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East European Perspectives: December 1, 1999

1 December 1999, Volume 1, Number 3

Part III A: Radical Politics In Post Communist East Central Europe

By Michael Shafir

X-Raying Post-Communist 'Radical Minds'
A) The New Ethnocracy

Having dwelt on the distinction between radical continuity and radical return on which this study is focused in the first part, and on the reasons that induce my preference for the term "radical" in the second part, I shall now proceed to scrutinize the post-communist "radical frame of mind." I shall be insisting, on one hand, on similarities and differences between the "age of irrationality" of the turn of the 20th century and its modern reincarnation, and, on the other hand, I shall be pointing to what radical continuity and radical return proponents share in their outlook. This latter communion finds its embodiment in the "ethnocratic ethos"--the first to be "X-rayed" in this rather lengthy chapter.

In its modern (post-communist) version, "ultranationalism" is not only closely linked, but finds its best exemplification, in "ethnocentrism," and "ethnocentrism," in turn, finds its "praxis" in "ethnic cleansing." Conceptually, ethnocentrism has been the "contribution" of Nichifor Crainic, a Romanian right-wing poet, university lecturer, and popular pundit, to interwar fascist philosophy. In the "ethnocratic state" that Crainic envisaged, national minorities had practically no rights. In early 1993, Radu Sorescu, leader of the by now defunct Party of National Right (PDN), resuscitated the ethnocratic state as a central component of PDN's "Manifesto" to Romanians (Shafir, 1999, pp. 218-19; a partial English-language translation in Griffin, 1995, pp. 379-80). Ethnocentrism, to the best of my knowledge, was first discussed by Tismaneanu in a warning "Afterword" to a volume whose main focus was on the (precisely opposite) emergence of civil society in Eastern Europe (Tismaneanu, 1992, pp. 286-87). Surprisingly enough for a political scientist of Romanian origin, Tismaneanu makes no mention of Crainic's antecedence in either that volume or in his recently-published tome, where what he prefers to call "ethnocentric populism" is dwelt on at length. He rightly points out that the roots of ethnocentrism are to be found in "collectivist nationalism," which, roughly following Liah Greenfeld's conceptualization (Greenfeld, 1992, p. 11) he differentiates from "civic nationalism" ( Tismaneanu, 1999, p. 72). I believe the purpose would have been better served by using the three-dimensional distinction between "exclusive," "inclusive," and "civic" nationalism (see Linz and Stepan, 1996, pp. 428-32).

The "ethnarchic state" (as Ramet prefers to call it following Hungarian social scientist Gaspar Miklos Tamas who, having been born in Romania, is probably familiar with Crainic's legacy, see Ramet, 1999b, pp. 25-27) in the post-communist period has come into being in former Federal Yugoslavia, where "expansionist-militaristic policies and demagogic nationalism were used to preserve the political hegemony of the communist elite around [Yugoslav President] Slobodan Milosevic" (Tismaneanu, 1999, p. 76). Milosevic, however, clearly belongs to the radical continuity category of my taxonomy. Far from contradicting the classification I use, this once more brings to the fore the joint legacy on which "Red-Brown" alliances rest. Indeed, in his attempts to set up the Greater Serbian ethnocratic state "cleansed" of national minorities, Milosevic has been aided by such prominent figures of the radical return spectrum as Vojslav Seselj, leader of the Serbian Radical Party and a coalition partner in several governments of Milosevic's Serbian Socialist Party, and Zeljko Razanjatovic, better known as "Arkan," leader of the Party of Serbian Unity.

Ethnocentrism, Tismaneanu writes, is "neither left, nor right"(1999, p. 77). Indeed, from the perspective of "civic nationalism," it is simply "wrong," I would add. But when ethnocentrists proclaim to be "neither left, nor right" (in Bucharest, Greater Romania Party, or PRM, leader Corneliu Vadim Tudor did so in April 1997, saying his party's doctrine was "neither left, nor right, but simply Romanian," see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 April 1997), they wish to emphasize that their allegiance is to the communitarian-defined "nation." In the radical right's perception, this is an "organic nation," defined by a community of Blut und Boden(blood and soil) uniting past, present and future generations. At the same time, they follow in the tradition of interwar fascism. It was Georges Valois, who in 1925 set up Le Faisceau(literally a translation of the Italian Il Fascio, whence fascism), and who one year later would write that fascism was "neither left, nor right" (Payne, 1995, p. 292; Sternhell, 1987, p. 145). Hence also the search for a "third way" between capitalism and communism encountered across the board among those sharing a radical return (but also the radical continuity) mentality.

That "third way" invariably emphasizes national specificity viewed in terms of a past grandeur. "Influenced by the late Slavophiles," writes Vera Tolz (1997, p. 191), "the modern-day ideologists of the [Russian] right believe in Russia's unique path of development (the so-called "third way") and in Russia's messianic role of demonstrating heights of spirituality to the decadent West, which fails to fully appreciate Russia." Polish radical return leader Boleslaw Tejkowski, who in 1990 set up the neo-fascist Polish National Commonwealth-Polish National Party, has explained that his formation does not want to "replace foreign capitalism by an equally foreign socialism" and wants instead a "third, nationalist solution" (Szayna, 1997, p. 120; Prazmowska, 1995, p. 209). Reflecting a similar world outlook, Janus Bryczowski, leader of the radical return Polish National Front (NFP), was charging in 1992 that democracy had destroyed the fabric of the nation and that "More than three million people have been 'democratically' thrown out onto the street, all because of the crazy idea that we have to build nineteenth century capitalism here." Poland's post-communist leaders, he explained, simply "do not care about the survival of Polishness" (cited in Ost, 1999, p. 95). Like Sorescu in Romania, the NFP advocated "the eradication of everything that is not 'national' in Poland, including the setting up of labor camps where politically suspect elements would be 're-educated', as well as the expulsion of the Roma" (Szayna, 1997, p. 121). Cezary Budzinsky, leader of the Polish Legion, the NFP's youth group, on the other hand, pledged respect for minority groups, except those that "betray the interest of the Polish nation--these should be shot on the spot" (cited in Ost, 1999, p. 95). In the same venom, ethnocentrism and "exclusive" nationalism are plainly behind the vision of the National Movement, for whom "the Polish state must not be a state of citizens, but a state of the Polish nation" (cited in Ost, 1999, p. 94).

It fell to another prominent advocate of the "Third Road" (Oltay, 1994), Hungarian Justice and Life Party leader Istvan Csurka, to illustrate in 1992 what ethnocratic mentalities are all about. Without calling a Roma a spade, but hardly leaving any doubt as to whom he had in mind, Csurka wrote that one must "no longer ignore the fact that the deterioration [of the population] has genetic causes as well." It must be "acknowledged," he said, that "underprivileged, even cumulatively underprivileged, strata and groups, in which the harsh laws of natural selection no longer function because it would do no good anyway, have been living among us for far too long." That must end, according to Csurka. In future, Hungarian society must support only "the strong fit-for-life families who are prepared for work and achievement" (cited in Brown, 1994, p. 88). If in his search for a "Third Way" Csurka was reflecting the historic traditions of the Hungarian "populists," (opposed to those of the cosmopolitan "urbanists"), in embracing "social Darwinism" the writer-turned-politician had clearly donned the mantle of inheritor of radical right legacies in Hungary and beyond its borders. Indeed, radical right premier (between 1932 and 1936) Julius (Gyula) Goemboes had once been a member of the Party for the Protection of the Race, set up in 1923 by Tibor Eckhardt and Endre Zsilinszky, and later headed a secret group called the Hungarian Scientific Race Protecting Society (Brown, 1994, p. 88; Janos, 1982, p. 225). Whether it was the usage of the Hungarian equivalent of "Lebensraum" by Csurka when addressing the problem of beyond-border Hungarians (Brown, 1994, p. 88) or his racist jargon geared at the Roma that brought him closest to the Nazis, must remain a matter for dispute. What is indisputable, however, is the fact that Csurka's was not a singular case.

Giving vent to what ethnocentrism is all about, Milic Stankovic, a well known Serbian artist, in 1993 proposed that a Ministry for the Procreation of Serbs be set up, to oversee the production of genetically pure Serbs (Irvine, 1995, p. 149). Similarly, Anatolii Shcherbatyuk, a member of the editorial board of "Neskorena natsiya," the main party organ of the radical return Ukrainian National Assembly-Ukrainian People's Self Defense, in 1993 published a tract on "Foundations of Purification." He called for setting up "purification detachments" to cleanse the country of "anti-Ukrainian parasitic material. "At the right moment," Anatoliy Shcherbatyuk wrote, "we need to liquidate not only the enemy's body, but also his dearest treasure--the integrative, self-reproductive individuality, the will to the integrity of life and formation. After all, the enemy is there for the nation in order that he be destroyed" (cited in Solchanyk, 1999, p. 295). In Russia, Yurii Belaev's People's Social Party (a fascist organization set up in 1991 whose platform is based on the ideas of Benito Mussolini and Antonio Salazar) and the Russian Liberation Movement (part of a larger web that would like to set up a Republic of Rus of ethnic Russians within the Russian Federation) demanded the forced deportation of non-Russians from Russia (Tolz, 1997, p. 192; Pribylovsky, 1994). But the one who set about to put these ideas into practice in 1993 and again in 1999 was Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, against the background of conflicts with Caucasian separatists.

The Czechs do not lag far behind, as the earlier-mentioned fence erected (and eventually dismantled) in Usti nad Labem demonstrates. Miroslav Sladek, leader of the Republican Party-Association for the Republic (RS-SR) has often used racist slogans to incite against the Romany population. RS-SR spokesmen have openly called for the "resettlement" of the Roma, identified as criminals who live off of welfare. In Slovakia, the radical return parties often portray the Roma as a "pollutant" and a threat to the Slovak nation (Szayna, 1997, pp. 125, 130). Several murders of Roma, though condemned by the country's mainstream political leaders, had not made Slovak National Party (SNS) leader Jan Slota--who lost that position in 1999--change his mind. "The only way to deal with Gypsies," he said, is "with a big whip and a small yard" (cited in Cibulka, 1999, p. 126). But radical continuity leaders are not much different. In September 1993, then-premier Vladimir Meciar, making a speech in a town with a considerable Romany minority, called for reducing welfare payments to the "socially unadaptable and mentally retarded population" with "higher reproductivity rates." The 1999 exodus of Slovak Roma to Finland, Belgium, and Denmark preceded by a similar movement to Great Britain from both Slovakia and the Czech Republic, have threatened the two countries' relations with the EU and their chances of accessing it.

The Slovenians march in step. Zmago Jelincic, leader of the radical return Slovenian National Party, has not only prohibited membership in the party for non-Slovenes and former communists, but his vision of the country is that of a pure "Slovenia for Slovenes." State benefits must be made available first and foremost to ethnic Slovenians and guest workers must not be allowed to take jobs away from Slovenian citizens. The Slovenian National Party might object to the country's invasion of Western products but, it turns out, has been quick to import "ideological products" from such distinguished houses as those of Jean-Marie Le Pen, Joerg Haider, or Dr. Gerhard Frey. The party announced its intention to amend citizenship legislation, making the naturalization process more restrictive. Immigrants who want to acquire citizenship should, in its view, reside in Slovenia for at least 20 years, with full mastery of the language and complete financial independence (Bugajski, 1995, p. 89).

Situations of mass unemployment and personal insecurity triggered by economic reforms, combined with rising criminality and obvious evidence of corruption, are settings in which the ethnocrats thrive. They "de-codify" conspiracy theories that seem to offer simple answers, finding scapegoats for society's plight. They promise quick solutions, whose essence rests on a "strong-arm" policy that would uproot (more often than not "within two years") those who have "sold out" to foreign interests and depleted the country of its assets. The sense of deja vu is justified, but only partly so. Radical right theoreticians of the turn of the 20th century did not reject modernism or modernization, but offered instead an alternative modernism (Griffin, 1994, p. 47) based on communitarian, instead of individual values. They glorified an imaginary past, but did so in the name of an alleged glorious future. Nobody can seriously believe that a victorious fascism would have restored the voelkischvillage idyll, were it only because totalitarianism is a technical impossibility in a society where telephones cannot be eavesdropped on. Like its predecessor, the radical right at the turn of the 21st century wants a return to "village values"--not because it abhors technical progress, but because it rejects its side effects and the identity of those perceived to impose it.

When Isidora Bjelica, a member of a Belgrade neo-fascist group, says that "Western civilization is a mixture of poverty, narcotics, crime and disintegration of all moral values, and therefore cannot be our model," this is not a rejection of technical progress (cited in Pribicevic, 1999, p. 203). But it is a rejection of the "global village." The "global village" must not be allowed to overcome the "ethnic village." In "my ethnic village," Bjelica and those of her mind believe, "I have the right to do as I please," and, in particular, "I have the right to a separate identity." Above all, that amounts to an affirmation of identity involving a negation of other identities. One is back to Jowitt's civic/ethnic cleavage. "Political correctness" and "multiculturalism" are, as Romanian journalist Cristian Tudor Popescu, editor in chief of the country's largest circulation daily, "Adevarul," wrote several times in 1998-99, nothing but "American Stalinism." Poverty, narcotics and crime are unwelcome in any society. They were not absent from communist society either, though they may have been less visible. What is resented, however, is the denial of the "right" to blame them on those perceived as strangers to " My village." "My village" would be clean and crime-free without the Roma, Bjelica believes. "My village" would be prosperous without Jewish profiteering, the Bjelicas of the region are persuaded. Hence also the resentment of those who would not allow "me" to "make order in My own village" in the name of such abstract notions as universal human rights. Hence "McDonald's brings McDouglas," which "we" are either forced to purchase in order to "integrate" ourselves into NATO or that come to bomb us to force the integration on us. Hence "EU integration is our own disintegration," enforced by predatory multinationals who wish to grab "our richness" and by their tools--the IMF and the World Bank. The tune is not necessarily East European. But the East-Central European radical right is at an advantage over its sister movements elsewhere in the world. Here, the sense of deja vu is no longer in place. For, paradoxically enough, this advantage is the legacy of communism.

Nobody in his or her right mind can challenge the objectivity of social plight. Figures are telling. The latest data (September 1999) provided by Prague-based "Business Central Europe" show unemployment rose everywhere in the region over the previous year, with the exception of Slovenia, where it dropped from 14.4 percent to 14 percent, and Latvia, where it was stagnant at 9.9 percent. The highest unemployment growth was registered in Slovakia (from 13.2 to 16.4 percent), Russia and the Czech Republic (from 11.5 to 14.2 percent and from 6.1 to 8.8 percent, respectively), Romania (from 8.8 to 11.3 percent), while in Lithuania it grew by 2.4 percent (to 7.8), in Croatia (where unemployment is highest in the region) it rose by 2.1 percent to 18.9, in Poland by 2 percent (to 11.6), in Bulgaria by 1.4 percent (to 12.8), in Estonia by 1 percent (to 5) and in Hungary by 0.3 percent (to 9.5). There are no figures for Yugoslavia (strongly affected by the war and the destruction of its infrastructure), Macedonia, or Albania.

Nobody, on the other hand, would challenge that some people are much better off nowadays than they were before 1989. And it is precisely here that the legacy of the communist system comes to play such an important part. The sense of "relative" deprivation is more important than that of "absolute" deprivation. The legacy of the former system is hardly one of the welfare state. Rather, it is one of the "illfare state." But the "illfareness" was one shared by the broadest strata of the population and, above all, the future was predictable. It is the replacement of equal deprivation by selective deprivation that the populations of those countries resent most.

Not that inequality was absent under the former system. But there was a generally-shared sense of "us" versus "them," and the "them" could always be passed on, even by the privileged. Besides, the privileged, as Aurel Braun metaphorically catches it, were hidden from the public eye by a curtain similar to one that partitions passengers in an airplane. "People in the economy class know that behind those curtains the higher-fare passengers are being served drinks and offered food before they are. The meant to ensure that privilege does not become too blatant, a source of humiliation and irritation to the less privileged." The year 1989 did away with the Iron Curtain, but also with the curtain in the airplane. "Consumption is now conspicuous. Store windows are filled with high-priced, high-quality goods available to anyone who has the money. For the vast majority of the population...this can be both shocking and humiliating. For societies raised on class hatred or at least envy, these developments can be particularly frustrating" (Braun, 1997, p. 146).

Communist political culture had erased individual initiative and entrenched paternalistic attitudes. The state, while never perceived in most of these cultures as part of the "self," was there to at least provide the minimum subsistence, and when it failed to do so, as in Ceausescu's Romania, deprivation was at least generalized. People's memories, however, are short. Today's pensioners in Romania remember that their pensions allowed them to miserably survive--but have forgotten that many were dying before reaching pension age because ambulance drivers had orders to ignore calls from anyone over 60. True, the situation in Romania was the exception, rather than the rule. But, as Schopflin points out, elsewhere democracy was understood not as an end in itself, but as a means to higher living standards, like those of the West. "The inability of...'democratic' governments to transform the post-communist economies with the wave of the hand has fueled impatience and an unfocused radicalism" (Schopflin, 1993, p. 25).

The ethnocrats help focusing. Their tune is not new, but they find it easier to play it than their predecessors ever did. Democracy is "divisive" where "people should be united." Individualism is "the selfishness of the few sacrificing the interests of the many." The blame for what is happening is to be squarely placed at the door of foreigners, regardless of whether they reside inside the country or outside its borders. Back in 1991, I devised the concept of "externalization of guilt," and have used it intermittently in my publications (Shafir, 1991, p. 29). As in the case of "xenophobic communism," the concept has been enthusiastically embraced--the parentage acknowledged in only one case (Ratesh, 1991, pp. 16, 160-61). It describes the surrogate "explanation" whereby one is absolved of both having failed to act as an individual, and of collective responsibility for the fate of one's society. To return to an imaginary Bjelica, it is not "my" ("our") failure to face responsibility and act in a competitive environment that explains "my" ("our") lagging behind, but the fault of the environment that is not responsive to "my" ("our") specific needs. And it is not responsive because it is an environment alien to "national specificity." Only foreigners or those who have "sold out" to foreign interests are its beneficiaries. If blame can be deflected on "the other," and if "the other" is as powerful as the "us" has been drained of power by that "other," all that remains to be done is to identify the "them." Once that is achieved, ethnocrats would "uproot" the "other," whereby the "organic" naturalness of the national "body" would be restored and the process of regeneration can begin.

The "externalization of guilt" is, of course, not a singular Romanian phenomenon. If it were, it would hardly be worth mentioning. Writing on the Russian extreme right, Laqueur observes that it shares the "unshakable belief that all of Russia's misfortunes can be blamed on foreigners. Whatever goes wrong has nothing to do with anything that ethnic Russians have done or have not done. Without the machinations of foreigners, Russia would be great, prosperous, and powerful" (Laqueur, 1997, p. 194). That is the Russian "externalization of guilt." There is a Polish, a German, indeed there might be an Andorran one, for all I know.

Identifying "the other" is a self-defeating endeavor if it is based on evidence and logical thinking. This explains why "conspiracy theories" in the post-communist setting are even more central to the radical discourse (of left and right alike, one must add) than they were in its earlier incarnation. As Schopflin has shown (1993, pp. 26-27), under communism institutions were regarded as "inauthentic" and, as a consequence, personal, rather than impersonal relations dominated the web of human activity. But personal loyalties and disloyalties do little in explaining post-communist existing realities. Nor does what Hannah Arendt called "ideological thinking" help much in this respect. "Ideological thinking" is "axiomatic" inasmuch as it does not proceed from reality but from its interpretation. Still, ideological thinking calls for a "cause-effect" relationship within the axiomatic parameters. Within its framework there is no room for accident or coincidence. When neither impersonal relations nor ideological thinking can explain why, say, a former party activist has successfully turned into an entrepreneur while another activist has been relegated to the margins of society, "conspiracy theories" can step in (Schopflin, 1993, p. 27 and 1997).

Without necessarily detracting from Tismaneanu's insistence on the centrality of the "myth" for conspiracy theories, Schopflin's approach seems to me to be the more useful, were it only because it explains why disoriented democratic intellectuals, at a loss at explaining their diminished status in an environment based on income, end by embracing the same conspiracy theories they were denouncing a few years earlier. I have dealt at length with two such cases in Romania and their unexpected regimentation in the anti-Semitic, Holocaust-denying crowd (Shafir, 1998). I believe Braun is right in describing communist society as having created "not merely a new class of the privileged, but also status societies" in which income "differential were not critically meaningful" since "access...required influence, not coin," and that influence "was derived from one's position," that is, from status. Even critical intellectuals, as long as they stopped short of openly challenging the regime, were able to hold to their status. "As fundamental transformations take root in these societies...there is bound to be widespread loss of status, and, with that, frustration and disorientation" (Braun, 1997, p. 149).


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