10 January 2001, Volume 3, Number 1RADICAL POLITICS IN EAST-CENTRAL EUROPE PART IX: The Romanian Radical Return (A)
By Michael Shafir
Beginning with this issue, we shall start scrutinizing the several "radical return" formations in Romania's post-communist political life. As already mentioned (see "East European Perspectives," [EEP] Vol. 2, no. 16, 2000), only one "radical return" party was represented in parliament in 1995, and that representation was very brief. The Party of National Right (PDN) did not sit in the legislature via electoral choice. Cornel Brahas, a former vice chairman of the Party of Romanian National Unity (PUNR), was expelled from the party after embezzling funds from the Bucharest branch that he headed, and joined the PDN, the party that resuscitated Nichifor Crainic's "ethnocratic state" (see EEP, Vol. 2, no. 20, 2000, and Vol. 1, no. 3, 1999, respectively).
That party's "Manifesto to the country" was published in 1993, in the first issue of "Noua dreapta" (The New Right), a publication which later changed its name to "Dreapta nationala" (The National Right). The manifesto stated that the PDN promotes a state that "excludes [national] minorities from its midst as long as they refuse to be assimilated into the Romanian nation." The ethnocratic state, it was further specified, rejects democracy, for democracy is based on individual rights "regardless of race and religion." The foundations of the ethnocratic state, on the other hand, rest on "the will of the Romanian nation." Public office is, therefore, to be the preserve of "genuine Romanians" alone. Members of national minorities who proved to be "disloyal" to the ethnocratic state would be deported. The manifesto went on to state that mankind can only fulfill itself "within the framework of the state" and that, consequently, "human rights" were but a fiction "of the cowardly and the weak." A special sub-chapter in the manifesto dealt with the problems of national minorities. Roma were said to be "at war with the Romanian nation" and the manifesto proposed to set up "reservations for their isolation" as a "last solution." Hungarians were deemed to be "cruel, vengeful and irredentist" and "if one million Hungarians refuse to abide by the new order, [then] one million Hungarians must be expelled [from the country]" (Whether it was from this "manifesto" that Greater Romania Party [PRM] later Tudor drew his inspiration for his 1998 proposals--see EEP, Vol. 2, no. 17, 2000 -- one can only guess). The same fate applies to all "immigrants" who had come to Romania (particularly from the Middle East) after the overthrow of the former regime and who were said to be running "organized crime" in the country. As regards foreign policy, the party "does not recognize the legitimacy of European forums" (i.e. the European Union and its institutions) set up during the Cold War because they promote an "international world order" that does not "take into consideration the will of nations." Instead, the PDN advocated a Romanian "military and economic orientation towards Germany and Japan." In other words, what was envisaged was a revival of the Second World War "Axis," minus Rome.
Unlike the Roma and the Hungarians, Jews were not specifically mentioned in the manifesto. But the PDN's attitude towards them could be derived from the manifesto's description of the "offensive of Romanianism," where it was stated that the Romanians' Latin "national spirit" was incompatible with "Judeo-Masonic mercantilism." The latter was said to be the foundation of democracy, which transformed nations into "slaves of the big international finance" ("Noua dreapta," no. 1, 1993). "Noua dreapta" interpreted negative reactions in the independent media to the PDN's manifesto as tantamount to "selling out" to the "Judeo-Masonic occult." The authors of the attacks on the PDN were defined as "notorious mercenaries, who take salaries straight from the synagogue's cashier" ("Noua dreapta," no. 2, 1993).
The editorial in the April 1993 issue of "Noua dreapta" was signed by PDN chairman Radu Sorescu, who wished to assure his readers that "We are not what we seem to be," that is, legionnaires or fascists. But, the issue's front page carried an article written in 1937 by Iron Guard politician Alexandru Cantacuzino, the title of which (reproduced on the cover) read "Pull out your guns, you lazy bums." Like other legionnaires of the time (Emil Cioran, for example), Cantacuzino was calling on his fellow-Romanians to take up arms and impose their will on history. Whether by accident or not, "Noua dreapta" announced (in the same issue) the setting up of a paramilitary organization called "The Civic Guards." The front page article was accompanied by a photo showing Codreanu decorating Cantacuzino who, as an introduction to his tract put it, "had grasped that violence was necessary for the purification of the nation." Palingenetism, it turns out, is an irresistible attraction.
Furthermore, the PDN's statutes, which were leaked to the press and published in a Bucharest daily, clearly adopted the Legionary Movement's (as the Iron Guard was also called) organizational structure as a blueprint. PDN members had to take an oath abhorring "democratic chaos" and placing the interests of the "movement" above their own interests. Once taken, the oath would turn them into "brothers" (just as those aspiring to join the Legionary Movement had been "Cross Brothers"). The statutes further stated that the PDN's "10 commandments" were "inspired by the six commandments of the Legionary Movement" and that members saluted each other with a raised arm "identical with the Legionary salute." Like the legionnaires, they called one another "camarad" and the official uniform was identical with that of the legion: green shirts with leather shoulder-straps and black trousers ("Ora," 9 November 1993, as cited in "Dimineata," 29 December 1995).
The leader of the movement ("Commander," the title of Codreanu's successor, Horia Sima), headed a six-member Grand Council, which Brahas joined upon his defection from the PUNR. As an official bulletin of the PDN indicated in 1995, Brahas was put in charge of reorganizing the movement, which had apparently suffered from Sorescu's sudden decision in 1994 to retire from politics and his replacement by an arts and law student, Aurelian Pavelescu ("Punctul nostru de vedere," no. 4, 7 June 1995). More importantly perhaps, Brahas, a businessman, had apparently pumped funds into the PDN's coffers, as the party braced itself for the 1996 elections. Ironically enough, this is precisely what put an end to Brahas's membership in the PDN and hence to that party's presence in parliament, for in January 1996 he was accused again of having embezzled party funds and, therefore, parted ways with this formation ("Evenimentul zilei," 1 June 1995; "Cronica romana," 20 and 22 January, and 6 March 1996; " Romania libera," 5 March 1996; " Ziua," 6 March 1996; and "Jurnalul national," 9 March 1996).
But after Brahas's departure, the PDN was unable to contest the 1996 general elections. A new law on political parties passed by parliament earlier in the year increased the number of supporting signatures necessary for a party to be legally registered from 251 to 10,000. The PDN was not among the 43 political formations that had managed to register by September 1996 ("Jurnalul national," 29 October 1996).
Meanwhile, Brahas set up in 1997 his own, rival formation called Romanian Right (DR). Not long after, Brahas announced his intention to re-establish -- possibly together with Funar -- the "Maniu Guards," which had terrorized the Hungarian minority right after World War II, seeking revenge for the sufferance of northern Transylvania's Romanian population during the region's occupation by Horthy. Brahas also demanded to abolish Harghita and Covasna counties, whose majority population is Magyar, to declare the two counties a "zone of exclusive Romanian language," and to expel UDMR activists from Romania ("Romania libera," 25 November 1997).
The DR defined itself in negative, rather than positive, terms: it claimed to be "anti-communist" and "anti-cosmopolitan." It also displayed irredentism, distinguishing between what was called Romania's "political" and its "historic" territory. The former were the country's present borders; the latter included "a foreign state on the territory of a historic Romanian province, whose name is Bessarabia." In other words, the right to independent existence of what is now the Moldovan Republic was questioned as a long-term programmatic objective of the party. As for the "political territory," this was deemed to be the "super-property of the Romanian nation" on which no "colonization" was permissible. The "colonists" were, according to DR's program, those national minorities that had settled in the country in the course of its history. They were to be allowed ownership of "part of the super-property" only "to the extent that they prove loyalty towards the Romanian nation and its national state." That state must be "authoritarian." Only an authoritarian state is able to "rapidly settle" through dictatorship problems posed by "any forms of parasite and subversive minority -- be that minority ethnic, political, sexual, religious or economic." Yet, at the same time, the envisaged dictatorship was said to reflect "the reign of the law and the political will of the majority." In foreign policy, the DR advocated "non-alignment" and "pursuit of the country's own national interest" ("Adevarul," 6 February 1997). The same line is advocated by other partisans of radical return in East-Central Europe, for example by the Justice and Life Party, in Hungary, or the Republicans in the Czech Republic. The reasons are obvious: membership in NATO or the EU pursued by their post-communist governments entails not only the renunciation of a portion of national sovereignty but also, and particularly, a pledge to respect human rights, perceived by these formations to be an "artifact" aimed at imposing the will of the mighty.
The Prosecutor-General's office raised objections to the party's registration, on the grounds that it endangered public security. The Bucharest Municipal Tribunal refused to register the DR, but not because of the objections raised by the Prosecutor-General. Rather, it found that some articles in its statutes contradicted other articles. A first appeal against the ruling was rejected by a Bucharest court, but after Brahas submitted amended statutes, the party was registered in July 1997 ("Cronica romana," 4 March, 3 April and 2 July 1997). The DR soon began attacking the Hungarian and Romany minorities, describing them as "voracious and impertinent," "pseudo-European" and "disloyal" to the "Romanian nation. As many other radical return formations, the DR had what Tismaneanu calls a "phallocratic vision of the good society" (Tismaneanu, 1999, p. 32). No sooner was the party launched that it already began speaking up against the "impotence" of the government and the parliament to "properly" deal with national minorities (A. R. Press, 6 August 1997). When, in November 1997, the owner of a nightclub in the Transylvanian town of Salonta segregated his premises to "niggers, Gypsies, and Arabs," Brahas applauded the initiative, expressing hope that others will emulate him and accusing foreigners of having "far too often profited from the legendary Romanian hospitality" (A.R. Press, 21 November 1997).
In December 1997, the DR "enriched" itself with a formidable new acquisition: Ion Coja. Coja became DR "National Leader" and head of the party's (properly called) "Authoritative Nucleus," though Brahas remained party chairman ("Ziua," 9 December 1997; A.R. Press, 7 April 1998). He came to the DR from the Democratic Agrarian Party of Romania (PDAR), whose presidential candidate in the 1996 elections he "almost" was (Shafir, 1996b) -- almost because in the last minute the party forged an alliance with two other formations and Coja failed in his bid to get the joint nomination. A few months prior to moving to the DR, Coja had unsuccessfully competed for the chairmanship of the PDAR, following the resignation of Victor Surdu from that position (Romanian Radio, 28 June 1997). For Coja the deputy chairman of the ultranationalist "Vatra romaneasca" organization, political migration had by then turned into a "second nature." He had started his political career in the Communist Party, which he joined in 1969, and is on the record for having stated, in an interview with the weekly "Flacara" in 1995, that he does not regret having joined the communists. That did not stop Coja from eventually forging a "dissident past" for himself (Coja, 1997, pp. 147-148). But according to information provided by fellow ultranationalist Dan Zamfirescu, Coja is a former Securitate informer (see the interview with Zamfirescu in "Adevarul literar si artistic," 9 May 1993). Nevertheless, Coja was at the same time under the surveillance of the Securitate, being, among other things, suspected of ties to veteran Iron Guardists. He would eventually proudly acknowledge those ties and the influence those veterans had on forging his political outlook ("Azi," 11 April 1990; interview with Coja in "Flacara," 18-24 October 1990; Coja, 1993b). Rather than being a radiography of the devious former secret police, the publication of the "White Book of Securitate" in September 1996 was masterminded by Romanian Intelligence Service chief Virgil Magureanu in an attempt to blur differences between dissent and collaboration among Romania's intellectuals, and it largely succeeded in doing so. That is where Coja emerges as a "victim" of persecution (Servicul Roman de Informatii, 1996, pp. 70-71, 474n). PRM leader Tudor, another former informer, would also skillfully attempt to exploit his being under surveillance (Shafir, 1997, p. 382). But having others "inform on informers" was nothing unusual in a totalitarian state.
As a nationalist propagandist for the National Salvation Front at that party's outset, as Coja candidly acknowledged, he expected Iliescu's formation to recruit him for a high position in the party. When the call failed to materialize, he became a founding member of the PUNR, the more so as he already was deputy chairman of "Vatra." He was designated a candidate on the PUNR lists in 1990, but not long after, having quarreled with party leader Radu Ceontea, he left that party and did not run in those elections (see the interview with him in "Flacara," 18-24 October 1995). From there he moved to the PDAR, a party that had meanwhile recruited other notorious ultranationalists and anti-Semites, such as Radu Theodoru, a founding member of the PRM. In 1992 he was elected a Senator on the lists of that party. He "distinguished" himself by, among other things, being one of the seven signatories of the letter protesting against Ambassador Alfred Moses' appointment (see EEP, Vol. 2, no. 21, 2000), by proposing in February 1993 that the ethnic origin of those serving on the diplomatic corps be checked (in what was interpreted as a thinly-veiled anti-Semitic motion), and by advocating that the "Baltic model" be applied in Romania as an instrument for "solving" the problem of national minorities ("Evenimentul zilei," 9 February 1993, and "Adevarul," 12 July 1995).
Coja became the driving force behind the setting up in 1994 of a PDAR-PUNR alliance called the Bloc of National Unity (BUN), which was enlarged in 1995 to include the Romanian Ecologist Movement (MER). What "ecology" MER was promoting was demonstrated in November 1995, when its weekly, Baricada, accused Jews of ritual murder (Shafir, 1996a). Having failed in his 1996 bid for the PDAR chairmanship and for its presidential candidacy, Coja then rejoined the PUNR and unsuccessfully ran for a Senate seat in the parliamentary elections held late that year. He accused Surdu not only of corruption and of being Iliescu's tool (both of which were likely to be true), but also of having hindered a large nationalist alliance based on BUN, which, according to Coja, should have also included former Moldovan Premier Mircea Druc's Party of [National] Re-Unification-The Dacian-Latin Option (see his article in "Vremea," 18 October 1996). Once in the DR, Coja adamantly continued in his attempts to cluster ultranationalism in one unified formation. He managed to recruit to the party some former members of the Action Committee for the Democratization of the Army -- a group of officers seen by some Western analysts as harbingers of Romanian military democratization and forcefully disbanded by the Defense Ministry in 1991 (Bacon, 1992, p. 197) -- and in 1998 he became the leader of the Electoral Nationalist Bloc (BEN). The bloc included Druc's formation, which militates mainly for Moldova's reunification with Romania, but also some former Iron Guardists.
One of the more exotic new recruits into the DR was Jean Maurer, son of Ceausescu's long-time Premier Ion Gheorghe Maurer (who died in 2000, aged 97). The "young" Maurer (he was 48 when he joined the party in 1998), a close friend of presidential son and heir-apparent Nicu Ceausescu, had left Romania in February 1989, settling down in Germany. After unsuccessfully trying to go into business, he returned to Romania in 1997 and joined the DR upon his father's advice -- or so he claimed ("Adevarul," 25 March 1998). But the most spectacular recruitment to the DR was Brahas's, rather than Coja's, and it once again brought about a split in the formation.
Prime Minister Radu Vasile was "revoked" from office by President Constantinescu on 13 December 1999. The move had been in the offing for some time, but Vasile's dismissal had been postponed. Romania was expecting an invitation to open parleys for joining the European Union. Constantinescu and the coalition leaders wanted to avoid an impression of political instability, and kept Vasile in office for as long as the invitation did not materialize. Apparently more interested in securing succession as National Peasant Party Christian Democratic (PNTCD) party chairman than in running the cabinet, Vasile, who had undermined his predecessor, Victor Ciorbea, and took over the helms of the government in April 1998, now found himself victim of the same Byzantine scheming that had turned him into premier. Once he got wind of the scheming, it was too late. He barricaded himself in his office, refusing to answer calls from the president or his party's chairman, Ion Diaconescu. The octogenarian Diaconescu, whom Vasile intended to push aside at the next opportunity, proved more skilled in politicking than the premier. He engineered the "en masse" resignation of ministers from the cabinet, which made it possible for Constantinescu to "revoke" Vasile in a dubious constitutional move. The Romanian basic document does not allow the president to dismiss the head of the government. For a change of cabinet to happen, the premier must either resign or the cabinet must receive a no-confidence vote in the legislature. But the president can "revoke" members of the cabinet in case of "incapacitation" and the Constantinescu-Diaconescu tandem made use of this provision, claiming the government as a whole was "incapacitated" following the en masse resignation of ministers (Shafir, 2000).
Vasile was expelled from the PNTCD on 27 December, and in January 2000 ten of his supporters in the party leadership left the PNTCD ("RFE/RL Newsline," 28 December 1999, and 31 January 2000). The Vasile-supporting faction in the party had been contemplating for some time now forming a Popular Party, one that obviously derived its name from the parliamentary group in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe that represents Christian Democratic formations. But with elections approaching, and with a minimum 10,000 membership needed for party registration, time seemed to be running out. It was at this point that Brahas stepped in. In a quid pro quo, he offered the Vasile supporters membership in the DR and Vasile the party chairmanship, hand-in-hand with changing the enlarged formation's name into Romanian Popular Party (PPDR). The DR stood to once more gain parliamentary representation (and a large one too) without electoral endorsement, while Vasile hoped to thus circumvent legal procedure for party registration ("Ziua" and "Cotidianul," 2 February 2000; "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 February 2000).
A hastily organized DR National Conference on 3 February in Brasov approved the merger of the two formations, elected Vasile as chairman of the PPDR, and his number one supporter Sorin Lepsa as party secretary-general and executive chairman, with Brahas becoming one of the PPDR's 10 deputy chairmen. Strangely enough, Coja's name figured nowhere in the media reports on the conference. In a display of appalling frankness, Vasile said he had accepted Brahas's offer because "it was the best made to us." He claimed to have been unaware of the fact that the DR had the reputation of being an extremist party, indeed to have "heard close to nothing" about it before receiving the offer. The claim was hardly credible, but if true, in itself should have been reason enough to justify Vasile's dismissal as premier. If he had been informed on the DR's reputation, Vasile said, he would not have "opted for it." But in retrospect, he added, the merger would serve to "eliminate the possibility of the emergence of an extreme-right party on Romania's political scene," since the PPDR will certainly not pursue that road. In turn, Brahas seemed willing to play the game: "Even if we were an extremist force," he said, "we are now tamed" by the merger (Mediafax, 3 February 2000). Who was transforming whom, however, was an open question. In October 1999, the DN party publication "Nationalistul" [The Nationalist] was mentioning Vasile among those who had "destroyed Romania" (Romanian Radio, 11 February 2000, citing Senator Varujan Vosganian). Now, delivering his "maiden speech" as PPDR chairman, Vasile was emphasizing the "central role of the nation and the Church, authoritarianism and rejection of multi-culturalism" as the basic principles of the new formation ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February 2000).
The deal worked out by Vasile and Brahas turned out to be less judicially rigorous than planned. The party applied for registration on 9 February. On 2 March, a group of members of the DR's Authoritative Nucleus led by Ioan Barbuta appealed against the registration of the PPDR before the Bucharest Municipal Tribunal. Although Barbuta acknowledged that he had been present at the DR's Brasov conference and had voted in favor of the merger, he said he had done so in "a moment of personal weakness." On 10 March, the tribunal accepted the objections raised by the Barbuta group and denied registration.
The PPDR, however, successfully appealed the ruling and the party was registered in April 2000 (Mediafax, 2 and 10 March, 10 April 2000; "Adevarul," 14 February 2000). The party ran in the 2000 local elections, but its performance was rather meager. It elected nine mayors out of 2,954 and obtained 0.37 percent countrywide in the elections for local councilors and 0.72 percent in the county councilors ballot ("Monitorul oficial," 9 and 18 June 2000). The PPDR did not, however, run in the 2000 parliamentary elections. Vasile did, but not on that party's lists. He was elected a senator on the lists of the Democratic Party, headed by the half-Jewish Petre Roman ("Adevarul," 1 December 2000). This seemingly unimportant detail speaks miles about "party consolidation" in post-communist Romania, as indeed it does about political morale and mores: one of the most important leaders of a mainstream, allegedly democratic and pro-Western party was ready to join a pro-fascist formation, only to end within less than two years as senator representing a would-be Social Democratic Party; and, no less important, that latter party would be ready to accept into its ranks a politician like Vasile. And yet Romanian-watchers persist in employing a "Left-Right continuum" when analyzing the evolution of that country's political carnival.
As for Coja, he can be counted on to soon re-emerge and renew efforts for the unification of the nationalist spectrum. His record speaks for itself. While still a senator representing the PDAR, he tried to bring about the formation of an electoral alliance (see "Zig-Zag," 27 May-2 June 1993) between the PDN (then still led by Sorescu) and Marian Munteanu's pro-Iron Guardist Movement for Romania (MPR). He used to be a regular contributor to Adrian Paunescu's weeklies, to Sorescu's "Noua dreapta," and to the MPR's "Miscarea." The PDAR and Paunescu, then a Socialist Labor Party leader, were largely perceived as belonging to the left side of the political spectrum, whereas the PDN and the MPR were placed on the extreme right of that continuum. But Coja is a personal embodiment of the "red-brown" alliance. Like Tudor, he openly acknowledges to be "neither left, nor right," being rather "nationalist." But he puts it slightly different: as he explained when he joined Brahas's DR, he is "sometimes left, sometimes right"--all while "striving to be a nationalist" ("Curentul," 10 December 1999).
Yet there is very little of the "left" in Coja's outlook and a lot of the "right." In the very first issue of "Noua dreapta," Coja was explaining to readers that "the right is God's," since one made the sign of the cross with that hand, not with the left one. The right hand, he wrote, is called DEXTER in Latin, from whence comes the word "dexterity." The left hand, on the other hand, is called SINISTRA, and the left is indeed linked to whatever is sinister in this world. Among the "sinister" things, he counted the concept of human rights, which, he wrote, despite the etymological links to the "right" has very little to do with its perceptions of the proper order of things. For while "the left" is "obsessed" by promoting individual rights, "the right" is mainly preoccupied by the individual's "obligations" towards the community. Individual rights, Coja went on to elaborate, cannot have priority over such innate rights as the survival of one's nation and "species." The "left" is opposing inequality, but "there is something more sinister than inequality, and that is equality." People are not born equal and to oppose that is to oppose nature itself. "We are unequal because we are different, and thus duty-bound to fulfill that which is given onto us and us alone." No one, Coja wrote, "can jump over his own shadow." And "jumping over one's shadow" is precisely what the left is always attempting to do. The performance leads to a "lack of authenticity and organicism," the virtues that are "supreme" in the eyes of the right. Throughout history, the left has created "a plethora of forms without content." None of those forms is more shallow than democracy, a system that allows the crowd to dictate through the universal ballot and that sent Socrates and Jesus Christ to death by "majority-decision" (sic!) (Coja, 1993a).
From an "organic" view of history placing communitarian values -- rather than individualism -- at its center (Coja uses for "nation" the term NEAM, which is close to the VOELKISCH perception of nation as a community of blood and soil linking past, present, and future generations) to an attempt to resuscitate the doctrines of that movement that best embodied these values -- the Iron Guard -- the step is short, though not necessarily unavoidable. Coja did not hesitate to make it, as he would not hesitate to exonerate Codreanu's movement from its crimes against Jews, and the Romanians from any responsibility for the Holocaust. In fact, Coja would turn into a chief Holocaust denier. "Our Legionnaires," a book he published in 1997, includes many (though not all) of his efforts in this direction, some of whose highlights were the advocacy of turning Codreanu's famous "Booklet for the Nest-Chief" (Carticica sefului de cuib) into the basic tenet of Romanian political revival, the (false) claim that the Iron Guard had been exonerated of any guilt for "war crimes" at the Nuremberg trials, the denial that the Guard has ever been involved in pogroms, as well as some of Coja's by-now famous "conspiracy theories" scrutinized earlier.
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