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East European Perspectives: November 22, 2000

22 November 2000, Volume 2, Number 21
RADICAL POLITICS IN EAST-CENTRAL EUROPE?????PART VIII: Radical Continuity in Romania: The Party of Romanian National Unity (C)

Concluding the section on the Party of Romanian National Unity (PUNR) as a radical continuity formation (see "East European Perspectives," 11 and 25 October 2000), the attempt will be made in this final part of the section to examine some of the less obvious facets in the PUNR's policies. First, the evolution of the party's policies after the ouster of Cluj Mayor Gheorghe Funar from its ranks will be examined; second, an attempt will be made to scrutinize the radicalization of PUNR's chief political adversary, the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR), and the reasons for that evolution; finally, it will be demonstrated that the PUNR is not merely anti-Hungarian in its attitude towards minorities, and that anti-Semitism, though less prominent in day-to-day pronouncements, has also played a role in the party's evolution.

The participation of the UDMR in the coalition government since 1996 only exacerbated Funar's provocative acts against ethnic Hungarians. He ordered the town's park benches to be painted in the colors of the national flag "to show that Cluj-Napoca is a Romanian town" ("RFE/RL Newsline," 17 September 1997). Funar also defied governmental orders for displaying bilingual street signs in places where minorities make up more than 20 percent of the population and for employment of translators by local authorities in settlements with the same proportion of minority inhabitants ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 July 1997).

A Hungarian consulate was opened in Cluj in July 1997, following an agreement reached by the two countries in December 1996. The consulate had been closed by Ceausescu in 1988, when he accused Budapest of using it for spying purposes. Funar, who had called that agreement "irresponsible" and vowed to stop its implementation ("OMRI Daily Digest," 14 January 1997), refused to attend the opening ceremony or to find suitable premises for the office, which ended up being located in a building in central Cluj belonging to the Reformed Hungarian Church Bishopric. The mayor warned that he will forbid the hoisting of the Hungarian flag, which, he wrongly claimed, carried a national emblem representing "Greater Hungary," one of whose six symbols was the Hungarian crescent of Transylvania ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 and 30 July 1997). The flag being nonetheless hoisted, Funar ordered employees of the mayoralty to take it down, claiming that he had nothing to do with the action, but commenting that those who did it were "Romanian heroes." Although an investigation was ordered by the prefect to be opened against Funar on charges of interethnic incitement, the matter was later dropped, which Funar could only interpret as an invitation to recurrence ("RFE/RL Newsline," 28 and 30 July 1997). And that is precisely what he did, putting up in September 1999 an inscription in front of the consulate that defined the place as a "seat of Hungarian espionage." The recently appointed new Hungarian consul, Laszlo Alfoeldi, he claimed, was one and the same person who had been declared by Ceausescu "persona non grata" and expelled from the country in 1988, a charge which Alfoeldi denied. Interior Minister Constantin Dudu Ionescu ordered police to dismantle the inscription to avoid a diplomatic incident and the prefect banned mass demonstrations called by Funar against the Hungarian consul ("RFE/RL Newsline," 17 and 22 September 1997).

One must not conclude, however, that after Funar's ouster from the PUNR, the party did more than somewhat mellow its anti-Hungaria vocabulary. The PUNR continued to protest against Transylvania's alleged "colonization" by "Hungarian economic capital" and to claim that the UDMR has "its own secret police" (Mediafax, 22 February 2000). During the 1999 Kosova crisis and NATO air strikes against Yugoslavia, Deputy PUNR chairman Ioan Gavra warned that the "political-military scenario" under way in Yugoslavia will be "applied elsewhere too" and that the question is not "if, but when." Funar, in turn, was organizing rallies in Cluj at which speakers were warning against the danger created by "the Yugoslav precedent." Both, of course, had in mind Hungary--by then a NATO member--and Transylvania ("RFE/RL Newsline," 1 April 1999). When UDMR Honorary Chairman Bishop Laszlo Toekes--whose extremist positions often brought him into conflict with the UDMR leadership---said on 15 May that Kosova could serve as a model of autonomy for Romania's Hungarians, calling the crisis the "end of the Romanian national state," the PUNR grabbed the opportunity to demand again that the UDMR be outlawed and that the Prosecutor General's Office launch an investigation against the bishop and five other UDMR members ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 May 1999).

The PUNR's unofficial "opposition alliance" with the main opposition Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR) and the Greater Romania Party (PRM) after 1996 was very much focused on the "Hungarian question," and the post-Funar PUNR leadership spared no effort to forestall any progress in advancing ethnic Hungarian human, collective, or cultural rights. All three parties appealed to the Constitutional Court against a government decision to allow the setting up of a "mulitcultural university," despite the fact that the decision stopped well short of meeting UDMR's demand to have the Hungarian Bolyai Cluj university revived. When the court overturned a Bucharest court's decision that deemed a planned "multicultural university" to be unconstitutional, the PUNR warned against the "baleful consequences" of the decision for the country's "unitary" character. The PUNR, Gavra said in March 2000, is opposed not only to the Bolyai university, not only to any other state-financed, Hungarian-language university in Romania or to a "multicultural university," but even to one financed from private funds or by Budapest. He rejected as "blackmail" the UDMR warning that it would leave the coalition unless it stood by agreements providing for Hungarian-language higher education. The purpose of the UDMR, Gavra claimed, was to "artificially double the number of Hungarian intellectuals in Transylvania" and thus "fill in all [high-level] positions, as they did when Transylvania was under foreign occupation" (Radio Bucharest, 6 March 2000). Similarly, the PUNR, the PDSR, and the PRM appealed against a stipulation in the new Civil Service Law providing that civil servants who have contact with the public in localities with 20 percent or more national minorities have to speak their language. The appeal was turned down by the court, to PUNR's unconcealed chagrin ("RFE/RL Newsline," 8 and 22 July, 21 December 1999). The PUNR, Tabara said on Romanian radio on 7 February 2000, is determined to continue pursuing a "national policy," regardless of the "risks of being called all sorts of names" by international fora.

In part, the PUNR's opposition to the enlargement of Hungarian minority rights reflected a radicalization of UDMR itself. But rather than being a response to that evolution, the PUNR's positions (as well as those of both mainstream and radical parties) had brought about the UDMR's radicalization. As promises made at the outset of the post-communist regime were never delivered, the UDMR sought help elsewhere. It became a member of the opposition Democratic Convention of Romania (CDR) at the outset of that umbrella organization. Self-fulfilling prophecies seemed to be vindicated in the eyes of Romanian nationalists, as by 1995 the Hungarian ethnic formation launched its program calling for a "three-pronged" (personal, local, and regional-territorial) autonomy ("Buletin informativ al UDMR," 31 May 1995). This was "anathema" for most Romanians.

That the UDMR's 1995 program implicitly called for the abolition of the "national" character of the Romanian state is undoubtedly true. The party had opposed that definition from the very early stage of constitutional debates because it implied that minorities were second-class citizens at best. But the program did not (or did not necessarily) imply--as its opponents from all sides of the political spectrum claimed--the country's federalization. It was designed to leave back once and forever state-building policies based on "exclusionary" strategies towards national minorities, and accelerate evolution from "assimilationist" to "civic-inclusionary" strategies (Shafir, 2000). The bulk of the Romanian ethnic majority, however, is simply culturally (in the anthropological sense of the word) unable to accept these demands. The ultranationalists would best want the Hungarian minority to leave the country--or be forced out, if need be. Those close to the CDR advocate individual "equal rights and equal duties," rejecting any form of "positive discrimination," and above all "collective rights." No wonder, then, that the 1995 UDMR program was perceived by the former group as vindicating its suspicion that the UDMR was undermining Romanian territorial integrity and aiming at Transylvania's re-incorporation into a "Greater Hungary." But the parties of mainstream opposition were also enraged. The UDMR was pushed out of the CDR umbrella organization, and when it joined the CDR-dominated ruling coalition in 1996, it did so with the tacit agreement to play down its autonomy quest (Shafir, 1995, 2000).

Membership in the ruling coalition dating back to fall 1996 enabled the UDMR to have the government agree to some of the legislation it wanted passed. The Civil Service Law is one example. On most other laws, however, members of the ruling coalition factions would--sometimes tacitly and often overtly--collaborate with the nationalist opposition in either reducing the magnitude of the demands approved in parliament, or in having the legislature turn down government-proposed legislation altogether. Government ordinances, which take effect the moment they are issued, but must later be approved by the parliament, would thus be "killed" in that forum or so amended (the case of the Education Law, in the version passed by the Senate in 1997, see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 June 1997) as to make even legislation passed under the previous government look "progressive." When the UDMR would raise the specter of leaving the ruling coalition as a consequence, legislation would be somewhat amended in its favor (the version of the same law passed by the Chamber of Deputies in 1999, see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 June 1999), but implementation would be delayed. The setting up of the "multicultural" university is an example of such "non-implemented compromises," with no one other than Education Minister Andrei Marga being its most effective opponent. On one hand, Marga opposes the UDMR demand to have the Bolyai University in Cluj restored; on the other hand, he claims that the existing Babes-Bolyai University (of which he is the dean on leave) already implements "multiculturalism" and that there is neither a need nor the available funding to set up the separate Petoefi-Schiller university approved by the government in September 1998 and by the two legislative chambers--after adding Romanian to the cabinet-proposed Hungarian and German as tuition languages--in November 1998 and July 1999, respectively (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 October and 18 November 1998 and 1 July 1999).

The PUNR thus has "hidden allies" in the widespread Romanian version of the "web of prejudice." One of those, former National Peasant Party Christian Democratic (PNTCD) Senator George Pruteanu, while acting as chairman of the Senate's Education Commission, was more emphatic than any PUNR member in denouncing the UDMR demands, and closely collaborated with the PUNR, the PRM, and the PDSR in having the Senate reject them in its 1997-approved version of the Education Law. Pruteanu was expelled from the PNTCD in March 1998 "for lack of discipline." With good reason, the PUNR proposed him to join its ranks and even be its 2000 presidential candidate. He ended, however, in the ranks of the PDSR, as PUNR's own prospects for the 2000 electoral year looked rather bleak (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 September 1999 and 25 February 2000).

Unlike the PRM, the PUNR never turned anti-Semitism into a flagship. But Funar's sympathies for its exponents were not difficult to note. In an interview with the weekly "22" in 1992, he said that "Romania mare" and "Europa," whose vulgar anti-Semitism had by then become notorious, "have no anti-Semitic inclination." Ilie Neacsu's "Europa," he explained, "is just taking a position against some Jewish leaders." Among those leaders he counted Petre Roman, but also Roman's then deputy, Adrian Severin, and former cabinet member Eugen Dijmarescu, thus indulging into one more exercise of "Judaization." There also are "many other [Jews]" among the country's post-communist political figures, he said, commenting that "it is not by chance that some people complain about the [1989] Revolution having been stolen." It is not their being Jews that "bothers us," but the fact that "their politics is anti-Romanian," he commented. Anti-Semitism, he said, was a "hoax" propagated by those "with anti-Romanian, anti-national interests." It has never existed in Romania in its entire history, he said. He therefore was reading the two weeklies "with great interest." As for Iosif Constantin Dragan, known to be a Holocaust negationist, "he is our honorary chairman, a good Romanian, and we are proud to have him as chairman [sic!] of the 'Vatra romaneasca' national union" ("22," 24-30 April 1992). Interviewed by Neacsu himself a few months later, Funar said that in Cluj, "Europa" is "particularly popular and there never are enough copies to meet the demand of its numerous readers." But "a few members of national minorities are criticizing this weekly, which is proof that 'Europa' is courageously confronting problems that are highly important, thus contributing to awakening national consciousness and strengthening national unity." It should continue on this course, he said, "paying no attention to complaints" from those who "are not defending the interests of the Romanian nation" ("Europa," 21-28 July 1992).

Valeriu Tabara, then PUNR deputy chairman, was basically in agreement with the Cluj mayor. Attacks in the media targeting Jews, he told journalists in April 1993, were "nothing but a response to hits by others." Embracing an argument that was highly popular with "Romania mare" and "Europa," he explained that the "Semites" included Arabs, and, after 1989, Romania had been turned into "the Arabs' paradise." This was, he claimed, proof that Romania, "unlike England or France," is a country where "anti-Semitism cannot exist" ("Romania libera," 2 April 1993). The argument was more sophisticated than first meets the eye. On one hand, it appealed to general xenophobia directed at the presence of the mostly very small Arab businesses opened in Romania after 1989, and to resentment against Romania's being turned--as it is often formulated--into an "Oriental Bazaar." The resentment, however, dated back to the Ceausescu period, when Arab students were generally perceived as buying up both university degrees and the favors of the local beauties. On the other hand, the argument was also exonerating not only Romanians, but even the Nazis of any racism. Romanians could not be anti-Semites because they are not anti-Arab, it was claimed. That--as has been shown--would not stop Greater Romania Party leader Corneliu Vadim Tudor from backing the anti-immigration positions of Jean-Marie Le Pen and Joerg Haider on "cultural incompatibility" grounds. Denying racism while at the same time inciting to anti-Semitism, the argument would eventually resurface in a book published in translation in 1999. The anonymous author of the tome with the telling title: "Hitler Against Juda," printed in Bucharest under the auspices of the Dragan Foundation by a publisher calling itself "Samizdat," "demonstrates" that Hitler has never been an "anti-Semite." He was merely "anti-Jewish," resisting the "aggression against Germany" launched by "the children of Israel" (p. 8). That volume is nothing but an epitome of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories deriving inspiration from the "Protocols," on whose authenticity it insists (p. 25). One does not even need to open the volume to realize this, as its front cover reads: "The Great World Conspiracy: The World Octopus is the True Anti-Christ: Hitler Against Juda."

Though striving to avoid overt anti-Semitism, the PUNR was the driving force behind a diplomatic incident with clear anti-Semitic tones. In August 1994, President Bill Clinton appointed Alfred Moses, a former president of the American Jewish Committee, to be U.S. ambassador to Romania. On 22 September, the state radio revealed that seven parliamentarians had sent a letter to the U.S. Senate, protesting the appointment and demanding that its Committee on Foreign Affairs reject the nomination. The letter libeled Moses, accusing him of having collaborated with the Ceausescu regime and of having kept silent on the persecution of Romanian clergymen. In fact, the truth was quite the opposite. While active on behalf of Romania's Jews (which, alongside his personal friendship with Chief Rabbi Rosen, who died earlier that year, was the real "sin" committed by Moses), the new ambassador had intervened to help Baptists receive permission to print a Romanian-language version of the New Testament. The letter's initiator was PUNR Senator Adrian Motiu, who was also a vice chairman of the house's Foreign Relations Committee. Among the letter's signatories, however, were also parliamentarians representing the PDSR, the PNTCD, and the Liberal Party '93, which again proved that--as in Bulgaria and elsewhere--the "web of prejudice" was not limited to the parties of radical continuity or radical return. I shall eventually dwell at large on this important point (Shafir, 1994, pp. 153-155).

Motiu happens to be a converted Jew, and this was neither the first, nor the last time that he was involved in similar activities. One more overzealous convert would not even make a footnote to a long row of historic examples in which Romanians must by no means be singled out. The same applies to the syndrome of the "self-hating Jew." Be that as it may, in 1992 Motiu initiated an invitation extended by Romania's Senate to former Chief Rabbi Alexandru Safran to visit the country and address the house. Safran had fled the communists in 1947 and eventually became the Chief Rabbi of Geneva. It was no secret that animosity dominated the nonexistent relationship with his successor, whom he considered to have been a tool of the communists (see Safran, 1996, pp. 280-281). For his part, Rosen had denounced Safran for having allegedly deserted his community at its "hour of need" and, as long as he was alive, prevented the visit from taking place, though he denied that (see the interviews with Rosen in "Baricada," 21-27 July 1992 and "Cuvintul," 13-19 October 1992). That Rosen's political inclinations had indeed been to the left, rather than to the right, and that he had been willing to act as a propagandist for the Ceausescu regime as long as this safeguarded the interests of his community is beyond doubt (see Volovici, 1997). He would never be forgiven for that sin by both genuine and later-day opponents of Ceausescu, despite the fact that the heads of other religious communities in Romania had collaborated at least as much as he did, but, unlike him, had failed to achieve on behalf of their flock what he did on behalf of his (see Shafir, 1994, p. 145). It was not his past collaboration, however, that troubled Romania's post-communist ultranationalists--though they hardly missed an opportunity to point out that collaborationism. After all, some of them had collaborated to a much greater extent. Rather, it was Rosen's insistence, after December 1989, on revealing the role played by Romanians and the Antonescu regime in the Holocaust (before that date, it must be added, in line with regime propaganda, he had insisted mainly on the role played by Hungarians in occupied Transylvania).

Unaware that in his 1987-published memoirs Safran had insisted on that plight at least as much as Rosen did, but aware of the animosity between the two rabbis, Holocaust negationists were hoping to turn Safran into a "living witness" against Rosen. On several occasions (as well as in his memoirs), Safran had insisted on the role played by some Romanians, and above all by members of Romania's royal family, in attempts to ease the plight of the Jews (Queen mother Elena had been posthumously honored as a "Righteous Among Nations"), which Rosen's republican and leftist inclinations never allowed him do. That, it was hoped, could be used as "proof" against Rosen. Presenting his proposal to invite Safran, Motiu had actually acknowledged as much. He said the present Chief Rabbi was "no stranger to the accusations of anti-Semitism elevated against the Romanian people" (an utter, but repeated distortion of Rosen's position) and to the "libeling accusations serving some circles interested in Romania's isolation." Against those claims, Motiu said, "Geneva's Chief Rabbi was in the position to present the most pertinent opinion on the Romanian policy towards Jews in the dramatic moments of World War II" ("Azi," 16 April 1992).

Aged 84 and certainly unaware of the political identity and agenda of those who initiated the visit, Safran arrived in Romania in March 1995, after Rosen had died. To the very end, he remained unaware of his being manipulated, as it transpired from a personal letter dated 18 May 1995, written after several Western-based Jewish scholars (of whom this author was one) had protested against his unintentional acquiescence to Holocaust-negation. His address to the Romanian Senate on 28 March, in which he described the plight of Jews under Antonescu, was aired by Romanian television at a very late hour, when the audience was minimal. Similarly, only one daily published in full his speech at the Choral Temple in Bucharest delivered the next day. What most of the media did, however, was to report extensively on those parts of Safran's speech in which he thanked Romanians who had aided Jews. The exceptions were thus obliterating the rule. This was precisely what the negatonists had hoped for.

"I am happy," PSM Deputy Chairman Adrian Paunescu wrote, that "I lived the day when a great European personality...has told the truth about Romanians and what they did for Jews during that long, bloody night of W.W.II: THE ROMANIANS DEFENDED THE JEWS." ("Totusi iubirea," 30 March-6 April 1995. Emphasis in original.). Likewise, "Europa's" issue dated 5-19 April 1995 carried on its front page Safran's photography, under the title "Alexandru Safran, Geneva Grand Rabbi, Has Dispelled the Treacherous Attempts at Falsifying Moments from Romania's Recent Past." In its April 1995 issue, "Puncte cardinale" (Cardinal Points), a monthly published in Sibiu by followers of Iron Guardist leader Corneliu Zelea Codreanu, said the inscription commemorating the Holocaust victims that Rosen had placed in the courtyard of the Choral Temple carried "forged all the investigations carried by Jewish fora after W.W.II," and must now be replaced with Safran's words: "Romania...did not sent her children to die in Auschwitz." No word was said, of course, about Safran's having dwelt on Romania's own domestic debauchery of her Jews. The rival Iron Guardist wing of Horia Sima's followers (which rejects the accusation that Sima had diverged from the "Captain's" line) went one step further: it attributed to Safran a book that he never wrote, said to have been printed in Jerusalem in 1979 under the title "Karl Marx--An Anti-Semite." In that book, it was claimed, Safran had described "Captain" Codreanu as a warm, humane person who had apologized to Safran "if" any wrongs had been done onto Jews by his followers and assured the rabbi that he neither hated Jews nor did he intend to take revenge on them ("Gazeta de vest," no. 109, May 1995: 20). The hoax would later be repeated by Iron Guard apologists--from Ion Coja to "Orthodox fundamentalist" ideologist Razvan Codrescu (Coja, 1997, p. 123; Codrescu, 1997, p. 172n). Finally, Dragan, in a letter to Senator Alfonse D�Amato and Representative Christopher H. Smith, the joint chairmen of the U.S. Congress's Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, in August 1995 took Safran as a "witness" that Jews had not suffered in Antonescu's Romania, as the rabbi had allegedly showed in his "splendid declaration" in Romania's Senate ("Renasterea banateana," 19 August 1995).

The PUNR has also been involved in the drive to rehabilitate Antonescu. Within that effort, the Deputies' Assembly for the first time observed a "minute of silence" in the marshal's memory on 31 May 1991, one day before the anniversary of Antonescu's 1946 execution ("Monitorul oficial," 31 May 1991). The initiative belonged to historian Petre Turlea, at that time a deputy representing the National Salvation Front. Considering the party as being not nationalist enough, Turlea, who had been re-elected on its lists in 1992, resigned his membership in the Democratic National Salvation Front (as the party was now called), becoming an independent. He eventually joined the PUNR, representing it in the Senate after the 1996 ballot. In 1991, he had officially demanded that the Prosecutor-General's Office start the procedure for Antonescu's official posthumous rehabilitation. Although at one point the Office had been examining the case with a sympathetic eye, it never acted on the request, apparently fearing international protest (Shafir, 1997, pp. 359-361). In 1997, another PUNR senator, Justin Ambrozie, renewed the demand, while also proposing that the government sponsor a statue in the marshal's memory ("Romania libera," 26 March 1997). Funar has since moved to do so on his own, luring into his statue erection initiative municipal counselors representing mainstream parties (see "East European Perspectives," 11 October 2000). And while that initiative was at the end of the day attacked in court by the Cluj prefect and its outcome remains uncertain (Mediafax, 3 December 1999), the rehabilitation drive continues with the support of members of political formations generally perceived in the West as "moderate" and "democratic." On 14 June 1999, Senator Ion Moisin of the PNTCD demanded that the house pass a resolution for Antonescu's rehabilitation, whom he described as "a great Romanian patriot, who fought for his country till his death" ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 June 1999). This is just one more example of how widespread the "web of prejudice" can be.


"Azi" (Bucharest), 1992.

"Baricada" (Bucharest), 1992.

"Buletin informativ al UDMR" (Bucharest), 1995.

Codrescu, R., 1997, Spiritul dreptei [The Spirit of the Right] (Bucharest: Anastasia).

Coja, I., 1997, Legionarii nostri, [Our legionnaires] (Bucharest: Editura Kogaion).

"Cuvintul" (Bucharest), 1992.

"Europa" (Bucharest), 1992, 1995.

"Gazeta de vest" (Timisoara), 1995.

Hitler Against Juda ( n.p.: Samizat, Grupul Dragan Print).

Mediafax (Bucharest), 1999, 2000

"Monitorul oficial al Romaniei" (Bucharest), 1991.

"OMRI Daily Digest," 1997.

"Puncte cardinale" (Sibiu), 1995.

Radio Bucharest (Alphacont monitoring), 2000.

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"RFE/RL Newsline," 1997-2000.

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Safran, A., 1996, Un taciune smuls flacarilor: Memorii [An Ember Torn from Flames: Memoirs] (Bucharest : Hasefer).

Shafir, M., 1994, "Jews and Antisemites in Romania since the Death of Rabbi Rosen," in "East European Jewish Affairs," vol. 24, no. 2, pp. 147-156.

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Shafir, M., 1997, "Marshal Antonescu's Post-Communist Rehabilitation: Cui Bono ?," in Braham, R. L. (ed.), The Destruction of Romanian and Ukrainian Jews During the Antonescu Era (New York: Columbia University Press), pp. 349-410.

Shafir, M. 2000, "The Ciorbea Government and Democratization: A Preliminary Assessment," in Light, D., Phinnemore, D., Post-Communist Romania: Coming to Terms with Transition (London; Macmillan), forthcoming.

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Volovici, L., 1997, "National-comunism si politica evreiasca: 'miracolele' si dilemele rabinului Moses Rosen," [National-Communism and Jewish Politics: Rabbi Moses Rosen's "Miracles and Dilemmas"], in " 22," no. 3, 21-27 January.

"22" (Bucharest), 1992.