Vladimir (Vlado) Gotovac (Imotski, September 18, 1930 - Rome, December 7, 2000) is a Croatian writer, poet, philosopher, journalist and politician and one of the most famous Croatian cultural oppositionists from the socialist period. Due to his advocacy of pluralistic democracy, he was persecuted by the Communist authorities.
He attended elementary school in Prnjavor (Bosnia and Herzegovina), Župa Biokovska and Lovreć, and secondary school in Imotski and Zagreb, where he graduated from the Classical Gymnasium. He graduated with a degree in philosophy from the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences of the University of Zagreb.
He began to publish poems in the journal Tribina in 1952 and then began to publish philosophical and art critiques, essays, stories and radio dramas in other publications. In 1955, he was employed as a journalist and editor of the culture and drama department of the Zagreb Radio-Television (RTZ) where he worked until his arrest in 1972. At that time, he also edited the journals Međutim (1953) and Razlog (1969), and from July to December 1971 he was the editor-in-chief of Hrvatski tjednik (Croatian Weekly), a newspaper published by Matica hrvatska that advocated the program of the Croatian national movement (Croatian Spring).
As editor of Hrvatski tjednik, but also because of his uncompromising critical writing, Gotovac was one of the most prominent persons of the Croatian Spring in 1971. Due to his work in the field of culture, he was, with a dozen Croatian intellectuals, arrested in January 1972 under the indictment that he wanted to overthrow the socialist system in Yugoslavia. He was sentenced to four years in prison with an additional three-year loss of civil rights, and endured the entire sentence, not seeking any pardon.
He did not adhere to the prohibition against public speech, and after he granted an interview to foreign journalists in 1977, he was again indicted and in 1981 sentenced to two years in prison, and another four year loss of civil rights. At that trial, he stated: "The only purpose of my work is to strive to secure a righteous, human, just and free community - for everyone and everywhere; a community that does not only tolerate diversity but rather delights in it (…). Such a happy and diverse world - that is my dream! If I have to be tried because of that, I consent to it because without that dream, neither I nor my work have any purpose". (https://vladogotovac.org/).
As one of the most important advocates of liberal ideas in Croatia at the end of the 1980s, he was politically engaged. In May 1989, together with Slavko Goldstein and Dražen Budiša, he founded the first Croatian political party formed after the reintroduction of a multi-party system (HSLS - Croatian Social Liberal Union). In 1990, after 18 years of unemployment and isolation, he was been employed by the Croatian Radio Television (HRT) as an advisor to the Director General. In that same year, he was elected president of the then restored Matica hrvatska and was in charge until February 1996, when he was elected chairman of the HSLS (then renamed to Croatian Social Liberal Party). After a rift in the HSLS (November 1997), he established a new political party of the centre - the Liberal Party (LS), and served as its chairman until his death in 2000. He was elected to the Croatian Parliament three times (1992, 1995 and 2000), and in 1997 he was the presidential candidate of a group of oppositional parties.
In addition to his poetry and philosophical works, he wrote some books in which he spoke of his prison experiences in communism. In his book Zvjezdana kuga (Gotovac 1995), he published his prison records from 1972 and 1973, and the book Moj slučaj (Gotovac 1989) contains his defence speeches on the 1981 trial. His collected works were published in 1995 in seven books (Hekman 1995), and his poems have been included in almost all anthologies of contemporary Croatian poetry and translated into Albanian, English, French, German, Romanian, Italian and some Slavic languages. He was awarded the City of Zagreb Award (1968) and the Tin Ujević Award (1991). In Croatian history, he is mostly remembered as an ever-engaged intellectual, poet and brilliant speaker. In memory of his life and work, the Vlado Gotovac Institute was founded in 2001, and in 2009 a website dedicated to him (https://vladogotovac.org/) was launched.
- Imotski, Croatia 21260
- Metropolitan City of Rome, Rome, Italy
- Zagreb, Croatia
Graur, Valeriu (b. 23 December 1940, Reni, Southern Bessarabia, now in Odessa region, Ukraine; d. 15 September 2012, Bucharest, Romania) was the third most important member of the group. He hailed from a well-to-do family, which was deported to Siberia in June 1941. He spent his early youth first in a special settlement there, and then in Tomsk. His family was rehabilitated and was allowed to repatriate directly to Romania, in 1956. A number of their relatives had already settled there previously. Refusing to move to Romania permanently, Graur returned to Soviet Moldavia in 1959 and the following year was admitted to the Faculty of Physics and Mathematics of the Tiraspol Pedagogical Institute. Gheorghe Ghimpu was one of his instructors there. After graduating from the Institute in 1965, he worked for several years as a school teacher in Southern Moldavia and, then, from 1969, in Chișinău. Starting from 1963, he frequently travelled to Romania to visit his parents. During an extended stay in Bucharest in the summer of 1968, he met two of the prominent Bessarabian-born national activists, Pan Halippa and Gherman Pântea, and also witnessed Ceaușescu’s August 1968 speech. This seemingly contributed to the radicalisation of his views. Starting from 1970, he petitioned the Soviet authorities for emigration to Romania to join his parents and other relatives. In late 1971, Ghimpu entrusted him with several letters and memorandums that Graur was to deliver to Radio Free Europe after his arrival in Bucharest. During the search of Graur’s apartment in January 1972, a copy of one such document was uncovered by the KGB (see Masterpieces). Graur was arrested in March 1972 and sentenced to four years in a high-security labour correction colony. After being released in 1976, he was finally allowed to go to Romania the following year, after threatening the authorities with a public protest. Subsequently, he remained in Romania, where he was active in various organisations lobbying for reunification with Bessarabia (e.g., the Pro Bessarabia and Bukovina Association).
- Chișinău, Moldova
Petro Hryhovorych Grigorenko was born in the village of Borysivka in 1907 (now located in the Prymorsk district of Zaporizhia oblast) and died in New York City in 1987. He was a general major in the Soviet Army and also received his doctorate of military science in 1961. Grigorenko was a founding member of both the Ukrainian and Moscow Helsinki groups in 1976, despite being sent twice to psychiatric clinics in 1964-1965 and in 1969-1974.
He was a Komsomol activist of the 1920s, who was swallowed by the Soviet penal system due to its intolerance of dissenting opinions. Grigorenko's views were ideologically consistent with the foundational principles of the Soviet Union, but at odds with the politics of retrenchment that followed Khrushchev's removal as general secretary. Grigorenko had joined the military, studied at the Military Engineering Academy named after Kuybishev and even held leadership positions in Belarus in the years 1934-1937. His military service during Word War II was in the Far East, where he participated in the battle of Khalkhin-Holi in 1939. Grigorenko was wounded twice. After the war, he taught at the military academy from 1945-1961, receiving his doctorate and authoring 83 texts on military strategy, history, theory and cybernetics.
After the Twentieth Party Congress, Grigorenko began critically evaluating the Soviet Union’s political system and the degree to which it had deviated from Leninist ideals. He openly shared his ideas in the military academy and also at party conferences in Moscow, calling for democratization of the political process. He was almost immediately stripped of his mandate to speak at party conference, as “politically immature,” banned from teaching at the academy, issued a serious reprimand from the party and sent to the Far East Military District to serve in the city of Ussuriysk. While on vacation in Moscow in 1962, he founded an underground organization called “The Union for the Fight to Restore Leninism,” under the aegis of which he published a number of criticisms of bureaucratism and the Soviet penal system, as well as violent crackdowns of protests in Novo-Cherkassk, Temirtau and Tbilisi. It was only a matter time before he was detained (at the Khabarovsk airport on February 1, 1964). He was taken back to Moscow, and thrown in a cell at the KGB prison. He refused KGB chief Vladimir Semichastnyi’s offer to repent during his interrogation, which meant he was arrested, tried and sentenced for breaking Article 70 of the RSFSR’s Criminal Codex. After a court issued medical examination, he was diagnosed as suffering from paranoia (“paranoialnyi rozvytok osobystosti”—Rukh Oporu 188), a verdict Grigorenko believes was politically motivated and sanctioned by members of the Moscow Politburo. He was sentenced to mandatory medical treatment in Leningradsk.
In April 22, 1965 he was released following Khrushchev’s ouster, as a person who had recovered from mental illness. He held a variety of odd jobs—as a guard, tour guide, driver, builder. In 1966, he joined Moscow dissident circles, began reading samvydav materials, and even joined the campaign to help Crimean Tatars return to their native lands. In 1967, he wrote a critique of the Red Army’s crimes during World War II in a pamphlet which circulated in samvydav circles. He wrote another piece directed at communists in which he stated Stalinism was a deadly illness for communism. He supported the democratizing movement in Czechoslovakia in 1968, agitated for the removal of Soviet troops from the country, wrote a critique of special psychiatric clinics used to punish dissident and political adversaries and even tried to give the dissident movement more concrete organizational form. That same year he participated in demonstrations of Crimean Tatars outside the Central Committee’s office building, also gathering statistics and other useful information for foreign correspondents about the violation of Crimean Tatar rights after their attempted return from exile. In November 1968, his apartment was searched and his entire archive confiscated. Ignoring KGB threats, Grigorenko flew to Tashkent as a “people’s defender”, where he was arrested again and held for 5 months by the KGB in Uzbekistan, before being sentenced again to mandatory medical treatment for psychiatric conditions. His prison diary documented the hunger strike he initiated in protest of his treatment. His illegal arrest, and other indecencies was published in the Chronical of Current Events («Хро́ника теку́щих собы́тий»), a Russian language samizdat journal published irregularly in 1968-1983 and documented the human rights struggle, political repressions, and the Soviet penal system.
Grigorenko’s case attracted the attention of the larger human rights community — Tatars picketed outside the prison in Tashkent where he was being held, hundreds of signatures were gathered in Moscow, protest actions took place in Norway, Italy and Belgium. But to no avail, he was released only on the eve of President Nixon to the USSR on June 24, 1974. After his release, he continued his support for other human rights defenders (Mustafa Dzhemilev), he was a founding member of the Moscow Helsinki Group and the Ukrainian Helsinki Group in 1976 and the following year wrote a brochure documenting the struggle of both groups with the KGB. In 1977, he was given permission to travel to the US for medical treatment, where he lived out the rest of his days, where he continued his human rights work.
- Kharkiv, Ukraine
- Moskva, Moscow, Russia
- New York, United States
- Ussuriysk, Russia
Ion Grigorescu (b. 15 March 1945, Bucharest) is a complex artist, who is continually experimenting and innovating in his art. Painter, draughtsman, photographer, and essayist, he is in known in the first place as one of the few multimedia artists in Romania. According to his own testimony, he chose art because he believed that it was a less ideological field, only to discover already as a student how much he had been mistaken. A graduate of the Nicolae Grigorescu Institute of Visual Arts in Bucharest in 1969, he became like all artists in communist Romania a member of the Union of Visual Artists in 1971, but he preferred to do what he liked rather than what was requested of him. According to the critic Erwin Kessler, Ion Grigorescu “is the Romanian artist who contributed most to the transformation of painting from a traditional practice to a conceptual artistic medium.” The fact that during communism he was an absolutely marginal figure gave him an extraordinary advantage, because it meant that he could experiment as he pleased. At the same time, he had to deal with the immense disadvantage of working completely outside the official network, without exhibitions, living from the sale of his works through the informal channels by which Sorin Costina came to him. In fact, Ion Grigorescu concentrated more on art forms such as photography and short films, at a time when these had an inferior status in relation to the traditional plastic arts and found no place in exhibition galleries.
Consequently, his experimental works only had a limited public under communism, and were generally presented only to his friends. Among them is Dialogue with Ceauşescu, a short film of 1978, presenting an imaginary and impossible conversation between the artist and the dictator. Ion Grigorescu plays both roles, wearing a mask to play Ceauşescu. The film is silent, with the conversation appearing written on the screen, starting with a sentence that has become famous: “If the people cannot lead, then it ought at least to criticise!” By the continuous rolling of the texts belonging to the two roles in two separate columns, the film subtly suggests the non-existence of dialogue between the dictator who leads according to his own wishes and the people whose criticism is ignored. Asked to what extent we can speak of an art of protest in works of Ion Grigorescu that became very well known only after the fall of communism, such as Dialogue with Ceauşescu, Sorin Costina emphasises that it was precisely the artist’s marginality that helped him to survive in a peripheral network: “Back then, no one saw him, His films were seen by approximately twenty people in Timişoara. And that was in the 1980s.”
It is interesting to note the episode concerning the portrait of Ceauşescu that was ordered from Ion Grigorescu in 1980, on the occasion of the dictator’s birthday. Instead of painting something conventional by pastiching official photographs, as was the usual practice, he painted a triple portrait, with three different views of Ceauşescu during his so-called “working visits” to various construction sites. When the painting was refused as being out of conformity with the official canons, Ion Grigorescu remade it, keeping only one of the three images but making the hands with which Ceauşescu was indicating what was to be done on the site exaggeratedly small in relation to his height. Obviously this second version was not accepted either. Basically, the artist’s great achievement was to suggest, albeit through paintings that did not include any taboo elements as such, a critical reflection on the Ceauşescu regime.
After 1989, Ion Grigorescu became one of the most famous Romanian artists not only nationally but also internationally. His artistic creation is multi-faceted, but he is best known as a performance artist, a maker of film and video art, a photographer, and less as a painter, although his portfolio also includes paintings (including church paintings and icons). He is also the author of a number of essayistic and theoretical texts published in specialised journals. He has had over forty solo exhibitions and taken part in over 300 group exhibitions, and his works are to be found in the most famous art galleries in the world, including MOMA in New York, the Tate Gallery in London, and the Georges Pompidou Centre in Paris.
- Bucharest, Romania
Jiří Gruntorád is a Czech librarian, founder and director of the Libri Prohibiti Library. After elementary school he apprenticed as a forester and afterwards, he worked in different professions such as forest worker, tram conductor, bricklayer, stoker or storeman. In 1968 he liked to listen to foreign radio stations and his favourite music was representatives of alternative culture or the underground, such as the band “The Plastic People of the Universe” or songwriters like Karel Kryl or Vlastimil Třešňák. He was in touch with the underground scene from the late 1960s. It was books that became Gruntorád’s destiny, though. He entered the samizdat scene in the second half of the 1970s when he worked as a bricklayer in the District Administration of Housing Estates. In 1978 he was asked to fix a wall in dissident Václav Benda’s flat, who he later befriended and who familiarised Gruntorád with the samizdat. Gruntorád recalled the first moment he encountered the samizdat with the following words: “When I saw it for the first time, it was like a revelation for me. Besides the fact that it is a medium with an impact comparable to the Internet of today, it facilitated also a kind of spiritual connection. It enabled me to get to know many people that I could not meet in person and that I only met many years later. This spiritual connection was the most important quality for me. Next to it was, of course, the artistic quality that was, in the case of some works, really high. They brought energy and motivation.” It was this motivation that inspired Gruntorád later to publish samizdat texts banned in Czechoslovakia, be it poetry, prose, expert texts or various pamphlets. In 1978 Gruntorád published a typed copy of Jaroslav Seifert’s poetry book “Morový sloup” (The Plague Monument) as the first publication in the newly created samizdat edition “Popelnice” (The Dust Bin). In the following year, he signed Charter 77 and was sentenced for illegal arming (despite it never having happened) and he spent three months in prison. After his release, he continued publishing samizdat literature with the help of his friends and professional typists. He managed to publish thirty books until he was taken into custody in December 1980 again and later sentenced to four years of imprisonment for distributing samizdat texts and non-official music recordings (officially for the so-called “subversion of the republic”). Thanks to Gruntorád’s friends, there were new books published in the Popelnice edition. From 1981 to 1983, Gruntorád was held in one of the most cruel Czechoslovak prisons in Minkovice, North Bohemia. Part of his sentence was also served in a prison in Valdice in the Jičín District where he met poet and artistic leader of the underground band, The Plastic People of the Universe, Ivan Martin Jirous, nicknamed Magor (The Lunatic) and whose best-known poetry book “Magorovy labutí písně” Gruntorád smuggled out of the prison. In December 1984, he became involved again in publishing of samizdat books despite being under so-called security surveillance; he had to report himself to the police every day and he was assigned where he could live. In total, almost 130 books were published in the Popelnice edition, mostly typewritten A5 format. These were texts that were difficult to find in other samizdat editions or texts that were originally published by exiled publishers, though there were also new books. Gruntorád’s collection of samizdat literature made up the basis of the Libri Prohibiti Library that Gruntorád founded in 1990 and has been the director of ever since.
From 1990 to 1995 Jiří Gruntorád was the secretary of the Committee for the Defence of the Unjustly Prosecuted (VONS) and in 1994 he became a regular member. Gruntorád was presented with many decorations for his activities; among other things, he was awarded the Medal of Merit of 1st grade in 2002 by Václav Havel and in the same year Magnesia Litera for his merits for Czech literature. From 2007 to 2010 he was a member of the scientific council at the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes.
- Praha, Prague, Czech Republic