Virgil Ierunca (real name Virgil Untaru, 1920–2006) was a Romanian literary critic, writer, and cultural journalist. He was born on 16 August 1920 in Lădești commune, Vâlcea County and in 1943 he graduated from the Faculty of Literature and Philosophy of Bucharest University. After World War II, he began to publish articles about French culture in newspapers towards the left of the spectrum of Romanian political life (Dumitrescu 1997, 304; Meseșan 2015, 82–83). Later on, Ierunca explained that his initial leftist sympathies were the result of his anti-fascism and of the fact that, as he put it, “communists overwhelmed me with attention which I gave up when I understood their game” (Meseșan 2015, 83). He thus left for France with an Arthur Koestler scholarship granted by the French Institute in Bucharest, and in 1948 he sought and was granted political asylum there (Meseșan 2015, 84). In 1952, he married Monica Lovinescu, with whom he shared his passion for literature and her determination in supporting dissidence against Romanian communist rule.
In exile, Virgil Ierunca focused on cultural journalism, working for Radio Paris (1951–1975) and from 1975 for Radio Free Europe (RFE) where he collaborated on two programmes: Cronica pesimistului (Chronicle of the pessimist) as part of the Actualitatea românească (Romanian Cultural Events) and Povestea vorbei – pagini uitate, pagini cenzurate, pagini exilate (The story of the word – forgotten pages, censored pages, exiled pages). He also wrote articles, essays, and even poetry for magazines and newspapers published by the Romanian exile community and acted as editor-in-chief for several Romanian publications printed abroad (Meseșan 2015, 85; Crăciun 2009, 285). In his broadcasts, Virgil Ierunca used cultural journalism to express his anti-communist convictions, as he sharply criticised many authors of the Romanian literary scene. In addition, he was among the first to document the mass-scale repression perpetrated by the communist regime against innocent individuals.
He shared Monica Lovinescu’s opinion that politically unbiased literature was possible even in communist Romania (Stan Snejana 2010, 120–121), and consequently he used his broadcasts and written pieces to acknowledge the moral integrity and literary value of some of the Romanian writers marginalised for their reluctance to follow the official canon. On the other hand, he openly condemned the compromise made with the regime by another part of the Romanian writers and saw his criticism as a moral duty towards the present and especially the future. Through his journalist project entitled Antologia rușinii (The anthology of shame), Ierunca became the needed voice that denounced “the stupidity, servility, and insolence” of those intellectuals “who did not only lose their conscience but also their reason” (Merișanu and Taloș 2009, 7–8). Antologia rușinii identified those who shamelessly praised the communist regime, its policies and leaders and it was supposed to function as a vaccine against the forgetting of those acts of collaboration that nurtured and ensured the survival of the regime (Mănescu 2012, 13–14, 25, 27–29). Virgil Ierunca started the Antologia rușinii column in November 1957 and resumed the project after the so-called Theses of July 1971 when the Romanian press was flooded with these “texts of shame” (Meseșan 2015, 85–86; Mănescu 2012, 67–70).
Virgil Ierunca remained mostly known for his indictment of communist repression. In 1981, he published Fenomenul Pitești (The Pitești phenomenon), the first account of the extreme psychological and physical torture that inmates in prison of Pitești were subjected to round-the-clock by other inmates in 1949–1952. Besides exposing the horrors of this rather unique “reeducation experiment,” which came to be associated with Pitești, although it was implemented in several other prisons too, Ierunca raised again the issue of collaboration with the regime. In this case, he condemned the lack of morality and conscience on the part of those who designed this experiment and of those who participated willingly in the tortures and humiliations (Mănescu 2015, 23, 71–72). Due to his opposition to the Romanian communist regime, the Securitate tried to silence Virgil Ierunca, but the would-be assassin surrendered to the police in Berlin (Lovinescu 2001, 247). Ierunca’s anti-communist activity gained official recognition in 2006 when the Romanian authorities praised Virgil Ierunca and his wife, Monica Lovinescu, for their activity at RFE and for supporting and popularising acts of cultural opposition against the communist regime (Mănescu 2012, 16).
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Burlacu, Mihaela-Nicoleta. 2014. Monica Lovinescu: O voce a exilului românesc (Monica Lovinescu: A voice of the Romanian exile community). Iași: Editura Institutul European.
Crăciun, Camelia. 2009. “Monica Lovinescu at Radio Free Europe.” In The Exile and Return of Writers from East–Central Europe: A Compendium. Edited by John Neubauer and Borbála Zsuzsanna Török, 276–303. Berlin, New York: Walter de Gruyter.
Dumitrescu, Vasile C. 1997. O istorie a exilului românesc (A history of the Romanian exile community). București: Victor Frunză.
Manolescu, Florin. 2003. Enciclopedia exilului literar românesc, 1945–1989: Scriitori, reviste, instituții, organizații (Encyclopaedia of the Romanian literary exile community, 1945–1989: Writers, magazines, institutions, organisations). București: Compania.
Manolescu, Nicolae. 2014. “Mircea Eliade, cenzurat” (Mircea Eliade, censored). In Adevărul, July 25, 2014. Accessed March 25, 2018.
Merișanu, Nicolae, and Dan Taloș. 2009. “Cuvânt înainte” (Foreword). In Antologia rușinii după Virgil Ierunca (The anthology of shame according to Virgil Ierunca). Edited by Nicolae Merișanu and Dan Taloș, 5–24. București: Humanitas.
Mănescu, Alexandra. 2012. Exercițiu anamnezic: Virgil Ierunca (Anamnestic exercise: Virgil Ierunca). Târgu-Jiu: Academica Brâncuși.
Meseșan, Anarela. 2015. Exilul românesc din perioada comunistă, reflectat în fondul bibliotecii de la Paris a familiei Monica Lovinescu–Virgil Ierunca (The Romanian exile community of the communist period reflected in Monica Lovinescu and Virgil Ierunca’s personal library in Paris ). Cluj-Napoca: Centrul de Studii Transilvane.
Petrescu, Cristina. 2013. From Robin Hood to Don Quixote: Resistance and Dissent in Communist Romania. București: Editura Enciclopedică.
Stan, Snejana Lavinia. 2010. “Exilul ca dialog: Monica Lovinescu și Virgil Ierunca” (Exile as dialogue: Monica Lovinescu and Virgil Ierunca). In Istoria culturii, cultura istoriei: Omagiu Profesorului Doru Radosav la vârsta de 60 de ani (History of culture, culture of history: Homage for Professor Radosav at the age of 60). Edited by Ionuț Costea, Ovidiu Ghitta, Valentin Orga, and Iulia Pop, 681–716. Cluj-Napoca: Argonaut.
Stan, Snejana Lavinia. 2013. Exilul românesc în Europa occidentală în anii 1970–1980: Politica prin cultură (The Romanian exile community in Western Europe during the 1970s and 1980s: Politics through culture). Cluj-Napoca, Gatineau: Argonaut, Simphologic Publishing.
Vladimirov, Iulia. 2011. “The Voice of Unbound Freedom.” In History of Communism in Europe. Vol. 2: 309–321.
Vladimirov, Iulia. 2012. Monica Lovinescu în documentele Securității 1948–1989 (Monica Lovinescu in the Securitate’s documents 1948–1989). București: Humanitas.