Risks of confusion

‘Not for a peel of browned bread […], not for yokes,/ but for your clear sky of tomorrow,/ rise Gheorghe, rise Ion!‘ This is how a Radu Gyr  poem begins, that managed to spark political scandal at the beginning of the election campaign. Recited by a young leader of the alliance opposing the current power, this poem has been incriminated as implicit apologetics of anti-Semitism. Not for its content, but rather by association with the profile of its author, a former Iron Guard leader who, in the inter-war period, promoted nationalist far right values. Of course that Mihail Neamtu treaded unknown ground when choosing the poem of a legionnaire for that moment. However, the far too easy invoking of the Holocaust carries the risk of demonetising a very serious moral drama and, at the end of the day, creates confusion. The members of the Iron Guard, known as the Legionnaires, were undoubtedly anti-Semitic, no matter how much they might have tried to sweeten their position at times (bringing arguments such as an unfair economic competition, for example).

However, in their case, anti-Semitism was coming down a channel of an anti-Free Masonry pathos. The Free Masonry (tenebrous by definition and just perfect for feeding the imagination of the frustrated), had become the Aunt Sally of all those who were unhappy with the evolution of capitalism, but also nostalgic after the good old traditional order.  The religious factor was also meaningful, as the Legionnaires were proposing an almost theocratic model, in the lineage of the Romanian Middle Age, marked by the Byzantine legacy. By associating the Free Mason with the Jew, like all other far right movements of the age, the Legionnaires were making an enemy measuring up to their political war. But they were not the only ones who did that, as the Romanian inter-war period was home to several anti-Semitic movements that left in imprint on public mentality. From that point of view, the Legionnaire Movement must be harshly judged. Now, coming back to our times, emphases should be placed correctly. When C.V. Tudor has racist and anti-Semitic fits, he is actually consistent with a broader European trend which he correlated to a compensating patriotism that idealises controversial historic figures and maintains historical forgery. The only political antidote can only be the courage to make the truth known (across ideologies) and foster public debates on controversial subjects. However, slamming a poem like Radu Gyr’s just to hit a political opponent is at the level of the usual low blows in politics. That particular poem actually brought the poet one last detention, as the authorities found it to be inciting to uprising against the regime. But that poem had found its expressive force not as a political manifesto, but as a meditation on the ambivalence of human ethos, to which freedom is not an irrefutable value. But let us not forget about the roots of Mihail Neamtu’s gesture. A theologian and responsible member of a persecuted (and afterwards corrupted by the communist) Church, living, like many other young people in the 1990s under the moral fascination of older generations passing through the communist jails in 1950s-1960s, passionate about American Conservationism and mindful of the derailments of the Left, Neamtu was brought up in the moral culture of resistance to communism. Intellectually and morally, he chose the Right, but he is now far from the incidental juvenile passion for the Legionnaire Movement. Many young people who discovered Orthodoxy during those years suffered from this ‘infancy disease’ combining religious activism with the political criticism of secularisation. Some parties (including PNL, now farther away from its configuration in those days) gained a considerably high electoral capital in the 1990s on their anti-communist rhetoric. The opportunists immediately took it over. One example is Traian Basescu who was more concerned about fighting the Left that had persecuted his party during the Social-Democratic rule in the beginning of the 2000s more than anything else. Of course that Mihail Neamtu’s anti-communist rhetoric is anachronic and suggests a certain poverty of his ideological baggage, but there is still something that remains from the resort to the trauma of the communist period. And, even more deeply, from reopening  the debate on the public presence of the religious in a secular reality. The embarrassing ideological confusion reigning in the current Romanian politics (the main political leaders of the present are fully to blame for that) really ought to make us think. Without clarifications, the confusion will only grow. Placing a poem that happens to be very similar to the national anthem (Wake up, Romanian…’) in the backyard of anti-Semitism pertains to some people’s intention of fishing in troubled waters.

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