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East European Perspectives: April 4, 2001

4 April 2001, Volume 3, Number 7
RADICAL POLITICS IN EAST-CENTRAL EUROPE PART X: The Romanian Radical Return and 'Mainstream Politics' (B)

By Michael Shafir

Though Romanian President Emil Constantinescu denied any interference with the judiciary, it was obvious that without his interference, the rehabilitation of members of Marshal Antonescu's cabinet (see "East European Perspectives," -- "EEP" -- Vol. 3, no. 6, 2001) would have gone on "full-steam" rather than, as it actually happened, in semi-secrecy. Constantinescu's position was very much resented, both among those who dared speak up, and among those who would only allude to it. Most of the latter belonged to the president's own supporters from among the Democratic Convention of Romania (CDR) -- be they National Peasant Party Christian Democratic, National Liberal Party (PNL), or were party unaffiliated intellectuals.

A good example in case was Floricel Marinescu, a historian who under the previous regime had specialized in "Dacian fortifications" at the Institute of Military History headed by presidential brother and "historian" Ilie Ceausescu. In March 1998, "Romania libera"'s "Aldine" supplement carried an article by Marinescu that went well beyond any previous accusations directed against Jews. Though Marinescu wrote that the presidential apology to the Jewish community had been "normal" in light of what had happened during the war, he proceeded to demolish Constantinescu's apology by both indulging into Holocaust relativization and by calling on Jews to apologize, in turn, for their own alleged wrongdoing to the Romanian nation. To understand the full implications of Marinescu's contentions, one must be reminded of Leon Volovici's remark on the "absolute and imaginary 'Jewish guilt'" being used (it little matters whether consciously or unconsciously) to "balance it with the real culpability and real responsibility for crimes committed against the Jewish population" (Volovici, 1994, pp. 16-17). But it is no less important to emphasize that this argument is by no means restrained to either radical continuity or to radical return, nor indeed to both taken jointly. It cuts across the entire Romanian political spectrum, making the use of the category of "mainstream" party questionable in itself.

Not one cliche used in the radical continuity "revisionist discourse" (as William Totok, 1998, rightly calls it), was missing from Marinescu's tract, starting from "Judeo-Bolshevism" to the alleged collaboration of Jews with the Soviets having allegedly triggered the 1940 Iasi pogrom against them, and continuing to their role under the communist regime. Here, Marinescu proved less restrained than other participants in the "Holocaust vs. Gulag" debate that went on in Romanian publications were ready to risk doing (see below). The argument of these Holocaust negationists or relativization partisans is in fact quite simple: Romanians have suffered at least as much at the hands of the Jews as Jews have suffered at the hands of Romanians. If one were to indulge in an "accounting" that they claim to abhor, one would have to conclude that the Romanians had suffered more, it is claimed. As Marinescu put it: "from the strict quantitative perspective, the number of crimes perpetrated in the name of communist ideology is much larger than that of those perpetrated in the name of Nazi or similar ideologically-minded regimes." Yet unlike Constantinescu, "no prominent Jewish personality [from Romania] has apologized for the role that some Jews have played in undermining Romanian statehood, in the country's Bolshevization, in the crimes and the atrocities committed [by them]. Proportionally speaking, the Romanians and Romania suffered more at the hands of the communist regime, whose oncoming the Jews had made an important contribution to, than the Jews themselves had suffered from the Romanian state during the Antonescu regime...The Red Holocaust was incomparably more grave than Nazism." Were one to give credence to Marinescu, the Jews were, albeit indirectly, also guilty for present-day Romania's dire economic situation, for it was due to them that the Romanians had "lost the habit to work" ("Romania libera," 7 March 1998). Not long after the publication of the tract, Marinescu was appointed a presidential counselor.

Clad in sophistry, the same argument had formed the core of a conference that Gabriel Liiceanu -- a Romanian philosopher close to the ruling CDR (and a member of the national television's managing board) -- delivered to members of Romania's Jewish community on 13 April 1997 when it was marking the Holocaust. A few months earlier, in 1996, Humanitas, the publishing house that Liiceanu heads, had published Romanian Jewish writer Mihail Sebastian's "Diary," covering the years 1935-1944 (Sebastian, 1996). Purporting to be an expression of fraternization with the writer's ordeals under the Antonescu regime, the conference was a hidden indictment of the ethnic community to which Sebastian had belonged.

Liiceanu had some accounts to settle with Sebastian. The philosopher's own interwar intellectual "heroes," such as Mircea Eliade and Emil Cioran -- to whom Sebastian was close before they underwent "rhinocerization" -- were cast in a very poor light in the writer's "Diary." Liiceanu had published their (and other extreme right-wing intellectuals) works at Humanitas without ever distancing himself from them. On the contrary, when Humanitas issued Volovici's shattering account of Romanian intellectual anti-Semitism between the wars, in an "editor's note," Liiceanu had written that a book such as Volovici's has been "not accidentally written by a Jewish author," and hastened to add that "it is hardly conceivable that history's figures can be reconstructed by the discourse of those who are always ready to speak up as victims but forget to testify as executioners" (Liiceanu in Volovici, 1995, p. 7).

The same argument would be repeated in the conference whose title, "Sebastian, My Brother," was misleading to say the least (Liiceanu, 1997). Drawing a parallel between his own alleged suffering under communism and those of Sebastian under fascism ("alleged" because Liiceanu's "persecution" never went beyond his being shadowed by the Securitate, and because he even enjoyed privileges denied to other intellectuals, such as being allowed to accept a German scholarship and research in Heidelberg), Liiceanu's "fraternization" was once more aimed at suggesting that Jews, having made themselves collectively guilty of Romania's communization, had obliterated any ground for claiming their sufferance during the Holocaust was in any way singular. Were Sebastian to have survived (he died in an accident in 1945), he WOULD HAVE (emphasis mine) undoubtedly written the following in his "Diary," Liiceanu claimed:

"How is it possible for one who, at a certain moment in history had to wear the victim's uniform, to don today the garment of the executioner? Indeed, he who marched furthest on the long road to sufferance, should he not have turned into a guarantee making sufferance no longer possible from now on? With some of the former victims being now, strangely enough, in the position to make another disaster in history possible (or at least to profit from it), had they not forfeited the chance to have ended sufferance once and for ever by precisely their extreme sufferance? How was it possible that his own kin, who knew everything about pain, would participate in a scenario of provoking pain?"

Liiceanu was most likely familiar with Thomas Mann's "Hitler, My Brother," the more so as that tract (first published in 1939 in Paris) had been recently republished in Romanian (Mann, 1994). While Mann had taken the guilt of Hitler (whom he had opposed) upon himself, Liiceanu, with some perversity, engaged in precisely the opposite performance: he was indicting the entire Jewish community in one more version of the "Judeo-Communist conspiracy," was elevating himself to the rank of victim, and was using Sebastian as a "witness," whose "testimony" had been entirely fabricated by the prosecution, i.e. by himself. Reacting to the incident, U.S.-based Romanian-born Jewish writer Norman Manea dared comment that by using the analogy between the Holocaust and the Gulag on that particular occasion on which the Jewish community was marking the Holocaust, the philosopher had "left no room to evoke anti-Semitism and the Holocaust properly, or to analyze honestly the 'happy guilt' of such intellectuals as Eliade, Cioran, Nae Ionescu and [Constantin] Noica" (Manea, 1998). (The "happy guilt" [felix culpa] was a reference to the title of a previous article by Manea that had stirred up polemics in Romania. In that August 1991 article, Manea had insisted on Eliade's postwar refusal to ever face his past. Indeed, the world-famous comparative religion professor from Chicago had written that his Iron Guardist sympathies, due to which he was first interned by Antonescu but later dispatched to London and Lisbon as a diplomat, had made it possible for him to avoid imprisonment by the communists and had thus amounted to a felix culpa. The 1991 article is reproduced in Manea, 1997, pp. 97-132).

Manea's rather benign criticism of Liiceanu immediately turned him into the target of a large-scale media campaign that accused Jews in general of attempting to "monopolize sufferance." This author suffered the same fate when he dared comment on the campaign that went far beyond reacting to what Manea had said (Shafir, 1998), and so would French political scientist Alexandra Laignel-Lavastine (see her outstanding analysis of the Romanian post-communist treatment of the fascist and communist legacies, 1999), Romanian sociologist and political scientist George Voicu of Bucharest University (1998b), and France-based, Romanian-born sociologist Mihai Dinu Gheorghiu (2000), both of whom dealt with the subject of the Romanian intellectual anti-Semitic legacy and its impact on the current polemics from the perspective of cultural anthropology. (The most relevant exchanges in these polemics between June 1997 and July 1998 are included in "Chronology of a Misunderstanding," compiled and published by Voicu, 1998a, in the first supplement of the Bucharest political science monthly "Sfera politicii," dated September 1998. Further materials can be found on the website of the "Halbjahresschrift fuer suedosteuropaeische Geschichte, Literatur und Politik," where Totok does a splendid job in updating the "Revisionist discourse" and the related debates on Marshal Antonescu's rehabilitation).

Among the leading figures in what now became a clearly expanding "web of prejudice" was Nicolae Manolescu. Though never a dissident, Manolescu had been a leading intellectual figure among those Romanian writers who opposed the regime's "protochronist" cultural policies (see "EEP," Vol. 3, no. 2, 2001). After December 1989, the literary critic, who took over the directorship of Romania's then most prestigious literary weekly, "Romania literara," became more and more involved in politics. In 1991 he set up the Party of Civic Alliance (PAC), which eventually joined the CDR. Alexandru Paleologu was also a member, as were other Romanian intellectuals believed to be "liberals" in the widest sense of the word. In circumstances that at the time looked personal and opportunistic rather than reflecting the PAC's ideological credo, the party demanded that the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) -- also a member of the CDR -- renounce its autonomy drive (see "EEP," Vol. 2, no. 21, 2000) as a condition for the Hungarians' future membership in the umbrella organization of what used to be perceived as Romania's "democratic opposition." The UDMR was eventually pushed out of that organization, but so was the PAC, on whose lists it had run in the 1992 elections (Shafir, 1995). But the nationalist postures of the PAC were more profound than met the eye (Verdery, 1996, pp. 116-124). The party's performance in the 1996 elections -- when it ran in an electoral alliance calling itself the National Liberal Alliance -- was very poor (1.92 percent of the vote for the Senate and 1.57 percent of the ballot for the Chamber of Deputies) and, what is more, the alliance's presidential candidate, Manolescu, could not enlist the support of even 1 percent of the electorate ("Cronica romana," 8 November 1996).

Finding itself outside the parliament, the PAC eventually joined the PNL in March 1998, with Manolescu becoming chairman of that party's National Council ("RFE/RL Newsline," 2 and 30 March 1998). It is approximately at this point in time that Manolescu started showing signs that his PAC's earlier nationalist postures had not been a matter of mere electoral tactics. Briefly put, his -- and "Romania literara"'s general -- postures showed signs of drifting to the positions that some of the fellow-leaders in Manolescu's new PNL had often inclined towards. Both the publication in France of the "Black Book of Communism" in early 1997 (Courtois et. al, 1999), which was translated into Romanian and published by Humanitas in 1998, and the polemics stirred by Manea's 1998 reaction to Liiceanu's "brotherly speech" intensified, but by no means triggered, Manolescu's taking a leading position on the front of the Holocaust negationists or minimizers. He had been signaling the metamorphosis at least as far back as an editorial published in "Romania literara" in the 27 December 1995 -- 9 January 1996 edition. At that time he refused to publish the replies of Jewish historians Radu Ioanid and Lya Benjamin to a laudatory book review on a volume that whitewashed and explained away Antonescu's role in the Jewish Holocaust. The time has come, he wrote, to understand that Antonescu cannot and should not be judged only from the perspectives of the crimes committed by his regime against Jews.

What precisely caused the metamorphosis may never be known, but Manolescu, Liiceanu, and other intellectuals whose positions were now evolving toward Holocaust minimization and/or negation were apparently heavily influenced by Paris-based literary critic Monica Lovinescu. It was Lovinescu, rather than Liiceanu (as Voicu had contended in his 1998b tract), who was the real "chief ideologue" of a loose intellectual group bent on demonstrating that communist crimes had been equal to, and probably heavier than, the crimes committed by the Nazis and their emulators. At least this is what Paris-based writer and former dissident Dumitru Tepeneag has claimed, and there are good reasons to believe he was right (see "Contemporanul-Ideea europeana," 6 January and 10 February 2000).

Enjoying tremendous prestige and influence in Romania, Lovinescu -- daughter of Romania's most influential liberal-minded and Western-oriented interwar literary critic Eugen Lovinescu -- had been encouraging intellectual resistance to the communist regime from the microphone of Radio Free Europe between 1964 and 1990, when the then Munich-based station liquidated its Paris bureau. When the regime was indulging into its aberrant promotion of "national communism," Monica Lovinescu had been its most eloquent opponent in the West. She often denounced the echoes of Legionary ideology in the regime's propaganda. But once the specter that had united all opponents of the Ceausescu regime had vanished, Lovinescu (whose mother had perished in communist prisons, see Jela, 1998, Lovinescu, 1999, pp. 187-195) was at the head of those moved by the basic (and understandable) drive to have communist perpetrators subjected to a Nuremberg-like "Trial of Communism." Not all of the former regime's opponents -- whether in Romania or the West -- shared her opinion. They would be turned into her chief enemies. She would be particularly opposed to efforts to deal with Romania's fascist past, considering that to be a deflection from the focus on which attention had to concentrate now. And she eventually came to be persuaded that Jewish interests were behind the neglect of her country's more recent trauma. Her reaction to Norman Manea's 1991 tract on Mircea Eliade's silence on that past in his autobiographical works was typical; and the personal friendship that had linked Lovinescu and Eliade (see Lovinescu, 1999) was not the only or the most important explanation for her rushing to his defense. Reading Manea, she said, "one wonders if one is not the victim of a hallucination." Was it the Communists who had ruled the country for "about half a century," with the Iron Guard being at its helm for just a few months, or vice versa? Were communist supporters imprisoned by Antonescu and leaving prison only in 1964, or were these the Legionnaires? Was one dreaming in 1989 that Europe had rid itself of "communist terror" while in fact it had just stepped out of fascist terror (Lovinescu, 1992)? It was an argument she would reiterate when Jewish literary historian Zigu Ornea published a book in 1996 dealing with the same fascist intellectual past of the Romanian elite, and on other occasions (for example, Lovinescu, 1998). As if dealing with both would be mutually exclusive. And as if Fascist "terror" had been properly clarified by Communist historiography to make superfluous any effort to re-examine it.

Be that as it may, by 1997 Manolescu was denouncing the "witch-hunt," as the title of his editorial article had it, that was ongoing against literati who had identified with the radical right in the past. His defense extended from Cioran and Eliade to Ferdinand Celine and Knut Hamsun, and was formulated in the name of the right to freedom of opinion. Readers who were not familiar with the Western scene might have concluded that Celine and Hamsun's literary production was being censored there, rather than their political attitudes being time and again scrutinized and criticized. No mention whatever was to be found in Manolescu's tract of the attempts made by Western radical rightists to disseminate those writers' political -- not literary -- production in order to legitimize their own views. Finally, Manolescu came to the point that had prompted his intervention in the first place: "It is entirely dishonest," he wrote, "to hold responsible only those intellectuals whose ideas were on the side of the extreme right and who collaborated with Nazism or fascism, or...with the occupation, while forgetting (or pretending to have forgotten) about the others, a lot more numerous, who were communist-sympathizers in Stalin's times, as well as later, and collaborated with the red power set in place by Soviet tanks" (Manolescu, 1997). He, as well as other regular collaborators to "Romania literara," including Lovinescu herself, would time and again contend that this was precisely what the critics of the interwar radical right were doing, and time and again would appeal to the authority of the "Black Book of Communism" to drive their point home. But they would choose to ignore the fact that two of Courtois's joint authors, Nicolas Werth and Jean-Louis Margolin, had publicly distanced themselves from Courtois's introduction to the volume or, worse, would claim that they had done so because they had been blackmailed (Lovinescu, 2000).

Who would indulge in such blackmail, for what reason, and for which purpose was never explicitly stated, but allusions indicating that old "conspiracy theories" were forcefully penetrating that former "liberal citadel" called "Romania literara" abounded. In March 1998, Manolescu was extending his defense of freedom of expression to French Holocaust minimizer (verging on denial) Roger Garaudy, whose book, "The Founding Myths of Israeli Politics," had landed its author before a court of justice in France -- he was sentenced to a 120,000 Francs fine -- and its Swiss distributor before a similar court in Switzerland. According to Manolescu, Garaudy's trial was proof that an "absurd competition" had come into being between those who had "for decades denounced the horrors of the Holocaust" while keeping silent on those of the Gulag, and those who wished the two be placed on equal footing. Is the competing due to the fact that "someone is afraid of losing the monopoly over unveiling the crimes against mankind?" he asked, adding that Garaudy's trial was "indirect proof" that his suspicion was justified. For, according to Manolescu, Garaudy had never written that the Holocaust had not taken place, "only that a terrible lobby had been set up around it" (Manolescu, 1998c).

There were several obviously misleading points in Manolescu's argument. To start with, he was ignoring the fact that the denunciations of "Gulag horrors" had many supporters, indeed even pioneers, among those alluded to as now being scared of losing a monopoly. Time and time again, Manolescu and his friends who contributed to the campaign (Dorin Tudoran, a former courageous anti-Ceausescu dissident, was one of the most vociferous participants) would allude that Jews were quasi-united in opposition to making communist crimes public. In actuality, in Romania as elsewhere, including France -- to which most references were made -- the disputes (cutting across any ethnic differences) concentrated on whether a genocide prompted by racism should be placed in the same ontological category with crimes against humanity committed on different ideological grounds. Was "racial struggle" -- to use the distinction employed by Georges Mink and Jean-Charles Szurek -- identical with "class struggle?" The difference had its important operational consequences, for under communism, collaborationism, indeed even simple acquiescence -- despicable as it might have been -- in most cases had assured physical survival, which was hardly the case of the Holocaust victims.

Comparison, to be sure -- including comparisons in the social sciences -- may be a scientific instrument serving the purpose of widening the perspective of analysis. There is no reason why the Holocaust should not be compared with the Gulag, were it only for the fact that they both undeniably belong to the genocide phenomena, and genocide studies, alas, are an emerging discipline in our world. However, when the comparison is made for the purpose of denying or belittling either of them, and/or for that of obliterating that which is inherently unique to either the Holocaust or to the Gulag, then one has ceased to look for similarities and has entered the odious minefield of historic negation. Such endeavors have nothing in common with science, "social" as they may still remain.

Second, Manolescu never saw it necessary to distance himself from a Romanian translation of Garaudy's book, published very soon after he had come out in Garaudy's defense. The translation's sponsor was Romanian-born George Danescu-Piscoci, a Holocaust negationist who had distributed the book in samizdat form at his so-called "Anti-Totalitarian Library" and foundation in Paris. On its cover, the Romanian-version cited Garaudy's reaction to the protests triggered by his volume: "It is not my fault if those who accuse me have set up a world-business specializing in selling their grandparents' bones." Nor would Manolescu bother to react to Danescu-Piscoci's "Afterword" in the translated volume, where he wrote that:

"Some 50 and more years after the war, the historic bluff about the gas chambers has been called. Those executed in Nuremberg were innocent. The Nuremberg Stalinist show-trial played a historic role in world public-opinion manipulation.... Who are the sale-people of those fictitious skeletons? An attentive researcher might soon reach surprising conclusions. For example, that in the communist genocide against the Romanian nation, a series of figures such as Hanna Rabinsohn-Pauker, Burah Tescovici alias Teohari Georgescu, Nikolski alias Gruenberg...had been remarkable in their savagery, cruelty and thirst for Romanian blood" (cited in Shafir, 1998, pp. 9-10).

(Danescu-Piscoci is referring to Ana Pauker, prominent communist leader and Foreign Minister till her purge in 1952; to Teohari Georgescu, who, despite repeated claims by anti-Semites, was not Jewish, and to Alexandru Nikolski -- Boris Gruenberg -- who was deputy interior minister and a despicable "founding father" figure of the Securitate.)

When the author of these lines first objected publicly to Manolescu's failure to distance himself from Danescu-Piscoci, he responded that in his editorial he could not possibly have done so. The translation, he claimed, had not been out when the editorial was written (Shafir, 1998; Manolescu, 1998b). As if anyone had stopped him from so doing later, as if distance-taking had not now -- so soon after his initial defense of Garaudy -- become no longer an option, but a moral duty.

Third, to find Manolescu suddenly defending a former communist while in the same breath denouncing those whose alleged pro-communist sympathies had hindered proper attention being paid to the Gulag, is one more remarkable performance (Garaudy, whose dissidence from communism began as left-wing Catholicism only to end in conversion to Islam, was nonetheless said on several occasions by his other defenders, among them Tudoran, to be of Jewish origin, whatever that "proof" might have produced if it were accurate). And, as Voicu would eventually point out (1998b, p. 59), acceptance of Garaudy's argument that the Holocaust was just one more non-singular instance in a long line of atrocities while in the same breath calling for the Gulag's recognition as on par with the Holocaust, was a self-defeating argument indeed.

Danescu-Piscoci's racism seemed not to bother Manolescu, but the alleged racism of Manea, whose criticism of Liiceanu was, so he claimed, indicative of the Jewish writer's "immoral confiscation of sufferance" (Manolescu, 1998a) angered him. That alleged confiscation, Manolescu would write in August 1998, was prompted by Manea's being "probably afraid of losing an extremely lucrative monopoly" (Manolescu, 1998b). The argument had finally come full circle, though the author of these lines, alongside historian Radu Ioanid of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, would eventually be repeatedly "honored" to belong to the same conspiracy set to preserve the "monopoly." It was Manolescu's way of responding to the anxiety I had expressed (Shafir, 1998) in face of the prospect of seeing such democrats as Manolescu and Tudoran undergo a "rhinocerization process." Most of my arguments were "answered away," with Manolescu and Tudoran claiming that I had not produced "a single citation" to demonstrate my point. My article, of course, had been entirely constructed around citations. Like Manolescu, for Tudoran my perspective was nothing but a demonstration of my own racist distorted interpretation of what he, Manolescu, and other contributors to "Romania literara" had written. It was "A Racist Reading" -- as the title of his reaction had it (Manolescu, 1998b, Tudoran, 1998). Nonetheless, it was surprising to find Manolescu -- a literature professor at Bucharest University -- explaining that my criticism would serve "the genuine rhinoceros" -- that is to say, the "Coneliu Vadim Tudors" and the "Gheorghe Funars." As if Manolescu had never read Eugene Ionescu's famous play, as if he did not know that "rhinocerization" implied a metamorphosis. The Tudors and the Funars are not "rhinoceroses." They were born as a different species and never changed cages in the zoo, nor "boxes" in my own "political taxonomy."


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