of the brothers Emil and Aurel Cioran, was the founder of the Aurel & Emil Cioran Collection. The parents of Emilian Cioran – Şerban Cioran and Stanca Dancăşi – were members of the local Romanian elite. The Cioran family gave up shepherding and became merchants at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Șerban Cioran was the mayor of the village of Răşinari in the period 1888–1897. Being a wealthy merchant and local politician, Șerban Cioran invested in the education of his children. After Emilian Cioran had graduated from the local confessional school in 1895, he attended the Hungarian State High School in Sibiu from 1895 to 1903. Like many children of the local Romanian elite in Transylvania during the nineteenth century, Emilian Cioran chose to pursue an ecclesiastical career. In the period 1903–1906, he attended the courses of the Orthodox Theological Institute in Sibiu.
According to the internal rules of the Orthodox Church in Transylvania, he was elected priest in 1906 in his native village, one of the most important Orthodox parishes in the southern part of Transylvania. After serving for nineteen years in Răşinari, he was promoted to higher positions in the Orthodox Church. In 1924, he became the protopresbyter of the city of Sibiu and later, in 1938 he was appointed counsellor of the archdiocese of Sibiu by the Orthodox Archbishop of Sibiu Nicolae Bălan; he held this position until his retirement in 1947. Emilian Cioran was active also in the political and cultural fields. In December 1918, he took part in the Romanian National Assembly in Alba Iulia as a representative of the village of Răşinari. From 1926 to 1930, he also taught religion at the Domniţa Ileana High School in Sibiu. In 1930, he was elected a member of the central committee of the ASTRA Cultural Association, which had become the main Romanian cultural institution in Transylvania in the time of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In the period 1911–1957, he collected various personal documents, letters, and books, which illustrate his activity as a clergyman and a member of several cultural associations such as ASTRA and the Gojdu Foundation.
- Sibiu, Romania
Ariadna Combes (née Iuhas, b. 19 November 1954, Cluj – d. 9 November 2016, Paris), the daughter of the Romanian dissident Doina Cornea, was a Romanian activist, translator, and journalist, who during the 1980s supported the anti-communist activities of her mother. She was the first child of Doina Cornea and the lawyer Leontin Cornel Iuhas. In 1973, Ariadna Iuhas started her studies in philology at the University of Cluj. Taking advantage of a scholarship to France in 1976, she decided not to return to Romania. In France, she married Michel Combes and continued her studies. She obtained a MA degree in English literature from the University of Grenoble and a BA degree in French literature from the University of Brest (Florescu 2016).
Ariadna Combes’s important role in supporting the activities of her mother began in the early 1980s. At that time the Romanian communist regime started to react promptly to Doina Cornea’s oppositional activities and the Securitate tried to silence her by cutting off her means of communication with the outside world. Ariadna Combes made sure that the Romanian authorities would fail in their endeavour to isolate her mother. Firstly, by using informal channels she managed to send her mother many books that were not available in Romania due to the censorship and the cultural isolation imposed by Ceaușescu’s Theses of July 1971. Among them was Mircea Eliades’s L'épreuve du labyrinthe, which Doina Cornea translated into Romanian, transforming her manuscript into a samizdat publication with a help of friends and relatives (Petrescu 2013, 308–309; Cornea 2006, 73). Because Doina Cornea expressed her opposition to the communist regime through her letters to the Romanian department of Radio Free Europe (RFE), Ariadna Combes made sure that these letters reached their destination. Sometimes she was directly involved in getting her mother’s writings out of Romania but in most cases she was responsible for receiving, typing, and translating them and sending them to RFE and international newspapers. Ariadna Combes also closely monitored the reaction of the international media towards the case of her mother and collected in distinct files the articles published about her by Western newspapers (Cornea 2009, 196, 199, 202, 265).
After her mother Doina Cornea and her brother Leontin Iuhas were arrested in 1987 due to their expression of solidarity with the 1987 workers revolt against the communist regime in the city of Brașov, Ariadna Combes organised an international campaign to secure their release from prison. In the same year of 1987, she was granted an audience at the French Ministry of External Affairs. This audience was the beginning of a series of Western diplomatic pressures on the Romanian authorities to release Doina Cornea and her son, and also to grant the Combes family visas to visit Doina Cornea. In 1988, the communist regime declared Ariadna Combes “an undesirable person on the territory of Romania,” and thus she could no longer visit her mother. As a result she increasingly focused on raising the awareness of international public opinion about the case of her mother and acted as her representative in various official situations. In 1988, she accepted on behalf of her mother the prizes offered by two organisations for human rights in Norway and Denmark and organised a committee of support for Doina Cornea that included important French political leaders, among them the French president François Mitterrand. After the broadcasting of Josy Dubié’s film The Red Disaster, which featured an interview with Cornea about destruction of the Romanian villages, many French citizens including public personalities expressed their support for the Romanian dissident. Consequently, Ariadna Combes turned her committee of support into an official organisation Comité de soutien à Doina Cornea, which numbered 2,000 members (Cornea 2009, 266–269).
From 1988 until the fall of the communist regime in Romania, Combes was constantly invited to conferences organised by human rights associations and universities in France, Belgium, Switzerland, Germany, and England to speak about Doina Cornea’s situation and the cases of other persecuted Romanian dissidents. In 1989, on her initiative, the committee of support for Doina Cornea asked its members to support her candidacy for the Nobel Peace Prize. This was a movement intended not only to make known the case of the dissident Doina Cornea worldwide but also to pressure the communist regime not to take radical measures against her. Also in 1989, Ariadna Combes honoured the invitation sent in Doina Cornea’s name and spoke in front of the Council of Europe and the European Parliament about the situation in Romania, the fate of national and religious minorities and the persecutions that dissidents were subjected to by the communist authorities. She also involved herself in Opération Villages Roumains (OVR), a transnational movement to support opposition to the demolition of the Romanian villages entailed by the programme of rural systematisation, a policy promoted by Ceaușescu. Her commitment to defending human rights in communist Romania and her numerous stands against the regime there gained official recognition as she was invited to act as one of the vice-presidents of the Paris-based French League for the Defence of Human Rights (affiliated to the Fédération Internationale des Droits de l’Homme) (Cornea 2009, 269–272).
After the fall of the communist regime in December 1989, Ariadna Combes supported the building of Romanian civil society and protested on many occasions against the new political leaders who had come to power in Romania and who had close connections with the communist regime. She died on 9 November 2016 in France and her funeral urn was buried in her native town of Cluj-Napoca.
- Paris, France
Lena Constante (b. 18 June 1909, Bucharest – d. November 2005) was a visual artist and folklorist, one of the victims of communist repression, and the author of two of the most well-known postcommunist volumes of Romanian prison memoirs, which have been published also in other languages, including French and English. Before the start of the Second World War, she was part of the multidisciplinary teams coordinated and led by Dimitrie Gusti with the aim of producing monographs of Romanian villages. As a member of the Sociological School of Bucharest, Lena Constante had the opportunity to study Romanian folk art in some of the most traditional localities in the country. Stirred by communist ideals, it was natural that she should become close to the intellectual circles at the centre of power after the War. She was a good friend of the wife of Lucreţiu Pătrăşcanu, one of the foremost communist leaders in the first years after the takeover, and contributed together with her to the founding of the first puppet theatre in Romania, the Ţăndărică Theatre in Bucharest. At the same time, her association with this privileged entourage proved dangerous to her. In 1950, she was arrested and implicated in the notorious trial of the so-called “Pătrăşcanu batch.” On the basis of the false testimonies of some members of the “batch,” she was accused, tried, and sentenced in 1954 to twelve years in prison, all of which she served. After this dramatic interval in her life, she married Harry Brauner, who had been her colleague in the teams of monographers coordinated by Dimitrie Gusti in the interwar period and her co-accused in the “Pătrăşcanu batch.” In 1968, as part of a belated process of de-Stalinization, Lena Contante was rehabilitated together with all those implicated in the trial.
After the period of repression, she managed to find her place again professionally, becoming a graphic artist and maker of puppets. With rehabilitation, she received again the right to exhibit the original tapestries for which she had been known already in the interwar period and which again became a success. As a member of the Romanian Union of Visual Artists, she again came into open conflict with the communist authorities in 1974, when she was accused of “destruction of heritage” because she had made tapestries using collages of fragments of old peasant clothes. She managed to defend herself, however, by demonstrating that she had not used items from the heritage of folk costume, but worn-out blouses, bought from or given to her by women in the countryside, who otherwise would have thrown them away or used them as rags for cleaning.
Her longevity as an artist was remarkable. She had exhibitions, both in Romania and abroad, until the last years of her remarkably long life: Lena Constante lived to the age of 96. After the fall of communism, she also published two volumes inspired by her traumatic experience in prison, Evadarea tăcută (The silent escape) and Evadarea imposibilă (The impossible escape), which enjoyed success both in Romania and abroad. Even if she only talks about communist repression, it could nevertheless be said that Lena Constante’s testimony is comparable, in the power with which she evokes the survival of a traumatic episode, with that left by Margarete Buber-Neumann.
She wrote the first book initially in French and published it under the title L'Évasion silencieuse (1990). She then rewrote it completely in Romanian as Evadarea tăcută: 3 000 de zile singură în închisorile din România (1992), and in 1995 it was translated into English as The Silent Escape: Three Thousand Days in Romanian Prisons. In it, Lena Constante states what decided her to contribute to the collective memory of communism in Romania by publishing her prison memoirs: “I want to talk about the state of imprisonment as such. In full knowledge of the facts. Everyday life in a cell. I think I have had a unique experience. A woman, alone, for many years. Years made up of hours, of minutes, of seconds. It is these seconds that I would like to recount, these 3,600 seconds in an hour, these 86,400 seconds in a day, that shuffle slowly along your body, slimy snakes climbing up you from your feet to your neck, without a pause, without mercy, morning to evening and through all too frequent nights of insomnia, one after the other without rest and without stopping, endlessly. Because I want to talk also about human dignity. And about those women, later my prison comrades, who, despite everything and everyone, remained profoundly human beings. And to affirm a hope. The hope that one far-off day, mankind will overcome its nature. Not by changing the courses of rivers, or deserts, or by conquering the cosmos, but by changing itself. Changing its heart and mind” (Constante 1992, 6-7).
These two memoirs are fundamental volumes for an understanding of the communist repression in Romania. Lena Constante received the award of the Romanian Cultural Foundation for “an exceptional destiny in Romanian culture,” and the director Thomas Ciulei dedicated to her an impressive documentary film, Nebunia capetelor (The madness of the heads) (1997).
- Bucharest, Romania