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February 25, 2021

The combinative law

President Iohannis has recently promulgated a law that tightens up punishments for both the public apology of the local far right and negationism of the Romanian variant of the Holocaust. The initiators of the law are former Liberal leader Crin Antonescu and two other MPs from the lower Chamber, one of them ex-advisor to the incumbent president. Iohannis benefited in this case from the endorsement of the new law given by his adviser Alexandru Muraru, former head of the Institute dealing with the communist crimes. The main lobby for the new legal provisions was done by the ‘Elie Wiesel’ Institute that investigates into the Romanian Holocaust and which is headed by Alexandru Florian. The new version of the law, however, is quite aberrant, as it pursues two different targets: the Legionnaires and Nicoale Ceausescu – the only person that can be incriminated for ‘genocide’. Or, better said, his potential future followers.

The first thing that pops up is the asymmetry. If during Traian Basescu’s presidential term the two abovementioned institutes produced texts based on which both communism and anti-Semitism were officially condemned, this new law – actually, just an addition to an older law – returns to a more biased attitude. In reality, the long-standing polemics spanning a quarter of a century has opposed the ‚anti-communists’ to the ‚anti-fascists’, revisiting, in a new local version, a European dispute – and not only that – which dates back over a century. Political interests have vitiated the debate on historic memory, with each party invoking the threat of a resurrection of the ideology of the opposing extremism. Nonetheless, this time, the initiative seems to have had a more special route. Its main target is, obviously, the anti-Semitism, Nicoale Ceausescu – as a matter of fact never citied, but identifiable because of the reference to ‚genocide’ , as the only person convicted in a questionable trial for something like that – being just an odd flat designed as a lame compensation for those who would be outraged by the asymmetry in question.

It is an extremely commendable thing to condemn anti-Semitism, especially in the context of a Europe that is still facing violence against the Jews and their institutions – and the Muslims are not the only ones responsible for such things. To Romanians, the labour of memory is still at the beginning of the journey, making it difficult for the recognition of an old and diffuse anti-Semitism, criminal actions – especially in the context of exacerbated violence of WWII – to emerge. The massacre of Iasi, Odessa or Transdniester can no longer be denied. Nor can deportations, or the shameful pillage of assets after the Nazi model. But behind those crimes there were centuries of anti-Semitic propaganda, involving both the Orthodox Church and prime intellectuals of this country. Too many of the authors studied in schools today embraced anti-Semitic views, to which they gave prestige through their intellectual authority.

At the same time, it is good to reject the easy disjunction of the Legionnaire Movement and other forms of fascism. The fact that the Legionnaire ideology had a strong component of Orthodox religiousness is just an alibi of honorability that was perversely invoked, as, in reality, it only raises a serous question about the ‘political theology’ of the Orthodox circles and its reactionary ideals.

A whole encomiastic literature, some of which appeared even after 1989, tried to uphold the myth of a spiritual evolution of the Legionnaires, but a lucid debate on its intellectual and more values is still missing. If remarkable books have been written about the intellectual links between Heidegger and the Nazism, for example, local studies on outstanding intellectuals that joined, at least temporarily, the Legionnaire Movement – such as Mircea Elide, Constantin Noica or Emil Cioran – re not entirely convincing. The fact that they were ‘good Christians’, that they had a broad cultural horizon, that they were intellectually creative or enthusiastic promoters of institutional novelty are not solid enough arguments in their favour.

In fact, the core of the matter is a moral one, in the sense of a more correct perception of one’s peers. We need to come out of Manichaeism that characterises us far too often. People are not black or white. The Legionnaire Movement, like communism, was not just a diabolic phenomenon, it actually advanced themes, values and sensitiveness worthy of interest. But there is a special responsibility of ideas. In some contexts, they may lead to murder. But assigning intellectual culpabilities   is a very difficult thing to do. An intellectual produces innumerable ideas in the course of his career and it would be unrealistic to believe that, in time, he will always have the discernment to avoid the possibly toxic ones. The public space of ideas is not rarefied, it is one packed with toxins. But the important thing is to be able to ring the alarm bells in due time. Without forgetting about the complexity of persons, therefore penalties should not abusively substitute to ideological debates.

Another perverse thing in an initiative like this is also the inevitable association of the fight against anti-Semitism and avoidance of the condemnation of communism. Those driven by ill intentions will note that Alexandru Florian, the head of the institute that lobbied for this law, is the son of a Marxist engaged in the intellectual legitimisation of the former regime. Actually, to people who lived through communism with difficulty, it’s more pressing to settle the accounts with that type of extremism. But not only does the prime-minister love wearing shirts with Che Guevara – guilty of an incomparably higher number of political victims than the head of Legionnaires Codreanu – but quite enough young left-wing intellectuals are making a local eulogy of Marxism and hope for a new embodiment of it. In fact, why should the Legionnaire Movement be condemned more than communism? Why wasn’t a law adopted that would have only condemned anti-Semitism?

The fixation against the Legionnaire Movement does not seem to be lacking specific political connotations. At this time, there is a slight fascination of certain groups, especially young people and followers of a more politicised Orthodoxy, with the Legionnaire values. But those are totally marginal. The accusation of being Legionnaire lurked down on anyone who became undesirable to the communist regime for half a century. As the anti-Semitic believe that any enemy can only be a Jew, the communists would see a Legionnaire hiding inside any enemy. Ion Iliescu crushed, in 1990, the protest of his enemies invoking the ‘Legionnaire danger’. Even an artistic movie on the resistance of the anti-communist army in the mountains was blamed for being a eulogy of anti-Semitism. But agitating false threats denotes a perverse appetence for manipulation.

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