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Why has the Legionary Movement been outlawed by the Romanian political authorities?

The truth about the ”anti-legionary law”, entered into force in Romania: a totalitarian law which legitimizes the sentences of the “People’s Courts” from the Stalinist-Bolshevik era

On Thursday, June 24, 2015, the Chamber of Deputies passed the Law no. 217/2015, amending and supplementing the Government Emergency Ordinance no.31/2002 on the ban of organizations and symbols of fascist, racist or xenophobic character and of the promotion of the cult of people that are guilty of crimes against peace and humanity.

This law, almost surreptitiously promoted, without any significant opposition from the elected leaders of the nation, without a serious argumentative basis (such as the convergent views of historians, intelligence reports which can identify an imminent “threat” against the rule of law etc.) is liable to restrict some fundamental rights such as the ones regarding the freedom of conscience, of opinion and of expression for a number of Romanian citizens! However, despite numerous public appeals and pertinent positions taken against this law, president Klaus Johannis eventually promulgated it on July 22, the law entering into force from the moment of its publication in The Official Gazette of Romania, on July 27, 2015.

A less informed person, even one who criticizes the ideology of “political correctness”, cannot properly understand from the outset the real implications of this law which sends Romania back to the first years of the Bolshevik era. We are trying by these means to provide a short clarification of the situation, along with a reminder of some historical data meant to facilitate a proper understanding of the facts. To this end, we consider appropriate for the material to be structured in the form of questions and answers.

Q: What are the main amendments and supplements to the former Ordinance, which also incriminated the fascist, racist or xenophobic criminal offenses?

A: First, the addition of the term “legionary” to the above list, which constitutes a sequence of facts or organizations that are considered as “dangerous”, reprehensible and condemnable, both morally and criminally. It further prohibits both cult to such people and to those considered as “war criminals”. The law associates this attribute to any person condemned as such by a foreign or Romanian court. Therefore it legitimates generally and indiscriminately all the sentences issued by the repressive justice of the Bolshevik regime in the early years after the war, following mock trials.

Q: What does the term “legionary” mean? How is it defined by law?

A: An amendment issued by the Legal Committee of the Chamber of Deputies of Romania added to Article 2. f) the following definition: “Mișcarea Legionară (The Legionary Movement) is considered to be a fascist organization that was active between the years 1927 – 1941 under the name of Legiunea “Arhanghelului Mihail” (The Legion of the Archangel Michael), Garda de Fier (The Iron Guard) and Partidul Totul pentru Țară (Everything for the Country Party)“. The motivation was extremely weak, referring to the 1998 edition of the Explanatory Dictionary of the Romanian Language (DEX) and to a history textbook for 12th class.

Q: If this evaluation regarding the identification of the Legionary Movement with a “fascist” one is correct, then what was the need of supplementing the law with the term “legionary”? Why the legionary deeds and groups were not tracked and condemned so far on the basis of the old law that also criminalized “fascism”?

A: First, the reference to the 1998 edition of DEX reveals either ignorance or bad faith, or both. For the revised edition of the same DEX, from 2009, defines the term “legionary” as: “a member of the sociopolitical extreme right movement, represented by the Iron Guard party; guardist”, thus eliminating any association with fascism. But regardless of what the dictionaries say, in order to make such a statement of equivalence of legionarism with fascism, further consideration is still required. And this leads to other conclusions. During recent years there have been tried in Romania a number of trials which reached higher courts. The sentences in their entirety were favorable to the people accused of the crime of “fascism”, concluding after a thorough study of the historical facts and arguments that the term “legionary” cannot overlap the term “fascist”. This was in fact the main reason of the moral authors of the current law, who wanted by all means and without any real basis to criminalize the legionarism as an “extreme right” movement, even if it is different from “fascism”. In light of these considerations, the specification from Article 2f), which assigns the “fascist” character to the Legionary Movement becomes void and aberrant.

Q: However, even given that legionarism would be considered as a phenomenon that is different of fascism, does it not prove a totalitarian, a violent, a criminal character that incites inter-ethnic hatred? How did legionarism manifested in these 25 years since the fall of communism, so that such a repressive law against it could be justified?

A: Even if one cannot speak about a uniform manifestation, there are some more or less competing groups that claim to have either legionary origins, or an explicit legionary “character” (partially or entirely inspired by the interwar model), and some general issues related to these can be affirmed. None of the members of these groups and no independent person who claims to be inspired by the legionary principles was convicted in court for offenses such as violence, crime, incitement to hatred. None of them has yet violated any of the laws of universal character, recognized by all civilized countries of the world. The only negative aspect would be the provocative vestimentary manifestations or the purely verbal excesses of some people, which, even if they have been disavowed by the overwhelming majority of the other representatives of legionary orientation, were considered by the authorities (interested, but erroneously) as representative for the whole spectrum. But still, in this case we speak of matters that refer only to the public image (which compromises the most those who want to promote it this way) and not to issues regarding The Criminal Code.

Q: Still, what bothers people about legionarism?

A: First, the human models that are proposed. Legionarism, far from being a political system or doctrine, is a personal disposition based on the Christian values ​​and on the love of country. According to the vision of its founder, Corneliu Codreanu, the Legionary Movement was meant to be a school of moral and spiritual education. Many people who passed through this school have played an exemplary role in the anticommunist resistance, not only materially, but also morally and spiritually. It is well known that the communist regime threw Romania in the terrible bondage of an unimaginable barbarity, resulting in millions of victims and imposing for decades on a whole people atrocious sufferings and privations . As such, the models represented by some of those who were formed inside this Movement have an outstanding importance for the self-consciousness of the Romanian people, becoming important moral symbols. Nowadays we are witnessing a fierce battle that goes on precisely against these symbols. The brutal methods of ideological censorship and terror are trying to retire these values from the consciences of Romanians before becoming too widely spread and fully accepted.

Q: Why, after 1990, the legionary manifestations were continued, which, in spite of the visible differences, can overlap the international symbolism of “extreme right”? Why was it not organized under a different identity, in order to avoid such difficulties and not to stir up resentment?

A: Not all groups have operated after 1990 under a legionary explicit label, most often being just the case of assuming and promoting some moral models associated with exemplary figures of Romanians who were former legionaries. However, it is no less true that some groups have appealed to a number of props and other elements that were specific to legionaries from the interwar era, and their activity constituted a pretext for the promotion of this law (especially as they could not be condemned in the trials judged on the basis of the previous legislation). However, apart from a somehow similar symbolism, the members of these legionary “explicit” groups did not manifest through a discourse that incited hatred or physical violence, as in the case of the authentic international extreme right (the number of convictions in court equals zero). Therefore, no such activities represent the main “threat”, and the influence of all these groups (whether having an explicit legionary character or not, be taken individually or together) is still minor at the level of the whole society. The main thing that bothers is the cult for a series of symbolic figures associated with the anticommunist resistance, that transcends these narrow frames, and which is also about to be perceived and integrated into the national consciousness of Romanians. Of a great importance to the situation is a vast literature that has been published after 1990 and which constitutes the real quintessence of the Romanian identity, but also the reflection of a verticality and dignity which has a universal human character. We bring here only a few concludent examples of the hundreds or even thousands that exist (see for example www.fericiticeiprigoniti.net ).

We want first to speak about Valeriu Gafencu, also called “The Saint of the Prisons”, who by the intensity of his Christian living has remained an indelible mark for those who were imprisoned alongside with him, but also for younger generations of Romanians, who rediscover the “mystics” of communist prisons. Valeriu Gafencu suffered a martyr’s death in 1952, after the sufferings caused by the detention regime and he became a symbol in a number of books widely circulated in Christian circles, especially dedicated to himself or to those who are generally called “the saints of the prisons”, since there were others of a comparable destiny, most of them still legionaries.

Another remarkable figure in this category is the priest Gheorghe Calciu, who survived after two periods of incarceration, the first between the years 1948-1964, when he experienced the terrible “re-education” in Pitești, the second in the 80s, when he gave a series of sermons which had a subversive content, in the opinion of the communist regime. He managed to take refuge in the United States where he continued his pastoral and witnessing work, as well as the fight against the communist regime. After its fall, he often came back to his beloved country, where he now sleeps the sleep of eternity. There are presently a series of books and a documentary film dedicated to his life, the film being also shown on the Romanian national television.

The symbolic figure of The Anti-Communist Armed Resistance is Ion Gavrilă Ogoranu, the leader and sole survivor of a resistance group in the Făgăraș Mountains. He published after 1990 the series of books “Brazii se frâng, dar nu se îndoiesc” (“Fir trees break, but they never bend”), which had a broad impact on the public opinion. These books were otherwise an inspiration for an artistic film in 2010, dedicated to his resistance group, as a discreet tribute to their sacrifice. Although the film deliberately avoids any ideological trap (excessive caution in this regard, however, is likely to result in the description only of a a psychological portrait that is fatally incomplete and sometimes unintelligible), it remains a reliable artistic achievement, being also projected at international festivals.

We continue this brief evocation by mentioning the scientist George Manu, Professor, PhD in nuclear physics, coming from a noble family, and who proved to have, in communist prisons, a behavior of exemplary dignity and firmness, refusing even the smallest compromise. He preferred to die a martyr, rejecting medical assistance that was conditioned by the betrayal of his ideals and of his comrades. There are written books about George Manu and also a documentary film, which has enjoyed significant success.

We conclude the list of these examples by bringing in front the figure of Mircea Vulcănescu, Christian philosopher, important intellectual, representative figure of interwar Romanian culture, who also suffered a martyr’s death in Communist prisons. Although, unlike the ones mentioned above, Vulcănescu was not a legionary, he was condamned by the communist justice as a “war criminal” because of his function of Under Secretary of State at the Ministry of Finances, that he had in Romania during the struggle against the Soviet Union. His cult (there is a bust of his in the capital of Romania, and also a high school and a street bear his name) would be banned under this law.

All the figures mentioned here, along with many others, that the limited space prevents us to mention, constitute the true symbols of the Romanian dignity, who gradually began to be perceived as such in even wider circles. We believe that the activity of people of good faith, who did nothing but to promote such symbols and values ​​in the consciousness of the Romanians was considered more “dangerous” than the ostentatious gestures of some groups with an explicit “legionary” character, which failed to overcome the barriers of a narrow sectarianism. Their existence was constituted at most as a pretext, the real reason for promoting this law being the broader impact of some moral guidelines such as those mentioned above.

Q: However, despite these remarkable figures, how can be explained the fact that in the past the Legionary Movement had a violent nature? Did not legionaries practice political attacks?

A: The issue is too complex to be elucidated in just a few lines. However, the accusers of the legionaries deliberately omitted to present the entire context of these tragic events, which were set up in a spiral where the violence from one side fed the violence of the others. For yes, there was violence on both sides, but it was not at all in equal proportions. Legionaries did not respond to all violence against them, they did it only in specific cases when they felt entitled to react against the abuses and misdeeds committed by the authorities themselves. If it were to place on two columns (as it was done in fact), in chronological order, the legionary victims on the one hand and the victims of the revenge of the legionaries, on the other, the first group by far numerically overpasses the other. We also want to remind of the fact that the past acts of “self justice” of the legionaries date from the fall of 1940, a year after hundreds of elite members of the Movement were brutally killed and two years after the Legion’s founder, Corneliu Codreanu, was opressively killed, although he was being in detention where he was executing his prison sentence (also given after a mock trial). But we said from the beginning that the issue is complex, and that it also requires a number of clarifications and explanations regarding the isolated deviations from this general explanatory rule, so that we cannot give further details in here.

Q: Can one trust the presentation made to legionarism and to its main figures on websites like Wikipedia?

A: Absolutely not. These descriptions are deeply viciated and biased. We will not go now into detail about the reasons. But, whether by deliberately omitting to reveal the corresponding context or by uncritically copying mystifying articles from the press of that era that was deeply hostile to legionaries, these appear as terrorists, anarchists, fanatics, people driven by irrational hatred and followers of a cult of violence and crime. The same observations can be made on many of the historical writings regarding the legionaries. Basically, all these writings are based on the axiom of the absolute malignancy of legionarism, being structured accordingly, often sinning by omitting the relevant details that could disturb the picture sketched according to some misconceptions. The truth is that the overwhelming majority of the legionaries were honest people and of good faith, far from such descriptions. The Movement contained people that belonged to all social categories: peasants, workers, students, priests, aristocrats, intellectuals, men of high culture. Almost the entire elite of high schools in Romania was part of Frățiile de Cruce (Brotherhoods of the Cross), the legionary youth organizations. The negative exceptions that regrettably have existed cannot be generalized to an entire generation of Romanian youth of those years. In conclusion, we believe that the most appropriate description of legionaries is made by their own writings, which do not avoid the controversial historical facts, but they place them in their true light. Unfortunately, almost all of these writings published either in exile or after 1990 in Romania, the majority of them being memorials, did not receive translations into foreign languages ​​so that we would be able to bring the real history and conception of the legionaries to the attention of a wider public, beyond Romania’s borders.

Q: Are legionaries guilty of crimes against the Jews?

A: A negative response on the whole line cannot be given with absolute certainty. However, we do not know any legionary who has been condemned by any court of the Antonescu regime or of the communist regime for such crimes. Also, the anti-legionary literature is not able to accurately identify any legionary author of crimes committed against the 120 Jews in January 1941 (except for some names that seem to be part of fictional propaganda, taken from the pages of a hostile and mystifying press, but which are not present in processes). These violences which had unidentified authors occurred during the so-called “rebellion” that marked the Legion’s removal from the political scene by general Antonescu with support from Hitler. It is assumed that the authors of those crimes were provoking people having the mission to compromise the Legionary Movement. However, it could not be demonstrated that in those troubled days there was any anti-Jewish violence started by legionary leaders. After January 1941, the legionaries were either in jail by Antonescu’s command, or in the German exile, so that they cannot be held responsible for the anti-Jewish crimes that occurred later, under the state of war in the East of Romania, such as the Iași pogrom.

Q: How can be explained the alliance of legionaries with the Axis powers?

A: The alliance was envisaged by Corneliu Codreanu since 1937, because he saw in it the only way to protect Romania against the Bolshevik expansion which was regarded as the main external threat to the Romanian state. Western democracies at the time refused to grant Romania any guarantees for its Eastern borders. Let us not forget that between the years 1937-1940, when the legionaries were oriented towards the Axis in what concerns the external politics, the Nazi regime has not yet been guilty of mass murder, while the Soviet communism had already millions of victims. However, neither from the Axis powers the legionaries have received an adequate understanding. Hitler preferred to support the head of state, General (later Marshal) Antonescu in its conflict with the legionaries. Moreover, the legionaries refuged in Germany had been held under house arrest and later even detained in concentration camps. This lack of understanding towards them proved eventually to be a welcome fact for the further fate of the legionaries. After 23 August 1944, when Antonescu was overthrown and Romania switched sides, the legionaries were released from German concentration camps and they have organized a government in exile together with a national army framed amongst German troops in order to fight the Bolshevik armies. After the war, although some of its members were in Allied detention (others refuging clandestinely), they were not extradited to Romania, nor tried by the Nuremberg Tribunal (although they fought alongside with Germany against the Soviets), but they were set free. The fact is not due to an error or to pure ignorance, but to the sustained efforts of some legionaries, who conducted an intense lobbying activity influencing the U.S. occupying forces. They handed a series of memoranda and reports meant to convince regarding the justice of the legionaire purpose. Moreover, in the early years of the Cold War, the legionaries have collaborated with Western intelligence services both in carrying out anti-communist guerrilla actions beyond the Iron Curtain, and in the direction of the intelligence and counterintelligence services. This is due to the fact that they constituted the most motivated and the best organized group of the Romanian exile.

Q: Some people argue that the opposition to communism coming from these legionaries is not legitimate, not being performed in the name of democracy, but on behalf of another ideology opposed to the communist one, but ultimately just as reprehensible.

A: It’s a false argument in all its aspects. First, the legionaries from the exile campaigned for the return of Romania to a democratic system, in case it would have reached a fall of the communist regime due to some actions coming from the exterior and from the interior. In their writings, these legionaries from the postwar exile have fought for a democratic political system. But it’s true that legionaries also opposed communism on behalf of other values, not only the democratic ones, because they rather belong to the political plan. They strongly opposed communism especially on behalf of moral and spiritual values. Communism was seen as an absolute evil, based on the principle of irreducible hatred that cannot be opposed but by the inexhaustible energy of Christian love. The barbaric and violent atheism was opposed by a deep faith, by following the teachings of the Church and by practicing Christian mysticism. In any case, even after 1990, there existed no anti-democratic slippages, not even declaratory, from any of the groups that assume a legionary origin.

Q: Is the formulation of the current law likely to violate any fundamental human rights?

A: In our opinion the answer is definitely affirmative. Here’s what the Romanian Constitution provides:

Article 29 – Freedom of conscience

(1) Freedom of thought, opinion and religious beliefs shall not be restricted in any way. No one shall be compelled to adopt an opinion or to adhere to a religion, contrary to his moral convictions.

(2) Freedom of conscience is guaranteed; it must be manifested in a spirit of tolerance and mutual respect.

Article 30 – Freedom of expression
(1) Freedom of expression of thoughts, opinions, or beliefs, and freedom of any creation, by words, in writing, in pictures, by sounds or by other means of public communication are inviolable.

(2) Any censorship is prohibited.

Article 53 – Restriction of certain rights or freedoms
(1) The exercise of certain rights or freedoms may only be restricted by law and only if necessary, as appropriate, for: the protection of national security, public order, health or morals, rights and freedoms of citizens; conducting a criminal investigation; preventing the consequences of a natural calamity, disaster, or an extremely severe catastrophe.

(2) Such restriction shall only be ordered if necessary in a democratic society.The measure must be proportionate to the situation that caused it, applied without discrimination and without prejudice to the existence of the right or freedom.

Q: Is there any chance that this law could be appealed according to law, invoking its possible unconstitutionality?

A: Theoretically, yes, namely by the Public Advocate. If he does not take notice or does not respond to the received complaints, then the law may be appealed to the Constitutional Court only in an process based on it. In other words, in order for a citizen to be able to claim an exception of unconstitutionality, he would first have to suffer the legal consequences for the inculpation of a person in a criminal trial. Consequently, that citizen should commit, voluntarily or involuntarily, an offense covered by this law. It is a strange situation, especially since we are talking about a law that basically violates a series of fundamental human rights recognized internationally. But this is the Romanian legislation …

Q: Is the relevance of this law restricted to a relatively small number of citizens who are consequently deprived of some constitutional rights and freedoms, or is its meaning broader?

A: The impact of the law is clearly a broader one. It affects the memory and the values themselves ​​of the Romanian people. Most MPs probably have no idea about what they voted. They have not read the text of the law in detail, considering that it refers to prohibiting dangerous extremist groups that are against the rule of law (which is a nonexistent danger). From the initial draft law was removed a paragraph stating that the activity of evoking figures associated with legionarism would not constitute a criminal offense if it is performed in the interest of art, culture and education. In this case we would have still be able to speak positively about a number of representative personalities of Romanian culture from the 20th century, such as Nae Ionescu, Mircea Eliade, Constantin Noica, Emil Cioran, Nichifor Crainic, Mircea Vulcănescu, Ernest Bernea, Ion Barbu, George Manu, Radu Gyr, Petre Ţuţea, Vasile Băncilă, Vintilă Horia etc., separating if necessary their cultural work of unquestionable value of their political choices.The problem is that, by eliminating these clarifications, the law lends itself to possible abuses in interpretation, therefore establishing a cultural censorship. Any appreciative evocation of a certain personality as described above could be criminalized and punished as “promoting legionary beliefs” or eulogy of “war criminals”. It would mean a complete return to the sad times of communist dictatorship.

Q: Do the above statements have a real basis, or are they mere speculation?

A: It is not about any speculation. The presidential adviser Andrei Muraru told the press: “The Institute ” Elie Wiesel”, which was part of the drafting of this bill, along with the PNL party parliamentary group, will have a very difficult task because it will have to assist the authorities because there is a danger to encounter very severe cases at several hundreds of kilometers from Bucharest, which are not penalized by a Public Prosecutor’s Office, and there might be extremes where few texts could be penalized as propaganda. It is very important that the institute assist judicial bodies because we are all now witnessing the birth of a jurisprudence in this field in Romania. The previous law had no application in legal terms. No one was definitively condemned for offenses contained in the text of this law”. Therefore, the judicial independence is an empty promise. Those who will dictate the way in which the law will be applied, according to their own pleasure, will be its perpetrators themselves, more specifically the Institute “Elie Wiesel”. We are witnessing an extremely serious breach of the judicial independence in Romania by an organization that has no competency in this regard. The sentences, as in the case of the communist trials, will be determined based on political and ideological criteria, and not at all on the basis of clear and precise implementing rules. The similitude with the age from 65-70 years ago is perfect. In a book written by a former political prisoner we can read the following lines about “justice” in those times: “The famous article 209 of the Criminal Code was applied to all who stood against communism. Article 209 contained: “initiating, organizing and participating in fascist organizations”. This article does not show the definition of a fascist organization. Without a definition of the term “fascist organization”, this turns into a mere label of a great use for the investigator. ”

The situation was no different from the current situation. Present-day Romania turned back time with 70 years, reviving the spirit of a totalitarian era that we thought it was long gone.

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