Jos Mafia! Sus Patria!

January 12, 2007 at 1:34 pm | Posted in nationalism, Romania | 3 Comments

I wrote the following for my Comparative Politics class at BYU. Our topic was nationalism. I had the opportunity to watch the Romanian election process take place in October and November of 2000 and was amazed that this man, Corneliu Vadim Tudor received such popularity from so many Romanians. I subsequently wrote this paper on his run for president. As this brief Wikipedia article notes, he has changed his tune, and become more moderate of late, including no longer denying a Holocaust took place in Romania during WWII. In any case, here is my paper:

Jos Mafia! Sus Patria!(1) :
The Nationalist Leadership of Corneliu Vadim Tudor in Romania

By Daniel Dubei

“I’m Vlad the Impaler, Marshal Antonescu, and Nicolae Ceausescu in one person.”(2)
–Corneliu Vadim Tudor

“Nobody who has eyes can fail to see that this rich country has become a ruin. The peasant’s household and land, the village–a handful of miserable people, who lament–the country, the region, the barren mountains, the uncultivated plains which no longer produce anything for the poor, unfortunate peasant–all are in ruins. The State budget and the entire country are a shambles.

“And above these ruins scattered all over the Romanian land, a band of dishonorable men, of imbeciles and shameless brigands, have built palaces defying the country which writhes in pain and ridiculing your suffering, poor, miserable Romanian peasant!

“A more revolting, painful and indecent scene has never been witnessed by anyone elsewhere in the world. Millions of households are being destroyed, crushing underneath their ruins countless God-forsaken people who have nothing else left except tears. To top this shame, the palaces of the rascals, who plundered the land and emptied the treasure of our country, rise like a supreme irony and mockery.”(3)
–Corneliu Codreanu

Introduction

In the November 2000 elections, after another four years of failing economic policies and rising corruption under Constantinescu and the pro-Western Centrists, Romanians dejectedly went to the polls and voted for two candidates viewed in the West as opponents of reform, the Communist Ion Iliescu, and the ultra-nationalist Corneliu Vadim Tudor. Tudor’s rise to second in the elections surprised many in the West, yet if we observe the situation Romanians are faced with, it may not be surprising that someone like Tudor would come to power.

There is an interesting correlation between a sagging economy and the rise of a nationalist “strong man” who would bring stability back to the nation, especially in states where there is already a strong tendency towards nationalist feelings. This was seen in Germany during the Great Depression. “Without an agrarian crisis in the countryside, without the unemployment of millions of Germans for two or more years, and without the slump in business revenues that followed it is difficult to imagine the National Socialists exploding on the political landscape with the same force and speed as they did in the years 1929-1933.”(4) There was already a structure of nationalism in Germany, but, interestingly, when the currency stabilized in 1924, “the National Socialists expired completely,”(5) showing that once the populace is placated economically, they settle back down.

We see the same thing happen in Yugoslavia in the late 80s, at the onset of Slobodan Milosevic’s rise to power. “During the 1980s Yugoslavia was beset by an economic and political crisis that seriously destabilized the country and eventually impaired its very existence. By the end of the decade the country’s economy was afflicted by skyrocketing inflation, high unemployment, a huge foreign debt, and serious food shortages.”(6) This drastic economic crisis also “became closely intermingled with burgeoning ethnoregional nationalism,”(7) in Yugoslavia, leading to Milosevic’s rise on nationalist policies for strengthening Serbians, the largest ethnic group in Yugoslavia.

We also see this in Romania in the 1930s, with Corneliu Codreanu the charismatic leader of the Legionary Movement, also known as the Iron Guard. They also lived in a time of high corruption and economic stagnation. To add to the problems, the middle class in Romania at the time “consisted mostly of ‘foreigners’– Jews or Greeks– who were the bulk of the traders and craftsmen, while urban Romanians preferred the state payroll.”(8) Codreanu saw the problems in Romania as a cause by these foreigners. He was very xenophobic and highly anti-Semitic. Interestingly, his attacks against the Jews stemmed not from a religious or racial issue: “The Jews…cannot be persecuted on a racial or religious basis–only on the basis of the danger they represent to the State.”(9) He goes on to state further, “the Jewish and Communist threat are both phenomena derived in relation to the plague of political methods which undermine the very existence of the nation.”(10) The Legionary Movement aspired to “mold a different type of Romanian totally cleansed of today’s vices and defects,” the decadence of which “lies with the ruling class…a caste of exploiters, comprising the most corrupt elements of society.”(11) In other words, to purge out corruption is to eliminate in any way those who taint or corrupt the true Romanian nation for Romanians.

Under such economic conditions, Hitler blamed the Jews for corrupting Germany, and Germans bought it; Milosevic blamed ethnic Albanian policemen for harming Serbs, and the Serbs loved it; Codreanu blamed the Jews for selling Romania to foreign powers, and the Romanians listened; the same can be seen with Tudor today.

When asked why he voted for Tudor, one 19 year old said, “He’s cool. Don’t you listen to his speeches? Who was I supposed to vote for? The rest of them are soft old guys. Screw all gypsies! Vadim will deal with them. Do you have a problem with that?”(12) Daniela Popescu, a 21-year-old student responded, “Vadim is the only one who can do something in a country where everybody steals.”(13)

Tudor did surprisingly well among the youth, 940,000 of which voted for him.(14) Yet even some of the older generation also cast ballots for Ceausescu’s court poet. One man in his thirties said, “a man as devoted to God as Tudor has all the qualities to save Romania.”(15)

Tudor has said “that Romania ‘can only be run with machine guns,'” and that he would carry out “mass executions in stadiums of those who have robbed the country.” (16) Many find his charisma and unabashed views appealing, especially when faced with such difficult economic disparities. Others are calling him “the man who could single-handedly create ethnic strife in Romania.”(17)

When looking at theories of nationalism to explain why Tudor is successful, theorists have failed to account for a leader that takes control of nationalism and direct it in his own way. Their literature attempts to answer the questions, ‘What is nationalism?’ or ‘What is a nation?’ Walker Connor even goes on to ask, ‘When is a nation?'(18) When talking about Pol Pot and the Khmer regime, Tom Nairn comes close to explaining how Pol Pot directed the nationalist movement in Cambodia, yet his emphasis there is on peasant nationalism, not Pol Pot’s ability to create such a powerful and deadly regime.

Theories of nationalism focus on mass dynamics of nation building, such as Anderson’s theory explaining nationalism as an ‘imagined community.’ Yet I believe that analyzing a leader’s abilities to mobilize the populace behind him can shed new light on nationalist movements throughout the world.

In this paper, I will look at the factors that allowed Tudor to rise out of obscurity and his own charismatic speeches and sayings that have attracted many Romanians. As with other examples of nationalist leaders surging into power, economic stagnation and/or collapse opens the door for a “strong arm” to lead the country out of mire and into wealth. Also high or rising corruption alienates the masses from the current government that also call for someone who can purge corruption. Yet these factors only mask the true feelings of nationalist pride found imbedded in Romanian tradition and culture.

This nationalist pride leads to a perception among many ethnic Romanians, that non-Romanians are the problem in Romania, namely the Gypsies, the Hungarians, and the Jews. Discrimination against the Jews in Romania is not as it used to be during the inter-war years, mainly because the number of Jews in Romania dropped significantly. There is a rising Gypsy Mafia, providing prostitution, drugs, and other illegal products. Whether they aren’t given the chance or they simply don’t want to, Gypsies in general are uneducated and don’t contribute much to lawful society. Gypsies have the unfortunate perceived reputation for being thieves, whether trying to pickpocket you or trying to scam money off you somehow. This social stigma limits their ability to contribute in society, and makes them an easy target when problems arise.

Finally, I will show how Tudor has taken hold of the strong feelings found among Romania’s ties with their past, presenting it as a platform for the future. He blames the Gypsies, Hungarians, occasionally and the Jews–though there are only a small number left in Romania–and anyone who would betray Romania or what Romania stands for, for the economic stagnation and political corruption so rampant in Romania. He pushes for Greater Romania, the idealized “imagined community”(19) of Romania for Romanians that would not be tainted by the problems of the Hungarians or Gypsies. Creating an ‘imagined community’ where Romanians identify themselves as Romanians, untainted from the evils of foreign influences has found acceptance in many Romanians, as they feel that is the only way to truly end the cycles of corruption and economic stagnation in Romania. And for the many outlandish speeches Tudor gives, many Romanians are listening.

Jos Mafia!

While corruption may not have played such an influential role in the economic crises of Germany in the 1930s, it had to a greater extent in Yugoslavia in the 1980s, in Romania in the 1930s, but not quite as influential of a role as in the collapse of the economy in Romania in the 1990s.

Ever since he came to power, Iliescu has promised pro-market reforms such as privatization. Yet by September 1993, “only 100 state-owned companies were privatized.”(20) What is the main reason? Corruption. Even “President Iliescu, who long posed as an incorruptible man–even his enemies allowed him that–“(21) has taken advantage of the ease at doing things ‘under the table.’ He was “found to have illegally bought the house that the State Protocol Agency (SPA), the agency that manages state property, lent to him while he was president.”(22) His National Salvation Front party, the precursor to the Party for Social Democracy (PDSR), “drove three of the main state banks to the edge of bankruptcy…allowing them to issue huge credits to the sponsors of their own electoral campaigns and to fund less visible political activity as well.”(23) Later in 1994, General Gheorghe Florica, the chief of the Financial Guard, “incriminated the main members of the government, denouncing them for selling favors to cigarette smugglers.” He was dismissed from his post and no politician was forced to resign.(24) There are also many “gray-economy barons”(25) in Romania who are main sponsors for Iliescu and his government “whose wealth exists only by virtue of plundering state property and receiving state favors.”(26) Politicians and these “state capitalists” “want the privatization process to move slowly” as this allows them to keep control for both wealth–in the case of the state capitalists–and power–in the case of the politicians.(27)

This process of “‘slow privatization’ implicitly encourages illegal acts.”(28) Liliana Popescu-Birlan shows what happens in this cycle of corruption. A person working for a state-owned company would “transfer” funds and goods to what would be considered his own private company, also known as a “limited company (‘Societati cu Raspundere Limitata’, in short SRL)”(29) Many of these exist throughout Romania. The managers of these SRLs obviously “do not neglect to bribe the Departmental directors”(30) to assure that their SRL business is overlooked during any kind of audit. And of course, “the state keeps on subsidizing unprofitable (or even bankrupt) state enterprises. The taxpayer pays.”(31)

Interestingly, state-owned companies that avoid this kind of cycle of corruption, when they apply for privatization, aren’t allowed to privatize, “presumably, because they are real gold mines for the budget.”(32) There is a fear in the government that large or maybe excessive amount of privatization can have negative social and political consequences. Yet two more problems arise out of slow privatization. According to a UN Economic Commission for Europe report, “the main source of inflation…is the financial loss caused by many state-owned companies.”(33) Inflation, which ran at 350% at its peak in 1993, has crippled the Romanian economy.

These types of corruption have delegitimized the government in the eyes of the people and have given Tudor ample ammunition for his political aspirations. He has been able to publicly articulate this sense of frustration as he has said, for example, “for 11 years,” Iliescu and the others “have applied the most barbarian ways to exterminate the Romanian people by starvation and theft of the national patrimony.”(34)

At the same time, pressure from the European Union for reforms has “done little to stem rampant corruption” and ” the rise of local crime syndicates,” while it has cut jobs. Writing from London’s Center for European Reform, Heather Grabbe has stated that, “the EU has been incapable of supporting reform in a way that allows Romania to follow a virtuous cycle of reform, rather than a vicious cycle of inertia and failed reform.”(35)

Many Romanians side with Ms. Grabbe, feeling that these external pressures to change may seem unfair and too difficult to do in the time allotted them by the EU. Also, in discussing restrictions placed on Romanian visas to the West, “the freeze-out” of visas to the EU from Romania “has helped to discredit the country’s pro-Western politicians and to lay the groundwork for Mr. Tudor’s surge.”(36) Adding to the anti-West rhetoric, Tudor has declared that “NATO is nothing but a Satanist organization, a malignant tumor on the brain of mankind.”(37)

Tudor’s sayings can be considered extreme, yet these phrases catch people’s attention. He has said that he would carry out “mass executions in stadiums of all thieves who have robbed the country,” and rule Romania “with a machine gun.” When a few hundred students in Bucharest marched in protest of extremism, some of Tudor’s more zealous supporters have said, “Vadim will be president and you will all be put in labor camps, with machine guns in your back.” A taxi driver in Bucharest said, “Romanians need a strong fist and a determined man to crush thieves and the strong mafia which has overrun our country.” (38)

The factors of slow privatization and economic reform, and unfair pressures from the West also gives rise to other entities, namely the Mafia, and other networking groups. The relation between government officials and the ‘state capitalists’ could be considered a Mafia. Their actions are ‘under the table’ and they try to shut up anyone who incriminates them as has happened to General Florica, which I mentioned earlier. Their unwillingness to privatize state industries shows this, as they would lose power and wealth if they were to let go and privatize the bankrupt subsidized state industries, they would preserve them “at any price.”(39)

Beside the ‘politician-state capitalist’ Mafia, an Arab Mafia and a Gypsy Mafia has festered and mushroomed in Romania over the past ten years. “These groups–we could more aptly call them networks–brought in real money through Mafia-style activities: smuggling, racketeering, gambling, and prostitution.”(40) Arabs came over during the late Ceausescu era, when Romania was low on cash. Besides selling Romanian food abroad and “‘selling’ Jews, Germans, and Romanians to their estranged families,”(41) he also allowed students, mostly from Arab countries to study in Romania. Though these students lacked real studies and would have failed in any other university, Romania needed their money. These Arabs were more adept at less than honest business and were one of the first to take advantage of the liberalization “and to ‘legalize’ their black-market businesses,”(42) yet some continued the “smuggling, racketeering, tax evasion, and, of course, the bribing of officials.”(43)

I should mention that corruption in Romania, when compared to more developed countries, is so flagrant because it was allowed to fester under Ceausescu’s regime, for a couple of reasons. One reason was to give people something to do, to bring in a little money on the side, as a way to placate them, in a subversive and small try at capitalism. And secondly, by allowing such an ‘under the table’ market, the government could always, if needed, arrest those for doing something illegal, thereby still keeping the stranglehold on the populace.

The fact that the black market was ‘accepted’ in communist days exacerbated the problem when the market opened up to capitalism. Because the Romanian population became ‘accustomed’ to a Gypsy and Arab Mafia, these groups don’t have to be as secretive, but just go about doing their black work. Couple that with the fact that these Mafias placate government officials through bribes, and you get flagrant acts of illegal business.

Tudor’s speeches and writings are probably strongest on fighting this corruption found in Romania, especially in the political leadership. He has said “within 48 hours, we will liquidate the Mafia which is choking Romania.”(44) He has also criticized the judicial system saying, “it is clear that Romania is an ungovernable country,” continuing further, “the disaster is so awful, we are afraid that the only way to rule Romania is with an automatic rifle,” because the “police and judiciary are against the citizens instead of defending them.”(45) When talking about corruption and how imbedded in Romania it is, Tudor has actually come out and “promoted himself as ‘righteous’ and his party as untainted by Romania’s rampant corruption.”(46)

It must have slipped his mind that members of his own party have been alleged of corrupt activities, such as Dumitru Dragomir, who is head of the Professional Football League in Romania. he has been “followed by the police, because he had been accused of playing illegal games,” and has been “arrested because he had misappropriated the funds” of the Football League. He was also “associated with the dirtiest weekly magazine that had ever existed in Romania–‘Atac la Persoana’ (Personal Attack).”(47)

Consider also General Niculae Nitu, who was the candidate for the mayor of Bucharest, under Tudor’s party, the Greater Romania Party (PRM). He has been “accused of having raped a woman and known for his relationships with the Gypsy Mafia,” which group Tudor has said “will be liquidated.”(48)

The Roma-Gypsies

The name Gypsy is an appellation given to them by outsiders. They actually call themselves “‘Rom’ (pl. Roma), which in their Sanskrit-based language, Romani, means ‘man’…and in a more general sense, ‘person belonging to our group.”(49)

Their inferior treatment in Romania comes from a time when the Romas were “reduced to slaves”(50) and treated as “chattel property.” Throughout that time “the words tsigani and rob (slave) were juridically and culturally synonymous,” which from that period on meant any gypsy (tsigani) was socially inferior like a slave. Also, “the distinct somatic features of Romanies, their cultural characteristics and behavior, were considered ‘signals’ of supposed inherited inferior social status, poverty, and deviance.”(51)

This has proven to their detriment over the years as even ‘respectable, honest’ shopkeepers, are still considered “black-market operations, and, as such, illegal–or at least illegitimate.” They have been attacked as “responsible for the shortages of goods in the state-supplied shops and/or the draining of some goods out of the country.”(52) What may also have exacerbated the problem in Romania is that Romania has “the biggest Gypsy cultural reservoir in the world.”(53)

The Romany population also has little political power, which has let them to become an easy ‘scapegoat’ when problems arise, according to Tom Nairn. They’ve had no “political defenses…nor any equivalent of Zionism which served to rally and direct the identity of the other transnational population once so prominent in Central and Eastern Europe.”(54)

But over the past decade, their inability to present a political voice stems from heavy distrust from the Romanian population, and more importantly from the political and community leaders, as noted by Joseph Voyame of the UN Commission on Human Rights, when saying, “the authorities, like the majority of the population, tend to regard the gypsy community as a whole as deviant and criminally inclined to tolerate, and sometimes even encourage, expressions of hostility toward them.”(55) When talking about the Roma community, he also notes “it is not well organized.”(56)

The other reason stems from this lack of organization among the Romany population. In his article on Gypsies in Eastern Europe, Nicolae Gheorghe states as almost a side-note, an important aspect not looked into deep enough. He looks at the Romany community itself and notices that “the inner dynamics of some Roma groups contribute, in conjunction with broader social processes, to the reproduction of poverty, poor schooling, unemployment, and deviance” of Gypsy life.(57)

These ‘inner dynamics’ coupled with their sub-class treatment and distrust puts many Gypsies in a position where extra-legal activities would be the only way to make a living. One major way they do this is through their children. In the metro, and more recently even on buses, Gypsy children would get on at one station, sing a song, or say the Lord’s prayer–quite accurately–or recite a common story about losing a father to pneumonia, and a mother to cancer, and a grandfather to starvation, etc., and, before the train reaches the next station, walk around gathering money from the benevolent. Sometimes the kid will be blind, others malformed–obviously by the parents to gain more sympathy, hence more money–and others still, missing limbs. Other times, a young mother, not even fifteen at times, will come on with her baby, sometimes the baby with some limb bent in horrifying directions. Many of these kids and women belong to a man known as ‘Mare Peste,’ (the Big Fish), and would be considered as a pimp in the West. He collects these unwanted children from other Gypsy families and uses them to get money. He either sends it higher up the hierarchical ladder or keeps the money spending it on alcohol, cigarettes, or prostitution, items offered by the Gypsy Mafia. It’s also interesting to note the nice Mercedes and the beautiful houses owned by several Gypsies while most Gypsies are stuck in Rahova or other ghetto-like slums in Bucharest and throughout the countryside.

While mentioning all this, I do want to state that there are honest, hard working and educated Gypsies; unfortunately they are the exception to the rule, as most settle into a life of thievery or beggary.

Romanians feel somewhat embarrassed by such activities as these. They feel that Gypsies degrade Romania and Romanians, who consider themselves civilized. (Literacy among Romanians is 97%).(58) Many Romanians would be happy if the Gypsies were simply not there, and Tudor has taken advantage of these perceptions.

Tudor has come out strongly against the Gypsies and their Mafia, mainly because he knows that most Romanians either have a deep distrust of the Gypsies, or just simply dislike them. He has said, “cannot we deal with the murderous rapist Gypsy gangs? No problem: they will be liquidated.”(59) This is actually appealing to some Romanians. In some areas of Bucharest one can see graffiti saying, ‘Moartea Tiganilor!’ (Death to the Gypsies!)

Sus Patria!

A look at the stagnating economy, the rise of corruption and the mushrooming of the Mafia shows one aspect that has opened the door for Tudor to reach out to the masses and give them what they want. While a weakened economy has given Tudor this chance, Walker Connor has stated, “casual connection between economic forces and ethnonationalism should not be inferred simply from the fact of coexistence.”(60) And while economic forces can “serve as catalytic agent, exacerbator, or choice of battleground,” for many national movements, examples throughout the world show that a nation doesn’t necessarily need a weakening economy for a rise in nationalism, such as Catalonia or Scotland, to name a few. It is noteworthy to add though, that even though there is or isn’t an economic collapse, “economic arguments can act as a catalyst or exacerbator of national tensions.”(61) In Romania, at the height of his power, Ceausescu thumbed his nose at Moscow and pushed nationalist sentiment throughout Romania, during a time when Romania was growing economically.

Tudor has done the same. He has taken advantage of popular sentiment throughout the Romanian population, such as dislike for the growing Hungarian influence in politics, the push for reuniting with lands that used to be part of Romania during the inter-war years, and the idea that if you are not Orthodox, you are not Romanian, which have little to do with the economic condition and much to do with the community Romanians ‘imagine’ themselves as.

To explain the nationalist sentiment in Romania that Tudor uses, I use Benedict Anderson’s salient explanation that a nation “is an imagined political community.”(62) Romanians see themselves or identify themselves as Romanians because of their cultural and historical past, those things which, through time, has shaped them to be what they are, including religion and language. As Walker Connor continues the idea of ‘imagined communities,’ “the essence of the nation is psychological, a vivid sense of sameness, a oneness of kind, which, from the perspective of the group, sets itself off from all other groups in a most vital way.”(63)

What Tudor does, which theorists have not explained, is grab those strong feelings found in Romania’s ties to their past and present a platform for the future. In his magazine, Romania Mare, a quote near the title of the magazine says, “Vom fi iarasi ce-am fost si mai mult decat atat!” (“We will again be as we were, yet even more!”).(64)

It is this tie to the past through language and religion that has brought Romanians to “feel or intuitively sense that they are related to one another.”(65) Tudor has exploited this for his political advantage.

Romanians have felt strongly about their statehood being only for Romanians right from when they broke free from Ottoman rule in 1859. From this point to the Conference of Berlin in 1881 where Europe recognized them as an independent state, Romanians were caught in the middle of conflicts between the Russians, the Austro-Hungarians, and the Ottoman Empire. Being played like a pawn on a chessboard by foreign powers was one reason that Romanians fought back with zealous nationalist fervor, from the peasant to the intellectuals. They especially despised Jews, having in the constitution the following: “Only foreigners of Christian rites may obtain naturalization,” as if Jews could never sincerely convert to ‘Romanianism.'(66)

These xenophobic sentiments ruled strongly in Romania over the past one hundred years, and has been transformed from a strongly anti-Semitic stance–mainly because the Jewish population has decreased to about eighteen thousand today–to anti-Hungarian and anti-Roma, though some still slander Jews, such as we will see with Tudor. These feelings are based on three important aspects of nationalism and ethnonationalism: language, religion, and ethnicity.

The Question of Language, Media, and Poetry

Commenting just after the first round results of the 2000 election, one journalist exclaimed, “Why are Eastern Europe’s nationalists always poets, or at least consider themselves so?”(67) Romania’s greatest poet, the Shakespeare of the country, Mihai Eminescu was an avid anti-Semitist and xenophobe. The main reason for his dislike of Jews is interesting to note. Any attack against their religion is secondary to the fact that the Jews’ “sense of racial consciousness was so great as to preclude any sense of identity with Romanians.”(68) Eminescu though, can be considered one of the first true nationalists in modern Romania. His two-volume anthology of poetry has been called “the gospel of Romanian nationalism” by some.(69)

One of his poems shows this strong nationalist feel well:

“Ce-ti doresc eu tie, dulce Romanie,
Tara mea de glorii, tara mea de dor?
Bratele nervoase, arma de tarie,
La trecutu-ti mare, mare viitor!
Fiarba vinu-n cupe, spumege pocalul,
Daca fiii-ti midri aste le nutresc;
Caci ramine stinca, desi moare valul,
Dulce Romanie, asta ti-o doresc.”(70)

Again, this goes with the principle set by Anderson that poetry brings about a “special kind of contemporaneous community.”(71) While this poem can be translated into any language, the ability of the Romanian language to be phonetically sonorous and rhyme musically “can bring goose-flash to the napes only” of Romanian readers thereby having a strong ability to bring Romanians closer as an ‘imagined community’ realized.(72)

Vadim Tudor is also a poet. The ‘court poet’ of Ceausescu, he has written much, and his Romania Mare magazine is replete with poetry. Tudor’s poetry tends to be more political, and definitely nationalistic and anti-Semitic. Consider the following poem:

“Rabbi, Rabbi, with your curly beard
“With your hair full of dandruff…
“Rabbi, Rabbi, you old horse
“You ragged old man with a weak mind
“You spit on sacred Romanian things
“Rabbi, Rabbi, you sold us to the Hungarians and the Russians”(73)

To get his message out to the populace, Vadim Tudor uses his Romania Mare magazine as his main avenue of communication. He also tours around the country, spending most of his time, actually, in Transylvania, where practically all the ethnic Hungarians live. He hasn’t been effective through the TV media as “no private TV channel has invited Tudor to its studios,” in an effort to stop him from gaining too much power.(74) State television stations are compelled by law to give the presidential candidates air time, but Tudor’s most effective avenue for communication is the written word including the speeches he gives, which he then publishes in his magazine also available on the internet.

This weekly magazine is broken up into different segments, all dealing specifically with the issues at hand, basically attacking the “Mafia”–including anyone who ‘fights against Greater Romania’–or in truth, anyone who disagrees with Tudor and his Greater Romania Party (PRM). His favorite targets include the ‘illegitimate’ President Ion Iliescu, his Prime Minister Adrian Nastase– and anyone else from the Democrat-Socialist Party of Romania (PDSR). He has separate sections dealing specifically with the Hungarians, ‘the war on corruption,’ and Basarabia and Bucovina, among others. The magazine is also filled with cartoons and poetry of all kinds including religious poetry and highly political poetry. Consider these excerpts from a poem called Din Folclorul Nou, found in his magazine:

“Pe mafioti i-ati scapat
Fiindca ei v-au ‘vaccinat’
Cu dolari, masini si vile
Iar lumea moare cu zile…

Te dai ungur democrat?
Nu esti decit un ratat!”(75)

This particular poem shows the precise issues at the heart of Tudor’s political ideology, attacking the Mafia and the Hungarians as the root of Romania’s woes. Also, by again winning at least a senate seat, he has parliamentary immunity from charges and is free to slander whom he wants. He has lost immunity before due to several serious allegations against brought up against him, one for urging “protesting Romanian miners to topple the government.”(76) He also called President Emil Constantinescu “an agent of the United States’ security service, the CIA.”(77)

It is also interesting to note some of the oddities found in Romania Mare. Consider that a number of Romanians are gullible to the question of alien life and government conspiracies of hiding ‘the truth’ about alien life. It therefore is not so ludicrous to think such a comment as “Hungarians are extraterrestrials!”(78) would be effective. That was one of their headlines.

On a more serious note though, Tudor and his party do raise questions and doubts about making Hungarian an official language in Romania, which they call “the Magyarization of the Romanians.”(79) This law would state that in counties that have a twenty- percent Hungarian population, Hungarian would be an official language along with Romanian. The Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania Party (UDMR) has pushed for this legislation and has also assailed Tudor for “publicly demanding the destruction of bilingual signs” when Tudor said, at a rally in Targu Mures, “tear them down, destroy them, I will pay all the fines.”(80) Tudor has argued that even in America, where over 12% of the population is Hispanic, English is still the only official language. Why should it be different in Romania, where Hungarians only number around 7%?(81)

Other sayings from Tudor against the Hungarians include saying that “he will drive all Hungarians from Transylvania with an axe.”(82) He has also said that “within 48 hours we will ban and dismantle the UDMR segregational organization!”(83) Many Romanians in Transylvania fear the rising power and influence of the Hungarian party and Hungarians in general, which is one explanation for why Tudor has done exceptionally well in Transylvania.

One lady in Cluj-Napoca, the ‘capital of Transylvania,’ told me how some Hungarian teachers were forcing the Romanian children to speak Hungarian at school.(84) Whether credible or not is not as important as the anger and frustration many Romanians feel about education and what language should be taught in Transylvania. This question of language in Transylvania deserves a deeper analysis for another time. Suffice it to say now that both sides are frustrated over what language the children should study under at school.

Tudor’s speeches are powerful and appealing to a people who not only are frustrated by a crippled economy–high inflation, poverty and starvation–rampant and rising corruption, but have also felt like puppets controlled by outside forces throughout history, including the Ottomans, the Russians, the Jews, and more recently, the Hungarians and the European Union. Tudor’s rise in power can be expected given the circumstances in Romania. Yet to say that–in the colorful phrase in American politics–‘it’s the economy, stupid!’ would negate many factors that have allowed Tudor to rise to power.

While the failures of the past regimes to stimulate growth in the economy have given the people little choice but to look to someone new, one important point must be noted. Tudor won over the Romanians in Transylvania, “the country’s economically most developed region. This indicates that poverty and other economic grounds do not tell the whole story of the PRM’s success.”(85) Romanians do not identify or ‘imagine’ themselves as Hungarians, Gypsies, Jews, or anyone else but as Romanians. Anything that violates that identity can be seen as an attack on what it is to be Romanian, and through his charismatic and passionate speeches, Tudor gives Romanians what they want to hear, showing clearly also that a leader’s capability to take control increases nationalist feelings.

The Orthodox Church

For the week before Romanians celebrate Easter, Tudor’s magazine, Romania Mare, was replete with Christian poetry and articles. The magazine begins with the popular phrase, known by all Romanians, and said at Easter, “Hristos a-nviat! Adevarat, a-nviat!” (“Christ is resurrected! Right, he is resurrected!”) Also included are the Ten Commandments.(86) Several other recent issues contain more religious poetry, showing one of two things. Either Tudor is attempting to lead Romanians to be more Christian, or, what may be the case, Tudor may not be able to control the biggest nationalism tool found in Romania, the Orthodox Church. He has full control over the strong sentiments against corruption, the Mafia, and the failure of the current presidency, yet probably could not come out against the Orthodox Church.

Probably the biggest way Romanians identify themselves is through religion, the Orthodox church, which claims 85% of the entire Romanian population. The Orthodox Church is so ingrained in Romanian culture that not a moment goes by, walking anywhere in Romania, where one is not reminded of the church, whether by the church buildings, the monasteries, the priests walking around in their sacred garments, or the populace ‘doing the cross’ as a city bus passes by a local church. Romanians feel proud of their Christian heritage and think proudly of the Apostle St. Andrew, being apparently the Apostle who Christianized the barbaric Dacians. They will let any foreign missionary know that ‘we’ve been Christians for two thousand years!’ and tell that missionary to ‘go to Africa!’

Even though the majority of Romanians only go to church on Easter and Christmas, and even more have never read the Bible, their belief in the Orthodox Church as a uniter of Romanians is so strong that not even the dictator, Ceausescu, dare close the church down. While he did demolish many churches throughout the capitol and other places of Romania–mainly for urbanization, he ‘allowed’ the populace to attend church; actually even sects were allowed to create buildings, albeit at a far lower profile than the Orthodox Church. It may have been that Ceausescu allowed the Romanians to go to church because some, if not many, priests were either collaborators with, or were themselves members of, the Securitate (Secret Police), through whom Ceausescu could know the true dissidents and take them away.

Many Romanians also haven’t gone to church except at the big holidays because of the corruption found among the priests of the Orthodox Church. The popular phrase may be heard from everyone, “Fa ce spune popa, ci nu ce face popa!” (Do what the priest says, not what he does!) Some priests have been known to have affairs not only with single women, but also married women too. At times they also charge exorbitant prices for such important cultural events as weddings, baptisms, and funerals. What are the lay members to do, not baptize their infant son and damn him to hell?

The Orthodox Church has also come out strongly against non-Orthodox religions, known in Romanian as sects.(87) The Orthodox Church has called sects ‘brainwashers’ among other things. While that is just rhetoric, they do attack sects for ‘buying’ the faith of the Romanians through materials or even tickets to America. While there is a large community of Orthodox Romanians in America, it pales in comparison to the large numbers of Baptist, Pentecostal, and Evangelical Romanian communities dispersed throughout the United States. It is interesting also to note that a majority of Romanian families belonging to sects in Romania do tend to have better televisions, couches, apartments, and cars than their Orthodox neighbors; the question of being ‘blessed by God’ for living the ‘true faith’ isn’t as important as the appearance that these material ‘gifts’ were just given by the sects. And the Orthodox Church bites back hard over this issue.

Yet many Romanians I’ve talked to have expressed strong distrust about their ‘local priest,’ and how in general, the Orthodox Church has lost credibility in the eyes of many Romanians. One thing is true, the Orthodox Church has taken sides with Ceausescu, who acknowledged “the paramount historic role of the Orthodox Church in the evolution of the Romanian nation,” in exchange for a blessing from the Orthodox Church of “Ceausescu’s national goals and policies and proclaim compatibility between its historic traditions and mission in the evolution of Romanianism with those of the rulers of communist Romania.”(88) This change caused many Romanians to call the Patriarch and his hierarchy “tools of the communist regime.”(89) For Ceausescu, it is at this point when he turned to nationalism and began implementing that into his dictatorship, using the most powerful nationalist ‘tool’ in Romania, the Orthodox Church. It also shows again how a leader uses nationalist tools to gain greater legitimacy from the masses. During the 1960s, when Ceausescu united with the Church, were his most popular days with the people of Romania.

Going back in history again, I mentioned about the Iron Guard and their highly nationalist rhetoric. One thing I didn’t mention then is their original name and what they truly stood for. The real name for the Iron Guard is the Legion of the Archangel Michael. The very first principle they believed in is faith in God. Codreanu, the leader of the Iron Guard once said, “those whose faith in God and the Legion have no boundary should enter our ranks. Those who waiver and doubt should stay out.”(90) The mission of the Legion of the Archangel Michael can be broken down to “saving Romania and the Orthodox Romanians from alien ideology and the ultimate enemies of Christianity, the Jews.”(91) While the leaders of the Orthodox Church condemned the “excesses and extravagances of the Legion,” they ” did not deny the validity of its Christian mission: the need for Orthodox national revival.”(92)

The Orthodox Church didn’t deny the validity of the Legionary movements’ mission because it, too, was a major propagator of “nationalist doctrine by equating Orthodoxy with Nationality and with a Greater Orthodox Romania,”(93) much in the same way Dostoyevsky wrote about Russian Orthodoxy, “the people believe in our way, and the unbelieving activist will achieve nothing among us here in Russia, even though he be sincere of heart and genius-endowed of mind. Remember this. The people will go meet the atheist and will conquer him, and there will arise a united Orthodox Russia.”(94) In their article Nationalism and Civil Society in Romania, Bruce Haddock and Ovidiu Caraiani also added, “the emergence of a Romanian version of the Eastern Orthodox religion as a politically significant movement was decisive for the consolidation of a Romanian identity with strong anti-western and anti-individualist accents. Ethnic and religious identity were now equated.”(95)

Yet the Orthodox Church has lost some legitimacy with Romanians, though, due mainly to the Patriarch’s association with the communist elite. This legitimacy crisis may be one reason why the Orthodox Church invited Pope John Paul II to visit Romania in May 1999, to show Romanians that he still has influence and can do good.

Tudor, who is the son of a Baptist preacher, hasn’t come out to say anything against the Orthodox Church. Yet one wonders what he would do about the rampant corruption found in the one institution that historically has pushed nationalism to a greater degree than anything else in Romania. Would he execute the thieves found among the Cloth in mass stadium executions? Or would it be that the Orthodox Church, as much as it is corrupt, is also a national and historical heritage that cannot be touched? Maybe that is why Ceausescu didn’t annihilate it from existence, but on the contrary, sided with it, knowing full well, the power of nationalism and maybe even chauvinism found in its theology. To say or do anything against the Orthodox Church would be considered to be un-Romanian.

Bucovina and Basarabia

The last point that has brought Tudor success is the push to reunite all Romanians under one political roof. E.J. Hobsbawm has said that one of the ways that allows a people to be classified as a nation is “its historic association with a current state or one with a fairly lengthy and recent past.”(96) The geographic areas of Bucovina and Basarabia are the country of Moldova and other parts of southern Ukraine where many Romanians live. These areas used to be parts of the ‘whole,’ Greater Romania, during the inter-war years. Because Romanians sided with Germany in World War II for three years before switching sides, they were ‘punished’ by the Soviets with the loss of these two regions. As a ‘consolation’ though, Moscow let Romania keep Transylvania.

While allowed to keep Transylvania, Romanians have resented the fact that the Soviet Union has not allowed them to keep these other areas, which over history, have been a part of Romania more than Transylvania has. It is interesting to note that its policy of “(re) unification with Moldova is one of PRM’s main electoral selling points” among Romanians outside of Transylvania.(97) I mentioned before that one of the sections in Romania Mare deals specifically with this issue, giving Tudor’s readers updates on life in those regions and on efforts to ‘liberate’ those Romanians from foreign rule, thereby reuniting once again all Romanians under one political roof.

Conclusion

Tudor’s success comes from his ability to mobilize Romania’s ties with the past and present a future for Romania similar to that of the glorified past. Yet, while such rhetoric as ending corruption by any means necessary, lowering food and alcohol prices, fighting off non-Romanian influences in Romania, getting rid of those pesky Gypsies, and reuniting all Romanians under one ‘imagined community’ may be appealing to many Romanians frustrated at the lack of growth, poverty pay and rampant corruption, such actions may be detrimental to Romania on the whole. History has shown that charismatic leaders who ride on the whirlwind of nationalism have been successful in the short term, yet have brought their respective countries to ruin. Hitler brought Germany to lose a second World War in just 30 years; Milosevic led the breakup of Yugoslavia and four devastating wars; Pol Pot wiped out over 2 million people–mostly the educated–and brought his country to ruins. Could the same happen if Tudor would become president?

At the same time, Western countries, especially the European Union, cannot discount or dismiss the true identity crisis felt by many Romanians, especially in the opening up to Western influence. What must Romanians give up to join the club? The cost may be more than what many Romanians are willing to give up.

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1 “Down with the Mafia! Rise Up Romania!” Corneliu Vadim Tudor. Mesajul Catre Natiune al presedintelui moral al Romaniei. “Message to the Nation by the moral president of Romania.” Romania Mare. No. 552. Anul XII. February 9, 2001. Found at
2 http://www.cnn.com/2000/WORLD/europe/12/08/tudor.profile/
3 An electoral manifesto, quoted by Alexander E. Ronnett in Romanian Nationalism: The Legionary Movement. Pg. 12.
4 Fritzsche, Peter. Germans Into Nazis. Pg. 158.
5 Ibid. Pg. 158.
6 Cohen, Lenard J. Broken Bonds. Pg. 45.
7 Ibid. Pg. 46.
8 Mungiu-Pippidi, Alina. Breaking Free At Last. Pg. 86. East European Constitutional Review. Fall 1997.
9 Ronnett, Alexander E. M.D. Romanian Nationalism: The Legionary Movement. Pg. 6.
10 Ibid. Pg. 7.
11 Ibid. Pg. 7.
12 http://www.cnn.com/2000/WORLD/europe/12/08/tudor.profile/
13 Ibid.
14 Ibid. One third of Tudor’s total votes came from the youth, age 18-30. Roughly one third of all the youth in Romania voted for Tudor.
15 Ibid.
16 http://www.transylvanianet.com/cgi-transylvanianet/showstory.cgi/news/ro_news.txt
17 http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/world/europe/newsid_1044000/1044023.stm
18 See Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities, Walker Connor’s Ethnonationalism: The Quest for Understanding, Ernest Gellner’s Nations and Nationalism, Tom Nairn’s Faces of Nationalism, and E.J. Hobsbawm’s Nations and Nationalism since 1780: Programme, Myth, Reality.
19 Anderson. Imagined Communities. Pg. 6.
20 Popescu-Birlan, Liliana. Privatization and corruption in Romania. Pg. 376. Crime, Law & Social Change. 1994.
21 Mungiu-Pippidi. Pg. 87.
22 Ibid. Pg. 87.
23 Ibid. Pg. 87.
24 Ibid. Pg. 87.
25 Ibid. Pg. 87.
26 Ibid. Pg. 88.
27 Ibid. Pg. 88.
28 Popescu-Birlan. Pg. 376.
29 Ibid. Pg. 377.
30 Ibid. Pg. 377.
31 Ibid. Pg. 377.
32 Ibid. Pg. 377.
33 Popescu, Liliana. A Change of Power in Romania. Pg. 174. Government and Opposition. Spring 1997.
34 http://www.transylvanianet.com/cgi-transylvanianet/showstory.cgi/news/ro_news.txt
35 Ibid.
36 Ibid.
37 Ibid.
38 Ibid.
39 Popescu, Liliana. Pg. 174
40 Mungiu-Pippidi. Pg. 88
41 Ibid. Pg. 88.
42 Ibid. Pg. 89.
43 Ibid. Pg. 89.
44 http://www.transylvanianet.com/cgi-transylvanianet/showstory.cgi/news/ro_news.txt
45 http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/world/europe/newsid_1044000/1044023.stm
46 http://www.transylvanianet.com/cgi-transylvanianet/showstory.cgi/news/ro_news.txt
47 Ibid.
48 Ibid.
49 Gheorghe, Nicolae. Roma-Gypsy Ethnicity in Eastern Europe. Pg. 828. Social Research. Winter 1991.
50 Godwin, Peter. Pg. 78. Gypsies, the Outsiders. National Geographic. April 2001.
51 Ibid. Pg. 834.
52 Ibid. Pg. 837.
53 Godwin, Peter. Pg. 90.
54 Nairn, Tom. Pg. 121.
55 Quoted in Gheorghe, Nicolae, Pg. 831
56 Ibid.
57 Ibid. Pg. 838.
58 http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/ro.html
59 http://www.transylvanianet.com/cgi-transylvanianet/showstory.cgi/news/ro_news.txt
60 Connor, Walker. Pg. 160.
61 Ibid. Pg. 153.
62 Anderson, Benedict. Pg. 6.
63 Ibid. Pg. 145.
64 Found at
65 Connor, Walker. Pg. 145.
66 Oldson, William. A Providential Anti-Semitism. Pg. 39.
67 http://www.transylvanianet.com/cgi-transylvanianet/showstory.cgi/news/ro_news.txt
68 Oldson, William. Pg. 121.
69 Ibid. Pg. 116.
70http://www.romanianvoice.com/poezii/poezii/doresc.html
“What do I desire for thee, sweet Romania,
My country full of glory, my country which I long for?
Your nervous arms, your weapons of strength,
For a great past, a great future!
Let the wine boil in the cups, the grapes are fermenting,
If your strong sons wish for this;
For the stone stays, even if the wave dies,
Sweet Romania, this is what I desire for thee.”
(Translation by the author.)
71 Anderson. Pg. 145.
72 Ibid. Pg. 147.
73 Mutler, Alison. Firebrand poet scores in Romania, alarms many. Pg. 5C. Sunday Gazette – Mail. Dec 6, 2000
74 http://www.transylvanianet.com/cgi-transylvanianet/showstory.cgi/news/ro_news.txt
75 Din Folclorul Nou. Romania Mare. No. 552. February 9, 2001. Found at
“You let the Mafia escape
Because they ‘vaccinated’ you
With dollars, cars, and villas
While the people die each day…

Pretending to be a Hungarian, democrat?
You aren’t but a traitor!”
(Translation by the author.)
76 http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/world/europe/newsid_302000/302196.stm#top
77 http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/world/europe/newsid_418000/418738.stm#top
78 Romania Mare. No. 559. found at
79 Ibid.
80 http://www.hhrf.org/monitor/803rom.htm
81 http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/ro.html
see also http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/us.html
82 http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/world/from_our_own_correspondent/newsid_1052000/1052551.stm
83 http://www.transylvanianet.com/cgi-transylvanianet/showstory.cgi/news/ro_news.txt
84 In a conversation with the author in May 1999.
85 http://www.transylvanianet.com/cgi-transylvanianet/showstory.cgi/news/ro_news.txt
86 Romania Mare. No. 561. Anul XII. April 13, 2001. Found at
87 There’s an interesting word play here: in Romanian, a cult is a good thing to be; a sect has negative connotations, while it is vice versa in English. So among the Orthodox Romanian population, anyone who belonged to a sect was not Christian, or at the very least, aberrated from the true faith and true blood.
88 Fischer-Galati, Stephen. “Autocracy, Orthodoxy, Nationality” in the Twentieth Century: The Romanian Case. Pg. 32. East European Quarterly. March 1984.
89 Ibid. Pg. 33.
90 Ronnett. Pg. 2.
91 Fischer-Galati. Pg. 28-9.
92 Ibid. Pg. 29.
93 Ibid. Pg. 26.
94 Dostoyevski, Foydor. Pg. 362. The Brothers Karamazov.
95 Haddock, Bruce and Ovidiu Caraiani. Nationalism and Civil Society. Pg. 3. Political Studies. June 1999.
96 Hobsbawm, E.J. Pg. 37. Nations and Nationalism since 1780.
97 http://www.transylvanianet.com/cgi-transylvanianet/showstory.cgi/news/ro_news.txt

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3 Comments »

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  1. DOMNULE VADIM invatatine domne cum sa starpim mafia asta,trebuie sa ne uneasca cineva .de acea ne-a imprastiat ,sa nu-i mai putem da jos;dati sfaturi poporului pt ca multi nu stiu cum sa reactioneze si nici macar eu.

  2. Interesant, zici “Sus Patria”, dar cum stai cu limba Romana, ca nu se prea vede…

  3. ce sa spun, Alexandru. Asta a fost pentru clasa mea la universitate aici in America. Limba Romana nu e asa de populara aici. 🙂


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