“The Legionaries rise! The neo-Legionary movement in post-Communist Romania” (Cecilie Endresen)

Originally in Südost-Forschungen 69/70 , 2010

By the late 1990s, several “Legionary” groups, claiming to be the successors of the “Legiunea Arhanghelul Mihail” (The Legion of Michael the Archangel), had emerged across Romania. In order to distinguish these Post-Communist groups from their purported predecessor, which was founded by Corneliu Zelea Codreanu in 1927, I will refer to them as “neoLegionary” groups.

The neo-Legionary movement is characterised by a specific religio-political discourse and worldview which is perhaps best described as a mix of mysticism, Orthodox Christianity, Romanian folklore, fascism, ethnic nationalism and anti-Semitism. Neo-Legionary discourse leans heavily on pre-Communist ideology, which sets it apart from other brands of fascism. During the 1990s, neo-Legionaries constituted a loosely interconnected network of groups andfigures. They actively employed symbols from the inter-war period, at which time The Iron Guard/TheLegionary Movement had been a mass movement. What is more, neo-Legionaries remain convinced that Corneliu Zelea Codreanu (1899-1938) put the nation on the right track at that time. That glorious era was, according to neo-Legionary interpretations, interrupted because the “Antichrist metamorphosed into Communism, the mortal enemy of the Church.” The Communists banned Legionary activity and persecuted the movement’s members, effectively silencing it for half a century. Neo-Legionaries nevertheless continue to insist that the Legionary spirit never died. They argue that according to Codreanu, “as long as there is one Legionary, the Legion exists.” Neo-Legionaries’ own use of the term“Legionary”, however, is part of a battle over authenticity, continuity and definitions. Both this word and its derivatives are, therefore, slightly imprecise. Part of my project is to find out just what neo-Legionaries mean when they use this term.

With the toppling of the Communist regime, literature by former “class enemies” could be published for the first time in almost fifty years. This new freedom of the press heralded a rush of reprints of Legionary texts, including inter-war material, biographies and historical works by expatriateLegionaries. The neo-Legionary movement‘s own publications include books, periodicals, papers, pamphlets, posters, web pages and, above all, those inter-war Legionary texts that have achieved canonical status. Most authoritative are Codreanu‘s “Carticica şefului de cuib” (The Nest Leader’s Handbook) and his autobiography, “Pentru legionarii” (To my Legionaries). Together with the “Testament”a text written by the so called Legionary martyr Ionel Moţa (d. 1937), Codreanu’s authoritative works have become required reading for neo-Legionaries.

The following overview of the neo-Legionary movement and analysis of its actions are based on my own fieldwork. I have gathered neo-Legionary material (including their reprinted and reprocessed versions of inter-war texts), interviewed leaders, sympathisers and activists, observed neo-Legionary events and visited the movement’s meeting places. I have also pieced together alternative mediareferences to the movement.

Many of the neo-Legionary groups consider each other subversive. Nevertheless, from the analytical viewpoint of an outsider, their supposedly irreconcilable ideological differences appear minimal in comparison to their shared stock of ideas, which I label “Legionarism”Even their disagreements are rooted in their use of Legionary symbolism and their conflicting claims about each other’s legitimacy and authenticity.

This article presents an overview of the neo-Legionary structures that emerged across Romania towards the end of the 1990s. As a loosely interconnected network of groups and figures that adhere to a certain set of symbols and goals, I argue that this constellation can be defined as a movement. I have dubbed it “The neo-Legionary Movement. In addition to describing the neo-Legionary Movement’s activities and motivations, I will also draw attention to the inter-war Legionary movement’s continued history in exile during the Cold War. The lingering Legionary movement was an important factor in thedomestic Legionary revival and its later development. Before I set out to discuss the neo-Legionary phenomenon as it exists, however, I will briefly describe its characteristic features and its ideological basis, since both of these aspects motivate the movement’s members, set its agenda, and inspire its organisational structure… [PDF]


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