Václav Benda was a signatory and spokesperson of Charter 77. He studied philosophy and Czech studies at the Faculty of Arts at Charles University in Prague from 1964–1969. He received his doctorate in 1970. Afterwards, he studied theoretical cybernetics at the Faculty of Mathematics and Physics at Charles University from 1970–1975. After graduating, he worked as a computer expert. However, after signing Charter 77 in 1977, he was dismissed from his job and worked as a stoker.
Benda transferred his critique of the regime into civic activism. In 1968 he became head of the Academic Council of Students and was the founder of the Catholic Youth Club. During Normalization he was one of the founders of the Committee for the Defence of the Unjustly Prosecuted (VONS) in 1978. He was also a spokesperson for Charter 77 in 1979 and 1984. In 1988, he co-founded the Movement for Civic Freedom (Hnutí za občanskou svobodu). Benda represented the Catholic stream of Czech dissent. He published in samizdat volumes, and co-translated into Czech the book “New Paths in Biology” by Swiss zoologist Adolf Portmann, which was published in the samizdat edition Expedice. He also published and edited a philosophical samizdat journal Paraf (1985–1989), and wrote for the exile periodical Studie. He was imprisoned from 1979-1983 for his activities and political opinions.After the Velvet Revolution he focused primarily on politics. From 1989–1993 he was the chairman of the Christian Democratic Party, and for next three years its vice-chairman. After merging the party with the Civic Democratic Party, Benda became part of its new executive committee. From 1989–1992 he was also its deputy chairman, and at the time of the break-up of Czechoslovakia he was chairman of the Federal Assembly. After the end of his parliamentary mandate, he worked at Prague City Council (1994–1997). From 1994–1998 he was director of the Office for the Documentation and Investigation of Communist Crimes. In 1996 he was elected to the Senate. He served as a Senator until his death in 1999. Benda was awarded the Czech state medal “Za zásluhy” (Medal of Merit) in 1998.
- Praha, Prague, Czech Republic
Writer, scenarist, director, lyricist for Tamás Cseh, with whom he started to work in 1970. They composed some 1,200 songs, mostly in the early 1970s. However, they did not publicize these works in the early years. The songs, rather, were performed only privately. According to several people, they reveal more about life during the Kádár era than history books.
Born Géza Vetró, he later acquired the name Rozner from his foster father, which he replaced with his grandfather’s family name, Bereményi, when he became a legal adult. Studied Italian and Hungarian linguistics at ELTE and later worked as a dramaturg and as artistic director and a theatre director.
He published thirteen books, directed seven films and twenty-one plays, and wrote twenty film scripts and forty-six play-scripts. Member of the European Film Academy and the Hungarian Academy of Arts.
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.
- Paris, France
Horia Bernea (b. 14 September 1938, Bucharest – d. 4 December 2000, Paris) was one of the most well-known Romanian painters of the second half of the twentieth century. After being twice refused admission to the Academy of Fine Arts in Bucharest, he turned towards various other disciplines, declaring in order to be admitted that his father, the sociologist Ernest Bernea, who was a political prisoner, was in fact dead. He prolonged his studies in order to avoid the military service that was compulsory in the communist period, and studied mathematics and physics at the University of Bucharest (1957–1958), and then at the Technical School of Architecture (1959–1962) and the Drawing Section of the Pedagogical Institute (1962–1965). Horia Bernea was a representative of the so-called Poiana Mărului school, named after the isolated mountain village where a number of painters withdrew in the 1950s and 1960s as a place of refuge away from the control of the censors. It was not a group with a well-defined aesthetic orientation, so much as “an informal and heterogeneous group of artists, with a fluctuating composition, who had shared preoccupations and affinities” (Popica 2013). Later, from 1985, Horia Bernea was a member of the Prolog group, along with de Constantin Flondor, Paul Gherasim, Horia Paștina, Cristian Paraschiv, and Mihai Sârbulescu.
According to Andrei Pleşu, Horia Bernea achieved in his painting “a sort of earthly paradise, in which the voices of the West and of Byzantium interpenetrate.” According to his own testimony, his return to the values of Eastern Christianity was not incompatible with the avant-garde, but an experiment that combined tradition with modernity in the specific context of the Ceauşescu dictatorship. “It was more a matter of re-sacralising the act of making than of bringing religious paraphernalia into painting. This began to change a little at the point when Ceauşescu began to demolish, when atheism began to manifest itself so strongly, as it still manifests itself. And I felt the need to bear witness through faith, church towers, the cross, the processional banner, iconostases, subjects that were almost untreated in painting, precisely out of the desire to manifest Orthodoxy in a direct way.”
In the course of his career, Horia Bernea took part in many solo and group exhibitions, both national and international, and received numerous prestigious awards in his field. After the fall of communism, he was for almost a decade the director of the Museum of the Romanian Peasant (Muzeul Țăranului Român – MŢR) in Bucharest. During his time as director, he managed to bring about a spectacular and beneficial metamorphosis of the institution, which had taken over the building of the former Museum of the Romanian Communist Party. “I am dominated by a strong belief in the values of peasant art, in its validity, and by respect for those people who were unable to defend themselves,” Horia Bernea confessed. Following its transformation according to Horia Bernea’s vision, the Museum was accorded in 1996 the distinction of European Museum of the Year. “When I stated that the Museum was subversive, I had in mind a subversion of the Christian type, one that makes you feel and believe that the world is good by virtue of its purpose, beautiful by virtue of its creation, complex by virtue of its life, and spiritual by virtue of its materiality,” reflected Horia Bernea, speaking of the metamorphosis that he achieved at the Museum of the Romanian Peasant.
- Bucharest, Romania
Sándor Bernáth(y) was a painter, graphic designer, musician, founding member of the Bizottság (Committee) band, and member of the Vajda Lajos Studio. From 1975, he was an active participant of the avant-garde art scene. While he started his career as an autodidact painter, he was also tied to the underground music life from its very beginning: he designed street posters and book and record covers. For example, he was the one who designed the covers for ős-Bikini (ancient Bikini). From 1977, he was a member of the Leninvárosi Kísérleti Műhely (Leninváros Experimental Workshop), and in 1978, he joined Fölöspéldány csoport (Excess group). His first exhibition took place in 1981, at the Studio of the Young Artists’ Association. His paintings feature photographs published in various newspapers, enlarged, reinterpreted, and full of political and social criticism.
In 1980, András Wahorn, István ef Zámbó, and László feLugossy formed the band A.E. Bizottság (Committee), with Bernáth(y) as guitarist. During the initial period he was the one who organized many of the concerts, since he was the one with a telephone and an apartment in Pest, and they often built the equipment that was hard or impossible to acquire. While Bizottság became legendary over time, Bernáth(y) does not like to dwell on the past. As he put it in a 1997 interview: “I like to pay attention to the time I live in, I am interested in what I am doing right now. I do not even understand from where young people hear about Bizottság, and why they are interested in it.” At the time he was against re-releasing the two records as well. As he sees it, there were too many compromises: only a small portion of their repertoire was released, and even that was heavily censored. Meanwhile, Bizottság was more of a “a joke-dadaist artist band,” so their lyrics were not essentially political. Nonetheless, the process meant additional police reports, summons, and hearings. Due to their disagreement over the upcoming albums, after a concert where Bernáth(y) was deliberately playing on a untuned guitar and nobody mentioned a thing, he left the band.
Bernáth(y) was planning to give up his career as a musician altogether, but fate had other plans: shortly after he left Bizottság, he played in the bands Dr. Újhalnal, Matuska Silver Sound, and Szkárosi & Konnektor RT. While Matuska, launched in the middle of the ’80s, was not a particularly popular band, it was very important for Bernáth(y): with two of his friends, they started to make “machine music.” He was always interested in technology, and when he was a kid, he wanted to be mechanic, repairing and making radios. However, neither the public nor the authorities appreciated the music made with computers: for instance, one of the newspapers, Esti Hírlap (Evening Paper), wrote about it as an inhuman and antisocial phenomenon better avoided.After the transition, Bernáth(y) had an important role in the development of Hungarian electronic music, and as such, he is one of the founding fathers of techno in Hungary. In the ’90s, he was the one who organized a “techno-tent,” Love Barricade, at the Sziget Festival. In 1994, he started a techno live act formation with his son, Zsiga, under the name Bernathy & Son, which is regarded as the first electronic live act in Hungary. They were active up until Bernáth(y)’s death in 2012, and performed at a number of Hungarian and foreign events. He also established the music club Supersonic, and later Vörös Yuk & Kék Yuk (Red Hole and Blue Hole). Around that time, he was the editor and art director of the art magazine Új Hölgyfutár (New Women’s Courier), and in the ’90s, he and his son were producing the art magazine Gépszava (The Machine’s Voice), focusing on techno culture. He also regularly appeared in documentaries about the topic, such as “Az egyén diadala” (The triumph of the individual) by Zsolt Füstös and “Patrik népe” (Patrick’s people) by Gábor Zsigmond Papp. In 2011, he has awarded the Mihály Munkácsy Prize.