|Founded||March 12, 1935|
|Split from||National Peasants' Party|
|Succeeded by||National Renaissance Front|
|Newspaper||Gazeta de Transilvania|
The Romanian Front (Romanian: Frontul Românesc, FR) was a moderate fascist party created in Romania in 1935. Led by former Prime Minister Alexandru Vaida-Voevod, it originated as a right-wing splinter group from the mainstream National Peasants' Party (PNȚ). It had a generally xenophobic program of positive discrimination, being implicitly (and eventually explicitly) antisemitic. The FR was subsumed to the policies of King Carol II, maneuvering between the mainstream National Liberals, the PNȚ's left-wing, and the more radically fascist Iron Guard. Vaida tried to compete with the former two and appease the latter, assuming fascist trappings such as the black-shirted uniform.
Albeit invested with the king's trust and counting experienced politicians among its cadres, the FR was always a minor force in Romanian politics, and depended on the more powerful National Christian Party, with which it formed a political alliance in 1935. Its hostility toward the National Liberal governments gave way to cooperation after the latter also embraced ethnic discrimination, and eventually resulted in a cartel, formed by the two parties during the 1937 election. This controversial move bled the FR of members and supporters, leaving it to be absorbed into the single-party National Renaissance Front in 1938.
The Front had its roots in the second and third governments of Vaida-Voevod (1932 and 1933), which were characterized by growing levels of antisemitism and discussions regarding the possibility of barring Jews from a number of public posts (Jewish quotas). As an ideologue, Vaida-Voevod found inspiration in the work of economic antisemites and authoritarians such as Karl Lueger and Aurel Popovici. In the late 1920s, his views were shaped by eugenics and biopolitics, leading him to demand the state-managed preservation of a pure peasant stock, against "biological competition".
The antisemitic measures were taken to the background of agitation by another homegrown fascist movement, the Iron Guard, which Vaida-Voevod had initially protected and supported in his term as Interior Minister. Specifically against the Guard and other violent organizations, Vaida-Voevod passed laws limiting political freedoms and establishing curfews (although he allowed the Transylvanian Saxons to form Sturmabteilung units which targeted Jews). Vaida was in turn attacked by the Guardist press as a "Freemason", even though, Vaida claimed, his attachment to the Lodge was purely formal and instrumental.
By that moment, Vaida-Voevod had emerged as the leader of a distinct, radical-right, faction of the PNȚ. He backed the increasingly authoritarian King Carol II, while the moderates, under Iuliu Maniu, supported liberal democracy, calling the right-wing "extra-constitutional". For his part, Vaida wanted the group purged of remnants from the old Peasants' Party. Writing at the time, the left-wing radical journalist Petre Constantinescu-Iași claimed that the conflict also reflected differences in global orientation: Maniu's Francophile support base against Vaida's Anglo–Germanophilia. The latter, he proposed, was aiming for "the complete, vigorous and definitive, fascization" of Romania.
By November 1933, the two wings of the party were fighting each other out in the open, notably so at a riot in Sibiu. The king openly encouraged such dissent, hoping to weaken his rivals, but also finding that Vaida-Voevod's politics were largely compatible with his own. Nevertheless, the government found it hard to tackle the effects of the Great Depression, and was brutal in its handling of the Grivița workers' strike. The growing rift inside the government party, but also evidence of the Prime Minister's complicity with the Guard, caused additional dissatisfaction among sections of the electorate. The cabinet ultimately fell when the PNȚ's left-wing published a pamphlet against the king, which the latter used as a pretext for demanding Vaida-Voevod's resignation.
The National Liberal Party (PNL), imposing itself on the king with the threat of "civic resistance", was returned to power, and Gheorghe Tătărescu became Prime Minister. In late 1933, Tătărescu was replaced with PNL colleague Ion G. Duca, who organized a clampdown against the Guard and was assassinated by one of its death squads. In the wake of the killing, Vaida-Voevod spoke favorably of Iron Guard men who were on trial for sedition. Tătărescu returned at the helm of a new cabinet, despite Vaida's hopes that the king would prefer an alliance of the far-right parties, including his own faction.
Vaida-Voevod's radicalism got him expelled from the PNȚ in early 1935, leaving that party to be controlled by left-wing agrarianists. The "xenophobic and antidemocratic", "antisemitic radical right-wing", Romanian Front was born from this split. It began to function in April 1935 (officially: on March 12), declaring itself ready to serve the king's wishes, and counting on support from traditional PNȚ voters to become the catch-all far-right group. The split exasperated other PNȚ wings, and resulted in more clashes: the National Peasantist paramilitary guard, or Voinici, staged an attack on Vaida's newspaper, Gazeta de Transilvania. The FR took over the PNȚ newspaper of Constanța, Aurora Dobrogei, and founded its own regional organs: Basarabia Creștină (Chișinău), Biruința (Botoșani), and Chemarea Noastră (Ismail).
The wave of disgruntled PNȚ cadres signed up for the FR, including Vaida's collaborator Viorel Tilea, Gheorghe Mironescu (himself a former PNȚ prime minister), Aurel Vlad, D. R. Ioanițescu, Sever Dan, Gheorghe Ionescu-Sisești, and Eduard Mirto. It also included colleagues from Vaida's native Transylvania, primarily Emil Hațieganu, Dionisie Roman, Gavril Iuga, and Teodor Bohățiel. A while after, the FR registered in its ranks a prominent PNL defector, Constantin Angelescu. Other members of note were Savian Bădulescu (former Mayor of Bucharest), Coriolan Baltă, Ion Buzdugan, Romulus Cândea, and Ioan Gr. Periețeanu. The party was soon joined by professors such as George Moroianu and Mihai Șerban, and had an active cell at the University of Iași, under Petre Dragomirescu. Overall, in the academic world, some 10 professionals rallied with the FR. This was ahead of the Guard, but well below other parties on the right.
Numerus Valachicus agitation
One of the main points of FR policy was Vaida-Voevod's idea of minority quotas, which he termed the numerus Valachicus: the share in economy and culture "in proportion to [the Romanians'] ethnic number." The party program called for establishing a "really (biologically) national state", the "national organic State" (which "must be a Constitutional Monarchy"), with "the abolition of all class war". Vaida claimed that he was merely fulfilling his old agenda, arguing that, in places such as the Banat Romanians could only find employment doing menial labor. Proclaiming that "capital and labour must be subservient to the superior object of the Nation", the party proposed "the selection of the best elements among the children of the race" to take place within the school system. The program also emphasized that "there must be no policy of hatred towards the minorities", adding: "an end must be put to the privileged situation resulting from the past."
These policies replicated Guardist tactics, but did so in a positive discrimination manner, one not ostensibly antisemitic. The Iron Guard's "Captain", Corneliu Zelea Codreanu, wrote that: "if Vaida was ever antisemitic, he was one of the old school". During that interval, the Guard's intellectuals gave mixed reactions to the RF's antisemitic program. Sociologist Traian Brăileanu cautiously commended the FR for wanting to break away from "kike imperialism" and "kike finance", while philosopher Nae Ionescu referred to the numerus Valachicus as "a platform for agitation, not at all a political program."
The FR is often assumed to have been insincere or vague about its political radicalism. Analysts have dubbed it a "semi-fascist" or "profascist" party, one undecided about whether to support a fully-fledged dictatorship or a milder "national democracy". The group was otherwise compatible with the Iron Guard: both were seen by Guard sympathizer Petre Țuțea as exponents of the "revolutionary right", destined to blend together into "a single party or a state party." As noted by his colleague Mihail Sebastian, Ionescu took part in agitating for Vaida, and argued that the Front's alliance with the Guard and their common victory over Tătărescu were still inevitable. Allegedly, Ionescu also intervened to save the FR's Mirto when the latter was found to be running a smuggling business.
Vaida, who declared publicly that he had in him "a spark from Hitler's soul", imitated Italian fascism, Nazism, and the Guard itself at a primarily visual and declarative level. The FR had a command structure that led from the authoritarian party leader to the low-ranking members (recruited into watches, centuriae, and legions), and a political uniform consisting of black shirts. The party program dictated that elections were the cause of Romania's political problems, and therefore operated on the "authoritative criterion", including the nomination of the party elite "by the supreme leader"; the cadres were only entrusted with "deepening the penetration of the ideology [...] among the masses". Vaida also stated his radical anticommunism which, as historian Armin Heinen writes, "clashed bizarrely with the actual insignificance of the Communist Party." Communists such as Constantinescu-Iași reciprocated the sentiment, calling the FR part of the "black warmongers' bloc" and of "the fascist peril".
Despite official backing and circumstantial supporters, the Front failed to prosper, and was always a "frail party". As noted by Heinen: "Within just a few weeks, it became clear that Vaida could not fulfill the hopes invested in him [by the king]." Running the June by-elections for the Senate seat at Mehedinți, Vaida obtained less than 3,000 votes. One contributing factor was that Premier Tătărescu himself introduced some laws implicitly aimed against the Jewish community, whilst also seeking to deliberately contain the FR and other radical groups. The FR could still boast a strong presence in Guardist-dominated regions such as Câmpulung Moldovenesc, where its senator, Dumitru Tinu, ran a successful consumer cooperative.
From the beginning, the FR's alliance policy, and in particular its wish to create a "strong nationalist pole", drove it into negotiations with Carlist supporters on the extreme right. Its first partners were the antisemitic National-Christian Defense League (LANC), in particular its youth wing, and a more minor Iron Guard splinter group, the Crusade of Romanianism. However, the FR and the LANC were irreconcilable over Vaida's numerus Valachicus doctrines. The League's senior president, A. C. Cuza, wrote at the time that Vaida's system of quotas, "instead of signifying the defense of Romanian elements, will bring about the complete extinction of [our] ideal, 'Romania for the Romanians'." However, Vaida's antisemitic ideology won him the endorsement of the Romanian National Socialists, who were led by Ștefan Tătărescu, brother of the Premier.
In late 1935, the FR was negotiating an alliance with the more powerful National Christian Party (PNC), which had resulted, with Carol's blessing, from the LANC's merger with the National Agrarian Party. Together, the PNC and the FR established a Nationalist Bloc, the second-largest coalition in Parliament (after the PNL's). The PNC leader, Octavian Goga, welcomed Vaida as a fellow combatant "for the national cause." Nevertheless, the alliance saw PNC activists such as Nichifor Crainic, whose radical ethnocratic program was rejected by Vaida-Voevod, leaving in protest. A complete merger between the two parties failed to materialize, and, to the Guard's stated satisfaction, both the PNC and the FR experienced major internal dissension.
In March 1937, under a new Tătărescu government, the FR's black insignia and uniforms were outlawed, alongside those of other paramilitary movements (including the Guard and the PNC). The party continued to be identified by its main electoral logo, "two concentric circles with a single dot at the center", under which it ran in the local elections of June. According to Gazeta de Transilvania, this symbol was poorly understood by illiterate sympathizers, who mistakenly voted with the PNȚ's circle (which had been intensely popularized by Ioanițescu before his defection). Later that year, with the PNȚ ready to assume power, but depending on the royal prerogative, Carol II ordered it to accept Vaida-Voevod at Internal Affairs, knowing he would be refused, and hoping to alienate the PNȚ's left. Indeed, this situation renewed the tensions within the PNȚ: Armand Călinescu, who had served under Vaida, criticized the party leadership for not sealing a deal with the FR.
In the election of December 1937, the PNȚ signed a "non-aggression pact" with the Iron Guard. The FR (having failed in its bid to coalesce with the Guard) ran as an ally of the PNC and the PNL. A tangible consequence of the PNL pact was that the National Liberals stripped Jews from their electoral lists, on Vaida's request. At the time, the Front's antisemitic discourse became more explicit, with Vaida asking that Romania be "deloused" of its Jews, slated for mass deportation to Mandatory Palestine. Also joining this pact was the Nazi-influenced German Party, brought into it by a separate understanding with Vaida. The two agreed to run on a "nationally oriented" platform, against communism.
In some respects, the pact was a failure. As noted by Heinen, the deal itself was only apparently lucrative for the PNL: the FR had registered significant gains in local elections, but the extra votes came from members of the Guard, as the latter had opted not to put up candidates of its own. Hațieganu and other Transylvanians quit the Front, calling it a "mockery"; some of the FR's electorate refused to vote for the PNL, while Jewish National Liberal supporters were also largely alienated. Following indecisive results, Carol used his prerogative to call in a PNC minority government, under Goga. This act surprised Vaida, who was sure that no explicitly antisemitic party would ever be let into government by Carol. Goga also courted the Guard, but was swiftly refused, which led to campaigns of violence on both sides.
During its brief period in government, the PNC modified the electoral law to limit representation for smaller parties, hoping to attract the FR into a merger; Vaida refused, but Ioanițescu agreed, bringing the entire Old Kingdom sections of the FR under Goga's control. Eventually, in February 1938, Carol toppled Goga and set up a government of his choice, under Miron Cristea. Six former FR politicos, beginning with Ioanițescu, became ministers of that cabinet. In the end, both the FR and PNC were officially subsumed by the National Renaissance Front when Carol decreed the formation of a single-party dictatorship later that year.
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- Heinen, pp. 320, 331
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