Exorcising myths and taboos in Romanian society Nae Ionescu

July 19, 2017 | Author: Ruxandra Iuliana | Category: Conspiracy Theory, Antisemitism, Intellectual, Romania, Ideologies
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East European Jewish Affairs

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Exorcising myths and taboos in Romanian society

Leon Volovicia a Head of Research, Vidal Sassoon International Centre for the Study of Antisemitism, Hebrew University of Jerusalem,

To cite this Article Volovici, Leon(2001) 'Exorcising myths and taboos in Romanian society', East European Jewish Affairs,

31: 2, 114 — 121

To link to this Article: DOI: 10.1080/13501670108577954 URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13501670108577954

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Exorcising Myths and Taboos in Romanian Society

George Voicu, Mitul lui Nae Ionescu (The Myth of Nae Ionescu) (Bucharest: Ars Docendi, 2000). 202pp. ISBN 973-8118-26-3 George Voicu, Zeii cei rãi: Cukura conspiraţiei in România postcomunistã (Evil Gods: The Cult of Conspiracy in Post-communist Romania) (Bucharest: Polirom, 2000). 245pp. Index. ISBN 973-683-593-6 George Voicu, Teme antisémite în discursul public (Anti-Semitic Themes in Public Discourse) (Bucharest: Ars Docendi, 2000), 233pp. ISBN 973-811829-8 The 'Jewish question' and Romanian intellectuals Nae Ionescu was more than my favourite professor: I considered him my master, the 'guide' granted to me in order to fulfill my destiny. Nae Ionescu's death affected me profoundly. I lost my master, my guide. Spiritually I became an orphan. These words by the well-known Romanian and American scholar Mircea Eliade regarding a man who was not only his idol but also that of the interwar 'younger generation' are quoted in George Voicu's 'The Myth of Nae Ionescu'. The book appeared at almost the same time as two other essays by the same author: 'Evil Gods: The Cult of Conspiracy in Post-communist Romania' and 'Anti-Semitic Themes in Public Discourse'. The aim of all three books is to dismantle some of the ideological myths and taboos which dominated twentieth-century Romanian culture, adapted well to the communist era, and re-emerged with intensified potency in the postcommunist period. George Voicu, a sociologist and professor of political ideas at the Faculty of Political Sciences of the University of Bucharest, published in 1998 a EAST EUROPEAN JEWISH AFFAIRS, Vol. 31, No. 2, 2001/1350-1674/114-121 PUBLISHED BY FRANK CASS. LONDON

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LVOLOVICI 115 comprehensive analysis of the multi-party system.1 Although his welltempered writing in the three reviewed volumes did not seek the polemical storm in which he found himself in the Romanian and French press, it is not difficult to see why the books evoked such passions. Voicu, like perhaps no other individual in Romanian intellectual life, has not hesitated to attack the myths and taboos - old and new alike - of a considerable part of the Romanian intellectual milieu. Some of these myths and taboos are directly related to the 'Jewish question' in Romania, especially those issues generated by the confrontation with the most dramatic chapters in contemporary Romanian history: the responsibility of the Romanian authorities for the massacres and the deportation en masse of the Jewish population from Bessarabia and Bukovina during the Second World War; the anti-Semitism of some intellectuals who are models for today's generation; the intensive circulation of anti-Semitic stereotypes in public discourse, including the currently fashionable - and highly misleading - comparison of Holocaust with Gulag and the presence of the conspiratorial vision in this discourse. Voicu is not alone in this audacious enterprise. He was preceded by outstanding intellectuals of the post-Second World War generation, including Adrian Marino, Iordan Chimet, Petru Cretia, Zigu Ornea, Nicolae Balotā and Andrei Pippidi, as well as by younger intellectuals such as Marta Petreu, Andrei Cornea, Andrei Oisteanu and loan Constantinescu. A similar position has been strongly expressed by writers and intellectuals in exile such as Norman Manea, Michael Shafir, Sami Damian, Matei Càlinescu, Vladimir Tismäneanu, Virgil Nemoianu and Andrei Codrescu. However, no one has tackled these issues as systematically and with such vigor as Voicu. The myth of Nae Ionescu Voicu concentrates first on the image of Nae Ionescu, a metaphysics professor at the University of Bucharest, whose emblematic personality fascinated a generation of remarkable intellectuals and influenced the extreme right-wing engagement in the 1930s of some of them (Mircea Eliade, Emil Cioran, Constantin Noica) and their identification with the fascist ideology and virulent anti-Semitism of the Iron Guard.2 Who was this mysterious Nae Ionescu, who crafted such a controversial image among his contemporaries, oscillating as it did between a demonic-genial character and that of a petty meddler, who produced philosophical work of doubtful originality? Nae Ionescu (1890-1940): Romanian logician, metaphysician and religious philosopher, professor of logic and metaphysics at the University of Bucharest ... His teaching and writings inspired a new interest in metaphysics and religious philosophy in Rumania.

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116 Myths and Taboos in Romanian Society This definition, purified of any further reference to his political philosophy and written by his disciple Mircea Eliade for The Encyclopedia of Philosophy,1 contains no reference of any kind to the disastrous effects of Ionescu's charisma and 'demonry' and his political inheritance which remains in Romanian intellectual life. Whether directly or via his remarkable disciples, the myth of Nae Ionescu, George Voicu shows, dominates even today the evolution of many intellectuals, and is the origin of not a few present-day nationalist deviations. Basing himself on the primary sources - Ionescu's rich journalistic activity - Voicu examines Ionescu's political thinking, proving that even before his affiliation to the fascist Iron Guard in 1933, Ionescu was consistently anti-democratic, an adherent to collectivist theory, and a rightwing political absolutist. The most dangerous enemies for him are, as one might expect, rationalism and the Enlightenment, Judaism and freemasonry, Anglo-Saxon thinking, and, of course, the League of Nations. The post-communist cult of Nae Ionescu is far from having a single support. Voicu's essay carefully analyses its various motivations, as related to the cultural, political or ideological agenda of each category of admirers. The new right is charmed by Ionescu's Orthodox mysticism, his collectivist antiparliamentary radicalism, his rejection of Western values, and the promotion of a rural-Balkan-type of 'autochtonism'. Some opinion-formers from intellectual and academic life continue to see in Ionescu a cultural model of mystical and metaphysical thinking, conveniently ignoring the political ground, which is eminently anti-European, its acute forms of xenophobia, and a 'refined', theologically justified anti-Semitism. For many others, Ionescu is a mythical character, a Romanian saint, whose outlines always remain ambiguous. 'An enormous mystification', Voicu exclaims at the end of a wellarticulated analysis. After his book it will be harder to continue the usual discourse on the charismatic professor, ignoring his totalitarian message. An 'aesthetic of the spectacular' dominating Romanian culture is for Voicu an explanation of this unusual cult. It is the symptom of the immaturity of a political culture which enabled the surrender of many intellectuals to another totalitarian ideology - one imposed by the Soviets - and contributed to the partial legitimization of Ceausescu's 'national communism'. The conspiracy theorists From the level of a case-study - the cult of a spiritual guru - George Voicu moves in 'Evil Gods' to a sub-product of this culture of the spectacular: the conspiratorial thinking so abundant during the post-communist era.4 Making particular use of Karl Popper's interpretation of the 'social theory of conspiracy' (The Open Society) and Daniel Pipes's recent book (Conspiracy),

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Voicu elaborates a technique of analysing a huge amount of conspiracy texts which facilitates their systematic approach, a thematic classification and a typology of the functioning of the conspiratorial mind under such chapter titles as 'The Conspiratorial Revelation', 'Who is Conspiring?' and 'Why Conspire?'. Naturally, in Romania as everywhere Jews and Freemasons have the lion's share. Their goals are known: to dominate the world, to destroy or to 'Judaize' Christianity, and in particular to transform the Romanian state into a colony, either of Israel or of the United States. Voicu takes seriously the large amount of verbal toxins produced by a society which is still heavily affected by communist and national-communist indoctrination, and the sometimes very difficult consequences of a transition period and of economic and social instability. It is a sub-cultural territory despised or ignored by the intellectual world. Nevertheless, the recent electoral performance of some ideologues of the conspiracy theory and of their political parties serves as a warning that ignoring a social reality does not cause it to cease to exist. Who are the authors of this rich conspiracy literature? Except for the predictable category of literary hacks with a vivid paranoid imagination, they belong to a variety of professions and social backgrounds: journalists and writers, authors of phantasmagoric literature, but also politicians and members of parliament and university professors. A number of former Securitate officers are very active in this area. Besides book and brochure production, the principal means of disseminating the conspiracy discourse is via the press, in particular Romania Mare (Greater Romania), the organ of the extremist party of the same name headed by the former Ceausescu zealot Corneliu Vadim Tudor. From another extremist direction is the journal Puncte Cardinale (Cardinal Points) of the new Christian Orthodox right, with its open or sometimes veiled pro-Iron Guard orientation. Prominent among such individuals are some young intellectuals with a good Western cultural training who share a kind of Orthodox Christian fundamentalism and have mastered a sophisticated style - one emphatically theological and far from the aggressiveness of the ultra-nationalists of the former Ceausescu supporters. The enormous quantity of examples Voicu has collected, as well as the data about their public penetration of these products (some of them bestsellers!), gives an idea of the proportion of this social deviation, which Voicu explores with a feeling of necessary social hygiene. As 'protection equipment' for this immersion in a verbal and mental toxic environment, he has adopted a therapy of humour, buttressed by suggestive quotations used as mottos from well-known satirical writers, but without overlooking the gravity of a 'malady' which grieves public discourse and political life and even touches on intellectual life.

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118 Myths and Taboos in Romanian Society As Voicu demonstrates, conspiracy literature functions as a political ideology, well articulated and aiming to demonize foreigners and ethnic minorities and to ascribe the causes of social phenomena to mysterious and hostile foreign forces, as in the following example, which Voicu cites from a recent brochure: 'Virtually all the chaos which exists in today's Romania and throughout the world was, and is, conducted diabolically by the Zionist movement' (p.78). 'Diabolically': the term is obligatory because, as in The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, demonism is the most characteristic trait of the Jewish conspirator. If the other great plotters are 'gods', Voicu writes using Popper's metaphor, the Jew is the Supreme Evil God - Satan. The supposed Jewish or masonic plot seems an ideal key with which to decipher the secret of the extraordinary changes of the last few years. Officially imposed ideological 'meaning' has collapsed; only the hidden, irrational and mystical meaning remains uncompromised, for it was rejected by Marxist ideology. The myth of a Jewish conspiracy seems to offer a clear explanation for events, providing coherence to the imaginary, contradictory Jewish prototypes (both capitalist and communist): the mythical Jew could use any and all means to dominate the world. A large number of books summarize in detail the apocalyptic imagery of supposed Jewish imperialism aiming to establish a universal republic through already-existing institutions built with this demonic goal such as the United Nations Organization, the International Monetary Fund and NATO. Following the 'Judaization' of the USA, it is now Europe's turn, following The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, to destroy traditional Christian society and nation states. The unusual capacity of the myth to assume such eclectic and even contradictory roots is possible due to the protean representation of the Jew as the embodiment of danger. Its multiple roots - linked to religion, superstitions and popular myths, individual and social fears, ethnicity and xenophobia, and the demonization of the 'other' - transform the motif into a powerful myth concerning all forms of the dangers haunting Western civilization, namely the destruction of Christianity, moral decay, the perversion of traditional values, and the degeneration of the 'Aryan' race. Under these circumstances, feelings of anxiety intensify fears of an insidious penetration by a dangerous, diffuse, noxious element, an invisible virus or an evil, a diabolical force, that will employ new technologies in order to pervert and control mankind. This new-old mythological reality, including the image of a powerful, formless enemy, comes in handy when seeking to avoid moral responsibility or undertaking any critical examination of the past. Periods of political instability are clearly favourable for this 'socialization' of the paranoid

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imagination. Extravagant, bizarre or apocalyptic explanations are perceived as possibly a little exaggerated, but not senseless. This new 'reality' is rationalized in the public discourse; it is normally marginal at the level of political institutions, but not openly rejected. These theories have gained an unexpected popularity and are part of a new sub-culture, influencing, in various degrees, the social and political behaviour of certain segments of the population. These demonic scenarios contain few innovations, except some new 'gods', as international organizations representing the frightening spectre of globalization. What is uniquely Romanian, according to Voicu, is its peculiar style, 'a terrible, irrepressible fever of expression', accompanied by involuntary humour. Following Karl Popper, Voicu has identified within the conspiratorial vision both a religious archetype and a political goal: the liquidation of democracy and the restoration of a 'golden age'. Thus, conspiracy theory adapts and integrates the great political myths, refashioning them into that unified ideological reasoning which has become 'an essential ingredient of many radical political doctrines' (p. 227). Anti-Semitic stereotypes in today's Romania In Voicu's third volume on anti-Semitic themes in Romanian public discourse, the theme of a world-wide Jewish conspiracy is well described, together with eight other basic stereotypes defined and illustrated according to their present ideological relevance. These are: 'the Jews brought communism'; 'the Jews destroyed the communist regime'; 'the Jews are profiteers of the new political order'; 'Jewish anti-Romanianism'; the Jews' demonic character; the exoneration of the Romanian Iron Guard fascists; the rehabilitation of Antonescu; and the denial or downplaying of the Holocaust. Before deconstructing and classifying the anti-Semitic stereotypes in circulation in today's Romania, Voicu points to their historical roots in traditional anti-Semitism, as well as to the peculiar forms derived from communist ideology in Ceausescu's nationalist version. The means of spreading this discourse are the same as in the conspiracy literature, extended in recent years by a new way which Voicu has not explored but is extremely productive: the internet, with its unlimited possibilities to spread hate propaganda. A stormy polemic The scandal which preceded the appearance of George Voicu's three books centred around a question also mentioned in his books but directly addressed in an essay first published in the Romanian politological journal Sferapoliticii (No. 63, 1998) and subsequently translated in the French Les Temps Modernes.1

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120 Myths and Taboos in Romanian Society Voicu's analysis took as its reference point the controversy surrounding the diary of the Romanian Jewish writer Mihail Sebastian (1907-45). The diary, which appeared in late 1996,6 provoked many reactions, mostly generated by revelations concerning the involvement in the Iron Guard of his friends, among them Mircea Eliade. The focus now is not open, vulgar anti-Semitism but the circulation of stereotypes and clichés with hidden anti-Semitic connotations or aiming to minimize the significance of the Holocaust, as detected in texts signed by prestigious intellectuals and opinion-makers. Voicu focuses extensively on the misuse of the comparison - Holocaust versus Gulag - and the manipulation of the analogy in intellectual and political discourse. Another question he raises is the success of Roger Garaudy's Les mythes fondateurs de la politique israélienne among some outstanding Romanian intellectuals. Voicu rightly considers appealing to Garaudy as an authority on the Holocaust 'one of the most amazing and sad things to have occurred in recent Romanian culture'. A sensitive topic on which Voicu touches is the ease with which important intellectuals use xenophobic and anti-Semitic clichés, especially in polemics with Jewish authors. The public storm provoked by Voicu's essay was intensified by the fact that his uncomfortable remarks appeared in a prestigious French journal, were then commented on by Le Monde, and came against the background of an already heated atmosphere due to similar challenges raised in essays by the exiled writer Norman Manea and the politologue Michael Shafir.7 Despite the accusations directed against Voicu, especially that he had labelled outstanding Romanian intellectuals as 'anti-Semites' - which he had actually carefully avoided - his main concern was an appeal to the Romanian intelligentsia to take up issues long forgotten due to the taboos of the communist period and the uncritical cult of some inter-war intellectuals. Voicu's message - clear but difficult to follow under the present circumstances - is that the justified focus on unveiling the crimes of the communists and an analysis of the Gulag must not blur a critical evaluation of the roots of success of today's extremist parties and a critical evaluation of the anti-Semitic and anti-democratic thinking of some intellectual idols of the past. Voicu concludes: As long as Romanian intellectuals see this issue as a secondary, irrelevant, embarrassing, or at best anecdotal problem, or, even more disturbingly, as long as they continue regarding it as an anti-national or false issue that they fear tackling lest they commit sacrilege, Romanian culture will remain under the heavy influence of idolatry, and Romania will thus be condemned to a peripheral and exotic status quite impenetrable to European or Western values.


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George Voicu, Pluripartidismul: O teorie a democraţiei (The Multi-party System: A Theory of Democracy) (Bucharest: All, 1998). See Leon Volovici, Nationalist Ideology and Antisemitism: The Case of the Romanian Intellectuals in the 1930s (Oxford: Pergamon, 1991). The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ed. Paul Edwards, Vol. IV (New York: Macmillan, 1967), 212. Excerpts from this book in French translation appeared in Les Temps Modernes, No. 613, March-May 2001. See in the same issue a pertinent analysis of Voicu's studies and recent polemics by Mihai Dinu Gheorghiu, 'Conspiration et désenchantement: les conditions d'une nouvelle production idéologique en Roumanie'. In the addenda of his book, Voicu republishes his essay, together with his reactions to the polemics in the press. For the French version, see Les Temps Modernes, No. 606, November-December 1999. An English version of this essay appeared under the title 'Radical Temptations and Cultural Idols' in Romanian Political Science Review, Vol. 1, No. 1, 2001, 249-60. Mihail Sebastian, Jurnal, 1935-1944 (Diary, 1935-1944) (Bucharest: Humanitas, 1996). For an English version see Mihail Sebastian, Journal, 1935-1944 (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2000). For a comprehensive survey of this polemics see Michael Shafir, 'The Man They Love to Hate: Norman Manea's "Snail's House" Between Holocaust and Gulag', East European Jewish Affairs, Vol. 30, No. 1, 2000, 60-81.

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