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East European Perspectives: October 11, 2000

11 October 2000, Volume 2, Number 19
RADICAL POLITICS IN EAST-CENTRAL EUROPE?????PART VIII: Radical Continuity in Romania -- The Party of Romanian National Unity (A)

Second in importance among Romania's radical continuity formations after the Greater Romania Party (PRM) is the Party of Romanian National Unity (PUNR). Both the PRM and the Socialist Labor Party (PSM), but above all the PUNR, were from their political start close to "Vatra romaneasca," whose honorary chairman, as already mentioned, is Iosif Constantin Dragan. According to files made public by a Romanian weekly in early 1995, Dragan, a former Iron Guard sympathizer, had been an agent for the communist secret police, the Securitate, having been blackmailed into collaboration by a threat to reveal the fraudulent sources of his wealth. Dragan also heads the Marshal Antonescu League and the Marshal Antonescu Foundation, while PRM chairman Corneliu Vadim Tudor and other leading figures of his party are prominent members in both. Dragan was the main sponsor of the first statue of Antonescu, erected in Slobozia in 1993, and inaugurated in the official presence of then-Deputy Culture Minister Mihai Ungheanu. Since then, two more statues have been erected to the memory of the marshal, and a fourth one is being planned in the main Transylvanian town of Cluj. The initiative was generated by then PUNR chairman, Cluj Mayor Gheorghe Funar, and Dragan is, once more, to be the main provider of funding (Shafir, 1997, pp. 351-53). After several failed attempts to have the town council (on which he does not have a majority) approve the statue, in 1999 Funar managed to do so by "bribing" municipal councilors belonging to the Democratic Convention of Romania (CDR) to let his pet project come through in exchange for erecting statues to Iuliu Maniu and Ion C. Bratianu as well. The two were leaders of the National Peasant Party (PNTCD) and the National Liberal Party, respectively, and their successor formations are now the two main parties of the ruling and allegedly democratic and pro-Western CDR. Their leaderships were silent on the "bargain" and only Peter Eckstein Kovacs, who represents the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) in the government, protested the council's decision ("RFE/RL Newsline," 1 and 8 November 1999).

The PUNR, known until August of that year as the Party of National Unity of Romanians in Transylvania, was set up on 15 March 1990. Just a few days later, on 19-20 March, the interethnic clashes in Targu Mures left wounded and dead on both sides. This was no coincidence. The PUNR was packed with sympathizers of "Vatra," whose involvement in the clashes is beyond question. For many years, the PUNR was nothing but the political arm of the so-called "cultural" "Vatra" organization. Radu Ceontea, its first chairman, described it from the start as "a party that embraces the general ideas covered in 'Vatra's' platform program" and, as he would admit sometime later, the PUNR was "the son of 'Vatra,' because it has been born from 'Vatra'" (cited in Gallagher, 1997, pp. 29, 31). Ceontea himself had been "Vatra" chairman before switching to the chairmanship of the PUNR, and all the party's parliamentarians in the 1990-1992 legislature were also members of "Vatra" (Gallagher, 1997, pp. 30-31).

But there is another, just as important, link affecting the identity of this party -- its ties with the former Securitate. The March 1990 Targu Mures clashes, in which "Vatra" played a prominent provocative role, served as a justification for setting up -- on the 24th of the following month and under the general directorship of Virgil Magureanu -- of the Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI) (the Securitate had been officially disbanded, but never really disaffected, on 30 December 1990, see Deletant, 1995, pp. 388-91). Like "Vatra" itself, the PUNR has long been suspected of being yet another outlet manipulated and penetrated by, as well as serving the interests of, the former Securitate (Socor, 1990; Deletant, 1991; Gallagher, 1992c and 1994).

That suspicion has been confirmed by no one other than Ion Coja, who has served as "Vatra's" deputy chairman since its inception. In an interview with an American journalist who wrote a book on the assassination in Chicago of Romanian-born professor Ioan Petre Culianu in May 1990, Coja said that "'Vatra' has been infiltrated by the SRI. I told that to Magureanu to his face. He did not deny it" (Anton, 1996, pp. 14, 350). Before his assassination Culianu -- an opponent of revived ultranationalism and of the Ion Iliescu regime -- had received threats from an organization calling itself "Avram Iancu's Sons," known to have been a Securitate-run operation set up for the purpose of scaring opponents of the Ceausescu regime in the West (Anton, 1996, p. 14). The investigations were also extended to a different "Vatra romaneasca" -- a Canadian-based organization dominated by former Iron Guardists. Culianu had offended them by both somewhat distancing himself from the political past of his mentor, Mircea Eliade, and (most likely), by the ultimate offense of becoming engaged to a Jewish woman. That the Securitate had cultivated links to the interwar radical right vestiges living in the West, appealing to their "patriotism," is another open secret. But Culianu's assassination remains a mystery to this day.

A riddle mystery to most people, but not to Coja. While Anton seems to hesitate between attributing the crime to the Securitate, the Iron Guard, emigres, or a combination thereof, Coja is certain the culprit could not but come from among those forces that have opposed, are opposing, and will always oppose Romanian intellectual brilliance and excellence -- the "occult," the members of the "great conspiracy" compressed by Coja into the generic "Great Manipulator" -- in other words -- the Jews. According to "Vatra's" deputy chairman, the same forces, rather than the Iron Guardists who executed him, were behind the assassination in 1941 of Romania's greatest historian, Nicolae Iorga, albeit in that case the plot was "just" masterminded by the KGB, which is nothing but one of the many instruments imposed by the same occult in its general quest for world domination and its particular quest at Romania's subjugation. And it is, once more, the same occult that masterminded Ceausescu's overthrow and his execution, and for much of the same reason (see Voicu, 1999a, p. 70, 1999b, pp. 56-57, 1999c, p. 52, 1999d, p. 52, citing Coja's 1999-published "The Great Manipulator and the Assassinations of Culianu, Ceausescu, Iorga").

Be that as it may, the links between the "Forces of the Old" and "Vatra's" eruption onto the scene of post-communist politics has been, by now, quite substantially documented (eg. Ivanciuc, 1995), as well as analyzed. Verdery (1996, pp. 196-197), who rightly places the PUNR and the PRM in the same category (which she calls "unruly coalitions"), writes that these formations were led primarily by local "officials of the [old] Communist Party, one or another fraction of the old/new Secret Police, members of the local police, and the henchmen of all these." The same categories would make up, or benefit from links to, what Verdery calls the "entrepratchiks." Many of these "entrepratchiks" would simply use both know-how and ties acquired or established while working for the Securitate's dubious foreign trade and other commercial outlets (see Deletant, 1995, pp. 373-376). A few years earlier, the writer of these lines had provided a similar "diagnosis" of the evolution of former Securitate members (Shafir, 1993a, p. 15), adding, however, that an additional element contributing to the emergence of radical continuity formations were those frustrated individuals who had failed to make it to either Verdery's "entrepratchik" category or to be re-integrated into the SRI.

The "entrepratchiks" were also part of the web that financed many of PUNR chairman and Cluj Mayor Gheorghe Funar's outlandish nationalist statues in his city (see below), and, more importantly, the PUNR's party coffers. Funar's links with Gheorghe Stoica, the patron of the Caritas pyramid affair that turned into a national hysteria in 1993, became notorious, and, at the end of the day, also contributed to his later eclipse (Shafir, 1993b; Gallagher, 1995, pp. 220-222; Karnoouh, 1995; Verdery, 1996, pp. 189-202).

While the parallel between "Vatra" and the Bulgarian Committee for the Defense of National Interest is striking -- as is that between the PUNR and the Fatherland Party of Labor (OTP) in the same neighboring country (see Shafir, 2000) -- it is no less true that in both countries the appeal of these organizations and parties was primarily directed at those whose "vested interests" were being possibly endangered by the end of enforced "Romanianization" or "Bulgarization" of areas where national minorities made up a considerable part of the population. As in Bulgaria, the first post-communist rulers in Romania at first promised to end the process of discrimination against the minorities in general, and the Hungarian national minority in particular. On 5 January 1990, the National Salvation Front (FSN) "solemnly" declared that it would "guarantee individual and collective rights and freedom for ethnic minorities." The declaration condemned Ceausescu's policies towards ethnic minorities, stressing that the "sad inheritance left behind by the dictatorship" made it necessary to "elaborate constitutional guarantees for the individual and collective rights of ethnic minorities." The declaration also stated that in order to guarantee these rights, a Ministry for Ethnic Minorities would be set up (it never was). "The blood shed in common," the declaration stated, "has shown that the policy of hate-mongering based on the chauvinistic policy of forced assimilation, as well as the successive attempts to defame neighboring Hungary and the Hungarians of Romania, could not succeed in breaking the confidence, friendship and unity between the Romanian people and the national minorities" (Rompres, 5 January 1990). None of these promises were fulfilled and, like the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), the FSN soon "re-discovered" that the appeal to nationalism and alliances struck with its extreme exponents were more profitable.

When members of the Hungarian minority sought to impose the implementation of those promises by occupying former Hungarian-language schools that had been abolished by the communist regime, the Transylvanian Romanian intelligentsia was struck by panic. Not surprisingly so, since the intelligentsia has played a major role in forging the modern national identity of Romanians in general, and Transylvanian Romanians in particular, in what Claude Karnoouh has described as "the invention of the people" (Karnoouh, 1990). Appeals of members of the intelligentsia for the rescue of "our ancestral maternal cradle of Transylvania, which has been so often covered in blood" (cited in Deletant, 1991, p. 31) would not fall on deaf ears of simple folk, who had been the beneficiaries of "internal migration" aimed at changing the region's ethnic structure. It is against this background of mutual suspicion that the former Securitate would play the role of "Vatra's" "midwife," would stage (being involved on both sides) the Targu Mures clashes, and finally, would successfully achieve its self-serving purpose of re-emerging as the new SRI.

Unlike Bulgaria, where the BSP ended up by integrating the OTP partisans into its own electoral lists, the party whose virtual leader in Romania was Iliescu played its cards closer to its chest. While denouncing the "exaggerated demands" of the UDMR on "autonomy" (see below), and while refusing to meet even the more modest demands of the Hungarian formation (the Education Law passed in 1995 by the PDSR-dominated parliament is a good illustration of that attitude, see Shafir, 1994a), the FSN (later FDSR, and then PDSR) has been in many ways a party of "closet radical continuity." If I have not included it in this category, it is only because -- unlike the PRM, the PSM, and the PUNR -- that party had been more heterogeneous, its ranks having both "moderates" and "radicals." Indications that the then-dominant party was courting "Vatra" were not missing. Sympathizers of "Vatra" hissed at members of the opposition suspected of being "soft" on the Hungarians in Alba Iulia, on the occasion of the first celebration of Romania's new national day, on 1 December 1990. Instead of calming the atmosphere, FSN Prime Minister Petre Roman acted as mob cheerleader (Shafir, 1993c). In what was apparently prompted by the urge to demonstrate that he was a "genuinely good Romanian," Roman -- the grandson of a rabbi and the son of a Spanish Roman-Catholic mother -- claimed that he was the "bone," that is, the offspring, of a family with an ancient tradition of struggle for Romanian rights in Transylvania. "In me, I bear the idolatry [sic!] for this part of the country, without which Romania could not exist," he said in an interview with the extremist PRM weekly "Romania mare" (14 December 1990), which, at that time, had not yet turned him into an emblematic agent of the Mossad and of the "World Government."

Forgetting the pledge to combat "hate mongering based on chauvinistic policy," the two FSN dailies were competing with "Romania mare" in "Hungarianizing" political adversaries. Thus, human rights activist Doina Cornea became Doina Kornea Juhasz Kocsis, while PNTCD vice chairman Ion Ratiu, who ran against Iliescu in the 1990 presidential election, was demonized into Racz Janos (see "Dimineata," 4 August 1990 for "Kornea" and "Azi," 22 and 25 July 1990 for "Racz"). It was in the first issue of "Azi," launched on 11 April 1990, that Coja described the Hungarians as "hordes plaguing humanity." Liviu Maior, appointed education minister in the Nicolae Vacaroiu cabinet in November 1992, was in many ways Romania's response to Bulgaria's Ilcho Dimitrov (see "East European Perspectives," Vol. 2, no. 15, 2 August 2000). He was described as politically independent, but was a "closet sympathizer" of "Vatra," which amply transpired when the Education Law came to debate (see Shafir, 1994b, p. 26).

It was, however, only in late 1999 that Iliescu himself was revealed to have been not only a "Vatra" sympathizer, but one of its "founding fathers" ("Adevarul," 20 December 1999). He had apparently kept his membership in the organization "in petto," as his presidential status did not allow him to identify with such organizations. By 2000, however, the PUNR had lost much of its support, being decimated by internal strife (see below). Public opinion surveys were showing that the party would not make it to the parliament in 2000, being backed by less than 3 percent--which is the electoral hurdle (Mediafax, 10 March 2000). Uncertain of their political future, the organization's leaders opted to run in 2000 on the PDSR lists, and an official agreement in this sense was sealed on 19 December 1999. PUNR Chairman Valeriu Tabara, also a "founding father" of "Vatra," protested, claiming that the organization's statutes prevented it from identifying itself with any single political formation. But the protest was pharisaic, since "Vatra" had long functioned as his own party's political arm ("Adevarul" and "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 December 1999).

As the main political force in the first post-communist years, the FSN (FDSN, PDSR) had to be more restrained in its pronouncements, being aware that these could negatively impact the country's image abroad. This was not the case of the PUNR, whose first chairman, the painter Radu Ceontea, would freely give vent to his culturally-inherited perceptions of the Hungarian ethnic minority, as well as to his views on what Romania's post-communist future must look like. In an interview in late December 1990 and early January 1991, Ceontea recounted that he had been born in "a small hamlet in the Mures Valley, which had suffered all possible evils at the hand of the Hungarians." "Historic memories" dating back to the times when the region was ruled from Budapest and Romanians were discriminated against, undoubtedly play an important role in the interethnic mutual mistrust in the region, and beyond its borders. But in Ceontea's case, mistrust and hatred had reached pathological proportions. His father, he said, had been the "village butcher," and had taught him that "every Hungarian walks with a rope in his pocket" and uses it "to strangle Romanians." When he visited Bucharest to participate in parliamentary debates, Ceontea said, "I do not have the courage to the hotel restaurant, because I fear the Hungarians would poison me." Furthermore, during his absence, his apartment in Targu Mures was "guarded around the clock by two policemen, since I do not want my wife and daughter to be raped, then murdered" ("Baricada," 25 December 1990). As for the country's political future, the PUNR advocated an authoritarian form of government. The parliament, he said, just "does not interest us." The country's president must have "very extensive powers, to govern with an iron hand" ("Baricada," 8 January 1991).

But Ceontea did not last long as PUNR chairman, being replaced in October 1992 by Gheorghe Funar. Under Ceontea's leadership, the party had done poorly in the 1990 elections. It garnered 2.12 percent (9 seats) in the ballot for the Deputies' Assembly (whose name was later changed into Chamber of Deputies) and 2.15 percent in the Senate contest (2 seats), running on joint lists with the Republican Party, in the Romanian Unity Alliance (AUR, signifying "Gold"). But bearing in mind that the PUNR was just two months "old" at that time, its electoral performance was not insignificant.

It was rather another electoral contest, that of the local elections of 1992, that brought about Ceontea's dismissal as party chairman. In his home town of Targu Mures, in a rare display of overcoming mutual suspicions, Hungarians and Romanians opposing the PUNR's policies of incitement had elected in May UDMR candidate Viktor Nagy as mayor, in a by-election that followed the nullification of the original ballot, also won by an ethnic Hungarian. The UDMR had humiliated Ceontea, and did so defeating a local alliance of the PUNR, the FSN, the Agrarian Democratic Party (PDAR) and other smaller formations (Shafir, 1992, pp. 31-33). This was precisely the opposite of what happened in Cluj, where Funar, (with the help of the commander of the military garrison stationed in the town who ordered soldiers to vote for the PUNR candidate) had become mayor in February (Gallagher, 1992b; Shafir, 1992, pp. 8-31).

Funar was a Ceausescu-style economist specialized in collective agriculture who taught at the Cluj university. He directed his electoral appeal to ethnic Romanians, many of whom were residents of the new working-class sections of the town erected by the communist regime to facilitate "internal emigration," using the simplistic nationalist cliches into which this sector of the population had been socialized by "national communism." As Gallagher (1995, p. 170) shows, a comparison with electoral appeals in Latin America is warranted. There, "urban populists had successfully used not dissimilar techniques for controlling uprooted individuals from the countryside. Migrants to cities were often enrolled into movements which promised economic wealth distribution and identified 'imperialism' or 'Uncle Sam' as a source of their poverty and hardship." In a Romanian version of the same appeal, the PUNR "offered...categories of explanation which could enable migrants to make sense of their marginal situation and dream of improvements. In the process, the Hungarians replaced the Americans as the external enemy ready to buy up their factories, use them as cheap labor, throw them into destitution, and, in the final analysis, seize back all of Transylvania."

The PUNR had for some time shown signs of a division in its ranks, mainly between its two main branches in Targu Mures and Cluj. Dominated by what Gallagher defines as "hard-nosed professionals who had been adept at bargaining for resources and preferment in the Ceausescu era," the Cluj local branch exploited the Funar victory and the Targu Mures electoral failure to impose its dominance over the party. Funar was first designated PUNR candidate in the 1992 presidential elections, and Ceontea was later ousted as chairman in a stormy meeting of the party's National Conference in October, being replaced by the Cluj mayor (Gallagher, 1995, pp. 215-216). He was accused of not having properly rallied behind Funar's candidacy in the presidential elections, the chorus of his prosecutors being led by Ioan Gavra, who eventually became PUNR deputy chairman. As in the PRM, the quarrel deteriorated into an exchange of vulgarities hardly fit for print. For Ceontea -- who was not even invited to attend the conference, Gavra was "Javra" (rip). He resigned from the PUNR on 2 November, becoming an independent senator. First PUNR Deputy Chairman Petru Burca also resigned at the party's National Conference (Stefanescu, 1995, pp. 261-262).

In the 1992 elections, the PUNR performed considerably better than it did two years earlier. While under Ceontea the party had been mainly the Transylvanian fortress of Romanian nationalism, it now managed to expand beyond the region's borders, winning seven seats in the parliament in Moldavia and in southern Romania. In Transylvania itself, it won seats in all but one electoral district (Gallagher, 1997, p. 35). Countrywide, the party garnered 7.71 percent of the vote for the Chamber of Deputies, electing 30 representatives to that house, and 8.12 percent of the vote for the Senate, which gave it a representation of 14 senators. Furthermore, running for the presidential office, Funar scored a respectable 10.87 percent of the vote, coming in third after the two main contenders, Iliescu and Emil Constantinescu. But it was not the party organization that secured this performance. Rather, it must have been its "Vatra" backbone that did so, since in 1993 -- the last year for which party membership figures are available -- the PUNR did not count more than 49,000 members across the country (Eskenasy, 1997, p. 289).

Few observers might have been inclined to take Ceontea's words seriously when, after his ouster, he warned that people would soon "start missing moderates like ourselves" ("Romania libera," 6 October 1992). But he was right. There was more than one common trait that Tudor shared with the new PUNR chairman, whose nostalgia for Ceausescu Ceontea had never shared. Both had humble social origins and were trying to use those origins as an electoral asset. In his 1992 presidential campaign, for example, Funar argued that his recipe for personal success was "hard work." He had risen from peasant origins to become a university lecturer, he said, and then mayor of one of Romania's largest towns. With hard work, he would be able to also lift the country out of its economic and political crisis if entrusted with its leadership (Gallagher, 1997, p. 35). (Ceausescu was in the habit of likewise arguing that he had been born a village boy, became an apprentice, and "now I am an intellectual.")

Like Tudor, Funar thrived on producing conspiracy theories, simplistic economic solutions, mending the image of Romania's immediate political past, and, above all, on ethnocentrism. In 1992, "Vatra" was arguing that Romania had been turned into "the target of a conspiracy of domestic and external forces that pursue the dismemberment of its being [and] the degrading of those human values that have characterized us all along our history" (cited in Gallagher, 1997, p. 33). Funar was the most vociferous partisan of this view. There had been basically nothing wrong with Ceausescu's economic policies, he argued during a debate on television, and, if elected, he would turn the former dictator's industrial mammoths such as the Galati steelworks into profitable enterprises again. Likewise, in an interview with the weekly "22" in September 1992, he said that agriculture would be revived within two years, industry within three at most, and all those willing to work will have jobs. Ceausescu had been "a good Romanian," he repeatedly emphasized, but had made the mistake of "granting too many privileges to the Hungarian minority" (all cited in Gallagher, 1992a, p. 16). Members of that minority were not only undermining the security of the Romanian state by, among other things, having secret paramilitary organizations, but also by being agents of a devious design aimed at buying up Transylvania. The province was said by members of the PUNR to be confronted with the same danger that Palestine had been confronted with when Jews started buying land there (Gallagher, 1997, pp. 31-32). In fact, the outlawing of the UDMR became the one component of Funar's "crusade" that would never be renounced, and he was even willing to risk his party's lucrative membership in the coalition with the PDSR (1994-1996) by repeatedly accusing President Iliescu of forsaking his duty in failing to act against the Hungarian ethnic formation (see below).

Not that the argument was necessarily consistent. While on one hand insisting on the mortal danger that the Hungarian minority poses for Romania, on the other hand Funar could argue in the same breath that the number of ethnic Hungarians in Romania was grossly exaggerated. In an interview with the Austrian daily "der Standard" on 18 February 1995, he warned that an armed conflict between Romanians and Hungarians in Transylvania could not be ruled out, while at the same time saying that more than half a million of the 1.7 million Magyars in Romania were "Gypsies," whom the UDMR had "blackmailed or bought" to register as ethnic Hungarians during the January 1992 census. In reality, he said, "there are no more than 300,000 Romanians of Hungarian origin in Romania" (see "OMRI Daily Digest," 21 February 1995). As for the PRM, for Funar the Roma were nothing but "thieves and hucksters who had drifted up from the south" (cited in Gallagher, 1992a, p. 16).


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