In 1989, the Rafto Foundation decided to award two prizes: one personal award for Doina Cornea from Romania and one group award for FIDESZ, the Hungarian youth opposition movement.
The first of the 1989 Rafto Prizes was awarded to Doina Cornea (1929-2018) for her work as a dissident during the communist regime of Nicolae Ceauşescu in Romania.
Doina Cornea started her activist work in 1982 while working as a professor for a Romanian university. She was fired a year later after releasing texts and protests against the Ceauşescu regime, to Radio Free Europe. Despite being arrested in 1983 by the Securitate - the Romanian communist secret police-, and being interrogated, beaten, and threatened with death, she continued for the next six years to release a total of 31 texts and protests to Radio Free Europe.
Together with her son, she released 160 manifestos against the communist regime. Doina Cornea and her son were both arrested and held in custody for five weeks in 1997. She was then put under house arrest for two years.
Following her release Doina Cornea continued her outspokenness against new communist regimes. She co-founded the Democratic Anti-totalitarian Forum of Romania (Forumul Democrat Antitotalitar din România), the first attempt to unify democratic opposition to the post-communist government. This organisation later became the Romanian Democratic Convention. Doina Cornea later also co-founded The Group for Social Dialogue (Grupul pentru Dialog Social) in Romania, The Civic Alliance Foundation and The Cultural Memory Foundation.