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April 15, 2021

Risky prohibitions

Despite interpretations of people who wanted to justify the presidential support granted to new amendments on an older law against antisemitic extremism, Ceausescu ended up there by mere accident. It was just because, eager to get rid of him in order not to see their legitimacy threatened, the new governors of December ’89 have accused him of dozens of deaths that occurred in the preceding few days of repression.
It was, obviously, a mere propagandist lie, the beginning of a media manipulation that was to continue, with tragic results for some, for several months. Ceausescu’s crimes, as well as those of the entire Communist regime, were completely different. Yet, few of them wanted to see those things discussed in this quarter of a century, veiled in a complicated amnesia.
The respective law did not refer, therefore, to Communism. In other words, it did not refer to political extremism, but it is just destined to prevent future antisemitic aggressions. The confusion rises from the fact that, although they interfere, right-wing extremism and antisemitism are not identical. Despite of some people’s overwhelming antisemitism, right-wing extremism has other stakes as well, and is integrated in a much wider political tradition.
First of all, we should wonder how these amendments of the law appeared. They were promoted by a group of Liberals led by the former leader of the party Crin Antonescu (photo) himself. It is true that Liberals have the two Prime Ministers assassinated by legionaries, yet, much more of their leaders died in Communist prisons. At present, Romania has now right extremism, except for a few small and quasi-anonymous groups, so that calling them marginal is an overstatement.
They usually consist of young people who discovered a more radical Orthodoxy and are also seeking a political ‘market’. They are attracted, first of all, by this combination of authoritarianism and spirituality pretenses, by the nationalism and the war of conspiracies – that goes on between the good conspiracy, theirs, and the evil one, of the malefic occult leaders of the world. Former legionaries have combined the scout spirit – as, when joining, many of them were teenagers or in their 20s – with a concern for social justice and a cult for national community, just like many similar movements of interwar Europe. Except for Orthodox circles, legionaries were scarcely discussed after 1989. It was an attempt, first of all, to attack the legitimacy of the opponents of Iliescu’s first regime by claiming they were legionaries, in front of a population that was only accustomed to their caricatures, and only from Sergiu Nicolaescu’s films.
Legionaries were also discussed in intellectual environments, while people were trying to answer why so many prestigious intellectuals of the interwar were interested in such extremist movement? Some people defended them by seeking excuses and minimizing their moral responsibility, others denounced them in indictments that resembled denigrations based on personal stakes. Actually, the war on intellectual prestige helped surface a group that pretended they were the successors of a few interwar intellectuals with legionary affinities such as Constantin Noica, the mentor of the so-called “school of Paltinis”, a small mountain locality where the philosopher who had experienced Communist jails has withdrawn. The new intellectual right wing decided therefore that they were the descendants of a cultural tradition that only detached itself in a few given points from a political culture that has included legionary ideas as well. More precisely, legionary slides by intellectuals were ignored as much as possible, nonetheless, a few landmarks of political thinking contingent with such tradition were recovered, although in new configurations, adapted to a world that has changed quite a lot. They have preserved the appetite for politically fertile spirituality- one of the legionaries’ greatest fantasies, as they were dreaming about a drastic infusion of politics with Christian values – but also an affinity for a hierarchic world where authority is based on an order of values – even if these values are not negotiated, but arbitrarily imposed. It is interesting, though, that this new intellectual right wing was not matched by a real popular movement. They have supported President Basescu, who was actually a Socialist that has turned overnight into a right-wing politician and was dreaming about a great presidential party.
This is why, unlike its neighbours in the region, such as Greece, Hungary or Ukraine, Romania does not have a serious extremist right-wing party. In our party, PRN was the only party considered as an extremist right-wing movement, although it was a combination of post-Communist left-wing ideas, that preached forced nationalization and an authoritarianism doubled by xenophobe, even antisemitic accents.
It was an ideological hotchpotch, that has failed in the meantime.
The right-wing itself – Liberals, at this time – is less credited as a right-wing movement after having waltzed for so long with left-wing parties. To additionally incriminate older references of the Romanian right-wing is, therefore, a gratuitous and dangerous gesture. It is dangerous because it induces an additional level of political culpability, that resembles times of intolerance. Democracy developed, despite of periodic dramatic convulsions, more refined mechanisms of immunization, and the so-called anti-legionary law might cause plenty of confusions and conflicts. The confrontation must be political and not by threats of punishment. The world of ideas – even political ideas – is one of free confrontation. The solution is not prohibiting free debating, but cultivating an increasingly lively tradition of intellectual responsibility.
To demonize the right wing – which is sometimes quite close to the extremist right-wing – is a wrong path. And a risky one. Political confrontation is a great thing as long as it takes seriously the legitimacy of the opponent’s position. A position that might be changed, but not eliminated. What positions need to be actually eliminated – this is one of the greatest open challenges of democracy. A responsible political and legal refinement is flagrantly absent from Crin Antonescu’s law, as proof of a humiliating provincialism of Romanian political culture.

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