Romania's far-right flexes its muscles


Europe Editor

Extreme nationalists in Romania, not renowned for their political subtlety, have caused a furore by publishing a letter that accuses President Ion Iliescu of betraying the country and destroying its defences. The letter purports to have been written by 300 disaffected army generals and officers, but opposition Romanian politicians said it was more likely that it was part of a dirty tricks operation instigated by far-right extremists.

The letter appeared in Romania Mare, a weekly publication of Corneliu Vadim Tudor, the chairman of the ultra-nationalist Greater Romania Party (GRP), which generally supports Romania's minority left-wing government but wants it to pursue more radical nationalist policies. Mr Tudor is a member of the senate (upper house) and former court poet to Nicolae Ceausescu, the Communist dictator executed in 1989.

The letter, addressed to Mr Iliescu, says: "Mr President, during your reign you have sold, wholesale and retail, the independence and sovereignty of the country and put them at the disposal of traitors and spies."

It charges Mr Iliescu with obeying "orders from Nato" to sack 75,000 military personnel and dismantle 600 tanks, 900 artillery pieces and 30 planes. In an implicit demand for Mr Iliescu's execution, the letter says that "there can be only one punishment for such crimes".

Mr Iliescu's military adviser, General Vasile Ionel, denounced the letter as "disinformation" intended to undermine the president and armed forces. Other Iliescu supporters drew a parallel with another recently published letter, believed to be a forgery, that alleged the president had been recruited by the former KGB.

It would come as no surprise to learn that Mr Tudor, and not a group of army plotters, was behind the latest letter. He has been sniping at Mr Iliescu for more than two years, one minute condemning him as a pawn in the hands of Jews and the next demanding government ministries for the GRP as the price for its support in parliament.

Since winning re-election as president in 1992, Mr Iliescu has tried to keep the ultra-nationalists at bay, conscious that they damage Romania's image abroad. However, the ruling left-wing Party of Social Democracy of Romania (PSDR), lacking a parliamentary majority, signed a protocol last January offering greater influence over policy-making to the GRP and two other extremist parties.

The increased power of the ultra-nationalists was demonstrated last week when parliament passed an education law that Romania's ethnic Hungarian minority views as an attempt to discriminate against the Hungarian language. The law, which Mr Tudor believes does not go far enough, imposes restrictions on Hungarian in higher education by establishing Romanian as the national language and main language of education.