We tend to forget the immense political and moral stakes of the Cold War era. Essential publications, initially supported by the Congress for Cultural Freedom, such as “Encounter,” “Preuves,” “Der Monat,” and “Quadrant,” are now almost forgotten. But these journals and the authors associated with them (from Arthur Koestler to Czeslaw Milosz), as well as the Western radio stations, allowed the denizens of the Soviet Bloc to breathe under the ice. They also fought to expose what the great French sociologist Raymond Aron called the “opium of the intellectuals,” the readiness of many intellectuals to embrace the Utopian, millenarian, eschatological promises of Marxism.
Monica Lovinescu, a Paris-based literary critic and journalist who encouraged intellectual resistance to Romania’s communist regime from the microphone of Radio Free Europe from 1964-92, passed away five years ago, on April 21, at the age of 85.
The daughter of influential interwar academic Eugen Lovinescu, and a mother who was to die in a communist prison, Monica Lovinescu enjoyed tremendous prestige and influence in her native Romania. She was considered a moral and intellectual model in arguing that communist crimes were equal to those of the Nazis, and her work angered dictator Nicolae Ceausescu to the point that he ordered the beating in 1977 that left her in a coma. She recovered to return to her seat behind the microphone, where she observed the downfall of Ceausescu’s regime in 1989. I started listening to her broadcasting as a teenager. For me and many other Romanian intellectuals, Monica Lovinescu and her husband, philosopher Virguil Ierunca, were the voices of moral clarity. They still are.
Lovinescu’s writings have come out after 1990 from the prestigious publishing house Humanitas. A few weeks before her passing away, I reread her essays from 1968. They strike me as extraordinarily timely, insightful, and prescient. She understood before many others that communism was irretrievably sick, and she insisted on the role of intellectuals in the insurrectionary saga of Eastern Europe’s opposition to Sovietism.
After 1990, Lovinescu and Ierunca saw many of their predictions (including the dire ones) come true. The legacies of national-Stalinism continue to haunt Romania’s fragile pluralism. The lackeys of the ancien regime made it politically and financially. Dissidents were exhausted, marginalized, slandered.
Things changed, however, after 1996 and especially after 2004. The initiation by Traian Basescu of the Presidential Commission unleashed a national conversation along the lines of historical truth and moral justice. Immediately after President Basescu’s official and unequivocal condemnation of the communist regime as illegitimate and criminal, on December 18, 2006, I called from Bucharest and told Monica Lovinescu what happened. I mentioned the hysterical sabotaging of the president’s speech by extremist, xenophobic, “Romania Mare” Party leader, and former Ceausescu bootlicker, Corneliu Vadim Tudor. Her answer was short and encapsulated the meaning of paradigmatic intellectual and moral itinerary dedicated to the defense of liberty, honor, and dignity: “The noise doesn’t matter. Truth was said. We won!”
PS: I would like to mention that there is a most moving book about the relationship between Monica Lovinescu and her mother. Written by Romanian essayist and journalist Doina Jela, it is titled “This Love that Binds Us” and came out from Humanitas Publishing House in Bucharest when Monica Lovinescu was still alive. It should be considered for an English laguage translation. I regard it as one of the most important testimonies about the survival of love and honor in times of moral turpitude.
Editor’s note: Don’t miss Vladimir Tismaneanu’s interview at Frontpage about his new book, The Devil in History, here.
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