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Bucharest
May 17, 2022
EDITORIAL

The gusts of hatred



Some seven decades ago, an anonymous note in a province magazine informed with obvious satisfaction that ‘the last cart with Jews left Chisinau.’ The manager of the magazine was a hope of the new Romanian theology of those years, well educated in the Academies of the West and East, a translator from Byzantine Greek, connected to the cultural dialogue with existentialism and dialectical theology. Beyond the obvious political opportunism (his columns praised the successive regimes of the time), his polemics were characterised by several guidelines. His main antipathies – Catholics, neo-Protestants, Jews. A typical Orthodox, we might say, dedicated to promoting a legitimate theological and cultural difference. The surprise appears with his posterity, which describes him as essentially the ‘theologist of love.’ A love however seriously circumscribed, which not only rules out part of the humanity, but allows certain gusts of hatred. Did the theologist-journalist of those years not know what kind of life and death the ‘carts of Jews’ were headed to, beyond the Dnestr River? Why so much hatred in a Christian obsessed with love?
The day of the first ‘cart of Jews’ today became that of the sad commemoration of the anti-Semite persecution in Romania. But beyond formalising a painful national labour of (national) memory, a particular legislation appeared one decade ago. The penalising of local ‘fascists.’ Now Crin Antonescu wants to complete the law, probably careful to the contemporary phenomenon of the far right’s recrudescence. Which takes momentum precisely in the region: Jobbik in Hungary, Golden Dawn in Greece. The liberal project wants to incriminate the legionary movement, the local variant of the interwar authoritarian, xenophobic and nationalist movements. Their successors of today live in the underground, very violent in the blogosphere, but invisible on the Romanian political stage. Their local specificity is the strong ‘Orthodox’ colour. If we visit a site of this kind, we will find together ‘hymns’ dedicated to Orthodox saints (including some informal ones, including Corneliu Codreanu, killed in prison by authorities three quarters of a century ago, the charismatic leader of the legionary movement), portraits of anti-communist ‘martyrs’, apocalyptic visions about the world of electronic chips and pamphlets against Jews and freemasons. Insignificant splinters, some would say about such fanatics boiling with hatred in the name of Christian love. What is worrying on a long term is the ambiguous relation with the Orthodox culture. Or, better said, the foggy ‘political theology’ of the Orthodoxy. Let’s stop at the ‘Orthodox’ anti-Semitism, for one moment. (Orthodox) Christianity oscillated between two attitudes, often concurrent, rarely convergent: Judaism as a religious failure and the Judeo-Christian filiation. From the status of Judaic sect to that of anti-Semitic religion, this is a tragic road for Christianity. Moving forward on the roads opened by Judaic spirituality is something, while disputing its legitimacy in the name of ‘absorbing’ it into a newer, better one is different. In the eyes of Christians, Judaism became the image of a failure, some kind of icon of the wrong way. Instead of meditating to the perspective of Apostle Paul, who placed the historic destiny of post-Christian Judaism under the sign of divine mystery, for Christians Jews took the hypostasis of one sole dimension, that of the pretended ‘treason.’ Thus Judas, the Caiaphas priest, King Herod became scapegoats for what Christians do on daily basis: they betray their own God. This was a convenient ‘theological’ solution. And lethal, both for the Christians with asleep consciences and for the persecuted Jews. To this view, the still actual problem of the Orthodox culture is the theological ambiguity that favours the anti-Semitic skidding. There are still priests who are regarded as ‘heroic’ because they promote, on Good Friday, the ‘uncensored’ variant of the Requiem, with anti-Semitic imprecations. At least if it were a reaction against political correctness. But this is not about negative historic realities, such as the cruel Jewish mafia of the USA, the interwar prostitution networks of South America or Jewish terrorism in British Palestine. Any person (or human group) has its shady sides. But this is a serious ‘theological’ prejudice, doubled by a mean ‘morale’ of self-sufficiency. In present-day Romania, the most educated theologist takes the liberty of publishing the ‘advice’ of a Greek saint of the XVIII-th Century, justifying his anti-Semitic attacks in the name of the ‘economic competition’ of that time (legionaries, too, used such an exonerating rhetoric). In order to vilify Judas even more, Saint Cosmas of Aetolia – a national hero for the Greek – invented him an `Oedipian` biography: he killed his father and married his own mother. This saint advised his religious followers not to buy from Jewish merchants, because first they… urinate in the wine, brandy and fish. As long as a serious repentance does not take place, ‘Orthodox’ minds will easily skid towards moral aberrations. For instance, if Ratzinger had a statement in favour of Judaism, what do you think ‘Orthodox’ bloggers were doing to discredit his positions? Looking for his Jewish genealogies. Considering him, horribile dictu, a Jewish Pope. In fact, such semi-educated nonsense is not far from the ideas of reputed philosophers. Nae Ionescu, one of the parents of modern Orthodox journalism and a mentor of the elites of the interwar (even post-communist) right, talked in educated and nonchalant terms about the ‘Jewish influences in the western spirit’ as a domination of psychology over metaphysics. And thousands of young intellectuals swallowed such ridiculous statements without thinking.
Another idea behind this legal initiative (partly due to the `Elie Wiesel` Institute) is the circumspection in honouring some ‘anti-communist fighters’. A fierce polemic erupted not long ago over granting the title of honourary citizen of a Moldavian town to Valeriu Gafencu, a young legionary who died in communist prisons. At stake is a real cultural war. Interwar anticommunism (not just Orthodox) had serious anti-Semitic nuances. As the political philosopher Pierre Manent said, the ‘Jew’ was, in the collective imagination, an ideal victim because he allowed the connection between anti-communism and anti-capitalism, tendencies which coexisted in the case of movements like the legionary one. What should we do with the anti-Semitic anti-communists dead in fight or in prisons? Should we honour them, or blame them? Theologically speaking, some clarifications are useful. Many human groups (religious, political etc.) had their ‘martyrs.’ Are the real Christian martyrs innocent? Was the ‘robber’ on the cross an innocent martyr? We do not honour his life as a robber, but his conversion ‘in extremis.’ We do not honour anti-Semitism, but we can honour either the heroism (with weapon in hand), or the martyrdom (with bare hands) against communism. The risk is what also took hold of the Jewish memory. Same as the ‘Holocaust industry,’ a ‘Gulag theory’ can appear that will instrument to its own interest the suffering of the victims of communism. The Arad Memorial equally honours innocents and guilty people who died – ones and the others – in the terrible communist political prison. If some soiled their blood in the deportations of Romanian Jews, others were indeed ‘lambs taken to sacrifice.’ Should we not make a distinction? Anticommunism is not the monopoly of the Orthodox, much less of anti-Semites. At the same time, one does not become a saint for being against communism. If Pope Wojtyla considered as martyr a magistrate who fought the mafia, shouldn’t the Orthodox, too, ask questions about true martyrdom? And true holiness.

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