73786 8/4/2006 15:59 06BUCHAREST1237 Embassy Bucharest CONFIDENTIAL VZCZCXRO0893 RR RUEHDBU RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHROV RUEHSR DE RUEHBM #1237/01 2161559 ZNY CCCCC ZZH R 041559Z AUG 06 FM AMEMBASSY BUCHAREST TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 4920 INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 BUCHAREST 001237
STATE DEPT FOR EUR/NCE - BILL SILKWORTH
E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/04/2016 TAGS: PGOV, PREL, PHUM, SOCI, RO SUBJECT: ROMANIA'S EXTREME NATIONALISTS: A FEW NEW FACES, BUT THE SAME OLD ANGRY IDEAS
Classified By: DCM MARK TAPLIN FOR REASONS 1.4 (B) & (D)
1. (C) Summary: Romania's extreme nationalist political parties continue to garner between 12-20 percent of public support, according to opinion polls. Many analysts believe these groups could gain further support following Romania's anticipated EU accession in 2007, as the public reacts to changes brought by EU membership and adjusts to unmet expectations. Romanian extreme nationalism draws from old ideas of irredentism, anti-Semitism, staunch support of the Romanian Orthodox Church, xenephobia (especially against Roma and ethnic Hungarians) and glorification of Romania's World War II dictator and pre-war fascist movements. Romania's extreme nationalist parties also persistently attack widespread public corruption, a top concern of average Romanians and an issue that has gained votes for the far fringes at the expense of mainstream parties. The Greater Romania Party's (PRM) Corneliu Vadim Tudor continues to lead the pack of extreme nationalists. After a period of attempting to portray himself as moderate, he and his party have begun to drift back towards their extremist roots. Tudor's new rival in the extreme nationalist camp is flamboyant soccer club owner Gigi Becali, who literally purchased his own political party in 2004 as a platform to promote his ideas and feed his strong personal appetite for media attention. At the far end of the spectrum is the increasingly visible "New Right" organization, which blatantly draws from fascist imagery and attempts to attract young supporters through rock music and campaigns on university campuses. End Summary.
2. (C) A July 22 survey released by well-known Romanian pollster the National Institute for Opinion and Marketing Studies (INSOMAR) showed continued notable public support for extreme nationalist politicians and political parties. According to this most recent INSOMAR poll, some 33 percent of respondents expressed confidence in extreme nationalist New Generation Party (PNG) leader Gigi Becali, placing him as the fourth most trusted political figure in Romania. Roughly 24 percent expressed confidence in PRM leader Corneliu Vadim Tudor. Some 15 percent of respondents said they would vote for the PRM if elections were held today; six percent said they would vote for the PNG, which would exceed the five percent electoral threshold for putting the party in parliament. Local analysts have suggested to poloffs that Romanian respondents typically express more support for radical candidates in off-years between elections -- one pollster commented "It's risk free, since you don't have to actually vote for the guy." At the same time, they also note the resilience of Vadim Tudor over the years and the new popularity of Becali.
3. (C) Center for Rural and Urban Sociology (CURS) polling agency director and analyst Sebastian Lazaroiu opined to PolChief that both Tudor and Becali could benefit when Romania "inevitably" has its "post-EU accession hangover." He assessed that dissatisfaction could arise from the higher cost of living; the closure of Romanian firms and family enterprises that cannot compete at a European level; and in reaction to a new infusion of "foreigners" from other parts of Europe who buy property and bring new habits and norms. Rapid change may also lead many Romanians -- particularly in those areas that benefit least from EU accession -- to find comfort or continuity in such old ideas such as communism and fascism. Lazaroiu drew potential parallels to other countries in Eastern Europe, such as Slovakia, where extreme nationalist parties have increased in strength and are even in government. Lazaroiu's assessment has been echoed by a number of other analysts and mainstream politicians. One contact wondered about the impact of EU accession on Romania's rural population, which constitutes roughly 47 percent of the population and remains among the most backward in Europe.
Tudor and the PRM: Fifteen years of Vitriol
4. (C) Despite a turbulent 2005 year for Tudor and the PRM, which included MP defections and the dismissal of several senior party officials, Tudor retains tight control of Romania's fourth largest political party and a loyal public following. On June 17, the PRM organized a large gathering of supporters (close to 4,500 according to PRM sources) to celebrate its fifteenth anniversary. In his speech at this occasion, Tudor -- who had been an official poet for communst dictator Ceausescu -- described the PRM as a &miraculous entity that springs like a river from history and flows into history, far in the future.8 The PRM leader summarized the short history of the party, recollecting the days in 1990 when he and others started to publish a weekly magazine whose name &Romania Mare8 attracted Romanians from
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all over the world like &a magnet.8 Tudor continued his speech by saying that over the years many have boded ill to the party, but PRM survived &like the movie character who never dies, because he is made up of a special dough.8 Tudor claimed that the party has grown to 300,000 members and had recently opened a branch in the US, in Arizona.
5. (C) Tudor further claimed that the PRM had established its credentials as a moderate party. Nonetheless, its publications continued to carry articles that the local Jewish community characterized as "blatantly and patently anti-Semitic." Just as an example, on July 12, his weekly &Romania Mare8 journal included an unsigned front-page article deploring the recent destruction of the last statue in Bucharest of wartime fascist dictator Marshall Ion Antonescu, known as the primary architect and perpetrator of the Holocaust in Romania. He blamed the statue's destruction on noted members of the Jewish community and a presumed Hungarian government official. In the same publication, Tudor himself signed an article presenting a revisionist view of the role of ethnic minorities in Romanian politics. In the piece, Tudor accused "foreigners" -- specifically Jews, Hungarians, and Gypsies -- for killing "brave Romanians" at key junctures in history. The article ended with a warning to &these minority people... who behave like pigs.8 Tudor asserted that &time is running out8, and the price they will pay for their &sins" is nothing but death.
6. (C) Always keen to remain in the media spotlight, over the summer Tudor also broke ground on the construction of a private prison, which he claimed he would lease to the state to house "corrupt" politicians. Among those Tudor asserted should be detained were former President Constantinescu, former PRM Jewish Advisor Nati Meir, and several prominent Social Democratic Party (PSD) politicians involved in corruption scandals. Tudor did not disclose the source of funding for the building, but Embassy contacts suspected several wealthy PRM members could be bankrolling the undertaking, including former PRM Senator Dorel Onaca, Deputy Gelil Eserghep, and other wealthy PRM members and associates. Nonetheless, Tudor has also expressed recently his concerns that the PRM was no longer receiving the same level of financial support as it had in recent years, an indicator that some wealthy donors may be leaving the party. One political analyst described the PRM to PolChief as a "tired movement."
Becali and the PNG: A Rival on the Far Right
7. (C) Beginning in early 2006, Tudor and the PRM began to face a more obvious challenge on the extreme edge of the political spectrum from flamboyant soccer club owner Gigi Becali. In 2004, Becali had literally purchased a political party -- the New Generation Party (PNG) -- to use as a platform for personal publicity and to launch a failed presidential bid. A former sheep breeder, Becali has built in the post-communist era a huge fortune from real estate, which he partially reinvested in the most successful soccer club in Romania. Reportedly worth over a billion euros, Becali entered politics with virtually unlimited funds, as well as name recognition among average Romanians accustomed to seeing him on nightly sportscasts. Becali purchased the PNG at the encouragement of senior Social Democratic Party (PSD) member Viorel Hrebenciuc, who has repeatedly told PolChief he supported the move as a means to weaken Tudor and the PRM.
8. (C) In contrast to the erudite Tudor, 8Gigi8 became in the last sixteen years the symbol of the churlish new-rich generation, showing that no education is required to succeed in business, life and politics. He earned a reputation for colorful, sometimes outrageous acts, such as throwing fistfuls of money to fans or poor people he encounters during travels throughout the country. He was born near Braila to Aromanian parents deported by the communists because of their association with the Romanian Iron Guard ) a fascist pre-second world war organization. Although Becali has not targeted ethnic minorities in his rhetoric, his use of legionnaire images for the PNG party as well as his strong financial support for the Romanian Orthodox church have given him strong and obvious nationalist credentials. In May, Becali reportedly paid a group of supporters to disrupt through violence a gay rights march in Bucharest. Roma organizations assert that he has also tacitly supported the use of anti-Roma slogans by fans and announcers at his team's soccer matches.
9. (C) Becali's more recent surge in popularity appears to stem from his philanthropic activities in past months. In
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response to flooding throughout the country, he has used his own funds to construct houses for some 200 families who had lost their homes in the deluges. Media analysts contrasted his generosity and effectiveness with the poor record of the government, which thus far has made slow and uneven progress despite ambitious reconstruction plans. Becali has also contributed significantly to the renovation of numerous churches in the countryside. Embassy contacts also partially credit Becali's rise to the success of his soccer team, which won the Romanian national championship in June following a strong showing in a European championship tournament in May.
10. (C) Whether or not Becali and Tudor compete for the same pool of voters remains a subject of speculation. Although there is likely some overlap, pollster Lazoriou speculated that Becali appeals more to rural voters who respect his good works and religious orientation. He also enjoys more a stable following among some young voters, particularly football fans. During the 2004 elections, Tudor and the PRM performed best in small to medium-sized cities among lower middle class and primarily male voters. Presidential Advisor Claudiu Saftoiu expressed concern to PolChief that over the long-term the outspoken Becali could present a more serious threat to established political parties than Tudor. Saftoiu asserted that he represents a "fresh face and his star is clearly rising." Saftoiu down played an alleged relationship between Becali and President Basescu, which had been reported widely in the press.
On the Far Fringe: The &New Right8 Movement
11. (C) Although much smaller, a number of Embassy NGO contacts, including within the Jewish community, have expressed concern about what appears to be an increasingly visible ultranationalist organization called "Noua Dreapta," translated in English as the "New Right." Founded in 2000 by young entrepreneur Tudor Ionescu, the group has developed an impressive website and has reportedly carried out several campaigns on university campuses to attract dissatisfied students. What several contacts have characterized as most shocking is the organization's blatant use of Romanian fascist symbols. In addition, Ionescu has founded a rock band that performs at "New Right" rallies and has placed some of its songs with highly nationalistic lyrics on the internet for downloading by fans.
12. (C) In June, the "New Right" held a highly publicized parade in central Bucharest to protest against the gay pride march the same day. Several media analysts opined that although the movement remains small, this had been the most visible fascist demonstration in Romania since the fall of communism. Lazaroiu and other contacts characterized the "New Right" as "highly marginal" for the time being. But they cautioned that such movements could similarly gain in popularity with the potential rise of Becali, who pulls from many of the same images and deep-seated political beliefs.
13. (C) Comment: Support for extreme nationalist parties has fluctuated from between roughly ten to 20 percent in Romania since the return of democratically elected government in 1990. The PRM has long enjoyed primacy among this segment of the political spectrum. However, the dramatic rise in popularity for Becali, and to a lesser degree his party, could eventually signal an end to this PRM monopoly. The increased visibility of the far right, as well as the appearance of new players, comes at just the time as Romania joins the EU. Some contacts postulate that this phenomenon is already the result of fatigue with the EU accession process. It also comes after a prolonged period of heightened tensions between the two principal parties of the ruling coalition, which in 2004 represented the clearest option for change but now appear to be unable to present a cohesive platform for improving the lives of average Romanians. While some contacts view Becali and his party as a flash movement that will soon diminish in support, even more see him as new player who will remain on the political scene in the years to come. Many expect the PNG to enter the Parliament after the next elections, whenever they may be, perhaps at the expense of a gradually declining PRM. End Comment. Taubman