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East European Perspectives: February 7, 2001

7 February 2001, Volume 3, Number 3

The Movement for Romania (MPR) and the Party of National Right (PDN) both participated in the 1992 parliamentary ballot and in the 1996 local elections. The results were far from what their leaders had hoped for. In 1992, Marian Munteanu's movement garnered 13,000 votes in the parliamentary ballot, whereas the PDN obtained 7,000 votes (see interview with Munteanu in "Cotidianul," 22 December 1992; "Baricada," 3 November 1992). The poor 1992 showing did not seem to particularly deter Munteanu, who had repeatedly stated that his party's strategy was not one of immediate electoral success, being rather a "long-term strategy" aimed at slowly "educating" the youth and attracting it to its political outlook -- which again recalled the Legion's socialization techniques ("Evenimentul zilei," 16 December 1993). But the "strategy" was obviously failing to show any indication of eventual success. In the June 1996 local elections, MPR candidates barely scored 605 votes nationwide, representing 0.01 percent of the total vote in the first round of the elections and no vote whatever in the runoffs. In the separate ballot held for seats on county councils, it received 963 votes nationwide, representing the same percentage. It thus failed to elect any local or county councilors (no MPR candidate had contested a mayoral post). The PDN garnered 114 votes in the first round nationwide and 192 votes in the second (less than 0.01 percent in both cases), but outdid the MPR in the ballot for seats on the county councils, receiving 1,369 votes nationwide (0.02 percent), and 135 total votes (less than 0.01 percent) for all of its mayoral candidates ("Monitorul oficial," 12 and 25 June 1996). Like the PDN (see "East European Perspectives," Vol. 3, no. 1, 2001), the MPR was apparently unable to gather the necessary 10,000 signatures for reregistering as a political party after the law was amended, and did not compete in the 1996 parliamentary ballot.

But in 1996, the MPR and the PDN had faced competition from a new radical return party, one that was no longer led by young people striving to emulate the Iron Guard, but by former Iron Guardists themselves. This was the For the Fatherland Party, which competed in both the local and the general elections. The formation had registered with the Bucharest Municipal Tribunal in June 1993. It had originally requested to be registered under the name Everything for the Country, which was the title of the Legionary movement's political arm between the years 1935 and 1938. Precisely for this reason, the request was turned down, and the party had to settle for a slightly changed denomination. Until his death in 1998 (see "Puncte cardinale," December 1998) the party was led by Nistor Chioreanu, a former prominent Iron Guardist who, for some time after Codreanu's death, was considered to be third in the hierarchy of the movement ("Tineretul liber," 15-16 May 1993; "Cotidianul," 17 May 1993; "Adevarul," 22 May and 11 June 1993; "Nu," 28 June-5 July 1993; and "Cuvintul," 6-12 July 1993). The 1996 electoral performance of For the Fatherland was not substantially more impressive than that of its younger competitors. It received a total of 93 votes in mayoral races in the first round of the local elections and 71 votes in the runoffs -- in other words 0 percent. But it did somewhat better in races for local councilors, scoring a 2,527 total nationwide (0.03 percent) in the first leg and 119 votes (0.01 percent) in the runoffs. In the competition for county councilors, it garnered 10,648 (0.13 percent) overall in the first round, and even managed to elect one councilor and 393 votes (0.18 percent) ("Monitorul oficial," 12 and 25 June 1996). For the Fatherland had enough grass-root support to enable it to meet the 10,000 registered members -- a newly-instituted requirement -- and thus run in the parliamentary elections as well. In this ballot, it garnered 21,295 votes (0.17 percent) in the contest for Senate seats and 17,841 votes (0.15 percent) in the Chamber of Deputies ballot ("Cronica romana," 8 November 1996). Running again for the parliament in 2000, this eminently radical return formation obtained 0.16 and 0.17 of the votes for the Chamber of Deputies and for the Senate, respectively ("Adevarul," 4 December 2000). In the local elections held six months earlier, it was unable to elect a mayor but obtained 3,877 votes nationwide for local councilors (0.05 percent of all votes cast) and 8,467 votes for county councilors (0.10 percent) ("Monitorul oficial," 9 June 2000).

There were two clear distinctions between the MPR and For the Fatherland. The MPR was "Codrenist" in its postures, indeed Munteanu would often dress up, as Iron Guard leader Corneliu Zelea Codreanu used to do, in peasant-costume and pose in "Captain"-like postures -- as a Romanian author with unconcealed sympathies for Codreanu's movement described him (Isac, 1998, p. 164). And, of course, Munteanu was young. At the time of his party's foundation, on the other hand, Chioreanu was 86, as was his second in command, Virgil Mateias (Isac, 1998, p. 241). He would eventually resign, staying on as "honorary chairman" till his death, but none of the other 13-member initiative committee that had set up the party was much younger. Unlike Munteanu, Chioreanu was a "Simist," though he was a controversial personality even among the supporters of Codreanu's successor, Horia Sima. Chioreanu had headed the Transylvanian Iron Guard regional organization in 1940-1941 and followed Sima into German exile after the crushing of the Legionary rebellion against Antonescu in 1941. He was parachuted back into Romania in 1944. While in the underground, Chioreanu headed -- alongside Nicolae Petrascu -- the Guard's domestic command. He was arrested in 1948 and remained in prison till 1964 (Buzatu, Ciucanu, Sandache, 1996, pp. 81-82). In his memoirs, Chioreanu attempted to whitewash the Guard of the crimes committed while under Sima's command, while at the same time criticizing some of Codreanu's actions, which unavoidably brought on him the wrath of the Codreanu-wing (Chioreanu, 1992, pp. 22-38; Isac, 1998, pp. 238-245). For the Fatherland was set up on the direct orders of Sima, at that time still alive in exile. The post-communist Sima wing of the Legionary movement was still receiving its orders from Sima's Spanish exile. Following the death of the "Commander," it would set up a two-tier structure, the Exterior (headed by Mircea Dimitriu, secretary-general of the movement's exile organization) and the Interior Commanding Group (apparently headed by Mircea Nicolau, see " Gazeta de vest," no. 7, 1998), as one learned in 1998 from Ovidiu Gules, the young (1967-born) editor in chief of the pro-Sima Timisoara-based "Gazeta de vest" (Gules, 1998b, pp. 4, 19).

But the Simists suffered from divisions themselves, some of which can be traced back to their German exile. While interned (in quite comfortable conditions, one must add) in the Rostock concentration camp where they were being held "on reserve" lest Antonescu deceive Hitler, Sima, suspecting some of his followers of being informers for the marshal, had ordered their torture to force them to speak up. Chioreanu was one of those who supervised the torture, which was later denied by Sima's faithful. Those who were subjected to it were later known among Sima's faithful as "Mexicans," a pejorative Simist equivalent for "deviationist" (Palaghita, 1993, pp. 188-205, 338; Isac, 1998, p. 76). And despite the fact that Chioreanu had followed Sima's orders, he would eventually be criticized for having let the party fall under "Mexican" control by agreeing to leave Sima's name out of the official propaganda in an attempt to bridge differences between the "Codrenists" and the two "Simist" wings (Gules, 1998a, p. 9, 1988b, pp. 21-22).

The criticism might have been not entirely unfounded. Another legionary party had been established, also on Sima's orders. This was the New Christian Romania ("Noua Romanie Crestina"), whose mentor was veteran Iron Guardist Mircea Nicolau, but who appointed as leader the 32-year-old Bucharest high school teacher Serban Suru. The party was set up on Codreanu's birthday and openly declared its Iron-Guard orientation. Precisely for this reason, the Bucharest Municipal Tribunal refused to register it in November 1993 (Gules, 1998b, p. 19; Shafir, 2000, p. 258). It was an appointment the veterans and those of the young generation who follow them would deeply regret. An tempestuous character, Suru had little patience for the Legionary "gradualist" tactics and for their insistence on educating the young generation. The accent, as the "Inner Commanding Group" decided after Sima's death, was to be put on indoctrination, or what was called the "internalization" of the Legion's values and the dissemination of Legionary propaganda. An important role in this decision was played by the Timisoara-based Iron Guardist Zaharia Marineasa, a member of the Inner Structure Command who had spent 21 years in prison, beginning in 1941, after participating in the Legion's rebellion against Antonescu. Apparently with emigre Iron Guard founding, after 1989 he set up his own Marineasa Publishing House, and, more importantly, financed the setting up of several other Iron Guardist publication houses in Bucharest, Sibiu, Craiova, Cluj, and the Moldovan Republic's capital of Chisinau. But above all, he financed "Gazeta de vest," whose director he was, and its prolific Iron Guardist Gordian Publishing House in Timisoara (Gules, 1998b. pp. 3, 54-55). Marineasa died in 1997, shortly before seeing the Iron Guard monthly "Permanente" -- whose editor in chief is Nicolau -- come out as a new pro-Simist publication in January 1998 (Gules, 1998b. pp. 3, 54-55).

Suru, on the other hand, in 1994, in a well-covered media-event that the veterans feared might lead to their activity being outlawed, had launched the first post-communist "nest" in Bucharest, named after Sima. This was followed, in 1995, by the setting up of other "nests" in Brasov, Sibiu, Constanta, and Chisinau (Shafir, 2000, p. 259). Members of the latter were involved in demonstrations against the government of Moldova, organized by partisans of reunion with Romania, and they were eventually arrested and accused of preparing "extremist actions," the nature of which was not specified (BASA-Press, 15 May 1996). Also in 1995, Suru, who one year earlier had inaugurated in Bucharest a library providing documentation on the Iron Guard, attempted to officially register an association called "Legiunea Crestina" (The Christian Legion), the declared purpose of which was the "dissemination of historic truth" about the Iron Guard. The Notary General refused registration, however, and the Bucharest Tribunal, before which the decision was appealed, upheld the ruling, viewing the "Legiunea Crestina" as unconstitutional. Just as controversial was a "summer legionary labor camp," -- organized by Suru at Padina, in the Carpathian mountains -- on the model and on the spot of one of the interwar Legion's camps. Participants wore the green shirts of the Legionary movement and were supposed to divide activities between work, indoctrination, and prayers (Shafir, 2000, p. 258). He would also dispatch his young supporters to be interviewed on television while wearing the green-shirt uniforms of the Guard. The two dozen or so youngsters, however, did not enjoy the backing of all members of the elderly generation of Iron Guardists or even of all their younger successors, for that matter. "Gazeta de vest," but also the pro-Iron Guard "Puncte cardinale" -- which for unexplained, most likely personal rivalries often engaging in polemics with it -- criticized Suru for "showing-off," for not having really "internalized" the movement's values, and for possibly endangering its post-communist "achievements" by provoking the authorities into reaction (see, for instance, "Gazeta de vest," September and November 1995). By June 1999, the "Exterior Commandment" of the Legionary Movement was accusing Suru of having infiltrated the movement as an agent of former Romanian Intelligence Service chief Virgil Magureanu, with the purpose of creating scandals that would provoke a negative reaction towards the movement both inside Romania and abroad (see 1999).

The group around "Puncte cardinale" never constituted itself into a political party, though there had been indications that it envisaged to do so. Back in 1990, a party calling itself Christian Democratic Union (UDC) was formed and registered with the authorities. Its leader was Mihai Grama, who had set up the formation while in German exile. Whether it is true or not that Grama had collaborated in exile with veteran legionnaires might never be known. But the UDC attracted many former Iron Guardists and was threatened by then Interior Minister Mihai Chitac with dissolution. As a result, Grama told his followers that no Iron Guardists will be tolerated in the UDC. Grama's party would eventually join the Democratic Convention of Romania, though not before suffering another split, one of the many that this minuscule formation underwent. Grama himself was eventually dismissed as party leader and joined the National Peasant Party Christian Democratic, becoming a senator on its lists in 1996. He has since died (see "Ora," 8 December 1992; "Tineretul liber," 23 June, 5 July and 4 August 1992; "Cronica romana," 6 August, 26 September and 7 October, 1996; "Azi," 6 August 1996; "Cotidianul," 6 September 1996; "Adevarul," 20 November 1996). The group of Iron Guard sympathizers led by Marcel Petrisor initially envisaged to set up a formation calling itself UDC-Sibiu Convention (see the interview with Grama in "Tineretul liber," 23 July 1992), but that party never materialized. Instead, the group coalesced around the monthly "Puncte cardinale." The monthly had been launched in the Transylvanian town of Sibiu in 1990 by Gabriel Constantinescu, a 1921-born Iron Guard sympathizer, and by young Razvan Codrescu, who eventually became its editor in chief. Codrescu had earlier launched in Bucharest a pro-Iron Guard leaflet called "Veghea" (The Watch) (see the interview with Constantinescu published on the occasion of the 100-issue anniversary of the monthly, "Puncte cardinale," April 1999). He uses several pseudonyms, one of which is Adolf Vasilescu-Crivat. It does not take a large stretch of imagination to guess where the "Adolf" comes from. "Crivat" is how Romanians call the north wind that blows during winter. That chilling thought apart, Codrescu -- who eventually also became director of the Bucharest Anastasia publishing house, an Orthodox-fundamentalist think-tank -- is one of the most prolific authors among Romania's "New Right" generation. Of far higher intellectual caliber than the Timisoara-based "Gazeta de vest," "Puncte cardinale" has profiled itself around the hardly concealed religious anti-Semitism of Constantinescu, its director, around the cultural-ideological legacy of the Iron Guard, and around promoting ties with, and publishing translations from, ultraconservative and neo-Fascist organizations and writers from the West.

"Puncte cardinale," "Gazeta de vest," "Permanente," and the defunct "Miscarea" do not conclude the list of radical return-supporting publications. "Vremea dreptei national-crestine" [The Age of the National Christian Right], published in Bucharest since 1998, belongs to the same category, as does "Ethos romanesc" [Romanian Ethos]. Other publications are issued irregularly, for example the palingenetic "Invierea" [The Resurrection], edited by Dr. Serban Milcoveanu, the former chairman of the Iron Guardist National Union of Christian Students. "Invierea" is published under the auspices of the League for the Defense of Historic Truth, and the Association of Former Chairmen of Christian Students, two out of a plethora of foundations supporting Iron Guard activities. Other, similar, associations are the Timisoara-based Constantin Stoicanescu Association, the Cluj-based Christian Action Archangel Michael Association, and Sarmisegetuza Association -- which in 1998 asked the Romanian Orthodox Church to canonize Codreanu (see "Ziua," 24 September 1998) -- as well as the Bucharest-based Petre Tutea Association, the Professor George Manu Foundation, the Corneliu Zelea Codreanu Group, the Crusade for National Resurrection, the "Buna Vestire" [Annunciation] Association -- and the list is not complete. Apart from "Gazeta de vest"'s Gordian publishing house in Timisoara, the Majadahonda publishing house in Bucharest, set up in September 1993, is also disseminating Legionary literature, and there are a number of similar publishing houses in the provinces. Political scientist George Voicu found no less than 18 Romanian "obscure" publishing outfits whose "only reason for existence is that of publishing extremist texts" (Voicu, 2000, p. 41). Apart from those mentioned above, he lists Imago, Elisavaros, Gama, EURASIA, Kogaion, FRONDE, ALMA, Aurelia, Samizdat, Globus, "Roza vinturilor" (Compass Rose), the Dragan Foundation, FF Press, Intact, Miracol, and Crater among publishers from Bucharest or the provinces which apparently exist for no other purpose than to print extremist materials. In addition, such "cultural" publications as the Bucharest-based "Jurnalul literar," in which prominent intellectuals identified with pro-Western postures often publish, displays postures (including those of editor in chief Nicolae Florescu) that are ultranationalist and often sympathetic to the Iron Guard. Other cultural publications, such as the weekly "Adevarul literar si artistic," are a curious mixture between democratic positions and a radical (both continuity and return) heaven. Several periodicals, such as "Noua revista romana" (New Romanian Review), "Euxin," and -- despite its name -- "Arhivele totalitarismului" (Totalitarianism's Archives), also combine radical continuity postures with the exoneration of interwar radical return doctrines and intellectual personalities.

It would be wrong, however, to conclude that Romania's streets are swarming with Iron Guardist supporters. The circulation of "Gazeta de vest" is about 2,000, while that of "Puncte cardinale" is in part ensured by "exports" to Legionary veterans abroad (Gules, 1998b, p. 26; interview with Gabriel Constantinescu in "Puncte cardinale, " April 1999). Veteran Iron Guard supporters are badly divided among themselves. Nicador Zelea Codreanu, a grandson of the "Captain," twice announced he will set up a "Codrenist" formation calling itself National Union for Christian Revival (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 December 1998, "Cotidianul," 13 September 1999). This group rejects both the "Simists" and collaboration with Suru's followers, with whom it exchanged insults at a gathering organized on the centenary anniversary of Codreanu's birth, in September 1999.


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