Traian Basescu calls former monarch Mihai a "Russian servant." Observers puzzle: Historical ignorance or deliberate political provocation?
Attacked by the president: Romania’s former monarch Mihai. Photo: dapd
Romania’s President Traian Basescu has triggered a storm of indignation after calling former King Mihai a "traitor" and a "Russian servant" on television. In a TV talk show, the head of state expressed his opinion about the king’s resignation, which took place on December 30, 1947.
The latter was forced by the Soviets and the government of the time to sign his abdication document. Romania was then transformed into a "people’s democratic" republic on the Soviet model, the multiparty parliamentary system was abolished, and the bourgeois constitution was replaced by a Stalinist constitution.
For the king, an exile lasting more than four decades began. Only after the 1989 revolution was the ex-monarch, who lives in Switzerland, allowed to visit his old homeland again in the early 1990s. In the meantime, he received back his Romanian citizenship, as well as some of his former possessions. Since then, the 90-year-old ex-monarch has been living in Bucharest.
Observers of the Romanian political scene are now puzzling over how to evaluate this unexpected attack on the former king on the part of the president. Five years ago, a commission of experts appointed by Basescu of all people to study the effects of the communist dictatorship paid tribute to the historical role of the ex-king, particularly in connection with the arrest of the fascist military dictator and Hitler ally Ion Antonescu on August 23, 1944. The king placed himself at the head of a group formed by representatives of four banned parties that prepared and successfully carried out Antonescu’s overthrow. Romania, which until then had belonged to the Axis powers and had participated with Nazi Germany in the invasion of the Soviet Union, changed fronts and joined the Allies.
Basescu went one better
For his role in this about-face, Mihai was awarded a Soviet medal, which now earned him the accusation of being a "Russian servant."
But President Basescu went one better and declared the king complicit in the Holocaust. In 2004, an international commission headed by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel held the Antonescu regime exclusively responsible for the murder of some 400,000 Romanian and Ukrainian Jews and almost 20,000 Roma. The commission’s report emphasizes that no country other than Germany was involved in massacres of Jews on such a scale as Romania, ruled by Antonescu.
Revisionist circles, especially the post-communist sympathizers of the former military-fascist dictator and anti-Semite Antonescu, as well as the supporters of neo-fascist and ultra-nationalist groups, accused the ex-king of betraying the ideals of the Romanian nation. They raised the unfounded accusation that by overthrowing Antonescu, he had willingly given up the country’s sovereignty in favor of the Soviets.
Whether Basescu was trying to buy the goodwill of the revisionists with his scandalous statements or was merely displaying an ignorance of history is a matter of concern for Romanian media, civil rights groups and minority organizations. Calls for his resignation have also been voiced. The presidential palace has remained silent. One of the president’s brothers, however, told the press that the current head of state would never resign under duress, preferring death by bullet.