As I described in exhaustive detail in The Black Hole of Romania, it doesn’t take a shadowy cabal to censor the news, only a virulent form of cultural blindness.
I lost half an hour of my life on Sunday (January 26) watching the 7:00 pm news broadcast of ProTV, which devoted their entire coverage to a single story: snow fell in Romania. It’s currently far colder in Poland, with temperatures as low as -14 degrees, and at least 10 people died, and yet their domestic news managed to cover the weather as well as other stories.
The “snowpocalypse” story was a welcome relief for the Romanian media as they spent an entire week lauding the pilot Adrian Iovan, who was apparently a brutal, thuggish man. He not only incompetently crashed his plane in the Frozen Tears debacle but gunned down a man in 2005 and apparently shot and killed a homeless dog purely for sport on a service road at Otopeni Airport in 2012. Despite witnesses being present at both events, Iovan was never convicted of any crime and on Saturday he was buried with full honors complete with live television coverage of his funeral.
But far more troubling for me was the complete absence of any news in Romania about the death of one of its greatest men, who died in his bed in Paris, France on January 26 at the age of 89. Despite his bravery and his numerous accomplishments, his death was marked only by a brief mention in three small newspapers, all of them just reprinting a press release from the PNTCD party. No additional research or background material was provided as the “journalists” literally just printed the press release word for word.
That man’s name was Cicerone Aristotel Traian Ionițoiu (yawn-eat-SOY-you), born in 1924 in Craiova. He was, in effect, the Romanian equivalent of Aleksandr Solszhenitsyn, a man who suffered enormously at the brutal hands of a Communist dictatorship and then dedicated his life to documenting the atrocities. But while Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago (which I read twice cover-to-cover, utterly gripped by its contents) is well-known and respected worldwide, Ionițoiu is largely unknown even here in his native Romania.
Ionițoiu’s entire life is a study of courage. As a young man at the University of Craiova, he heard Iuliu Maniu speak and decided to join his Peasants’ Party (then PNT, now PNTCD). The newly installed Communist ruling troika determined that the PNT was a threat to its hold on power and rapidly cracked down on its leadership, arresting Maniu as well as hundreds of others, including Ionițoiu, and completely outlawed the PNT party in 1947.
In September 1945, Ionițoiu’s convictions were tested when several NKVD (precursor to the KGB) officers came to his house in the middle of the night and arrested him. He was taken to a secure location where he was held for a week and badly tortured. Iuliu Maniu found out Ionițoiu was being held and used his waning political influence to have Ionițoiu released. But instead of being cowed and intimidated, Ionițoiu organized another anti-government demonstration just two months later and was then arrested for a second time.
After being tortured yet again, Ionițoiu was released and in May 1946 he helped organize a demonstration in which approximately 10,000 university students protested in Bucharest. The government responded by sending in truckloads of CFR (Romanian Railways) workers armed with clubs, who used force to break up the protests. Ionițoiu and his colleagues also worked tirelessly to print and distribute anti-Communist pamphlets, printing them by day and then clandestinely distributing them in people’s mailboxes by night.
For these activities, Ionițoiu was sentenced to two years in prison, although for a time he eluded capture by hiding out in the Apuseni Mountains. He then traveled to Severin County (Judet) where he lobbied for his party ahead of the critically important 1946 elections. Under Petru Groza‘s leadership, the Communist party engaged in widespread electoral fraud and ballot tampering, organized to ensure a Communist Party victory that could then claim popular “legitimacy” (as opposed to being the puppet government of the occupying Soviet Red Army).
Ionițoiu was finally caught after the (future) actor Paul Sava turned him into the secret police. Ionițoiu never forgot that moment when he was hauled in front of the police captain, as it set the course of the rest of his life. My translation:
The investigator asked me [Ionițoiu], “You’re just a boy from a poor family. Why are you throwing your lot in with that subversive Iuliu Maniu?”
And I responded, “I am protesting against the abuses that are ongoing in this country. I am protesting against the theft of the elections. And I’m protesting the fact that Bassarabia and Bucovina were stolen from us.” As soon as I said that, he threw me down and began raining punches on me and viciously kicking me, shouting, “I’ll show you what history is all about! I’m going to make some history right now that you’ll never forget!”
Later I woke up soaking wet because they had thrown a bucket of water on me because I had fallen unconscious. And it was at that moment that I swore to myself that as long as I live, I will fight against Communism and I will fight for the truth.
Ionițoiu was sentenced to 10 years of hard labor and spent time in every Communist prison from Jilava (still in operation today and largely unchanged), to Oradea to the “Peninsula” to Ramnicu Sarat (nicknamed the “Silent Prison” because inmates were not allowed to speak) to Pitesti, where cruel and unusual experiments were conducted on the prisoners. He not only survived these hellholes but regularly stood up to the guards, knowing full well he was risking his life and safety every time.
Iuliu Maniu died in 1953 while in prison but Ionițoiu managed to survive until he was released in 1954. He then continued his struggles against the Communist dictatorship and was regularly followed and sometimes interrogated harshly by the Securitate (secret police) until he was arrested once again and sent to various prisons and “re-education” camps until he was released in 1964.
Ionițoiu continued to protest the brutality of the Communist regime. In 1965, when Nicolae Ceasescu rose to power as the supreme leader of Romania, he personally ordered that Ionițoiu be sent to a psychiatric hospital, a particularly vicious Soviet tactic used to intimidate recalcitrant dissidents. Nonetheless, Ionițoiu remained unbowed and continue to gather evidence on the people of Romania who had been jailed and tortured solely because they dared to oppose the government.
By the late 1970’s, one of Ionițoiu’s former cellmates in prison, Remus Radina, was living in Paris along with a small group of Romanian exiles. Using their influence, they managed to persuade the President of France, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, to personally intervene with Ceasescu and in 1979 Ionițoiu was allowed to leave Romania.
Unbeknownst to the Communists, Ionițoiu boarded the plane to Paris with several microfiches hidden inside the cuffs of his pants, thousands of documents that detailed the names and fates of prisoners that the Communist regime had tortured and killed. And despite having escaped the dictatorship in Romania, Ionițoiu never ceased his struggles and used his freedom to assemble an enormous compendium of knowledge. He wrote several books, including, Tombs without Crosses, The persecution of the churches in Romania and The Armed Romanian Resistance Against Communism 1944-1960.
He also worked diligently for the past 35 years to assemble the 11 volumes of the Victims of the Communist Terror, listing thousands of people who were persecuted and jailed by the regime. A sample page can be found here, and my translation of a single case is below:
DASCA, Andre P. – Born January 27, 1942 in the village of Butea in Iasi County. Student at the “Radu Voda” high school in the city of Roman. Together with several fellow students, he sang a parody of the national anthem entitled “We will enslave you, Romania”.
Arrested April 29, 1959 by the Securitate in Bacau after being denounced by professor Alecu Cojocaru. Cruelly tortured by the Securitate in Roman and Bacau, the children were forced to declare their guilt of the following actions:
1) Listening to and discussing news broadcasts from a capitalist radio station.
2) Criticizing the trial of the priest Santa Antal and stating that the state is the enemy of religion
3) Saying good things about the accomplishments of capitalist countries and Romania during the era of the monarchy.
The military tribunal of Iasi found them guilty and sentenced them to between 7 and 10 years of hard labor.
The 11 volumes have thousands and thousands of names, and it is highly unlikely that without Ionițoiu’s diligence and hard work that this information would have ever been documented, allowed to disappear into the mists of time because nobody in power today wants to remember. Although these texts are only in Romanian, you can read them in full here.
Ionițoiu also wrote his own memoirs, called “Memories of Barbed Wire Country”, which is published by Polirom. Similar to Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago, it details Ionițoiu’s time in prison and the atrocities that he witnessed. I’ve only seen a few excerpts from this book but it is quite moving material.
Ionițoiu never ceased his work of documenting the atrocities of the Communist regime, even compiling a list of the hundreds of men and women who were arrested in December 1989 for participating in the protests, and what became of them (many dying of their wounds in prison).
After President Iliescu ordered his troops to gun down protestors in 1990, it was Ionițoiu who helped prepare the documents for the European Court of Human Rights, which eventually found Romania guilty for those deaths, a fact that the Romanian government has shamefully refused to acknowledge even as of today.
And so, to my great surprise, it seems I have been fated to become the last true journalist in this country. I was not born here and yet it is apparently up to me to give the proper memorial to Cicerone Ionițoiu, a man who has done so much for this country and yet died a lonesome death in exile.
To Mr. Ionițoiu, and to all the brave men and women who stood up to tyranny and inhumanity, not once, but time after time after time, even at tremendous risk to life and limb, I salute you and thank you from the bottom of my heart for your courage to do what was right, even when it was not easy.
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