Fascism revives in Eastern Europe

December 08, 1993|By Andrei Codrescu

ON Oct. 22, exactly one day after Congress granted Romania most-favored-nation trade status, a statue of Ion Antonescu was erected in the town of Slobozia, near Bucharest.

General Antonescu, the fascist dictator during World War II, was responsible for the deaths of at least 250,000 Jews and 20,000 Gypsies. This is the first statue of a war criminal from Eastern Europe erected since the war.

The dedication was attended by government officials such as Mihai Ungheanu, an aide to former President Nicolae Ceausescu and currently secretary of state for culture, and Corneliu Vadim Tudor, a member of Parliament who is a vicious anti-Semite.

There are plans for other statues of Antonescu in several Romanian cities.

This brazen campaign to rehabilitate a notorious mass murderer has terrified the remaining Jews in Romania.

The extent of the Romanian Holocaust, rivaling Nazi Germany's in savagery, is still not widely known. Dr. Radu Ioanid, the director of the National Registry of Jewish Holocaust Survivors at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, has studied recently opened archives in Romania and concluded that the dimensions of the tragedy have been vastly understated.

During the Ceausescu regime in Romania, official policy perpetuated the myth that Romanian fascism was more benign than elsewhere and that most Jews survived the war.

This turns out to have been pure disinformation by Mr. Ceausescu, who needed the old murderers to support his own amalgam of national socialism.

The money to erect the statue of General Antonescu in Slobozia came from police officials and Iosif Constantin Dragan, an emigre businessman and former member of the fascist Iron Guard.

President Ion Iliescu, who has made public speeches condemning anti-Semitism, could have easily dismissed the Slobozia police chief and nipped this outrage in the bud. Mr. Iliescu's own father was an inmate in one of Antonescu's notorious prison camps at Tirgu Jiu. The president's failure to act testifies to the power of the extreme right wing in Romania today.

In 1991, Congress passed a resolution on anti-Semitism in Romania that tied assistance, especially most-favored-nation status, to progress in "combating anti-Semitism and in protecting the rights and safety of its ethnic minorities."

Despite the lack of urgency in the Clinton administration, the revival of fascism in Eastern Europe is cause for great alarm. In Croatia, streets are being renamed after war criminals; this year President Franjo Tudjman nominated a former commander from the pro-Nazi Ustashe regime, Ivo Rojnica, as ambassador to Argentina. (Following protests, he withdrew the nomination without apology.)

In Slovakia, Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar has proclaimed that Gypsies are a danger to the white race. In Russia, nationalists and fascists are vying for seats in Parliament. In Germany, anti-Semites and fascists are gaining popular support.

General Antonescu's statue is facing squarely at the United States. It is as if a statue of, let's say, the founder of the Ku Klux Klan were erected in Washington in a ceremony attended by administration officials.

Only it's far worse than that. Romania has erected a tribute to mass murder.

Andrei Codrescu, whose film "Road Scholar" was released this fall, is author of "The Hole in the Flag," about the 1989 overthrow of President Nicolae Ceausescu in Romania.

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