“God is a Fascist!”: The Ideology of Romanian Fascism

Before the Christian Coalition: "... Romanian fascist ideology is, in many ways, similar to Western European fascism. ... The [fundamentalist Christian] religious element of Romanian fascism was utilized by the Iron Guard to gain the support of the rural population of Romania where religious beliefs were the strongest. The Iron Guard used religious themes for most of their propaganda. ..."

By Corinne Quinones | Claremont McKenna College

Economic, Socio-Political, and Intellectual Roots

           Like most European fascist movements, Romanian fascism emerged out of the political, economic, and ideological crisises that followed World War I.  However, the development of Romanian fascism is distinct from the development of fascism in Western Europe because of the unique political history of the Romanian state.  Although Romania was granted independence in 1877, attempts to denationalize and politically and economically dominate Romania by the Turks, the Greeks, the Russians, and Western Europe contributed to the formation of a fascist ideology that was uniquely Romanian.

Economic Crisis

The economic crisises that followed World War I had a significant impact on the development of Romanian fascist ideology.  The gradual transition of the Romanian economy during the 19th and 20th centuries from an agricultural base to a more capitalist structure resulted in high unemployment and the worsening of conditions for the peasantry, the working class, and the petty bourgeoisie.  For example, illiteracy and infant mortality for the rural population of Romanian was among the highest in Europe.  The centralization of capital in the hands of a few resulted in sharply defined social differentiation between the urban and rural populations.  For example, the Romanian countryside, which contained a large proportion of the population, consumed only ten percent of all industrial products between 1936 and 1937, while the urban population consumed ninety percent.  These economic conditions contributed to political unrest and dissatisfaction among the petty bourgeoisie (the main political base of the Iron Guard) and among conservative intellectuals, who questioned the efficacy of the capitalist model for Romania.  The significant amount of foreign investment by Western European nations, particularly France and Britain, in Romania (foreign investment represented over thirty percent of the Romanian economy) and the tendency of Romanian economics and politics to be governed by foreign investment concerns contributed to a sense of hyper-nationalism and xenophobia in Romania.  In addition, the failures of capitalist model were linked to Romanian Jews.  The petty bourgeoisie, who were hit hard by the economic difficulties of the interwar period, blamed their predicament on the "capitalist" Jews and nurtured the virulent anti-Semitism that was to later characterize Romanian fascism.           

The Crisis of Liberalism: "Government By Rotation"

The ineffective political organization of the Romanian state during the interwar period contributed to the development of fascism in Romania.  The failure of Romanian parliamentary democracy was the result of inefficient and ineffective political institutions and fluctuating electoral laws.  Romania's poorly structured electoral system and the habitual crushing of oppositional forces by violent and illegal means promoted a "government by rotation," in which no one party ever maintained an extended or strong hold in government.  Consequently, Romania never fully experienced authentic parliamentary democracy despite the liberal democratic structure of its political system.  The crisis of liberalism in Romanian politics contributed to the development of fascist and dictatorial tendencies.  Foreign intervention in Romanian politics by the Western powers further cultivated hyper-nationalism and xenophobia.  In particular, the intervention of Britain, Germany, and France in 1878 in order to enforce the abolition of religious discrimination against Romanian Jews linked the sentiments of nationalism, xenophobia, and anti-Semitism in Romania.

Romanian Conservative Thought: Eminescu and Cuza

The intellectual roots of Romanian fascist ideology can be traced back to late 19th and early 20th century conservative thinkers such as Mihai Eminescu and A.C. Cuza.  Romanian conservative thought developed out of the social, political, and economic tensions in the 19th century.  The failures of capitalism and liberal democracy in Romanian contributed to the development of proto fascist ideas that greatly influenced Romanian fascist ideology.  The writings of the 19th century Romanian poet Eminescu inspired the development of Romanian fascist hyper-nationalism.  Eminescu protested that 19th century Romania was governed by "French institutions, Jewish business, [and] Austrian industry."  Eminescu expressed the socio-economic frustrations of the petty bourgeoisie by blaming the Romanian Jewish population for the problems of the Romanian nation.  Eminescu asserted the classic fascist "Third Way" reasoning that rejected socialism as a "plaything made of foreign abstraction" and liberalism that had "transformed Romania into a quagmire into which the social sewage of the West and East is discharged."  Eminescu expressed a nostalgic longing for the days of Romanian feudalism which, according to him, was a system of "the greatest freedom, of decentralization, of communal autonomy, of the independence of classes.  Men were not equal and for that very reason they were free."  In the 20th century, the ideas of A.C. Cuza, the intellectual vanguard of the Iron Guard, represented the conservatism that arose from the social tensions of the interwar period.  Cuza's ideas inspired much of the anti-communism and anti-Semitism that was an integral part of Romanian fascist ideology.  Cuza divided Romanian society into three classes, the rural class, the middle class, and the ruling class.  He argued that this hierarchical system unified the nation, "the classes are stages in the development of the same nation . . . consequently, there could never be enmity between the classes."  His critique of communism was based on the idea that "when class struggle enters into a society, it is a dangerous disease which leads the nation toward destruction."  Cuza was also the intellectual architect of modern Romanian anti-Semitism.  Cuza's anti-Semitism was based on the racist theories of Chamberlain and Drumont.  To Cuza, Jews were a "foreign body" and the main source of Romania's socio-economic difficulties.

Characteristics of Romanian Fascist Ideology

Romanian fascist ideology is, in many ways, similar to Western European fascism.  The essential components of fascist ideology - anti-communism, anti-Semitism, nationalism, mysticism, etc. - are all present in the ideology of the Iron Guard.  However, there are many ways in which Romanian fascism is distinct, even unique, from fascist ideology in Europe.  Romanian political history and the influence of Orthodox Christianity make Romanian fascist ideology relatively unusual.  Here are several of the important and unique characteristics of Romanian fascism.

Anti-Communism and Anti-Semitism

The two central aspects of Romanian fascist ideology are anti-communism and anti-Semitism.  Like most other fascist ideologies, the struggle against communism was the primary concern of Romanian fascists.  Romanian fascists argued that communism was inherently incompatible with the "psychic structure of the Romanian people" and Romanian national interests.  The vehement anti-communist of Romanian fascism can be traced to the persistent interference of Russia in the political affairs of Romania.  To a certain extent, anti-communism and anti-Semitism were interrelated in Romanian fascist ideology.  Communism was considered by many fascists a Jewish conspiracy.  Fascist anti-Semitism in Romania was utilized by the Iron Guard to divert the attention of the petty bourgeoisie away from the social, economic, and political problems of the nation.  Anti-Semitism in Romanian fascist ideology was particularly violent, racist, and a uniquely mass phenomenon.  Jews were considered an “inferior and degenerate race” and were often blamed for the "alteration" of Romanian culture and the socio-economic problems of the nation.  Romanian fascist ideology demanded a “plan for the total elimination of Jews” in Romania.

Nationalism

Nationalism was another important and unique component of Romanian fascist ideology.  Romanian nationalism is characterized by its chauvinism, romanticism, and racism.  Nationalism in Romanian fascist ideology was similar to the German concept of nation.  Romanian fascists conceived the Romanian nation as having a "soul, a consciousness, an existential center.”  Nationality was embodied by the blood of the Romanian people and the soil of the Romanian nation.  The cult of the Dacians, the proclaimed ancestors of the Romanian people, was similar to the Italian fascist cult of the Romans in that it supported the declarations of racial and cultural superiority by Romanian fascists.  Imperialism was another component of Romanian nationalism and represented one of the solutions to the social, economic, and political difficulties of the Romanian nation.  However, Romanian imperialism mainly constituted the expulsion or rejection of foreigners and foreign influences rather than the acquisition of additional territory.

Religion: "God is fascist!"

            One of the unique characteristics of Romanian fascism is the incorporation of Orthodox Christianity into the political doctrine and structure of the Iron Guard.  The religious element of Romanian fascism was utilized by the Iron Guard to gain the support of the rural population of Romania where religious beliefs were the strongest.  The Iron Guard used religious themes for most of their propaganda.  The widespread occurrence of "miracles" in Romania during the rise of the Iron Guard represented the utilization of religious propaganda to appeal to the superstitious rural population.  In addition, Romanian fascists made use of collective prayers, religious chants, and processions in order to sway and influence the Romanian people.  Orthodox Christianity was an essential component of Romanian fascist ideology because it was considered one of the most important elements of the "historical continuity" of the Romanian people.  The Iron Guard was initially called the "Legion of the Archangel Michael" because it characterized the predestined character of the legionnaire movement.

Sources:  

Hitchins, Keith.  Rumania: 1866-1947.  Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994.

Ioanid, Radu.  The Sword and the Archangel: Fascist Ideology in Romania.  Translated by Peter Heinegg.  New York: Columbia University Press, 1990.

Ronnett, Alexander E.  Romanian Nationalism: The Legionary Movement.  Translated by Vasile C. Barsan.  Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1995.

Seton-Watson, Hugh.  Eastern Europe Between the Wars: 1918-1941.  New York: Harper & Row, 1962.

Vago, Bela.  The Shadow of the Swastika: The Rise of Fascism and Anti-Semitism in the Danube Basin, 1936-1939.  London: Saxon House, 1975.

Volovici, Leon.  Nationalist Ideology and Anti-Semitism: The Case of Romanian Intellectuals in the 1930s.  Translated by Charles Koromos.  New York: Pergamon Press, 1991.

Weber, Eugen.  "Romania."  The European Right: A Historical Profile, ed. Hans Rogger and Eugen Weber.  London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1965.

http://www.claremontmckenna.edu/hist/jpetropoulos/ironguard/ideology.htm