24 January 2001, Volume
RADICAL POLITICS IN EAST-CENTRAL EUROPE
PART IX: The Romanian Radical Return (B)
By Michael Shafir
Launched in March 1992, the very denomination of the Movement for Romania (MPR)'s publication "Miscarea" indicated where the MPR placed itself on the political spectrum (see also Shafir, 1994, pp. 354-362). "The Movement" -- for that is its exact translation -- is how the Legion of the Archangel Michael, or the Iron Guard, was generally referred to in the interwar period. This was no accident, for "movement," in the best fascist tradition, signified more than just "party." Like all fascists, Codreanu spurned parties, which were perceived by him as being nation-dividing and as pursuing narrow, egoist, rather than the general, national interest.
[Indeed, the Legion had always distinguished between itself and a regular party. The "movement'" had been set up by Codreanu and a few close friends in 1927, becoming the Iron Guard in 1930, with its members continuing to call themselves "legionnaires." The Guard did not abolish, but encompassed the Legion, the change of denomination being precisely prompted by Codreanu's aim to strengthen the mass character of his organization, but also to liberate the organization from its associative links with Alexandru C. Cuza's League for National Christian Defense, of which the Legion had been part, because Cuza objected to the mass-movement drive. Codreanu's purpose, at that point in time, was to have a "new organization combating kike-communism [comunismul jidanesc], that would include the Legion and any other youth organization, beyond party distinctions" (cited in Heinen, 1986, p. 211). And, of course, the change of denomination also reflected the move from a mainly mystic religious doctrinaire base to one that, without ever giving up on the former, adopted more and more military-like combat postures. When in 1932 Codreanu ran in the general elections, he did so under the denomination of "The Corneliu Codreanu Group," which, again avoided the "party" syntagma (he could not do so under the name "Iron Guard" which was formally disbanded by the government in January 1931). The only period in which the "movement" has been linked to a party-containing denomination was 1935-1938, when a political arm of the Legion came into being under the name of Everything for the Country Party. But even then, Codreanu stayed aloof from it, the organization being nominally led by general Gheorghe Cantacuzino-Granicerul (and after his 1937 death by Gheorghe Clime). In 1938, while in prison, Codreanu disbanded the party, but never the "movement" as such. Iron Guard veterans claiming, as one of their slogans has it, that "The Legion Never Dies," do nothing but reiterate this distinction].
Young (1962-born) MPR leader Marian Munteanu had been the chairman of the Romanian Student's League in early 1990 and very active in the "marathon protest" held in Bucharest's University Square against the National Salvation Front (FSN) and "neo-communism" between April and June that year. He had been badly beaten by the miners who descended on Bucharest at President Ion Iliescu's call. His cause was then taken up by Romania's "Blues" (see "East European Perspectives" [EEP], Vol. 1, no. 1, 1999), by independent movements of protest and by Western associations, such as Amnesty International (see Shafir, 1992, p. 20; 1993, pp. 167-168). When the Movement of Civic Alliance was first set up as an organization of the extraparliamentary opposition "from grass roots" in November 1990, Munteanu was even briefly elected as its temporary chairman. But he held that office for just a few hours. His colleagues in the organization's leadership "persuaded" him to resign. As Gabriel Andreescu, one of the founding members of the alliance reminisced, there were several reasons for this initiative. In meetings preceding the setting up of the organization, Munteanu had proved no inclination for dialogue and little patience to listen to any arguments but his own ("22," 13-20 and 20-27 March 1992). Munteanu himself admitted (in interviews with the students' weekly "Opinia studenteasca," no. 1, February 1992 and with the far-right monthly "Puncte cardinale," no. 4, April 1992) that he could not stand his former colleagues' "endless discussions," with pro-and-con arguments. I like "order and clarity," he added. He admired, Munteanu said, his political adversaries from the FSN, for their communist-like "discipline." And the ideal party to which he would like to belong would be one "with the best organization, the most rigorous discipline, and the most moral people."
The MPR became the first radical return formation to wholly embrace the Legion's model, preceding Sorescu's PDN by nearly two years. It was set up by Munteanu in late 1991, being officially registered with the Bucharest Municipal Tribunal on 23 December that year. Like Ion Coja (1997, p. 87), Munteanu had been influenced by several former members or sympathizers of the Iron Guard whom he met in the late 1980s. In both Coja's and his case, a prominent part in that influence seems to have been played by Petre Tutea, whom he met in early 1988 (see the interview with Munteanu in "Tineretul liber," 29 February 1992). When Tutea, who had spent 13 years in communist jails, died in December 1991, Munteanu authored the foreword and the concluding remarks to a volume of interviews, letters, and some of the metaphysical philosopher and Orthodox fundamentalist's writings (which were remarkably few). Shortly before his death, in 1990, Tutea was teaching Munteanu and other students who came to see him that "to be an absolute Romanian, one must be a legionnaire" (Tutea, 1992, p. 105).
Defined as National Democracy, the MPR's ideology was said to be "thoroughly based on solid metaphysical grounds." The instrument through which this doctrine would be implemented was said to be the "New Generation" (capitalized in the original), which was "duty-bound to assume responsibility for political action." The "solid metaphysical ground" that the program mentioned turned out to be little other than the revival of the same organic view of history, with its emphasis on communitarian values that Coja would later also emphasize, and of that brand of religious fundamentalism that had been the distinction mark of the Iron Guard among fascist movements.
The Romanian nation, the program stated, was linked by generation bonds to its past and to its future. The past was best represented by the communitarian values of the village, which had survived history's idiosyncrasies and represented the "classic Romanian civilization." Past and future generations were linked by a "spiritual unity" represented by their "Christian [Orthodox] faith;" by "linguistic unity;" by the "uninterrupted presence in a distinct geographical space;" by a common "social organization -- the village community;" and by a "harmonious, unitary and stable set of traditions, as well as of cultural, judicial, artistic, economic and political values" ("Miscarea," no. 1, March 1992).
"Romanianism" was also included in the ideological package that the MPR promoted. The concept was a central one in interwar radical right ideology (Volovici, 1991, pp. 75-79; Ornea, 1995, pp. 119-146). It is around the belief in "Romanianism" that the "New Generation" must, among other things, forge its identity, according to the MPR's party program. But the "New Generation" itself is a rather problematic term, again bringing up associations with the interwar radical right. One should bear in mind that, like all fascist movements, the Legionnaires exalted young age and saw themselves as a movement of and for the young, who will, they believed, do away with the corruption characterizing the democratic system. Viewed from this perspective, the program's attack on "politicking" (politicianism) and its call on the young generation to restore "purity" resembled, at one and the same time, both the legionnaires' disdain for the democratic system, which they viewed as being inherently corrupt and corruptive, and their religious terminology.
The program's main tenets, as well as some of Munteanu's pronouncements on the matter, were striking in their clear endeavor to reproduce the organizational structure of the "movement" ("Miscarea," no. 2, February 1993). As if to dispel any doubt, the MPR's publication reproduced the legion's organizational "Six Fundamental Laws" in late 1992 (no. 5, December). Coja would eventually repeat the performance (1997, pp. 16-17). Any lingering doubts, however, were dispelled in early 1993, when the MPR monthly published an "open letter" addressed by Munteanu to the former members of the Legion. Different times, the MPR leader wrote, call for different strategies. The "content" of the belief-system may remain unchanged, Munteanu wrote, but its "forms" have to be adapted to the changing spirit of the times. And the "content" of the MPR ideology shared the same "metaphysical foundations" with "all other Romanian national movements." The MPR was not one and the same with the Legion. However, "We are streams in one and the same river" ("Miscarea," no. 1, 1993). He was personally "honored" to be considered Codreanu's heir, Munteanu told an audience of young people and former Iron Guardists later in 1993, but had to decline the merit because his organization was attached to the values of democracy. Yet at one more similar gathering, Munteanu emphasized that in his eyes democracy was "a means, rather than an aim in itself" for his party ("Adevarul," 10 May 1993, "Evenimentul zilei," 16 December 1993).
Perhaps no other leader of an "anti-system" party in post-communist Eastern Europe was so frank in admitting what his formation was all about vis-a-vis the "system" by whose rules it claimed to abide by. That adherence to the democratic system was indeed more a matter of "form" rather than one of "content" was perhaps best illustrated by a letter addressed to the weekly "22," which had taken a critical position towards the MPR and its leader. "We, young MPR members," wrote a 20-year-old student," bow our heads before the sufferings of the legionary martyrs," for "the legionary spirit is identical with the Romanian spirit." MPR leaders were ready to "follow Marian Munteanu to our death, for our trust in him is unlimited." A time will come when "we shall be ready to take over power." And the editors of "22" had better pray for that time not to come "too soon," for "we shall do justice and shall not forget you, just as we shall not forget the communists." For, the letter's author concluded, "whoever is not with us, is against us" ("22," 27 May-2 June 1993). The letter was not simply the reaction of an overzealous rank-and-file MPR member. According to an unattributed article in "Miscarea," most probably written by the movement's chief ideologist Ilie Badescu, political extremism is in the eyes of the beholder. "If historic necessities demand replacing democracy with military authoritarianism... one should not consider this extremism (in this sense Antonescu was no extremist)" ("Miscarea," no. 1-2, 1-15 February 1995). So much for the MPR's attachment to "democratic values."
The MPR's organizational structure indeed strongly resembled that of the legionnaire's "nests." At grassroots level, there were the so-called "polycentric organizations," made up of three to 15 members. According to the party's statutes, the leaders of these organizations were not elected; rather, in what resembles the "Fuehrerprinzip," they were supposed to be a sort of "organic" outgrowth of the group and to achieve leadership through "consensus." Anyone seeking membership had to pass examinations which tested, among other things, the candidate's adherence to the values of "Romanianism." As has been the case with the "nests," candidates had to demonstrate that they were "morally worthy" of being accepted; that they were prepared to live in "austerity and modesty;" and that, once admitted, they would "resist any pressure" to violate the party's statutes ("Miscarea," no. 1, March 1992 and no. 2, February 1993).
Like the legionnaires, the MPR had a "Senate" made up of members of the older generation who distinguished themselves in the struggle for national ideals and who were supposed to "guide" the movement. Likewise, the MPR had a "Veterans Corps," made up of "anti communist fighters, former political prisoners, people who dedicated their entire lives to the national struggle" -- a euphemism for the old Iron Guardists ("Miscarea," no. 2, September 1992). The MPR Senate was headed for some time by Professor Badescu, a sociologist who is one of the founding fathers of the school of "protochronism," and on which the Ceausescu regime based much of its nationalist appeal (Verdery, 1991, pp. 156-164). In an article (said to represent "integrally" the views of the MPR), Badescu advocated in 1992 a fascist-style restructuring of Romanian society along "corporate" lines, headed by a "chief of state" who would stand above all social cleavages and in whose description (one who has "put on the eremitic garment of eternal Romanianism") one could hardly fail to recognize a joint Munteanu-Codreanu portrait ("Miscarea," no. 2, September 1992). Eulogistic portraits of Mihail Manoilescu, the interwar Romanian politician and social scientist whose advocacy of corporatism had combined with strong pro-Axis views, were published in "Miscarea" in October and November 1993. Nor did the MPR lack the regimental element; whereas Codreanu's people were known for their green shirts, Munteanu's disciples wore white shirts with badges displaying a variation of the symbol of the cross.
Unlike the PDN, the MPR was more cautious in its pronouncements on national problems. Reports from sources whose reliability cannot be doubted, however, had it that in private discussions Munteanu made shockingly anti-Semitic and other anti-minority remarks. And occasionally, "Miscarea" "forgot itself" and reflected the true face of its leadership's belief system. In spring 1993, for example, it remarked with what purported to be an ironical tone that literary critic Zigu Ornea, who is a Jew, was incapable of understanding the values of such a great culture as Romania's. Ornea's attacks on the interwar "traditionalist" political and literary currents, according to yet another article in the MPR monthly, attested to his playing the "physician" who wishes to "cure" Romanian heritage of its best. But, the author went on to say, his "diagnosis is part and parcel of the Kommintern nostalgia" for that which, in a "Satanic deed," had destroyed the values of "Romanianism" ("Miscarea," nos. 3 and 4, March and April 1993). The "Judeo-Communist" myth was thus being once more displayed, as in fact were undertones of "conspiracy theories" of which that myth is part and parcel (see Voicu, 2000, pp. 71-84 and PASSIM). It is from this perspective that Munteanu judged Romania's recent history. According to the MPR leader, Antonescu's regime had been one of "military authoritarianism, and by no means a fascist regime." Yes, Romania had been compelled to go through a period of an "assassin dictatorship." That had been King Carol II's royal dictatorship that had physically liquidated Codreanu, not Antonescu's rule. And the "only victims" of that dictatorship "were the Romanians, and by no means members of the Jewish community" ("Miscarea," no. 10, June 1994).
While similar pronouncements abounded in the media of radical continuity parties, there was a clear line delimiting the MPR as a radical return formation from radical continuity. The MPR denied any merits to "national communism." Munteanu was unwilling to pay any tribute to Ceausescu's nationalist policies for two main reasons. First, in his eyes, genuine nationalism could in no way be associated with communism, since the latter was by definition and internationalist doctrine disregarding national specificity. Ceausescu's nationalism, therefore, was considered to have been merely a "fake" nationalism, and, according to Munteanu, one cannot be a Romanian and a communist at the same time. Here he had parted ways not only with Corneliu Vadim Tudor or Gheorghe Funar, but also with Coja. The difference notwithstanding, Munteanu is on record for having advocated in 1994 (just as the PRM earlier did) the militarization of the economy as a solution to Romania's problems ("Miscarea," no. 3, 1994). Second, a genuine Romanian nationalist doctrine had to, according to him, incorporate the Orthodox religious element, for the two are indivisible. What Romania needed, Munteanu stated in December 1991, was a "genuine right," one that left no room "for ambiguity" (interviews with him in "Baricada," 24-31 December 1991 and 17-23 March 1992). The genuine Romanian right, according to an article published in "Miscarea" by George Scarlat (a student), could only be "profoundly national," as had been best embodied by the Legionary movement. In post-communist Romania, Scarlat went on to say in what was an open attack on the leaders of the traditional right (the "Blues," as I called them above), "politicking" was practiced by old-aged politicians who could not even hear Codreanu's name being pronounced without starting "to shake." Not so, however, for the young generation, which was willing, if need be, to employ "the Legionary organizational technique" to bring about the implementation of "the purity of the National Idea" ("Miscarea," no. 2, February 1993).
The borderline between radical right and radical continuity, as well as that between radical right and "traditional" ("Blue") right, thus seemed to be clearly drawn by MPR spokesmen. Yet, once again, things are rather more complicated. Munteanu and the chief exponents of radical continuity, above all Tudor, shared not only, remarkably, many common interpretations of Romania's history (above all Antonescu and the Holocaust) and ways to cope with its present, but also a common past of service on behalf of the Securitate. As in Coja's case, it was fellow ultranationalist Dan Zamfirescu who made public Munteanu's former links. Some two years before Ceausescu's overthrow, Zamfirescu said in a 1993 interview, he had proposed to Munteanu that they mutually tell one another what rank they had in the organization; and two weeks before the regime fell, again according to Zamfirescu, Munteanu complained to him that he was persecuted by members of the Securitate who "did not know I was one of theirs." If the need ever arose, Zamfirescu said, Munteanu's Securitate file might be leaked to the media in order to press him (Adevarul literar si artistic, 9 May 1993). This is precisely what happened in 1999, when the tabloid "Atac la persoana," whose links with the "Old forces" cannot be doubted, printed on its front page Munteanu's September 1988-dated, handwritten pledge to act as a paid Securitate informer ("Atac la persoana," 22 November 1999). The explanation to the belated leak was quite simple: by then there were indications that Munteanu, no longer leader of a party, was drawing close to the Democratic Convention of Romania (CDR) and/or to a rival faction of the post-1989 Securitate web than the one with which "Atac la persoana" was linked (i.e. the PRM).
Secret services (whether officially or unofficially active) are known to never forgive "traitors." Sharing an extreme nationalist outlook with the former communist secret police might explain both Munteanu's (indeed Zamfirescu's, Coja's, and Tudor's, to mention but a few) past collaboration with a service perceived by them as being "patriotic," and the service's own post-1989 silence on the MPR leader. That silence had lasted as long as Munteanu had been venting "just" his ultranationalism. As in the case of the Securitate's links with exiled Romanian Iron Guardists, the "patriotic" community of values had been stronger than the divisions along the "communist-noncommunist" cleavage. Once Munteanu appeared to be drawn closer to the CDR, however, he had become a "traitor" to "the cause," for the CDR, though not lacking its own closet (and some open, as shown below) ultranationalists, was basically viewed by the "Forces of Old" as a "cosmopolitan" servant of Western interests. Hence the leak to "Atac la persoana."
Skepticism might have been in order concerning anything Zamfirescu said or wrote. Yet one did not have to await the leak of the tabloid to realize that the same community of values had made it possible for other former servants of "national communism" and its intelligence structures to find a postcommunist niche in the MPR. From an obituary published in June 1994, one learned that General Dumitru I. Dumitru, a former chief of intelligence in the army's General Staff, had been a member of the MPR's Senate ("Miscarea," no. 10, June 1994). He was almost certainly not the only one. A likely candidate was chief ideologue Badescu, who has a long record of service "for the cause," as Ceausescu would have put it. The MPR, to be sure, denied that Badescu has ever served the Securitate, but its competitors on the far-right side of the political spectrum were persuaded otherwise (see "Miscarea," no. 3, 1-15 February 1995, responding to "Puncte cardinale," no. 1, 1995).
It must have been his party's failure in the 1996 local elections (see below) that convinced Munteanu to give up his "long-term strategy" and turn to business instead, becoming involved in arms trading. In November 1994, the MPR had joined the extremist "Vatra romaneasca" but continued to exist separately as a political party. In July 1998, Munteanu was in the businessmen delegation that accompanied Premier Radu Vasile on a visit to Italy (see "22," 14-20 July 1998) and by September 1999 there were reports in the media that he was about to join the National Liberal Party (PNL), one of the two main formations of the CDR. Munteanu confirmed that feelers were underway with the PNL, emphasizing that he was glad to have learned from its First Deputy Chairman, Justice Minister Valeriu Stoica, that the party was "preoccupied with granting an increased attention to the preservation of our national identity and the defense of our spiritual, not only materialistic values." In turn, Stoica said that the PNL "would be glad to have among its members Marian Munteanu, who is the carrier of an important political capital" (interview with Munteanu in "Jurnalul national," 1 September 1999; "Curentul," 30 August 1999). This looked very much like one more case of "utilitarian anti-Semitism," this time around at the Right end of Romania's political spectrum. But it was actually not that new for the PNL to engage in the exercise and court ultranationalists for electoral purposes. In 1995, the party had accepted to its ranks former Party of Romanian National Unity (PUNR) leader Radu Ceontea ( see the interview with Ceontea in "Evenimentul zilei," 15 June 1995).
As already mentioned (see "EEP" Vol. 2, no. 20), Munteanu at the end of the day made a political comeback as the presidential candidate of the National Alliance in the 2000 elections. The National Alliance (formed by former Romanian Intelligence Service chief Virgil Magureanu's Romanian National Party and the PUNR) was reputedly financed by circles involved in arms trading, and thus quite obviously linked with the former Securitate. At the same time, there was adversity between these circles and Magureanu, on one hand, and those Securitate circles linked to the PRM. Soon thereafter, however, Munteanu announced he was withdrawing from the race and from the parliamentary lists of the alliance. The reason invoked was the failure of his new political home to promote members of the "young generation" on its parliamentary lists. Alliance co-chairman Valeriu Tabara, however, revealed that by "young generation" Munteanu had in mind his old cronies from the MPR (Mediafax, 24 October 2000). The alliance's very poor electoral performance (1.38 percent in the Chamber of Deputies ballot and 1.42 percent in the senatorial contest, see "Adevarul," 4 December 2000) makes it rather doubtful that Munteanu would have performed more honorably at its head. On the other hand, the surprising success of the PRM to enlist the large support of voters in the youngest and young age groups in the 2000 contest shows that Munteanu might have attracted at least part of the votes that were won by Tudor and his extremist formation.
"Adevarul" (Bucharest), 1993, 2000.
"Adevarul literar si artistic" (Bucharest), 1993.
"Atac la persoana" (Bucharest), 1999.
"Baricada" (Bucharest), 1991-1992.
Coja, I., 1997, Legionarii nostri, [Our legionnaires] (Bucharest: Editura Kogaion).
"Curentul" (Bucharest), 1999.
"Evenimentul zilei" (Bucharest), 1993, 1995.
Heinen, A., 1986, Die Legion 'Erzengel Michael' in Rumaenien: Soziale Bewegung und politische Organisation (Muenchen: R. Oldenbourg).
"Jurnalul national" (Bucharest), 1999.
Mediafax (Bucharest), 2000.
"Miscarea" (Bucharest), 1992-1995.
"Opinia studenteasca" (Bucharest), 1992.
Ornea, Z., 1995, Anii treizeci: extrema dreapta romaneasca [The 1930s: The Romanian Extreme right] (Bucharest: Editura fundatiei Culturale Romane).
"Puncte cardinale" (Sibiu), 1992, 1995.
Shafir, M., 1992, "The Movement for Romania: A Party of Radical Return," in "RFE/RL Research Report," Vol. 1, no. 29, 17 July 1992, pp. 16-21.
Shafir, M., 1993, "The Revival of the Political Right in Post-Communist Romania," in Held, J. (ed.), Democracy and Right-Wing Politics in Eastern Europe in the 1990s (Boulder: East European Monographs), pp. 153-74.
Shafir, M., 1994, "The Post-Communist Era," in Braham, R. L. (ed.), The Tragedy of Romanian Jewry (New York: Columbia University Press), pp. 333-386.
"Tineretul liber" (Bucharest), 1992.
Tutea, P., 1992, Intre Dumnezeu si neamul meu [Between God and My Nation] (Bucharest: Fundatia Anastasia).
Verdery, K., 1991, National Ideology Under Socialism: Identity and Cultural Politics in Ceausescu's Romania (Berkeley; University of California Press).
Voicu, G., 2000, Zeii cei rai: Cultura conspiratiei in Romania postcomunista [The Bad Gods: Conspiracy Culture in Post-Communist Romania] (Bucharest: Polirom).
Volovici, L., 1991, Nationalist Ideology and Antisemitism: The Case of Romanian Intellectuals in the 1930s (Oxford: Pergamon Press).
"22" (Bucharest), 1992-1993, 1998.