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Profile: Corneliu Vadim Tudor

  • Michael Shafir

Greater Romania Party (PRM) Chairman Corneliu Vadim Tudor failed in 2004 in his third attempt at the position of head of state. Tudor received 12.57 percent of the vote, finishing behind Prime Minister Adrian Nastase, who received 40.94 percent, and Bucharest Mayor Traian Basescu, who received 33.92 percent.

The 54-year-old Tudor, who in his country goes by the name of "Vadim" (he once explained that the etymological roots of the name are Slavic, meaning "leader"), is called by some "Romania's Le Pen," by others "Romania's Zhirinovskii" and yet by others "Romania's Csurka."

There is some truth to each depiction: in late March 1997, alongside Hungarian Justice and Life Party leader Istvan Csurka and Slovak National Party leader Jan Slota, Tudor attended a congress in Strasbourg of the French National Front, where he said that his party "adheres without hesitation" to the front's programs and ideas and called for a "brotherhood alliance" between the two groups. The birth of a "Nationalist International," he said on that occasion, was now "imminent." Tudor invited Jean-Marie Le Pen to visit Romania, and the French leader attended a PRM congress in November 1997, telling the gathering that nationalism was the only doctrine that can successfully oppose the U.S. "hegemonic plans for a New World Order."

Tudor's PRM was set up in November 1990 by two ultranationalist writers, Eugen Barbu (who died in late 1993), and Tudor, who is a former Ceausescu "court poet." In the general elections of 1992 the PRM obtained 3.89 percent of the vote for the Chamber of Deputies and 3.85 percent of the vote for the Senate. In parliament, the party supported the then-ruling Democratic Front of National Salvation (FDSR), within what was called the "red quadrangle" also including the Party of Romanian National Unity and the Agrarian Democratic Party of Romania. For a brief spell, the alliance was formalized, with PRM representatives holding deputy minister and prefect ranks.

It broke down once Tudor decided to challenge Ion Iliescu for the post of president in 1996. In the PRM election campaign, former ally Iliescu suddenly became someone who had been put in power by Jews, a Gypsy, and a godless man who had ordered the shooting of Ceausescu on the night of 24 December 1989, when Christians "do not even slaughter their pig." Both Iliescu and Tudor lost the presidential campaign to Emil Constantinescu. Tudor garnered 4.42 percent, placing fifth in the first round. His PRM received 4.46 percent in the election for the lower house and 4.54 percent in the Senate elections.

The PRM leader's finest hour came in the 2000 elections. Forgetting his previous partnership with the ruling party (now called the Party of Social Democracy in Romania), Tudor posed as the people's "tribune," untainted by corruption because his PRM allegedly never participated in the government. He profited from the fact that the outgoing coalition (1997-2000) formed by the Democratic Convention of Romania, the Democratic Party, and the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania, proved just as incapable of introducing reform and just as corrupt as (under different denominations) its socialist predecessors had been. Tudor managed to make the runoff with Iliescu (though losing by a large margin) and his PRM took about one-fifth of the seats in both the upper and the lower houses, becoming the second-strongest party in the legislature. It was a performance unmatched by extremist, ultranationalist, and anti-Semite parties anywhere else in Eastern Europe, and Romania was repeatedly warned by the United States, the EU, and important Western and Israeli politicians that it risked becoming the pariah of the "new democracies."

Aware of this image, Tudor suddenly underwent what Romanians called a "transfiguration": he hired an Israeli electoral spin doctor to manage his and his party's 2004 campaign, took his party on a pilgrimage to Auschwitz, and expressed public regret for his previous Holocaust-denying posture. All he managed by doing so was to lose a good part of his nationalist electorate, without convincing anyone on the side of the democratic spectrum. His PRM was cut down to its "natural" (albeit still rather high) size, scoring 12.92 percent and 13.93 percent in the elections for the lower and the upper house, respectively.

Still, the party apparently has a faithful electorate made up of former Securitate members (Tudor himself has been an eager, though apparently voluntary, unpaid informer), and of Ceausescu-trained intellectual losers of the transition. Tudor himself even scored lower than his party: 12.57 percent, finishing third after the Social Democratic Party's Prime Minister Adrian Nastase and the Justice and Truth alliance candidate, Bucharest Mayor Traian Basescu.