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Romania: Authorities Launch Probe Into Controversial Book

  • Eugen Tomiuc

Romanian prosecutors are launching an inquiry into the publishing of a book that contains xenophobic and anti-Semitic text. The book, written by an ultranationalist deputy, has been harshly criticized by representatives of Jewish, Romany, and Hungarian minorities, who say it violates the constitution. But ultranationalists argue that banning the book and prosecuting its author would amount to a violation of free speech -- also guaranteed by the constitution.

Prague, 23 August 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The Romanian prosecutor's office yesterday launched a probe into the publishing of a book that many believe contains texts inciting anti-Semitism and racial hatred. The inquiry follows protests from leaders of the Jewish, Romany, and Hungarian minority communities, which appear to be the main targets of the book.

The Federation of Romania's Jewish communities issued a statement on 22 August saying the book amounts to a "grave incitement to interethnic and racial hatred" and violates the Romanian Constitution's ban on anti-Semitic and racist material. The statement urges authorities to take action in line with Romanian law -- which provides penalties of up to five years in prison -- for those found guilty of distributing Nazi or anti-Semitic propaganda.

The controversial book is "The Nationalist," written by Vlad Hogea, a 24-year-old deputy of the ultranationalist Greater Romania Party (PRM). It contains a collection of essays originally published in magazines run by PRM leader Corneliu Vadim Tudor -- a communist poet turned ultranationalist who lost the presidential election to Ion Iliescu in December of last year, and whose picture is featured on the book's cover.

"The Nationalist" has yet to hit the shelves, but some 1,000 copies have already been printed ahead of its official launching on 25 August, and excerpts have appeared in the Romanian media.

Bucharest dailies are reporting that "The Nationalist" contains such chapter titles as "These Jews Who Rule Us" and "White-Romanian-Christian-Nationalist." It also reportedly includes the phrase "whoever fights the Jews, fights the devil," which Hogea says is borrowed from Julius Streicher, a prominent Nazi official executed for war crimes in 1946.

The book has alarmed Romania's small Jewish community, which now numbers some 12,000 and which saw an estimated half of its pre-World War II population of 800,000 deported or killed under the rule of pro-Nazi dictator Ion Antonescu.

But Hogea maintains that, despite quoting a notorious figure like Streicher, he is not himself an anti-Semite. He tells RFE/RL that even though he is a nationalist, he is not biased against any minority group:

"I am Romanian, and I am a nationalist. I accept my condition, and I am proud of it. But I am not an anti-Semite, because I cannot be against a community -- be it a racial, ethnic, or religious community."

Hogea, whose PRM party holds one-fourth of the seats in Romania's parliament, introduced a bill in May providing for wider social integration of Romania's almost 2 million Roma. The party quietly withdrew the bill from parliament several weeks later.

But Hogea's book lashes out against the very people he said he had wanted to help with his bill. In the book, according to the published excerpts, he calls the Roma "a black tide that poisons the ocean" and warns that "unless we stand up against this wave of dirt which is gradually covering us, we risk becoming a minority in our own country."

Prominent minority leaders in Romania say racial hatred is not uncommon at high levels of Romanian officialdom. Deputy Nicolae Paun, who represents the Roma in parliament, says such attacks against his community are possible because some state institutions are infested with racism. He tells RFE/RL that books like "The Nationalist" will only harm Romania's chances of becoming a member of NATO and the European Union:

"There is a certain amount of racism and xenophobia at a high level, within very important state institutions. Such reactions, whether in the media or in racist books such as this, will not help Romania in its competition for integration in the civilized world, in the Euro-Atlantic structures."

Paun's accusations are tied to the fact that the controversial book has appeared under the auspices of a research institute affiliated with the Romanian Academy. The Academy earlier this week issued a statement denying it had approved the book's publication.

But the Academy has been at least indirectly involved. The research institute, located in the northeast town of Iasi, is led by Gheorghe Buzatu, a controversial historian who is also a PRM senator and deputy speaker of Romania's senate, the upper chamber of parliament. Corneliu Ciocanu -- a former far-right leader -- is also among its researchers. Buzatu, who is also a top PRM aide, has personally endorsed both the book and its author, whom he calls "an exceptional young man."

Both Hogea and the PRM leadership deny any connection between the book and the party's official position. But ethnic minority leaders say the volume is, in fact, a party manifesto.

Over the last decade, the PRM has frequently targeted the country's 1.7 million Hungarians. Prominent members of Romania's ethnic-Hungarian party, the UDMR -- an ally of the ruling Social Democrats -- are now demanding that the government condemn both Hogea's book and his party.

UDMR Senator Peter Eckstein Kovacs tells RFE/RL that the Romanian leadership must stand firm against xenophobia and extremism: "The [political] majority, and above all the [governing] Social Democrat Party, must express very clearly their position regarding this book and the xenophobic and anti-Semitic ideas it contains. It must be publicly acknowledged that this is the position of a party which should not exist in the political life of a democratic country."

But author Hogea says the inquiry launched by the authorities is a violation of his constitutional right to free speech. He accuses the government of trying to destroy him. He says he will appeal to international organizations for support:

"I will contact all enlightened nationalists in the civilized world who can help me protect my right to free speech, and I will launch a very strong campaign on the Internet. I will translate excerpts from my book into English, and I will popularize them internationally. I will appeal to Western institutions."

Hogea's case is not the first of its kind in Romania. Another inquiry is under way after the Supreme Court earlier this year asked prosecutors to investigate the availability of Nazi and other anti-Semitic propaganda -- including Adolf Hitler's "Mein Kampf" -- at an international book fair in Bucharest.

And recently, PRM leader Tudor publicly apologized on behalf of one of his party colleagues who had published a book containing two jokes about the Holocaust. The book was withdrawn from publication, but not before some 20,000 copies had been sold.

Tudor has so far remained silent on the controversy surrounding "The Nationalist." But one of his more notorious publications, the magazine "Greater Romania," launched a violent attack today against the Jewish community, saying its protests over Hogea's book are an attempt to stifle free speech in Romania.