Right wing extremism in Romania

Tord Björk | ESF,political culture,Repression,right wing | Wednesday, April 14th, 2010

Presented at the Prague spring conference 2010: Alternatives to right wing extremism in a time of social and ecological crisis

BEYOND THE TRUTH – AN ANALYSIS OF RIGHT WING EXTREMISM IN ROMANIA

1. AN INTRODUCTION

In a time of trouble when xenophobia and racism are soaring in many European countries, Romania seems to remain an oasis out of the revival of the Far Right. Such typical traits of Right Wing Extremism are presently to be found and documented neither as social phenomena nor as organized movements.

On the contrary, Romania has lately opened its borders to immigrants from African countries to the Middle East and even to countries from the Far East as China and Vietnam, and there are dozens of documented cases that prove the kind, open and hospitable manner these people have been treated and helped integrate into the society. Prior to the EU accession, legislation has also been adjusted to the new reality and to comply with the European standards.

The tradition of welcoming people from afar and not showing xenophobic and racist attitudes towards them dates back long before 1989: members of the Greek ‘Eteria’ (that reads ‘Brotherhood’) liberation movement found refuge and support in Romania in the 1820s, Armenians, Jews, Italians, Greeks, Albanians and others came in waves as migrants mostly in the interwar period establishing flourishing businesses in trade, banking and sweets manufacturing, Polish refugees were offered aid and temporary home from 1939 to 1940 when fleeing from the Nazis and their national thesaurus was safeguarded until it was shipped to the US, to end up with the many thousands of Arab, African and South American students throughout the 1970s and 1980s who, after graduating, chose to remain, married with Romanian women and settled down in Romania.

Nevertheless, Romania is a case of a different kind in terms of what is being labeled as ‘Right Wing Extremism’: unlike in most European countries, the vectors of the Far Right are neither xenophobia, nor Islam phobia, nor racism, nor fascism, nor neo-Nazism, but extreme nationalism, ethnocentrism, traditionalism, conservatism, patriarchalism, and a broad intolerance toward gay phenomena.

2. AN EXPLANATION

The explanation of the aforementioned is, at least, threefold.

Firstly, historically and psycho-socially speaking, the innate structure of the Romanian people proved to be hardly tractable along the lines of xenophobia, fascism and racism.

Secondly, historically speaking, the genuine Romanian Right Wing Extremism has naturally died out.
The members of the notorious ‘Legion of Michael Archangel’ originally founded in the 1910s, and later renamed ‘The Iron Guard’, could not fully pass on their legacy to a new organization. It was the legacy of a paramilitary structure which had its heydays during the 1930s and 1940s and did contain elements of violent xenophobia, racism against the Roma and anti-Semitism. Their doctrine relied heavily on exacerbated nationalist feelings and Orthodox religion. It is notorious that combining extreme nationalism and ethnocentrism with Orthodox religion is a method of manipulating people in Eastern Europe and the Balkans, people who proved to be tractable along this course since times immemorial – the Civil War in Yugoslavia is probably the bloodiest and the nearest example in time in this respect.
The ‘Iron Guard’ spread terror throughout the country and carried out pogroms and individual executions of respected scholars, politicians, and even of prominent members of the Government.

“They murdered an entire series of former ministers (60 ministers and high officials were murdered at Jilava, in November 1940)” [Djuvara, Neagu, page 248].

The ‘Iron Guard’ had rather good connections with Hitler and even managed to rule the country for a brief, chaotic and bloody period of time between the close of 1940 and early 1941. After a two-day civil war waged between the Army and the ‘Iron Guard’ in the end of January 1941 the latter were defeated and its top leaders found refuge in Germany thereafter.
So feared and undesirable was the ‘Iron Guard’ that Hitler would occasionally resort to recall their potential menace in order to blackmail the Romanian Government and force them taking certain decisions.
The ‘Iron Guard’ was eventually dismantled and outlawed by the newly installed Communist regime in 1945-1946. Its members were declared enemies of the people, of the State and of the new social order and were hunted down ending either killed or in extermination prisons. The forty-five years of Communist dictatorship, as well as the generation gap that has gaped in time between them and any potential followers, took their toll and made their ideological legacy fade away.

Thirdly, and most importantly, both historically and psycho-socially speaking, Romanians are tractable along other vectors of the Far Right than xenophobia, fascism and racism, namely extreme nationalism and ethnocentrism.

3. THE FAR RIGHT EPIGONES

Albeit after 1989 until the late 1990s the last elderly surviving members of the ‘Iron Guard’ who escaped from the Communist Gulag tried to make a comeback and recruit new members whilst the new political regime was showing tolerance and permissiveness towards them, the Legion has never recovered. Petty bickering and long-repressed disagreements on the would-be political doctrine split the movement into several political groups, each claiming to be the one and only holders of the true legacy of the Legion. Obviously, such groups of very old men were mere shadows of the past and their Right Wing extremism would be expressed only in discourses attended by few believers and some curious people.

Even if some of the members of the Legion, particularly poets and priests, have been somewhat rehabilitated, their works published, their tombs turned into shrines, and their sufferance and endurance in the Communist extermination camps have been turned into heroism mostly to comply with the political needs of the new political System-Machinery, the public appeal of the ‘Iron Guard’ doctrine has come to naught.

The attempts to found a New Legion in the image of the former glorious one with young people fell short because of the lack of the unity of the surviving patriarchs, of the generation gap and broken continuity, of the new political and legislative conditions, and because of lack of financing.

The only epigone organization that maintains partly the legacy of the ‘Iron Guard’ is the ‘Association the New Right’. Strangely enough, they have been legally registered as an NGO and thus they must walk on a thin line that separates the realm of Law from the realm of offense and crime. Consequently, the organization is not officially labeled as of ‘Extreme Right’. Nevertheless, they do have the features of Right Wing extremism at least in terms of ethnocentrism, extreme nationalism and intolerance towards sexual minorities. They would rise to the occasion and organize counter-manifestations against Hungarian ethnic minority and against homosexuals and lesbians, but they try to keep their actions non-violent and merely at the level of aggressive political discourse. They are battling against the claims of the Hungarian ethnic minority particularly from the districts of Harghita, Covasna and Mures in Transylvania, and, particularly, against the Hungarian ‘HVIM’, a Right Wing extremist organization that has established a branch in Transylvania and militates for border changes and re-annexation of the territories Great Hungary possessed before the Trianon Treaty.
The ‘Association the New Right’ is led by some young intellectuals and students. It is striving hard to gain an image and legitimacy both inside the country and across the borders. The organization’s financing sources remain a subject of speculation.

4. ABOUT NATIONALISM AS PILLAR OF THE FAR RIGHT

Nationalism, according to Albert Einstein, is a childhood disease of the human society, like measles is in case of the individual. In other words, the more exacerbated and virulent the nationalism, the less developed the society, and vice-versa.

“Albert Camus […] correctly noted that nationalism is a pathologic form of national identity.”  [Keane, John, p.118].

Since this is a critical work, we will not insist on the merits and benefic aspects of nationalism, elements which should have already ended their historic role in the consolidation of the nation and of the state throughout Europe.

In Romania, similarly to other European countries, the first notable turn of the nationalism that played a constructive role in the formation of the Romanian nation state during the first two decades of the 20th century into extreme, aggressive and violent nationalism appeared in the early 1930s and continued up to the end of the Second World War. Not by chance, it was a period of global crisis that ended in a world scale war.

There are four elements that may be regarded as being amongst the most negative features of nationalism.
Firstly, nationalism creates Myths and fosters Mythical Thinking in the terms of Ernst Cassirer. We believe the time of myths has gone and the 21st century should not be a time of the creating Myths and of Mythical Thinking.
Secondly, nationalism helps spreading neoliberalism and populism with the creation of so-called providential Father Figures and grand Saviors of the Nation. Thus, it helps the maintaining of the self-entitled ‘Elites’ in Power.
Thirdly, nationalism seems to have a natural tendency of combining with religion, which, more often than not, has led to social, cultural and economic catastrophe.
Fourthly, nationalism is being used to manipulate and divert the attention of the public opinion from real issues in the state during times of political and economic crisis.
In real life, these four features of nationalism appear blended and have always been harnessed by those in Power to extend, deepen and prolong their domination over the masses.

Nationalism and its extreme forms are, along with Religion and its extreme forms, ways of venting out Weakness and Fear, Failure and Frustration by means of inventing a non-existent reality that satisfies the expectations of the ego of the individual and of the group. Both Nationalism and Religion heavily rely on Myth production and Mythical Thinking that involve taboos, rituals, and worshipping God-like founding heroes and past embellished events. The pattern has been similar all over the world since ancient times.

“For Armstrong, the group identity named ‘nation’ is simply a modern equivalent of the pre-modern ethnic identity which existed throughout the entire recorded history. […] Following Barth’s analysis concerning the social organization and group boundaries, Armstrong sees the set of perceptions called by us ‘ethnicity’ forming and dissolving in each period of history. Some of these, supported by various myths and symbols resisted for centuries and constituted the foundation for the emergence of the ‘national’ identities later on. […].” [Smith, Anthony D., p.174-175

5. THE NATIONALIST STRUCTURES AFTER 1989 AND THEIR LINKS WITH THE PAST

In a strange and ironic twist of fate, the Far Right legacy in the form of extreme nationalism and ethnocentrism contributed, along with other factors, to the establishment of dictatorial Communist regime in Romania and, thus, to social dissolution, cultural decay, and oppression of the people.
A relevant argument in favour of this thesis lies in the fact that many prominent historians refer to certain stages of Communism by using the term ‘National Communism’.

An even stronger argument lies in the emergence after 1989 of a number of political structures and personages which promote extreme nationalism, chauvinism, ethnocentrism, intolerance and hatred directed against ethnic minorities, parties and individuals which emerged directly from the former dictatorial Romanian Communist Party (PCR), from amongst the circle of court poets, as well as from the former the top State apparatus.

“Ever since the ‘velvet revolutions’ of 1989-1991, the nationalist card has been played not only by the communist parties and by the organizations struggling to maintain their power – Milosevic in Serbia, Kravciuk in Ukraine, and Iliescu in Romania are but a few examples.” [Keane, John, p.124].

5.1. THE TRADITIONAL NATIONALIST STRUCTURES

The Party of the National Unity of Romanians (PUNR) was founded in mid-March 1990 on the basis of a so-called civil organization called ‘Vatra Romaneasca’, that reads ‘The Romanian Hearth’, which, at its turn, had been initiated by an obscure Orthodox priest. Once again, the link between nationalism and Orthodox religion inevitably leads, like a déjà vu, to the model of the ‘Iron Guard’.

An objective analysis of the bloody inter-ethic conflicts of 15th of March 1990 that caused many casualties on both sides as well as a serious damage to the international image of the new-born Romanian State could not dismiss the role these extreme nationalist organizations played in its ignition and fueling.

Official historical versions insist in explaining its emergence as a genuine popular response to the allegedly rising danger of the Hungarian ethnic minority backed up by the Hungarian State claiming rights and liberties that would, allegedly, jeopardize the national unity of the State by the separation of Transylvania from the motherland. Some of them even went that far to declare that the events in Transylvania had been an experimental embryo for the operation of dismantling former Yugoslavia the following years, experiment carried out by the powerful Western States that did not want Nation States in the region.

The PUNR used to promote a nationalist discourse mainly directed against the Hungarian ethnic minority living in Transylvania.

“The jingoistic discourses are meant in the best case for ‘internal usage’, if one may still be hoping that they can cover the deplorable state of the Romanian society. But they do not help at all abroad. On the contrary, this is precisely the kind of discourse which discredits.” [Boia, Lucian, p.388].

The PUNR has become lately a mere shadow of what it used to be in the turmoil of the early 90s, undergoing some obscure period of transformation. Some of its top leaders left the party for the Great Romania Party and, eventually, it seems it was, in the early 2006, silently absorbed into the Conservative Party whose discourse became imbued with stronger nationalistic tones.

The Great Romania Party (PRM) is a notorious Right-Wing party that used to promote in the past an ethnocentric, anti-Hungarian ethnic minority, anti-Roma ethnic minority and anti-Semite political discourse. Their European political family is composed of the French Le Penn, the Austrian Haider, and the like. Presently their discourse shifted to milder tones but nevertheless, elements of ethnocentrism, extreme nationalism combined with populism remained obvious.

“The Grand Romania Party is a nostalgic party […]”. [Gusa, Cozmin, p.32].

It is relevant to remark that the founder and the president of the Great Romania Party was one of Dictator Ceausescu’s court poets and shared all the privileges of the Nomenklatura, though he presently denies it. This confirms again the inseparable connection between the present-day nationalist structures and the former dictatorial structures.

Both the aforementioned parties are infested with retired Securitate and Army high-ranking officers, with Ceausescu’s former henchmen, and with priests, in the attempt to psychoanalytically exploit primeval drives of the individual and of the group.

At the last Euro parliamentary elections of 2008 the president of the Great Romania Party (PRM) managed to get a seat in the EU Parliament showing that the nationalist and tough redeeming political discourse is rather appealing and dear to the Romanians. Beyond that, such a high score indicated the need of Romanians for healing, for Justice, Truth, and a Better Life, ultimately, the quest for an alternative.

Article on the left wing nationalist attack on Romanian Social Forum

5.2. A CASE STUDY: THE RIGHT WING EXTREMISM OF THE RADICAL LEFT

The Socialist Party of Workers (PSM), later on turned into the Socialist Alliance Party (PAS), is a case of a different kind and requires an attentive analysis since it is the only party in Romania that declares itself as Radical Left.

The party was initially structured on the traditionalist hard-liners of the former dictatorial regime and some top former apparatchiks in the 2nd and 3rd echelons of the PCR. The passage of time has proved that their only supporters remained the nostalgic, the frustrated who could not adapt themselves to the new dynamics in politics and lost their positions as strongmen, few of the workers and peasants, some of the poor, some of the older generation, and, unfortunately, lately, some opportunists and upstarts.
They managed to get access into the Parliament only in the very first period of the 90s, gradually fading away since then. The PAS tried hardly to catch the new and democratic European Left Wing political style and pace by joining the European Left Party (ELP) in 2004 in Rome, but they could not reach the political honesty of publicly denying Stalinism and Ceausism.

The PAS leadership still publicly claims that Ceausescu’s dictatorship had in fact been a ‘Nationalist Communism’ and an ‘Illuminated Communism’ for the benefit of the Romanian people. One of the satellite NGOs of the PAS, the Association ‘Genius of the Carpathians’, bears one of the worshiping addressing names imposed to Romanians by Dictator Ceausescu.
Many a time, PAS revealed that it relies on and it employs extreme nationalism as a manipulating political tool, the same way as the Ceausescu had been doing. Populist demagogic Right Wing phrases embellishing the past such as ‘the grand Romanian people’, ‘our grand nation’, ‘our grand past’ and ‘our grand heroes’ are permanent ingredients of their so-called ‘Left’ political discourse.

Presently the importance and influence of the PAS in Romanian political life has become practically insignificant, and their political chances are close to naught, most likely because of the presence in the party of nostalgic followers of Ceausism and Stalinism.
The proof lies in the disastrous scores the PAS obtained in the 2004 and 2008 elections when they hardly managed to get 1% of the votes in certain ‘red’ areas of the country like the Southern Counties. Rotaru Constantin, president of PAS, scored rather poorly when running for the Presidential elections of 2009 only to finish before the last. Such performance and scores dismiss their political approach and signal the historical need for the emergence of a completely different Left Party in Romania.

In spite of all the political failure, the president of PAS, Rotaru Constantin, is a well-to-do businessman who holds the monopoly of flag manufacturing in the country and has founded a Media trust. His company ‘Rotarexim’ has a publicly declared an annual turnover that exceeds 1,000,000 Euros. In such circumstances, the Media is not far from the truth when writing that his businesses may well keep the flag up but Capitalism does not match with Left ideology.

On 26th January 2008, the Association for the Development of the Romanian Social Forum (AD FSR) and the Romanian Ecological Action Foundation (AER Foundation) were the only to legally organize a social-environmental and cultural event in Romania in the frame of the series of events of the Global Day of Action launched by the World Social Forum.
Rotaru Constantin, president of PAS attacked the event, the participants, and the organizers in a libeler newspaper article that had all the characteristics of Right Wing Extremism: extreme nationalism and ethnocentrism, ethnic discrimination and chauvinism, intolerance and hatred discourse against the Hungarian ethnic minority, political harassment, populism and inciting authorities to take action against innocent people.

Consequently, the president of the Romanian Socialist Alliance Party (PAS) was sued for the offence of publicly promoting Right Wing Extremism in the form of multiple discrimination, political harassment, and hatred discourse.

In his sole written defence, Rotaru Constantin insisted that ‘that was a political position’ and ‘he did not express himself a private person but as political leader’. It is beyond any doubt that such statement made a very bad impression on the Judges because it implied that a political leader may have immunity to do whatever he wants against people. Moreover, the statement confirms once again that the Left Radical Socialist Alliance Party admits that they promote Right Wing Extremism in the form of extreme nationalism, ethnic discrimination, and hatred discourse.

During the trial, the High Court admitted as proof a document that consisted of a newspaper article according to which the Socialist Alliance Party (PAS) has close connections with the Great Romania Party (PRM) with which they were to establish an electoral alliance in the autumn of 2008. It appears that one of the common denominators of the two parties is extreme nationalism and ethnic discrimination targeting mainly the Hungarian ethnic minority in Romania.

After more than a two-year long legal battle, the Highest Court of Justice in Romania (ICCJ) ruled in early February 2010 that the sentence of the High Court of Appeal of Alba County in the case no. 292/57/2009 was right and legal.

Therefore, Rotaru Constantin, president of PAS, was sentenced for promoting  multiple discrimination and political harassment as offender of Law no. 137/2000 corroborated with Recommendation no. R (97) 20 issued by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe regarding the hatred discourse, as well as with the judiciary practice of the European Court of Justice. The president of PAS was also sentenced to pay a contravention fine. The judgment of the Highest of Court of Justice in Romania is final and irrevocable (see: http://www.scj.ro/dosare.asp?view=detalii&id=100000000209313 ).

This judgment puts the European Left Party in an unprecedented embarrassing position since one of their founding party members has been sentenced for publicly promoting Right Wing Extremist policies directed against innocent citizens and social actors engaged in the WSF and ESF processes.

24th-26th of March 2010
Aiud, Romania

Petre Damo

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