A far-right nationalist party described by Jewish groups as Romania’s “most nationalist and anti-Semitic” party has become Romania’s main opposition force in parliament and its leader has a shot at becoming the country’s next president.
In elections held Sunday, Corneliu Vadim Tudor, the 51-year-old leader of the extremist Greater Romania Party, came in second out of a dozen candidates for president with an estimated 28 percent of the vote.
The results were preliminary, with the final tallies not expected until later in the week.
He will face former Communist Ion Iliescu, 70, who served as Romania’s president from 1990 to 1996, in a run-off vote for president on Dec. 10. Iliescu led the first-round vote with 37 percent.
Polling organizations predicted that the run-off would be tight and at least one said there were indications that Tudor, who has been compared to other extreme right figures such as Austria’s Jorg Haider and France’s Jean Marie Le Pen, could win.
Like Haider, Tudor ran a protest campaign promising law and order. He appealed to the desperate and disaffected masses in a country where the average salary is $100 a month, 40 percent of the population lives on little more than one dollar a day, inflation is estimated at 40 percent, and unemployment is 11 percent.
But, unlike Haider, Tudor has a history of vicious, overt and outspoken anti- Semitism.
He is a poet who came to fame as a lackey of Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, who was deposed and executed in the Romanian revolution of December 1989.
He transformed himself into an outspoken nationalist who published magazines and newspapers filled with anti-Semitic attacks and xenophobic diatribes directed against Gypsies, also known as Roma, and ethnic Hungarians.
During Iliescu’s tenure as president in the first part of the 1990s, Tudor repeatedly attacked Iliescu’s efforts to maintain warm relations with Israel, to acknowledge Romania’s complicity in the Holocaust and to show support for Jewish causes.
His party’s newspaper, Romania Mare, accused Iliescu of “selling out to the Zionists.”
Today, about 12,000 Jews are known to live in Romania.
The book Anti-Semitism Worldwide, funded by the Anti-Defamation League and the World Jewish Congress, states that Tudor “is obsessed with the alleged Jewish campaign to cooperate with Romania’s enemies in order to `destabilize Romania’ and `falsify history.'”
Whether or not Tudor, known for his outspoken anti-Semitic and xenophobic sentiments, becomes president, his party will form the main opposition force in parliament.
Iliescu’s left-wing Party of Social Democracy got an estimated 37 to 38 percent of votes in both houses of Parliament.
But Tudor’s Greater Romania Party came in second with an estimated 20 to 21 percent — a huge surge forward since local elections in June when the party received little more than 2 percent of the vote.
These results were a crushing blow to the five-party centrist coalition that ruled Romania for the past four years. They represented a dramatic backlash against the widespread corruption, economic failure, and bitter political infighting that characterized the outgoing government.
But the strong showing of Tudor and his Greater Romania Party in particular shocked many observers and raised concern about the future course of Romania’s development.
“Romania has entered a new era on Monday,” said the independent Romanian daily Evenimentul Zilei. “It becomes a European country suspected of nationalist excesses without a democratic opposition on which people can count.”
Said another newspaper, Adevarul, “In November 2000 we are the only case in Central and Eastern Europe where economic reforms have not succeeded” and “the ascension of the Greater Romania Party will raise great questions in the West about the success of political reforms.”
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.