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East European Perspectives: December 15, 1999

15 December 1999, Volume 1, Number 4

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

By Michael Shafir

X-Raying Post-Communist 'Radical Minds'
B) Radicalism and the Intellectuals

Continuing the "radiography" of post-communist "radical minds," this second section of the rather lengthy sub-chapter whose first part was published in "East European Perspectives" No. 3 focuses on the role of intellectuals as "socializers" into radical values. It then briefly dwells on the centrality of the "palingenetic" salvation discourse in both interwar and contemporary radical political thought and political practice, and on the revival of corporatist models of hierarchically-structured societies.

As I have already shown, loss of status goes a long way in explaining, if not all, then a great number of cases of formerly critical intellectuals who turn ready to serve existing or would-be ethnocrats. Other power-obliging intellectuals do nothing but what they always did--serve the "party line." The list is far too long to exhaust here. In an impressive article recently published in Romania, Vladimir Tismaneanu mentions the former "Praxis" philosophers Mihajlo Markovic and Svetozar Stojanovic, who became Milosevic's faithful servants, and in his book he mentions writer Dobrica Cosic, who briefly served as federal president (Tismaneanu, 1999a, p. 74, 1999b). Some intellectuals turn themselves into ethnocrats. Csurka is a rather gifted playwright, for example. And his countryman Sandor Csoori, a poet and essayist belonging to the "populist" stream, in 1990 sounded the trumpet of what would eventually become rather commonplace reference among the adversaries of the Free Democratic Party (a formation where Jews had prominent leadership positions), writing that contemporary Hungary witnesses a "reverse assimilationist trend" in that it is "no longer the Hungarian nation that wishes to assimilate Jews, but liberal Jewry who wishes to assimilate the Hungarian nation," a purpose for which it employs "a more powerful weapon than it has ever possessed, namely, the parliamentary system" Deak, 1994, pp. 114-5).

What is, I believe, important, is to emphasize that these (and many other) radical intellectuals play an important role as "socializers" into ethnocentric values and belief systems. It is not the quality of their intellectual product that concerns us, though some of that product can be of a very high caliber, regardless of how we judge it from the perspective of our own belief system. It is, I believe, counterproductive to understanding the function played by such intellectuals in inculcating radical values (of left, right, or a combination of them) on their societies, to dismiss them, as my friend Sabrina Ramet does, when she writes "I would deny that anyone worthy of being called an intellectual could be identified with anti-intellectualism" because "part of the very definition of intellectual is the honoring of the life of the mind; if a person does not do that, no matter how clever s/he may be, s/he cannot be considered an intellectual (Ramet, 1999b, p. 324n). First, there is no "definition" of the intellectual, just as there is not one, universally accepted definition of "fascism." There were over 200 such "definitions" by the time I was coming up with one of my own in my Ph.D. thesis (Shafir, 1981, pp. 5-20).

More important, one would have understood precious little of what right-wing radicalism was all about, had one dismissed its intellectual roots and some of its intellectual proponents under established proto-fascist and fascist regimes. Names like those of the Romanians Mircea Eliade and Emil Cioran would eventually become internationally famous, and one would be at pains to demonstrate that their intellectual skills or talents were absent when they had been acting as "socializers" into the values of the Romanian radical right. Nor is Romania really an exception. Zeev Sternhell's research into the intellectual roots of French and Italian fascism should have long cast aside any doubt as regards this question (Sternhell, 1972, 1978; Sternhell, Sznajder, Asheri, 1989). Not only George Mosse's seminal book on the intellectual origins of the Third Reich (1981), but the attraction fascist ideology exercised on such pillars of modern philosophical thought as Martin Heidegger, should make one wary of the assumption that rationalism or compassion for fellow intellectuals, and intellectual excellence, are not only synonymous, but exclusively so. Citing Sternhell, Ramet argues that "a Nazi intelligentsia as such never came into being." This may well be so. But what does one do with Heidegger and Ernst J�nger Should we count out Maurice Barres and Georges Sorel, Robert Brasillach, Louis-Ferdinand Celine, and Pierre Drieu la Rochelle? What about Filippo Tommaso Marinetti and Giovanni Papini, Emilio Gentile and Roberto Farinacci? What should we do with Giuseppe Bottai, Gabriele d'Annunzio and Julius Evola, with Dino Grandi and Curzio Malaparte? And are we to forget about Knut Hamsun, to mention but a few? As Griffin rightly points out (1994, p. 51), some of these "literary fascists," although never going as far as to become political activists (but some of them did do so), share the "core of palingenetic ultranationalism" with the all-out fascists. It is this core "which provides the common ground among the ideologues of Fascism" (Griffin, 1994, p. 69). One would be well advised to use the same yardstick when it comes to judging the actual and potential impact of modern-day "ethnocrats."

A group of Serbian intellectuals known as "the neofascists" (Isidora Bjelica, Dragos Kalajic, Dragoslav Bokan, Simonida Stankovic, Nebojsa Pajkic) embraced the ideas of Dimitrije Ljotic's Zbor (Convent), set up in 1934, which was Serbian ultranationalist in outlook and denounced parliamentarianism. This group is calling for the abolition of the parliament, to be replaced by an authoritarian monarchy (Pribicevic, 1999, pp. 202-3). One must not forget, as Tismaneanu (1999a, p. 22) reminds us, that "it was, after all, a group of stellar intellectuals, writers, philosophers, and anthropologists who spelled out in 1986, in the notorious memorandum of the Serbian Academy of Sciences, a blueprint for ethnic cleansing and paranoid nationalism." That blueprint was then applied by (among others) a poet by the name of Radovan Karadzic, nowadays a war criminal. Suspected war criminal Vojislav Seselj was the youngest person to be awarded a Ph.D. in communist Yugoslavia (and a frustrated academic after the collapse of the regime that had imprisoned him, albeit already then for nationalism). Dobroslav Paraga, the first post-Communist leader of the radical return Croatian Party of Rights, is a law graduate imprisoned in 1980 for passing a petition calling for the release of all political prisoners; he frequently testified in the West about political repression under Tito, and was widely considered a champion of human rights (Irvine, 1995, pp. 149-50). To stay in the former Yugoslav space, a significant number of Slovenian intellectuals enrolled themselves in backing Janez Jansa, the charismatic leader of the Social Democratic Party which, despite its name, is a party of radical return (Rizman, 1999, pp. 162,165). In Romania, it is Ilie Badescu, chair of the Sociology Department at Bucharest University and president of the Romanian Sociology Association, who was chief ideologist for the now defunct neo-Iron Guardist Movement for Romania. Ion Coja, a Bucharest University professor of literature, changed many political parties but none of his Holocaust-denying views. Greater Romania Party leader Corneliu Vadim Tudor and Adrian Paunescu, former vice chair of the Socialist Labor Party, are both former Ceausescu court poets and, as such, in the radical continuity category. But when it comes to Holocaust-denying, there is no difference between them and Coja or Badescu (Shafir, 1993b,1997, 1999; Coja, 1997).

Coja is also a founding member and the vice chairman of Vatra romaneasca, (Romanian Cradle), which, like Matica slovenska in Slovakia views itself as a "cultural organization" aiming to defend the rights of the ethnic majority against the ethnic Hungarian's minority's alleged "revisionist" designs. In both countries, these "cultural organizations" are packed with intellectuals. Fewer are probably familiar with the similarly-emerged Bulgarian Committee for the Defense of National Interest (KZNI). The committee was set up in protest against the Bulgarian Socialist Party's intention to restore the rights of the country's ethnic-Turkish minority, including the right to reclaim their names, "Bulgarianized" by the Zhivkov regime and to the free use of the Turkish language. Just like in Romania, where the Party of Romanian National Unity emerged in 1990 as Vatra's political arm, the KZNI set up the Fatherland Party of Labor (OTP). In the June 1990 elections the OTP succeeded to elect one deputy in a single-member constituency. The KZNI managed to attract considerably more support among Bulgaria's intellectuals than the OTP among the electorate. Among its supporters were Petar Beron, a historian and former Sofia University rector, former dissident and human rights spokesman Rumen Vodenicharov, and many other academics. Its weekly, Zora, wants the Zhivkov-imposed assimilation program of ethnic Turks in general, and of the Bulgarian Pomak community of Bulgarian-speaking Muslims in particular, to be resumed. It argues (just as Vatra does in the case of the Transylvanian Szeklers) that they were originally part of the Bulgarian (in the case of Vatra, Romanian) majority that has been forcefully "Turkified" (in Romania Magyarized) by the "foreign oppressor." Zora also supports the idea of an Orthodox Slavic Front against Islam and warns of the dangers of "multiculturalism" and "political correctness" (Bell, 1999, pp. 246-47; Engelbrekt, 1994, p. 78).

Full books were produced on the contribution of the Russian intellectual tradition to radical right thought. Walter Laqueur's volume on the Black Hundred includes seven chapters on the post-Communist age (Laqueur, 1994). It badly needs updating, however. Unless I am mistaken, no volume on the radical right's resurgence in Russia has been produced--at least not in English--with the exception of those concentrating on the sensational, that is, on Vladimir Zhirinovsky (Frazer and Lancelle, 1994; Solovyov and Klepikova, 1995; Kartsev, 1995). Nothing illustrates better this sensationalist inclination than the translation of Zhirinovsky's semi-autobiographical book The Last Dash to the South as My Struggle, that is to say Mein Kampf, without even bothering to mention anywhere the original's title (Zhirinovsky, 1996). But Vera Tolz has dwelt at length with some of the intellectual streams and intellectual personalities on the radical spectrum. She insisted on the Pamyat legacy, which was mainly past-oriented, and on the post-1990 intellectual streams, some of which are future-oriented, and envisage Russia's future as an imperial one. Among the latter one finds such figures as the philosopher Yurii Borodai, or Eduard Limonov, a prolific writer who returned to Russia from exile. They are influenced by the so-called "Eurasian Movement" of Russian emigre circles of the 1920s and by the legacy of Petr Savitsky, a political philosopher who viewed Eurasia as a unique geopolitical civilization with a culture that was neither European nor Asiatic. In 1993, Limonov, alongside Aleksandr Dugin, editor in chief of the ultranationalist and anti-Semitic journal Elementy, set up the Russian Bolshevik Front, whose main purpose was the recreation of the Soviet Union. Although Limonov's initial positions would warrant placing him in the radical continuity category, he evolved towards the radical return, becoming a close associate of Aleksandr Barkashov, leader of Russian National Unity, the formation that comes closest to a full-fledged emulation of Nazism. The main organ of the imperialist Eurasians is the newspaper Zavtra (Pribylovsky, 1994; Tolz, 1997, pp. 188-9).

The palingenetic myth of rebirth that makes up the core of Griffin's definition of fascism is amply illustrated in ethnocratic meta-communication. "Salvation," "Regeneration," " Re-birth" are recurrent in the denominations of these political parties, and certainly not in the East alone. Israel, for example has its own "Resurrection" party (Ha'tchia). The title of Tismaneanu's 1999 volume, Fantasies of Salvation, is telling the story in three words. Radical return and radical continuity are once more meeting on common ground here. Romania's National Salvation Front (FSN), set up by Ion Iliescu and his followers after ousting Ceausescu in December 1989, was closely reminiscent in denomination of the Front of National Renaissance set up by King Carol II after his 1938 coup. One can only speculate whether this was intended to reflect the anti-party pluralism ethos displayed by the FSN in its early days (after his coup, the authoritarian king had banned all political formations except his own front). The heterogeneous FSN was a borderline case between a genuine radical continuity party and a "utilitarianist" formation--a term I shall eventually elucidate. It (and its denominational successors) was clearly ready to collaborate with parties of obvious radical continuity essence. Its denomination was emulated in Russia, whose own version of a National Salvation Front came into being in October 1992 with the aim of overthrowing Boris Yeltsin. This coalition of nationalist, communist, and Russian-imperialist groups was one more illustration of the Red-Brown alliances, and was banned by Yeltsin after the October 1993 disturbances. Among the no less than 81 parties, movements, and associations linked to one shade or the other of radical politics by 1994, one encountered denominations such as the Russian Party of National Revival, Union for the Revival of the Fatherland, and Union for the Spiritual Revival of the Fatherland (Pribylovsky, 1994)--all expressing the palingenetic spirit. The same spirit was prominently present in the name chosen by Barkashov for his lists in the 1999 Duma elections--Spas, that is Savior ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19, 25 and 26 October, 1 and 3 November 1999). Finally, the Poles had their own National Rebirth of Poland (NOP), an ultranationalist organization set up in the underground in 1981 and reportedly co-sponsored by the Confederation of Independent Poland and the Polish National Front (Bugajski, 1995, p. 378).

In the early 1990s, the NOP joined the International Third Position (yet one more exemplification of the search for a "Third Road"), which includes a French racist group, a faction within the far-right German Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands, an Italian terrorist group led by Roberto Fiore, and a faction within the neo-fascist British National Front (Ost, 1999, p. 96; Griffin, 1994, p. 166). A group of Romanian neo-Iron Guardists from Timisoara headed by Ovidiu Gules, the editor in chief of Gazeta de vest, is also linked to the International Third Position (ITP). The publication printed in the March 1999 ITP's "Declaration of Principles" and Gules's group (backed by Iron Guard veterans who adhere to the legacy of fascist "Commander" Horia Sima, as against the "Codrenists" who accuse Sima of having strayed from the doctrine of the movement's founding father, Corneliu Zelea Codreanu) can be accessed on the Internet at: ("Declaratie," 1999). So much for "rejection of modernity"! The ITP's main publication, Final Conflict, has a Romanian-language edition printed by the same publishing house that prints Gazeta de vest. In turn, the ITP's British branch (presumably the National Front), according to a dispatch printed in December 1997, has decided to emulate the organizational structure (based on the "nests") of the Iron Guard. ("Noile structuri," 1997). The guard and the figure of "Captain" Codreanu have been adopted as "models" by the neo-fascist Portugese National Revolutionary Front as well (Griffin, 1994, p. 166); and Gules's group is also linked to the British League of St. George, the umbrella-organization of the British ultra-right. The Timisoara group comemorated the Iron Guardist "martyrs" Vasile Mota and Ion Marin (killed in Spain during the civil war while fighting on Franco's side) at Majadahonda, where a monument has been erected by Iron Guardists in their memory, jointly with British radical right representetives, and, in turn, in early 1999, sent a delegation to the congress of the Nationaldemokratische Partei, to which it conveyed "a "Kammeraden" salute.

Most radical return movements are also advocates of fascist inspired corporatist structures (Szayna, 1997). Once more the Romanians have made an original "contribution" to the international legacy of fascist thought through economist and politician Mihail Manoilescu, whose doctrines were applied in interwar Europe by several autocratic governments in Yugoslavia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Poland, and Romania itself (Schmitter, 1978; Janos, 1994, p.19), and, one may add, were exported to such far-away places as Peronist Argentine. In contemporary Romania, the most clear advocacy for that road came from neo-fascist Movement for Romania ideologue Ilie Badescu (Shafir, 1993a, p. 24). In Slovenia, one observer went as far as to speak of Blut und Boden corporatism" reflected in the position adopted by the radical return Slovenian People's Party, which go hand-in-hand with its "people's chauvinism" (Rizman, 1999, p. 155). The above-mentioned Belgrade group of neo-fascist intellectuals is also calling for a strong corporatist state (Pribicevic, 1999, p. 202). Corporatist views have also been expressed in Russia by Limonov. In a "Manifesto of Russian Nationalism" published in 1992, Limonov described a model of classical corporatism that was drawn from Mussolini's Italy. The model envisaged a hierarchical structure, with associations and unions controlling the lower levels and having at its pinnacle a national council of corporations, destined to run the country as its "economic general staff" (Pribylovsky, 1994, p. 30; Tolz, 1997, p.192; Hanson and Williams, 1999, p. 263).


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