Petru Iliesu is a writer and social activist. Born in 1951, he spent much of his youth at literary clubs managed by schools and universities. He directed an experimental theatre group, before it was closed down by the authorities. Turning to writing, he published his first book in 1978, at the age of 27.
"I was a product of the flower power generation, not only in appearance, with my long hair and beard: I was convinced that this movement wanted to attack the mechanisms of the state and put in discussion simple human aspects."
In 1982 Iliesu was arrested for making and distributing anti-regime leaflets. Together with a friend, Sandu Gavriliu, he had produced a few dozen leaflets which read "Down with the Ceausescu regime!"
Because Iliesu himself would have been easily recognised (on account of his disability from polio), it was Gavriliu who dropped the leaflets in a small street. Gavriliu was arrested, however: a woman had recognized him and reported him. The Securitate beat him to make him confess the name of his accomplice; they then arrested Iliesu. Iliesu refused to admit that he was the author of the leaflets. He was freed without a beating. (Iliesu believes that a state official who for some reason had taken an interest in him had intervened on his behalf.)
"Some people say that the story with the leaflets was very brave. But look, what could we achieve with a handful of leaflets, dropped somewhere on a street corner in Timisoara? It was not brave, it was an act of despair and hopelessness."
Iliesu's young wife had died just before his release. Iliesu was left with a three year old son. Being released by the Securitate had a bitter downside to it. People tended to assume that one was set free in exchange for agreeing to cooperate – for becoming, in other words, an informer. This meant social isolation. Until 1989 only a few people – his closest friends – came to visit Iliesu at his house.
After his poem "A letter about my brother to Mr Gorbatchov", written in early 1989, was read out on the first days of the December protests in Timisoara, Iliesu moved to Bucharest. On 21 December, shortly before Ceausescu's downfall, he was arrested.
After the revolution ended, he became a member of the first political-administrative structures in Timisoara but withdrew, disillusioned, after half a year.
"I'd be lying to say that I had a clear picture of my desires before my eyes. I was never able to imagine a society after the revolution."
He turned to social activities instead. In December 1989, together with some friends, he had signed a formal protocol to establish a Charity Foundation called "Timisoara '89". The foundation initially focused on the distribution of humanitarian aid in Timisoara. Today, under Iliesu's management, it offers help to the city's poor and homeless.
Looking back at the period before 1989, Iliesu thinks that the machinery of the Securitate was not as strong as he and his friends had believed. Their arrogance managed to intimidate a lot of people, however.
"I was born in a period of fear so I cannot speak about the Securitate without being afraid. What they created was awful – a state of fear that made you live in uncertainty and constantly question yourself. It was a kind of paranoia that grew in you."
Even though the Securitate archives were opened in 2000, Petru Iliesu has not made use of the opportunity to read his file. He told ESI he was not interested in knowing who informed on him.
"We were all victims of society and therefore it is wrong to judge hastily. Everyone had a reason for collaborating with the Securitate. Some of them were cornered and they were trying to cover their family. But there were also people with evil intentions and they did it because they wanted to step up in the social hierarchy. Some of these can now be found in politics."