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East European Perspectives: March 21, 2001

21 March 2001, Volume 3, Number 6
RADICAL POLITICS IN EAST-CENTRAL EUROPE PART X: The Romanian Radical Return And 'Mainstream Politics' (A)

By Michael Shafir

As elsewhere in Central and Eastern Europe, radical return postures have been creeping into organizations, political parties, and publications that are generally identified with "mainstream politics." Following the 1996 election victory of the pro-Western Democratic Convention of Romania (CDR), civic organizations permeated with the spirit of the radical right have also become quite active, and it was sometime difficult to draw a clear line between one sort of "anti-communism" and the other. In this, as well as in the next issue of "East European Perspectives" (EEP), I shall attempt to describe how this potentially dangerous penetration of the radical right spirit endangers the democratic ethos in Romania.

In 1999, six Timisoara-based civic organizations initiated a "rehabilitation trial" of Marshal Antonescu, which expectedly ended in his exoneration by a "moral jury" ("Ziua," 22 October 1999). Earlier, the town's local council, on which the CDR had a majority, named a street in the marshal's honor. Organizations claiming to represent anti-communist resistance fighters have been set up, and in at least one such instance, then-President Emil Constantinescu attended the founding ceremony. Following his departure, portraits of Iron Guard leader Corneliu Zelea Codreanu were displayed, and the organization's committee that was elected on the occasion included prominent Iron Guardists (see "Ziua" and "Romania libera," 8 December 1997; "22," 9-15 December 1997). This might be unavoidable, as the late 1940s and early 1950s armed resistance against the regime was indeed dominated by members of the Iron Guard. The chairman of the association established in Constantinescu's presence, Ioan Gavrila Ogoranu, for example, is a former Iron Guardist who fought in the Fagaras Mountains against the communists, and whose memoirs were published by the Timisoara-based, pro-Iron Guardist Marineasa Publishing House (see "Gazeta de vest," January and June 1995; "Puncte cardinale," May 1995). As "freedom fighters" are being celebrated hand in hand with the mentioning of their Iron Guardist affiliation, the average Romanian newspaper reader and television watcher could easily conclude that the legionnaires had been democratic patriots. As French political scientist Alexandra Laignel-Lavastine (1999, p. 233) aptly put it, one was under the impression that "nothing that is anti-communist is not worth rehabilitating."

"Transitologists" tend to place "civil society" at the core of the "democratization process" and "civic organizations" at the core of forging a civil society. But civic organizations are a means rather than an end unto themselves. It is up to those organizations to define their purpose, and the purpose can be as "un-civil" and as non-democratic as can be. What is more, the organizations can pick up from the "democratization" jargon whatever serves their objective, thereby acquiring not only a modern (indeed, even a "post-modern") outlook, but also placing themselves in a position that increases their appeal among younger generations. An example in case is a Romanian group calling itself the New Right [Grupul Noua Dreapta]. The group has nothing in common with "Noua dreapta," the defunct publication of Radu Sorescu's Party of National Right (PDN), though the similarity in denomination indicates that the PDN and the New Right Group (GND) share some common ground.

The GND self-introduced itself and its outlooks in "Aldine," a supplement of "Romania libera" regularly carrying propaganda of different radical right streams, despite the fact that this daily is supposed to be close to the CDR and to the democratic ethos ("Romania libera," 1 April 2000). The group had been founded in 1994 and quickly established international contacts with like-minded groups and organizations in Europe. One of these is the French-based Group for the Study and Research for a New European Civilization (GRECE), which the German Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution in its 1997 report listed among extreme-right organizations. Since 1999, the group has been publishing the journal "Maiastra" (Wonder-Bird) (see Totok, 2000), whose first issue was distributed by the Anastasia publishing house headed by Razvan Codrescu (see "EEP," Vol. 3, no. 3, 2001). More important for the Romanian domestic context, the GDN's views were considered to be legitimate and respectable enough for such "mainstream" parties as the Union of Rightist Forces, which ran on joint lists with the CDR in the 2000 elections, to have its late leader, the Writers' Union chairman, Senator Laurentiu Ulici, chair a meeting at the Literature Museum in Bucharest in July 2000, at which the second issue of "Maiastra" was launched (Totok, 2000).

Defining itself as "a multidisciplinary study circle" rather than a political party, the GND's declared purpose is to "machine-gun the fossils loaded by historic culpability," that is to say the Left, loosely defined. It is the Left that, according to the GND, bears "full responsibility...not only for the imposition of communism by force, but also for the de-Romaniziation of this country, which it has Slavicized and Gypsyized." Since communism had been imposed on the country by force, "its liquidation must also come by force." This "for the time being," can only be "the force of ideas." One does, however, wonder how long the "time being" will last.

Unlike other radical return structures, the GND combines past with future-oriented perspectives, the latter placed in the service of the former. It distances itself from the Iron-Guardist "groupuscules" which it is quite accurately depicting as being "rid by ridiculous divisions." Yet, like these formations, it places the nation and communitarian values at the core of its ideological credo. Familiar with modern social science jargon, however, the GND no longer speaks of the "nation" as being the primary collective spring of the community, replacing it with "ethnicity." "Ethnicity," however, is said to be approached from an "existential perspective" very much reminiscent in both terminology and interpretation of the Romanian interwar radical ideology. One has to "give priority to personal experience that mystery called 'togetherness'" (A FI IMPREUNA), and, moreover, do it "in a lyrical, religious manner." The GDN is, furthermore, ready to accept some European concepts, like the concept of "subsidiarity." On face, that would place it far away from the classic radical return and its emphasis on nation and the "unitary state." But on closer reading, subsidiarity turns out to be, in turn, subordinated to the GND's interpretation of "ethnicity," the group emphasizing that individuals identify with the "regions" in which they were born and grew up, and that those regions must be perceived as geographical sub-units of the spiritual "ethnicity." Accepting subsidiarity gives the GND an aura of modernity that old-fashioned formations lack, and makes it more attractive to young people. Once again, however, regionalism is for the GND nothing but a means to combat "globalization," which, just as any other radical return group, the GDN forcefully rejects in what is also a rather commonly encountered version of "conspiracy theories" (on the latter see Voicu, 2000, pp. 121, 151). With "ethnicity" as its core concept, one could hardly expect anything but a forceful rejection of "globalization," perceived by the GND to be destroying "the organic unity and the interests of the ethno-cultural community." This rejection is part and parcel of what the GDN perceives to be one of its chief missions -- to provide a "right-wing criticism of capitalism."

Again, this is both old and new. The radical right has always placed itself in an ambiguous position vis-a-vis capitalism, whose political institutions it has rejected. The GND is on similar ground, stating that while it accepts capitalism as a market mechanism, it rejects "liberalism" as a proper doctrine of the Right. The modern Right "must be authoritarian and promote a social vision. It must re-establish the State, not minimize it and transform it into a market." Capitalism is only accepted as long as it is "a just, not a speculative, human-dignity destroying capitalism" and only "a powerful State, subordinated to an unchallenged political authority," can promote that form of capitalism.

Like the classical radical right, the GND is rejecting "egalitarianism," defined as "the Right's number 1 enemy," and like that right it updresses the rejection in pseudo-modern racist scientific argument. Whereas the Nazis "measured skulls," the GDN pretends to measure genes. Modern genetic research, it claims, has demonstrated that human DNA is singular for every individual. That in itself proves that egalitarianism is unnatural. From here to collective geneticism the road is short and the GND takes it to the very end. The "egalitarian reflex" that survived communism in post-communist Romania has transformed the country into a "bazaar" which, the GND claims, is best illustrated in Bucharest's "Gypsy-proletarian sub-culture" and domination of the market by Arabs, Turks, and Chinese. An end must be put to "permissive immigration." Romania's road out of the present impasse rests in a doctrine based on "biological, ethnological, and cultural-anthropological arguments." Although the GND pretends to subscribe to European "anti-totalitarian" and "anti-racist" values, it has produced the thus-far most racist anti-Roma manifesto, again clad in pseudo-scientific language. At the end of the day, there is little in the GND's "offer" that has not been met in Nichifor Crainic's "ethnocracy" concept (see" EEP," Vol. 1, no. 3, 1999).

Precious little has been undertaken by the Romanian authorities (whether under President Ion Iliescu or his predecessor, Constantinescu) to stop the proliferation of radical right parties, groups, and publications. As has been observed (see "EEP," Vol. 3, no. 3, 2001), pro-Iron Guard veteran supporters were apprehensive at one point that overly overt activity and assuming full identification with the Guard's doctrines might lead to their being outlawed. The only half-hearted attempt to do so was registered in 1993, when Iliescu asked the Prosecutor-General's Office to probe into activities of extremist parties and publications. By then, hand in hand with the radical return effort to rehabilitate the Legion, many publications, out to improve circulation, were publishing articles on the Legionary Movement and Codreanu in particular. This was usually done by presenting the "debates" as contributions to understand a phenomenon that had been neglected or distortedly presented by communist historiography. Along this line of argument, it was also claimed that the judicial principle of AUDI ALTERAM PARTE (hearing the other party) must be respected, and Ion Coja would become its main advocate. It was allegedly in the name of this principle, as it was specified on the back cover, that the Timisoara-based Gordian publishers reissued Codreanu's memoirs (Codreanu, 1993). And the same claim was made in an introduction by Oliviu Tocaciu, the publisher of the first Romanian translation of Hitler's "Mein Kampf" (Hitler, 1993). Like Coja and Radu Theodoru, Tocaciu was a member of the Democratic Agrarian Party of Romania leadership, a party largely perceived to be a leftist-inclined, "mainstream" formation. Extremism was clearly showing indications of having penetrated all shades of the political spectrum.

Launched in April 1993, the distribution of "Mein Kampf" was originally stopped by the Sibiu branch of the Prosecutor-General's office, in line with a provision of the Penal Code forbidding the dissemination of anti-Semitic and racial incitement. The publishers, however, appealed the decision and then-Prosecutor General Manea Dragulin personally ruled that the publication of the book was not an infringement of the law, taking into consideration the purported intention of "informing the public" and precedents in other countries ("Evenimentul zilei," 24 and 26 April, "Adevarul," 26 April and 10 June 1993). Following the protests of late Chief Rabbi Moses Rosen, on 10 June 1993 President Iliescu ordered Dragulin to re-examine the case. At the same time, the president demanded that the legality of the activities of the Movement for Romania (MPR), the PDN and the For The Fatherland Party be examined in line with the provisions of the constitution that forbid the existence of fascist or legionary political formations. Finally, Iliescu also asked the Prosecutor-General to examine the content of articles in some unnamed publications which, he said, could be suspected of anti-Semitism and incitement to racial hatred ("Revista cultului mozaic," no. 761-762, June-July 1993). The unnamed publications alluded to were mainly Corneliu Vadim Tudor's "Romania mare" and "Politica," as well as "Europa," whose editor in chief, Ilie Neacsu, had been an unsuccessful candidate on the Greater Romania Party lists in the 1992 general elections. The fact that the president abstained from mentioning their names, however, placed a large question mark on the endeavor; some extremists (those belonging to the radical continuity stream allied at that time with the president's party), were obviously being treated differently than those extremists who belonged to the radical return stream. It was interesting to note, however, that both streams reacted similarly to the appeal, accusing Iliescu of giving in to pressure exercised by people (re: Rabbi Rosen) who had made themselves guilty of "anti-Romanianism" and of failing to speak up against this alleged other aspect of "extremism" (see "Politica," 24 July 1993 and "Miscarea," no. 8, 15-30 July 1993).

Replying to the presidential request in early November, Dragulin said that his office had concluded that none of the specified cases constituted an infringement of the letter of the law. The parties in question, he said, have had their statutes examined by the courts and no deviation from the provision of the law had been found to exist. Furthermore, the Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI) and the Interior Ministry had not informed his office about activities under way in or by the three political parties that would warrant any special measures being taken against them. He reiterated the former position of his office on the "Mein Kampf" affair, emphasizing that freedom of information was a particularly important facet of democratic rights; and he said that libel against anti-Semitic articles hitherto examined had been found invalid from the legal point of view, though his office would continue to examine possible infringements in the future ("Adevarul," 9 November 1993). Yet the SRI report for that year ("Adevarul," 30 June 1993) had long dwelt on the dangers arising from radical return activities and on these parties' links with both emigre Iron Guardists and with far-right formations such as Jean-Marie Le Pen's National Front. Expressing satisfaction with the prosecutor-general's findings, the MPR called on Iliescu to officially apologize. The reaction was printed in a statement dated "the day of the Archangels Michael and Gabriel" -- the former being the patron saint of the Legion -- under a portrait of Codreanu ("Miscarea," no. 13, 15-30 November 1993).

Not the prosecutor-general, but the electorate (see "EEP," Vol. 3, no. 3, 2001) seemed to have eliminated MPR leader Marian Munteanu from the country's political map. An "interim report" on the evolution of Romania's radical continuity and radical return parties by the end of 1996 would have probably concluded that while the former had established a relatively strong niche in the electorate and in the parliament, the latter had failed to attract any significant support. The report would have been partly misleading, however, and would have fully illustrated the well-known weaknesses of the behavioral approach in political science. Numbers are important, provided that all those who should be counted are willing to stand up for the call. But this is neither the Romanian nor, indeed, the case of the other Central and East European countries of the region. The "web of prejudice," as had been observed, is far larger. And it takes the eye of politologists well-versed in both of those countries' political cultures and who, moreover, are attentive to evolutions rarely making the headlines in international media reports, to paint a realistic picture. That this realism might turn out to be surreal is another matter.

Take, for instance, the case of Mugurel Vintila, deputy chairman of the Alliance for Romania (APR) headed by former Foreign Minister Theodor Melescanu, a party represented in the parliament between June 1997, when it split from Iliescu's formation, and November 2000, when it failed to regain parliamentary representation. In yet one more stance of "conspiracy-theory," in March 2000 Vintila warned that Romania was about to be transformed into a "Romistan," a "state of the Gypsies" envisaged by the West, which intends to transform the country into a place to which members of that minority from other former communist countries would be directed. Vintila added that the Roma in Romania are financed from abroad in order to "penetrate the [country's] power structures" (see "National," 28 March 2000, "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 April 2000, and Voicu, 2000, pp. 66, 143). Vintila would eventually be expelled from the APR, but not because of his racial statements, which apparently disturbed no one in this "mainstream party."

As has been mentioned (see "EEP," Vol. 3, no. 2, 2001), the National Liberal Party (PNL) was at one point courting Munteanu. The other main CDR component, the National Peasant Party Christian Democratic (PNTCD) would not hesitate to accept ultranationalists into its ranks, some of whom could clearly compete with the likes of Munteanu. This, for example, was the case of Brancoveanu Eagle Association leader Radu-Mihai Chesaru, who in the 1996 local elections ran on the PNTCD lists for a seat on one of Bucharest's sectors, becoming a local councilor representing that party and the cabinet director of PNTCD Finance Minister Mircea Ciumara ("Cronica romana," 10 May 1997). Chesaru, who officially registered his association in April 1995, was proudly displaying the portraits of Codreanu in the association's Bucharest offices and explained that an organization such as his could not apply for registration earlier because of its "right-wing radical orientation" ("Sueddeutsche Zeitung," 12 January 1995 and "Azi," 17 April 1996). Chesaru did his six months of military service in 1994 -- after the change of regime -- in an SRI unit near Bucharest. He specialized there in telephone eavesdropping, a skill that he would later apply in what he defines as his organization's post-communist purpose: the struggle against corruption, "the mafias" of "those who served the former regime, Gypsies and foreigners --especially Arabs." But he was also stepping into Munteanu's shoes as defender of Romanian Orthodoxy. When U.S. First Lady Hillary Clinton, on a visit to Bucharest in July 1996, refrained from visiting an Orthodox church in protest against the discrimination in Romania of Jehova's Witnesses, Chesaru said one should clarify to the guest that the "sect" is "a tool in the struggle for destroying Christian unity." Hillary Clinton must understand, he added, that "the Romanians are Orthodox Christians and that gestures such as hers carry the risk of driving a wedge between our two peoples" ("Cronica romana," 4 July 1996).

Chesaru claims that after his military service he has had no links to the SRI, but acknowledges that he occasionally meets his old friends and that in 1995 he had publicly come out in defense of former SRI chief Virgil Magureanu (interviews with Chesaru in "Jurnalul national," 20 February 1996, and "Cronica romana," 21 February 1996). At the time he served, the SRI was still very much its old national-communist self. Whether that self just fit into Chesaru's world outlook, or whether it also influenced him, there is no way to tell. But he was hardly a singular exception among PNTCD representatives. Matei Boila, a senator then representing the PNTCD -- joined in 1999 the splinter faction of the National Christian Democratic Alliance headed by former premier Ciorbea -- and a priest of the Greek-Catholic Church, in September 1994 joined the motion initiated by Adrian Motiu (see "EEP" Vol. 2, no. 21, 2000) against Alfred Moses' appointment as U.S. ambassador to Romania and refused to retract his signature when his party urged him to (Shafir, 1994a, p. 155). Still earlier, PNTCD and Senate Deputy Chairman Ioan Lup (known to have published articles with anti-Semitic undertones as early as 1990), participated in June 1993 in a memorial service for Antonescu at a church in Bucharest. Also present at the ceremony was Senator Alexandru Paleologu, at that time representing the Party of Civic Alliance, which later merged with the PNL (Shafir, 1994b, p. 121).

The drive for Antonescu's rehabilitation, usually associated with the radical continuity formations, has more supporters among the traditional "Blues" (see "EEP," Vol. 1, no. 1, 1999), who belong to the "mainstream" Right, than one would have expected. As already mentioned, PNTCD Senator Ion Moisin in 1999 initiated the attempt to rehabilitate Antonescu in parliament, and his fellow PNTCD senator, Valentin Gabrielescu, in 1990 told Romanian-born German journalist William Totok that the marshal had been one of Romania's "great statesmen." Under Antonescu, he said, Romanian Jews had suffered "considerably less than in Hungary or Poland" and historic accounts claiming otherwise were nothing but "fairy tales." In fact, Jews had been privileged when compared to the Romanian majority, for while "Romanian soldiers were fighting on the Volga, the Jews stayed home and were only obliged to clean the capital's streets of snow" (cited in Totok, 1998b). Both PNL and PNTCD city councilors in Cluj had been lured into supporting Mayor Gheorghe Funar's drive for erecting a statue commemorating the dictator (see "EEP," Vol. 2, no. 19, 2000). The PNL has a particularly long post-1989 record in support of Antonescu's rehabilitation drive. The most emphatic spokesman for this cause, among parliamentarians representing the party, was Dan Amadeo Lazarescu, who also claims to be a historian. In the first (1990-1992) legislature he spoke in parliament several times in praise of Antonescu and seems to have never changed his mind. By 1997, in an article published in "Aldine," Lazarescu was writing that the Romanian people "cannot comprehend the absurd pretensions of some [Jewish or Jewish-supporting] circles over the ocean to except [Antonescu and his cabinet ministers] from the noble principle of rehabilitation and restitution of property confiscated by a regime eager to liquidate by all means Romania's political, military, and social elites" ("Romania libera," 6 March 1997). But as Totok shows (1998b, pp. 26-27), even PNL's first post-communist party chairman, Radu Campeanu, was a staunch defender of Antonescu and a "Holocaust negationist."

Campeanu came to be suspected in some circles of having collaborated with the Securitate already during his Parisian exile, from which he had returned in 1989. The suspicion has never been confirmed. But Paleologu, one of the few to have openly admitted to have been recruited by the Securitate as an informer while in prison but to have never actually informed (Paleologu and Tanase, 1996, pp. 186-196), should not be suspected of "serving the Cause" when he comes out in Antonescu's defense. Largely considered to be a liberal spirit -- though somewhat a maverick -- he belongs to that category of Romanian intellectuals who are simply unable to take a critical look at the country's contemporary history. Not an extreme nationalist, he nonetheless insists on ignoring historic evidence considering Romania's nationalism a "benign" and "necessary" form of identity-searching (see Andreescu, 1996, pp. 25-69), and hence finds himself, perhaps to his own surprise, on the same barricades with the radical continuity partisans whom he otherwise opposes. In 1998, for example, in an interview with a daily published in Iasi, he called for a "short-term dictatorship" to overcome the "foolish and selfish" ambitions of political parties, which, he said, are corrupted or encourage corruption and fail to place the "national interest" at the head of their priority-list ("Romania libera," 6 April 1998). Not only Codreanu and Munteanu, but also Tudor would have subscribed.

It was consequently hardly surprising to find Paleologu coming to the defense of Antonescu's perception as a fascist. His rule, he wrote, was "at most" one that can be qualified as "a national regime with authoritarian features" (cited in Totok, 1998a, p. 32). As for some of his cabinet members whose rehabilitation then-Prosecutor General Sorin Moisescu initiated in 1997, stirring the protest of members of the U.S. Congress (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 October, 17, 21, and 24 November 1997), he had personally known them and could vouch for their being "people of integrity and a strong character." Some of them might have been anti-Semites, Paleologu added, but opinions "cannot be put on trial." Even the Nuremberg trials should never have taken place, since they were nothing but the "trial of the vanquished by the victors." He would not deny that "the massacre, killing, or starving to death of some Jews through mishandling is a horrible, monstrous thing." The question remained open, however, whether Antonescu's cabinet members knew about those massacres and approved of them. And even if they did, "could they possibly have resigned from the cabinet?" Paleologu added, apparently unaware that he was contradicting his own statement on the regime being merely an "authoritarian" one (cited in Totok, 1998a, p. 29). Never missing an occasion whenever he writes on Antonescu to point out that he had been a staunch opponent of the Marshal after Antonescu decided to continue the war beyond its scope of retaking Soviet-annexed territories, Paleologu is apparently unaware of how oblivious he is to Jewish suffering (which he never claims to have opposed) under the Marshall.

In a nutshell, Paleologu was arguing that Antonescu should never have been tried because victors must not administer justice onto the vanquished, and that his ministers should not have been put on trial because Antonescu's views may not have been their own; and even if they were, they could not be held responsible for overseeing that these views were translated into deeds. If this is what "benign" or "necessary" nationalism amounts to, one wonders why would one still need "extremist" forms, from which Paleologu had repeatedly distanced himself.

One of President Constantinescu's counselors clarified, after the protest by U.S. Helsinki Committee co-chairmen Senator Alfonse D'Amato and Congressman Christopher Smith, that the president had been unaware of the prosecutor-general's initiative to rehabilitate the ministers. Indeed, unlike Iliescu, his predecessor and successor, in May 1997, Constantinescu had acknowledged Romanian responsibility for the "genocide" perpetrated against Jews, even if at the same time insisting on his country's refusal to deliver its Jews to Hitler ("Realitatea evreiasca," 16 April-15 May 1997). Indeed, again, Constantinescu not only refused to listen to Paleologu's "friendly advice" to "politely reject" the American "blackmail," but the initiative to rehabilitate eight of Antonescu's ministers was shrunk to one rehabilitation, that of Toma Petre Ghitulescu, a deputy minister who had resigned after only seven weeks in office and before Antonescu's Romania had embarked on the mass extermination of Jews deported to Transnistria (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 October 1998). However, on 18 December 1999, new Romanian Prosecutor-General Mircea Criste started the rehabilitation process of Ion Gigurtu, whose short-lived 4 July-3 September 1940 cabinet was the first to include members of the Iron Guard, and which introduced anti-Semitic legislation more draconian in some of aspects than the infamous Nuremberg Nazi legislation, with "blood" as the main criterion for defining "Romanianess." Some ministers from Gigurtu's cabinet were also to be rehabilitated with him, among them Radu Budisteanu, who had signed some of the racial anti-Jewish decrees. In January 2000, the Supreme Court rehabilitated Netta Gheron, who served as finance minister in the Antonescu cabinet between 4 April and 23 August 1994 (Mediafax, 18 December 1999 and 17 January 2000).


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