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East European Perspectives: August 16, 2000

16 August 2000, Volume 2, Number 16
RADICAL POLITICS IN EAST-CENTRAL EUROPE?????PART VIII: Radical Continuity in Romania: The Greater Romania Party (A)

Turning now to Romania, three radical continuity parties were represented in the 1992 parliament, and two are represented in the legislature elected in 1996. In the legislature elected in 1990 one found only one such party, the Party of Romanian National Unity (PUNR), but at that time the party had just been formed and ran in alliance with another formation. Although one radical return formation had also been present for a brief period in the 1992-1996 parliament, it did not owe its presence there to the electorate's choice. The three are the Greater Romania Party (PRM), the Socialist Labor Party (PSM), and the PUNR.

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, as a result of which it was represented by 16 deputies and six senators. (Romania has a bicameral system: parliament was composed of 341 deputies in 1992 and 343 in 1996; and of 143 senators).

The PRM was set up in November 1990 by two ultranationalist writers, Eugen Barbu (who died in late 1993), and Corneliu Vadim Tudor, a former Ceausescu "court poet" (Shafir, 1991). From the start, it adopted anti-Semitic and xenophobic postures, targeting not only Jews, but also Hungarians and Roma. It deplored--at first in hints and later openly--the departure of communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu from the political scene, seeing in him a national hero who, like wartime Marshal Ion Antonescu, had fought for the country's independence, seeking to deliver it from the plight of Jewish, Hungarian, and other international conspirators and from its predatory neighbors, all of whom were put in one basket. By early 1996, the "open secret" of Tudor's former connections with Ceausescu's secret police was officially disclosed by none other than Virgil Magureanu, the then director of the Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI), whose removal Tudor had demanded for having earlier hinted at such connections. Magureanu, whom Tudor accused of being an ethnic Hungarian, had obviously been acting in concert with President Ion Iliescu. Since 1995, the incumbent president and Tudor had been official political allies in what has been a perfect display of Iliescu's "utilitarian anti-Semitism." Unofficially, the alliance dated back to practically the very first day of the PRM's birth, whose "midwife" was Iliescu's prime minister, Petre Roman, later to be turned by the PRM into one of its main foes (Shafir, 1994b, pp. 343-5). But once the alliance broke down, Tudor launched ferocious attacks on Iliescu, accusing him of being a "Gypsy," a former KGB agent, one who had been put in power and kept there by Jews, and an atheist who did not hesitate to order Ceausescu's execution on the "Holy day of Christmas" 1989. He was a candidate in the 1996 presidential elections (which is one reason for his unrestrained attack on Iliescu), garnering 4.72 percent of the votes, and was again elected a senator in the parliamentary contest held at the same time. In early March 2000, Tudor was again designated a presidential candidate for the elections scheduled for the fall. The PRM as a whole did better in 1996 than in 1992, garnering 4.46 percent (and 19 seats) in the Chamber of Deputies, and 4.54 percent in the Senate (where it now has eight senators) ("Cronica romana," 8 November 1996). From March 1993, the date of the first PRM congress, to the March 2000 gathering of the party's National Council, the number of card-carrying party members increased more than tenfold--from 15,000 to 155,000 ("Romania mare," 14 November 1997 and 10 March 2000). Yet, as Tudor admitted in his speech at the second PRM congress in November 1997, the party was not doing very well in rural areas. It was, however, faring particularly well among uprooted peasantry, though Tudor would never admit that. The party's social make-up, as revealed in 1998 (PRM website, 1998 at http://www., was overwhelmingly male (83 percent), with most members in the "over 50" age bracket (47 percent, as against 15 percent aged "30 and less" and 38 percent in the meridian group) and with a plurality of 39 percent being graduates of higher learning institutes, followed by 34 percent who finished high school and 27 percent of members with an "elementary" education.

The relative success of the PRM in Romanian politics cannot be explained without keeping in mind the legacy of Ceausescu's exacerbated "national communism." But that legacy entails more than meets the eye. It is not only a legacy that left its imprint on the country's "super-structure" (to use Marxist terminology), but, above all, one that has affected its "infrastructure." Back in 1985, I was writing about the "ruralization" of Romanian towns as a result of the regime-encouraged and engineered migration of peasantry to urban settlements (Shafir, 1985, p. 142). A very large segment of the urban population, uprooted from its "village culture" and failing to undergo full-fledged urban acculturation, created a semi-urban political culture, one of whose main features was vulgarity. It is into this culture that Tudor, the son of peasants who migrated to Bucharest, was born and grew up in the Rahova proletarian sector in the outskirts of Bucharest (see the interview with him on the Romanian state radio Youth Channel, reproduced in "Romania mare," 25 February 2000). He shared this background with his mentor, Barbu, who, though reputed to be the illegitimate son of a pro-Iron Guard writer, achieved fame in 1956 with the publication of a novel ("Groapa," The Pit) that reproduced the atmosphere of Bucharest's shantytown where he grew up.

Romanian-born visitors to their country of origin after 1990 cannot fail to note that language underwent an involution that far exceeds the "natural" change that idiom undergoes everywhere. To some extent, this involution can be traced to the former communist leadership itself, whom the new aspiring elites were consciously trying to emulate in a display of "fidelity" towards the "ruling family," and others were unconsciously picking up. It is this combination of vulgarity and nationalism that the PRM excels in. Tracts published in PRM's weekly "Romania mare" by Barbu and Tudor, while to some extent witty in their manipulation of the language, were full of what Romanians used to call "mahalagisme" ("shantytown" dialect).

One need not spend much time on research to illustrate what this combination is all about. Picking up at random any two or three of the latest issues of "Politica" (also a PRM weekly) or "Romania mare" is fully sufficient, the two weeklies having hardly changed since they first began to be published, in 1992 and 1990, respectively. Hatred directed at "the Other" and embracing ethnocratic principles, "externalization of guilt," and the vilification of political and Tudor's personal adversaries in foul language is the secret of the formula's apparent success.

When the Tisa (Tisza) river was polluted by cyanide in February 2000, leading to (mainly, but not only) Hungarian protests, Tudor, addressing an audience celebrating the 10th anniversary of the founding of the anti-Hungarian "Vatra romaneasca" "cultural" organization, blamed the incident on the rapacious "sellout" of Romanian assets to foreign (in this particular case, Australian) investors, in one of his many attacks on "globalization." But while in so doing, he added that the incident was minor when compared with the "Millennium-long poisoning of the Romanian soul's wells by Hungarian cyanide." Hungarian politics towards Romania, he said using rhyme, has always evolved between "HATE AND CYANIDE" (intre URA si CIANURA, emphasis in original). History, he went on to say, has taught Romanians a bitter lesson and they now know that there is little difference between "The Admiral without a Sea" (Miklos Horthy, Hungary's wartime leader) and that "modern version of Popeye the Sailor Man, who is called Viktor Orban." In between he also attacked the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) leadership and its cabinet ministers as "impostors" ("Romania mare," 3 March 2000).

Not that things were evolving differently on the other side of the border, where Justice and Life Party leader Istvan Csurka grabbed the opportunity of the river's pollution by the Romanians to both chastise the "Rothschilds"--who had financed the Australian Esmeralda Exploration company, the majority-share holder in the gold-extracting mine that had caused the pollution--and to call for border revisions. "The Rothschilds," (synonymous in Hungarian for Jews and their alleged international financing power) according to Csurka, "are financing, for just a little gold, the cruelest destruction of the environment on the territory of the former Greater Hungary. "Trianon (i.e. the treaty that brought about Greater Hungary's dismemberment after World War I), is flowing in the Tisza with unbounded eastern indifference," he remarked a few days later, only to then use the occasion of the 15 March celebrations of the 1848 revolution to call for "an independent Transylvania," to avoid further pollution of Hungarian rivers. Speaking in the parliament on 20 March, Csurka described the pollution as "an offensive war without the crack of rifles" aimed at the Hungarian "living space (eletter)," thus once again making use of Nazi-like terminology. He said the act was aimed at the "extermination" of the Hungarian nation (the implicit belittling of the Holocaust was not accidental) and urged military, economic, and ecological measures to protect it from further pollution (Hungarian Radio, 17 February 2000 as reported in Hungary Around the Clock--forthwith cited as HAC; HAC, 29 February 2000; HAC, 16 and 21 March 2000).

To return to Tudor: since 1991, declared by "Romania mare" to be the "International Year of the Struggle Against Hungarian Terrorism" (Shafir, 1993) the weekly has carried in every issue at least one page dedicated to anti-Hungarian and anti-Hungarian minority incitement under a separate page-heading. The PRM has opposed the basic treaty signed with Hungary in 1995 and has been a consistent advocate of outlawing the UDMR. In 1997, when the Hungarian flag hoisted at the recently-opened consulate in Cluj was taken down by employees of the mayoralty on order by ultranationalist Mayor Gheorghe Funar, Tudor announced that his party will award the employees one million lei ($143 at the exchange rate at that time) and will give three million to anyone who burns the Hungarian flag in public ("RFE/RL Newsline," 28 July 1997). In early October 1999, a group of PRM sympathizers disturbed the ceremonies in Arad during a visit by Hungarian Justice Minister Ibolya David, initially planned to mark the inauguration of a "Reconciliation Park" in the town. The plan was eventually abandoned after pressure from Romanian nationalists (on both sides of the political spectrum), but the PRM demonstrators went on to shout insults at David as she laid wreaths at an obelisk dedicated to the memory of Hungarian generals executed by the Austrians in 1849. The Arad prosecutor's office initially opened proceedings against the demonstrators, but on 22 February 2000 changed its mind, ruling that the demonstrators had acted "spontaneously" and cannot be charged with "breach of the peace " ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 October 1999, 24 February 2000).

Hand in hand with these incitements goes the pose of "victimized majority" leader. In January 1998, Tudor accused President Emil Constantinescu of "complicity" in an alleged attempt of the UDMR (whose membership in the ruling coalition was repeatedly defined by Tudor as "monstrous") to assassinate him ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 January 1998). But the PRM is willing to extend an electoral appeal founded on the "victimized majority" syndrome beyond the personality of its leader. It recruited Mihaila Cofariu to the party, the Romanian "hero" of the March 1990 interethnic clashes in Targu Mures, who was badly beaten by the Hungarians during those clashes. Cofariu ran unsuccessfully on the PRM lists for the Senate elections in 1996 (see "Politica," 31 October 1996). When Cofariu in 1999 was invited to attend a meeting of Iliescu's Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR) as guest of honor, Tudor immediately protested, dubbing the act as an "Abduction from the Seraglio" and threatening to retaliate, since--he claimed--many PDSR sympathizers were "knocking" on his party's "door." (Shafir, 2000).

The alleged "Hungarian threat"--but not it alone--is also used by Tudor to give vent to palingenetism. In February 1998, he and Funar (by then heading a dissenting wing in the PUNR) agreed to collaborate on setting up a Great Alliance for the RESURRECTION of the Fatherland (emphasis mine). The aims of the alliance were said to be bringing down the cabinet headed by Victor Ciorbea, outlawing the UDMR, and "stopping the pillaging of national assets and the national economy" ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February 1998).

The same issue of "Romania mare" that carried Tudor's fulmination against the "historic cyanide poisoning" of "Romanian wells" by Hungarians, also carried a four-line "epigram" on Foreign Minister Roman, whose "pun" was that he is "foreign by birth." Roman's partial Jewish origins have long been a "favorite" theme of the weekly, but the line in itself was very benign when compared to other anti-Semitic tracts that regularly figure in "Romania mare" and" Politica." The issue also carried the 20th excerpt of a tract signed by a Romanian exile under the title "The Jews Brought Communism to Romania" (and, according to the author, to every other place, including the U.S.). Independent Senator Radu F. Alexandru--a Jew--was said to be different from Tudor and from two high-ranking officers (many of whom pack the PRM, see below) in that the officers "have their p---k in one piece," that is, they are not circumcised.

The issue unusually carried no attack on the Roma, but one week earlier the front page of "Romania mare" (25 February 2000) carried a parody on the highly popular nationalistic song "We are Romanians" under the title "We are Gypsies." Using colloquial vocabulary, the parody described the Roma as thieves, Mafia criminals, pimps, drug peddlers, assassins, and violators of women, who are "spreading like a plague all over Romania." Back in 1998, addressing a public gathering marking 440 years since the birth of Michael the Brave (who briefly unified the three future Romanian provinces in 1600), Tudor promised that when the PRM comes to power it will pursue the "integration of Gypsies" into Romanian society "for their own, and society's benefit." Those who would refuse to do so, however, those who "do not want to work, living only off plunder," must be "interned in special camps, where they will not lack anything--let them steal from one another and let them knock each other out." Expecting international protest for his statement, Tudor warned the "international community" that if Romania will "not be allowed to make order in its own house" it will expel the Roma "to those countries that put up a face of being terribly worried about them." Those countries, he commented, would then "have the whole benefit of living under the permanent threat of primitive brutes" who "wave axes and swords, attack trains, schools, and the homes of the elderly, leaving a pool of blood behind them, throwing thousands of families into bereavement year after year." He was himself "no racist, I have helped a great number of needy Gypsies, but it is our duty to stop Romania's transformation into a Gypsy camp" ("Romania mare," 21 August 1998). The signatories of the open letter addressed to Bulgarian President Petar Stoyanov and published in the Bulgarian weekly "Zora" (see "East European Perspectives," Vol. 2, no. 15) would have applauded. The Convention of Cooperation of Romany Associations, an umbrella organization of the Romany community, reacted by threatening to "undertake self-defense actions" if the authorities fail to react to Tudor's "incitement to racial and ethnic hatred." The Romany Party asked the prosecutor-general to open an investigation (which he failed to do), pointing out that "a state that tolerates such declarations is a racist state" ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 and 26 August 1998).

To return to the "cyanide issue:" the weekly also carried on its front page an attack on President Constantinescu--recently "Judaized" by "Romania mare" into Pataievici, see the 14 January 2000 issue--whose colloquial vulgarities can be translated only in part. Among other things, the president was deemed to be a "bootlicker, hooligan, rascal, uncultured, Hungarian, Stalinist, Hitlerite, Satanist, terrorist, out of his mind, impostor, political corpse, pimp, PCR activist," as well as "Securitate informer, spy, vagabond, bandy-legged, castrated," but also a "mongoloid, a "depressed crocodile," a "black-marketer," not to mention "anti-reformist, populist, pedophile, and transsexual." Also in the same issue, an alleged group of "High-Ranking Officers from a Secret Service" (sic!) attested that Constantinescu had indeed spied for the U.S., as well as having been recruited as a Securitate informer in exchange for dropping the prosecution against him after the communist secret police had allegedly uncovered his spy activities. This was hardly the first time that Tudor sought to produce "proof" for his own allegations hiding behind the signatures of unidentifiable groups. Back in 1995, after his former ally Iliescu had turned into a foe, "Romania mare" published a letter "authored" by 300 officers who accused Iliescu of committing high treason for neglect of the army and suggested the capital punishment for him. Later investigations (see Shafir, 1997) revealed that the "300" were just a handful of resentful officers with whom the PRM leader had surrounded himself.

The spying and informer allegations about Constantinescu led to Tudor being sued by the Prosecutor-General's Office for "insulting authority." Earlier, he had also accused the president of high treason in connection with the signing of the basic treaty with Ukraine, in which Romania renounced any territorial claims on that country, as well as of cigarette trafficking (the latter accusation being also directed at one of Constantinescu's sons) and of having an extra-marital affair with a Jewish actress (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 January 1998, 2 January 1999). By 2000, Tudor had nearly 50 libel suits running against him, according to his own testimony in the above-quoted interview with the Romanian Youth Channel. The total damages demanded from him by the victims of his "character assassinations" in early 2000 was some 400 billion lei (about $20 million). In one case, the tribunal ruled that Tudor must pay Justice Minister Valeriu Stoica 440 million lei in compensation ("Romania mare," 3 March 2000).

To make Tudor's summons to justice possible, the ruling coalition changed the law making it possible in 1999 for the Senate, of which he was a member, to lift parliamentary immunity with a simple majority instead of the two-thirds majority earlier stipulated by house regulations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 March 1999). This was the second time that the PRM leader lost his immunity. Back in 1996, the Senate lifted it for his having insulted Iliescu and SRI chief Magureanu ("OMRI Daily Digest," 26 April 1996). But the case against him was dropped after he regained immunity as a result of his re-election in 1996. Efforts by the new ruling coalition to enlist PDSR support for either considering the Senate's 1996 decision as still valid or for forging the two-thirds majority for a renewed lifting (Tudor had also insulted many leaders of the new coalition, as well as libeled many intellectuals), were blocked by the now main opposition party. The PDSR was obviously willing to "forgive" Tudor, having an eye on renewed collaboration with him, this time around in the opposition. It was only when the regulations were changed that prosecution became possible, but notably, Tudor was never called by the Prosecutor-General's Office to account for his repeated anti-Hungarian, anti-Romany and anti-Semitic incitement.

Only one person has been brought to justice in Romania for anti-Semitic attacks, although the list of publications, articles, and authors that would qualify for articles in the Penal Code prohibiting either incitement to ethnic hatred or anti-Semitism runs into the thousands. That person was journalist Mihai Bogdan Antonescu, who worked for the weekly "Atac la persoana" (Attack on Persons). Properly named, the weekly--a scandal tabloid combining politics with sex published since 1997--makes even "Romania mare" and "Politica" pale in comparison. Antonescu was sentenced in October 1999 to a two-year suspended sentence for publishing articles "spreading intolerance towards the Jews " (Mediafax, 20 October 1999). In September 1998, in his regular column called "Swastika," Antonescu wrote that too many "potential soap [people] from Tel Aviv" are walking on Bucharest's streets and he deplored the fact that owing to its present economic "penury," Romania did not have "sufficient barbed wire and Cyclone-B gas" to provide a solution to the problem ("Atac la persoana," 7 September 1998).

At his trial, Antonescu claimed he had been "forced" into writing those articles by the weekly's founder and publication director Dumitru Dragomir, a former member of the Romanian communist militia and the deputy chairman of the Romanian Professional Soccer Federation ("RFE/RL Newsline," 31 August 1999). The allegation is probably true, judging by what is being printed by Dumitru under his own signature in the weekly. There seems to be a definite "xenophobic connection" between Dumitru and Tudor, whose second candidacy to the presidency, announced by Tudor on 4 March 2000, is enthusiastically supported by Dumitru. It will not be surprising if Dumitru, just as Ilie Neacsu--who also made Tudor appear as relatively moderate when he was editor in chief of "Europa"--will figure on the electoral lists of the PRM in the 2000 presidential elections. Meanwhile, a request by the International Soccer Federation (FIFA) sent to the Romanian federation asking it to provide information on Dumitru's anti-Semitic activities was answered away by the federation's chairman. Mircea Sandu wrote back to FIFA that, according to information provided to him by the Prosecutor-General's office, "there are no anti-Semitic organizations in Romania" ("RFE/RL Newsline," 23 August 1999).

Nearly from the "kickoff whistle," "Atac la persoana" indulged in the "Judaization" of political adversaries. Very few of those listed in its 2 March 1998 issue in an article dedicated to exposing "Jewish dominance over [Romanian] arts and the media" were actually Jewish. That was hardly an original note, since similar articles abound in both radical continuity and radical return publications all over East-Central Europe. What made the article stand out, however, was the fact that many of those whom it "Judaized" had either displayed themselves anti-Semitic postures, or were about to do so. One of these, "Adevarul" editor in chief Cristian Tudor Popescu, whose idiom is anyhow not far from that used in "Atac la persoana," would not hesitate to respond that by having turned him into a Jew, Dragomir's publication was just as "abominably insulting him" as it had offended the Jews when it had carried its "Cyclone-B" article ("Adevarul," 20 November 1999).

But the "pollution" of political discourse appealing to a semi- "Lumpenproletariat" disoriented by economic and political upheaval and to tribal instincts only partly explains the electoral success of the PRM. Francisco Veiga, a Spanish historian who is the author of one of the best histories of the Iron Guard (Veiga, 1989), showed in 1997 that the party's appeal was particularly strong among the communist-made "technical/professional middle class." The party's social structure (see above) seems to corroborate Veiga's conclusions. Out of the 454 candidates running on the PRM lists in the 1992 elections, he shows that the "technical intelligentsia" was by far majoritarian (53.3 percent, including 149 engineers and 93 "Technical specialists"), followed by primary and secondary school teachers (69). Retired military officers (28 candidates), skilled and unskilled workers (again, 28) and lawyers (24 candidates) were in the minority. He concludes that the figures "indicate to what extent the growth of the extreme right-wing nationalism and neo-communist parties was a response to the early 1990s circumstances. The technical/professional sectors shaped by the previous regime were the ones that most feared unemployment and the consequential loss of social power" (Veiga, 1997, pp. 60-61).

There is, however, more that met Veiga's eye in his otherwise excellent article. There might have been only 28 candidates representing retired military officers on the PRM lists, but their preponderance in the party's leadership was much higher and would become even more so in following years. The PRM Steering Committee elected at the November 1997 congress (see "Politica," 8 November 1997) included six colonels and generals (out of 25 members), some of whom, such as Ilie Merce, Tudor had reported to as a "Securitate informer" (see Shafir, 1997a: 377-78), and were obviously linked to intelligence activity under the former regime. Others, such as Ilie Neacsu, whose editorship of the now defunct ultranationalist weekly "Europa" can also be traced to links to the "Forces of the Old" (see Shafir, 1997, p. 374), were emblematic for the alleged "civilian" segment of the PRM leadership. The proportion was still the same one year later, and the figures do not include data on the personal history of the PRM parliamentarians, some of whom may have been categorized by Veiga as belonging to the "technical/professional" or other civilian sectors. For example, Merce is said by the PRM Internet website to be a "lawyer" by profession, or colonels Ion Carciumaru and Ioan Marinescu to be "medical doctors." Out of the 42 PRM candidates for the Senate in 1996, two were retired colonels; the proportion was higher among aspirants to a seat in the Chamber of Deputies: out of the same number of candidates, two were retired generals, three were retired colonels, and one (Constantin Bucur) was a former captain in the SRI whom Tudor unsuccessfully attempted to save from prosecution by having him gain parliamentary immunity ("Politica," 31 October 1996). (In May 1996, Bucur had revealed that after the break between Tudor and the Iliescu-Magureanu team, the SRI had tapped the phones of the PRM and was put on trial for having disclosed "professional secrets," see "OMRI Daily Digest," 14 May 1996). Among PRM's parliamentarians elected in 1996 was also Tudor's elder brother, Colonel Marcu Tudor, who represents the Prahova county in the Chamber of Deputies. Former Defense Minister Nicolae Spiroiu lost his job in March 1994 because he refused to promote Marcu to the rank of general, which triggered a flood of vulgar attacks on him in the PRM weeklies, accusing Spiroiu of, among other things, corruption and undermining the military. Iliescu eventually gave in to his then semi-official ally and dismissed Spiroiu, but the minister's successors were not more eager to oblige. This led Tudor to remark in his interview with the Youth Channel that "from Iliescu to Constantinescu," Marcu has failed to be promoted "just because he is my brother" (Shafir, 1994a, pp. 64-65; 1997: 376; "Romania mare," 25 February 2000).


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