Romania: the growth of the far-right AUR and the dangers behind it

This is the first of a series of articles on the issue of the growth and the history of the far right in Romania. 

By Ciprian S

Participation in elections drops – AUR grows 

AUR, the Alliance for the Union of Romania, is a recently formed far-right party, founded on September 19th, 2019, that surprised a lot of people for its incredibly fast rise in electoral support. In the December 2020 parliamentary elections they got 9% of the vote [1], while the first party, the Social Democratic Party (PSD), which has a significant historical weight as it was founded in 1992 right after the regime change, got 29%. The participation in the elections was barely over 33%, not only because of the Covid crisis, but also due to the growing trend of diminishing political interest of the people and the erosion of support for the whole political establishment in Romania. The former is due to the inability of the political establishment after the fall of the Ceausescu regime to support ordinary people with anything more than false promises, and to protect them from the abuses and destruction of the neoliberal policies of the notorious shock therapy that was applied in the Eastern Bloc. In contrast, the participation of the people in the first election after 1989 was at 86%[2]. Recent polls (February 2022) showed that support for AUR was at about 22,4%, while in April it dropped to 12% [3]. A possible explanation for this is their links with the Russian regime, as the war in Ukraine began. Nonetheless, worker’s struggles are on the rise as more and more strikes and protests are taking place in Romania. In most of them, AUR is the only political party supportive of the worker’s demands, cunningly being present at their rallies for their own interest [4]. All the other parties are either silent or spreading anti-union propaganda.

The growth of the far-right internationally 

The problem of the global rise of the far-right is haunting us. But how much of this is a symptom of the inability of the Left to provide a viable, convincing, and coherent alternative and how much is it the capitalist class losing the grips (or even throwing them away) of the values of bourgeois liberalism is up for debate. What we know with certainty is that this is an acute problem that has become impossible to ignore. As Florin Poenaru, a Romanian political scientist, rightly points out in his incredibly clear and rich book Locuri Comune [5] (Common Places), the relative success of the right-wing movements, populist and conservative (presenting themselves as anti-establishment or even anti-capitalist), represents a clear defeat of the Left globally post-68. The worst consequence of this failure of the Left is not only that it allows the extreme right to jump on the train of criticizing global capitalism, but that it also allows them to draw the attention of the working class on a global scale. Today, extreme right-wing leaders come to power not through armed insurrections but through a democratic vote. 

This is linked to developments at the workplace level. If during Lenin’s time industrial workers were fighting against the propertied classes and the exploitation inside the factory, today precarious working class people mobilize in the political arena with the aim of even an abusive workplace and a minimal livelihood.

How did this happen in Romania and how extreme is AUR? I will give three perspectives to help build a clearer picture.

The values of AUR

According to the satire leftist magazine Trepanatsi [6], in a self-ironical way, the attitude of civil society and the political parties, from the moderate-right to even some parts of the radical left, can be described as being in the stage of negation. The negation of a mass phenomenon, which is, as the author describes it, independent from the capitalist class (as most of the capitalists fund other parties), organic (as there is an element of grassroots in it), and with fascist elements. Additionally, the author remarks something very important, that is the social phenomenon of anticommunism (more about this can be found in Locuri Comune). This began in parts of the intelligentsia and the technocrats of the pre-89 regime, due to the lack of political authority, which was concentrated in Ceausescu and his close peers, and due to the lack of material and social appreciation, when compared to similar social layers in the West. After the fall of the regime, this layer flooded parts of the institutions and media outlets and this ideology became hegemonic. 

The reactionary culture of the interwar period was reappropriated uncritically and exalted by many as the “beautiful lost age due to communism”. That period was full of fascist elements. The reactionary movement in Romania was called “The Legionary Movement” or “The Iron Guard”, and was dominant in the political and intellectual spheres, while supported by “peak-intellectuals”, such as Mircea Eliade. This writer is now praised in schools as one of the classics of Romania. The educational system is riding the horse of nationalism whenever it can, as explained by Marx’s adage that the ruling ideas of a society are the ideas of the ruling class. Additionally, the legionaries were sanctified as the saints of prisons and mourned even by politically (supposedly) progresive figures. 

The AUR party considers the Holocaust a minor theme. Its leader, George Simion, has a masters degree in the crimes of “communism”, and on a live interview he said that Corneliu Zelea Codreanu, the leader of the Iron Guard, is a complex figure with both good and bad traits. To summarize, the ideology of anticommunism opened the space for the fascist elements of the pre-communist era to gain traction in the cultural and intellectual spheres. Now they are gaining ground in the political sphere. 

Two other elements in AUR politics are the demand for a unification with Moldova, which was legitimized by president Basescu in the public sphere, and the anti-vaccine movement. The unification with Moldova is a common nationalist theme, beloved by many Romanians, as 75% in polls percent support a move towards unification [7]. This is despite the fact that polls repeatedly show the exact opposite in Moldova [8]. The anti-vaccine movement was in their agenda before the Covid crisis, and it is part of the global anti-vaccine movement caused by increased skepticism in underfunded medical authorities which are more and more dominated by the capital of the big pharmaceutical companies. Here, the profit motive, and its several slippages, eroded people’s trust in medical authority. Additionally, the polarization in the world economy leads to unorthodox smear ad campaigns, such as the Russian one to delegitimize the West’s vaccines and to promote Sputnik, which in the end backfired [8]. That was one of the reasons for the low vaccination rates of the eastern European countries. Unfortunately, one can see across the globe that the dropping rate of vaccination is bringing back virtually eradicated diseases, such as smallpox.

Social base 

Costi Rogozanu, a renowned journalist and one of the few voices of the press in the past decades that spoke truth against power, compares [9] the Save Romania Union (USR, a neoliberal political party) and AUR political competition and dynamics, with the Obama-Trump phenomena. Obama used the new media mechanisms of internet platforms such as Google, Facebook, or Twitter to reach the electorate. Trump did the same later on, using more advanced techniques such as Cambridge Analytica, giving Obama a lesson in propaganda. 

Similar dynamics arose between USR and AUR, but with a time delay. Additionally, Rogozanu proposes the thesis that most AUR figures have always existed in our society in the cultural and intellectual circles, in the local middle-classes, often present in the mainstream, well regarded in media networks, but only recently did they get in the political arena. Rogozanu argues [10] that AUR represents mostly part of the middle classes, which due to increased precarity caused by the neoliberal policies post-2008 crisis, became ultraconservative and formed a party to fight the advance of foreign capital. Additionally, parts of the middle class and highly paid working class did gain more out of globalization, such as IT workers, which caused resentment to some layers. Besides this, part of the AUR electorate were deniers of anti-Covid measures. For them there were more important economic problems than addressing the Covid pandemic. 

In any case, one should not forget that only 33% of the people felt that there was any stake left in the electoral game and went out to vote. 

Moreover, the demonization of even minimal left-wing policies over the years, such as progressive taxation, the right to strike, and regulating the energy markets, played a role in AUR’s rise. Neoliberal policies lead to periodic explosions, which have increased in numbers lately, of the working class. AUR offers them the standard false consciousness answers: that the problem is just the big corporations, the jews, the Roma people, the neomarxists, and other ill fantasies. This propaganda is further promoted by the presence of AUR as the only party to support recent strikes. Lastly, Rogozanu illustrates how AUR is sustained by the more extremist parts of the Orthodox Church. 

Reactionary ideas covered with a “radical” mask

Adina Marincea, a social science researcher, does a rigorous investigation of the subtle ways in which the AUR party normalizes undemocratic and violent means [11]. Such means include storming the Parliamentary court, going to the houses of several politicians such as the current’s Romanian president Klaus Iohannis, supporting the nationalist discourse of the “true us” against the “corrupting them”, and many more. 

She confronts the false claim that AUR is getting more radical, by proving that AUR has always had reactionary radical roots. Despite not yet engaging in open large acts of violence, they were already using symbolic violence by intimidating the press, by inciting hatred towards non-supporters, by promoting sexism, racism, homophobia, and other forms of discrimination. They have also sometimes promoted small confrontations as seen in videos with George Simion storming into institutions or pushing and slapping people. Adina Marincea argues that despite the fact that the AUR leader, George Simion, portraits himself as a reasonable nationalist, forgiving, pro-democratic, figure which rejects violence, the party has members openly supporting fascist figures such as Calin Georgescu, named recently honorary president of the party, and has connections with a network neo-legionaries organizations with fascist symbols such as the Orthodox Brotherhood, the Gogu Puiu (a dead legionary fighter) foundation, the New Right, etc. They also have support from a group of former officers of the Foreign Legion (a french paramilitary group) which coordinates indoctrination camps (something similar to the Azov Battalion in Ukraine) with legionary, nationalist-orthodox, and anticommunist themes. Lastly, they even have support from the Orthodox Church, particularly from the Archbishop Teodosie, as they officially thanked him in a facebook message for his essential help [12]. The Romanian Orthodox Church has always had strong links with the legionary movement, and some priests have actively participated in the Holocaust. According to Marincea, the AUR leadership switches rhetoric between the dutifully patriotic figures and the rogue nationalist saviors as it addresses two incompatible electorate groups: liberal conservatives and anti-democratic ultranationalists.

Finally, an important recent survey [13] showcases that support among Romanian people for democracy has dropped from 30% in 2020 to 22% in 2022– the only country in the EU situated in Central or Eastern Europe, where a decline has happened. Additionally, Romania has the highest percentage of the EU countries in the same region for the support of a totalitarian regime, a worrying 60%. Both of these numbers, alongside others in the survey, illustrate the continuous decline of people’s trust towards the neoliberal establishment. A distrust which, coupled with the lack of a left mass movement, menacingly paves the way for the extreme right to gain power. 

Hopefully this analysis brings into the broad daylight the foul and insidious ways in which the neofascist movement grew in Romania and also will spark the fire in the hearts of comrades, in Romania and all around the globe, to fight against these destructive forces of capitalism and bring about a better future.















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