Thursday, 19 June 2014

Nationalism in Romania

Q: What is the best thing about Communism?
A: Romania  has it too.

(Hungarian racist joke from the 1970s)

Quite a bit of what Michael Bird writes here, under the headline
'Romania's ruling party revives nationalism ahead of presidential election' 
is inaccurate - especially this sentence:

The PSD has its roots in the Romanian Communist Party (PCR), which pursued a nationalistic, anti-minority and anti-semitic policy after 1946, especially in the last two decades of the rule of Nicolae Ceausescu.
On the contrary, many Romanian Communists before 1944 were Jewish. After the Russian invasion Jews joined the Party in large numbers and were always disproportionately represented in it, at least until most Jews left for Israel. Ana Pauker the post-war Communist leader was a Jewess, although she refrained from being openly leader of the Party because of her race. 

Romania was the only Warsaw Pact country that enjoyed good relations with Israel - although Stalin had expected Israel to become Communist when the state was formed, which is why he recognised it. It is true that in the last four years of Stalin's life Jews suffered to some extent due to Stalin's 'anti-Zionist campaign', after he realised that Israel was not going to join the Communist bloc, but this ended with his death in 1952. Ceausescu played an important role trying to broker peace in the Middle East.

It is true that the Party absorbed many people from the religious-fascist Iron Guard, whose policy was anti-semitic, but the Party took people from everywhere. It is certainly true that Ceausescu tried to marry nationalism with communism but the Party was always anti-racist and well disposed towards Jews and gypsies. The attitude toward Hungarians was more nuanced.

I hold no brief for the PSD - who are in effect the reformed Communist party under a new name - but they are not particularly nationalistic, nor would there be there anything wrong if they were. However at election time they wisely cover themselves in the flag and portray themselves as defenders of Romania against the old enemy - Hungary. The inept admission by the PSD's Mircea Geoana in the incredibly tight 2004 presidential election that the PSD would continue its coalition with the ethnic Hungarian party after the election probably cost Adrian Nastase, the PSD candidate, the presidency.

I was saddened and rather shocked when Tom Gallagher told me he was the only person who taught peace studies who was open to the possibility that nationalism has any redeeming features. This frightens me, even though I do not consider myself a nationalist but a Burkean conservative,  but it is Michael Bird's position. It goes with thinking internationalism has no drawbacks. 

In any case the slogan
“We will send people to Brussels who are proud of being Romanians – who will defend Romania”

sounds very anodyne to me - what is noteworthy about it? Likewise defending the only institutions Romanians respect, “the army, church and family” seems reasonable too. It may sound odd in the mouth of a socialist party - but then in this country socialists are thoroughly conservative. Almost everyone in Romania is a social conservative, the main exceptions being foreign-educated graduates. On economic policy there is not very much to choose between left and right either, but they represent different constituencies, the left as everywhere representing the poorer and less intelligent section of the population.

Michael's real objection is, I think, to the Romanian electors most of whom who do not approve of homosexuality or feminism and - I am sorry to say - in many cases do not much like people with brown skin, though this is theoretical since the only ones they meet are gypsies, who are disliked for reasons unconnected with their colour. 

A fair number of Romanians do not much like Jews, again mostly in theory for there are not many Jews any more in Romania. They mostly survived the war and were exported in the 1970s and 1980s to Israel in return for hard currency.

I should add that these theoretical prejudices do not mean real brown-skinned people or individual Jews or gypsies are disliked. A British Bengali friend of mine who had lived all his life in England told me that in Romania no-one looked at him with any hostility, whereas in England most people looked at him with hatred.


  1. I have got no regrets to say that the political class in Romania is a failure no matter what party we are talking about as they all prove it in turns.These guys have ruined the country and they are still working on it;what I refuse to understand is why people carry on voting...Romania needs to be defended from the romanian politicians and their mates who run the public sector.This is the utter truth.

  2. I read the article, and am normally feeling quite opinionated by the end of it (as in whatever article I've just read). In this case I have more the feeling of a spinning coin, waiting to see if it lands heads or tails.

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  4. halfway through your piece you end up agreeing with parts of the article, which I thought was very balanced.

    We could argue for hours over whether the post-war Romanian Government was anti-semitic - here's an interesting interview I wrote with a holocaust survivor, who made the admission that when Romanian Jews applied for the right of return to Israel, they were kicked out of their jobs...

    I don't have a problem with nationalism per se, but when you have a Social Democratic Party which is pretending to be a 'European player' with left-liberal views in Brussels, but is behaving like a conservative/tea party at home, to me this is a kind of hypocrisy which needs to be exposed.

    all the best and stay in touch

    Michael Bird

    1. Michael,
      The Communists were anti-Zionist, anti-Israel but not anti-Jewish - in fact had a strong Jewish element from Marx and Lenin till the bitter end, with certain exceptions at certain times and places. Some people try to claim that the Communism was a Jewish thing. It was not, though Jews played a significant part in it, but it certainly was not an anti-Jewish thing. As for your other point you know how very right-wing everyone in Romania is especially the post-communist party. On the whole I find the social conservatism in this country is much or most of the reason why I love her so.