Anti-semitic and Holocaust-denying topics in the Romanian media.

Author:Florian, Alexandru


This paper will be looking at the main anti-Semitic and Holocaust-denying topics in the Romanian media during 2007. The axiological premise of this assessment is that in a modern society, freedom of expression is not unlimited. According to J.S. Mill, individual freedom should be used in such a way so as not to damage or limit somebody else's freedom (1994: 17). Thus, in some European countries, especially where the tragedy of the Holocaust and of the Fascist experience were more obtrusive, public manifestations of Holocaust denial were forbidden by law. One of the reasons was that in the period between the two world wars, xenophobic, nationalist and anti-Semitic right-wing radicalism easily succeeded to transform its discriminating message into physical extermination on ethnic and racial grounds. The reaction of civil society, democratic political parties and public opinion leaders against this policy was minor, if at all. Wherever fascist movements or political parties came to power, anti-Semitism became state policy.

In 2002, Romania joined the states that committee themselves to an active policy that discourages the use of Holocaust-denying and pro-fascist symbols. Austria, Germany, France and Spain have specific legal provisions that make Holocaust-denial a crime. In France, the Gayssot Law (July 13, 1990) brings some technical changes to the French criminal legal code, by adding art. 24 bis to the Law of mass-media freedom (1881). This article creates sanctions for those who publicly deny the existence of crimes against humanity, as defined in art. 6 of the Statute of the International Military Tribunal (2). The Austrian law is also a completion of an older legal provision. Art.3 par.h of the The law for banning Nazi or Fascist signs and organizations (1947) states that

[...] whoever denies the Nazi genocide or other Nazi crimes against humanity, or describes them as bluntly inoffensive, approves them or tries to justify them in a written work, on radio or by other means of public communication, or by another means that makes one publicly accessible to many people, will be punished.

Romania, Law 107/2006 reinforced the provisions initially stated by Governmental Order 31/2002, on banning fascist, racist or xenophobic organizations and symbols, as well as the promotion of the memory of persons found guilty of having committed crimes against peace and humanity. The law emerged in the context of a Romanian political scene where political actors and private persons were making efforts to rehabilitate Ion Antonescu using the myth of the hero who saved his country or of the one who symbolically reunited the split parts of his country. Before the Order was issued, from 1990 to 2001, six statues and monuments in Ion Antonescu's memory erected (T. Friling et al. 2005:364). Moreover, in the public area of media communication and culture, anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial were and still are present, some of them even having inciting connotations (3). Another aspect is the Internet promotion of webpages that are dedicated to the mythology of the Legionary Movement. Without necessarily being exclusively anti-Semitic, these messages promote nationalism, mysticism, authoritarianism and order, seen as opposing the values of the so called destabilizing democracy (4).

Bearing in mind the Romanian context, this work is structured on two main directions of assessment and interpretation. First it will try to identify the main subject matters and media expressions of support for spreading anti-Semitic or Holocaust-denying messages. Second, it will look at the dynamics of the anti-Semitic and Holocaust-denying discourse in the Romanian media from 2000 to 2007.

Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism: two subject-matters of the public message

Apart from the content of a particular message, we find there are at least two other factors which influence public opinion. The channel of communication is one of them, while the author is the other. For both, the successful reception of a message is enhanced by fame, credibility, the "package" of the resources that spread the message, its frequency, and so on. As a result, it is probable that an anti-Semitic or Holocaust-denying message will enjoy a more favorable reception if its author if the media channel that delivers it is better known and has a better market position.

Methodology, theoretical assumptions and working definitions of anti-semitism

This work employes qualitative data collected out of the main national newspapers, such as Adevarul, Atac, Cotidianul, Cronica Romana, Curentul, Gardianul, Gandul, Evenimentul Zilei, Jurnalul National, Romania Libera, Tricolorul, Ziua, as well as of periodical magazines (Aldine, the cultural supplement of Romania Libera, Lumea, Obiectiv Legionar Puncte Cardinale, Romania Mare) and websites (AlterMedia, HotNews, Noua Arhiva Romaneasca, Permanente, Rost). Reference to local or regional media outlets is simply peripheral, since this work is not intended to assess this category of media outlets.

This study is centered on two themes of symbolic communication: anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial. Both categories of messages express the same negative feelings towards Jewish people. A large part of the existing literature claddifies Holocaust denial as a new expression of antiSemitism or of Judeo-phobia (P Novick, 1999, Pierre-Andre Taguieff, 2002, M. Wieviorka, 2005). In the interpretation of the public discourse on Holocaust, we used the interpretative scale proposed by M. Shafir, according to which Holocaust-denying messages can be classified into: full denial, deflective (with the variants "it's the fault of the Germans", the blaming of "peripheral people" or "oblivion" of the main culprits, the Jews are to be blamed), selective denial and trivialization by comparison (M. Shafir, 2002).

The concept of anti-Semitism has multiple meanings. After the end of World War II, in 1946, J.P Sartre published an essay book dedicated to this social phenomenon. Interested in defining antiSemitism, the French philosopher recalled the liberal vision according to which "all tastes are found in nature, all opinions are allowed" (J.P Sartre, 2005, p. 9). If anti-Semitism were a simple opinion, it would have legitimacy to exist (J.P Sartre, 2005, p. 9). Thus, it could enjoy a public area of expression. However, Sartre finally reaches the conclusion that such messages, which bestow an imaginary blame on identifiable persons, do not have the features of opinions. On the contrary, they belong to the doctrinal discourse. "I refuse to call "opinion" a doctrine whose clear purpose is the stripping of rights or the extermination of a certain person" (J.P. Sarte, 2005, p. 11).

In order to underline the difference between classical doctrines (liberalism, socialism, conservatism) and anti-Semitism, the philosopher introduces an extra criterion, that of the message's universality. He notices that, for anti-Semitism, the Jew is not the expression of a human ideal, but a person which can be identified in society after a series of features. This way, his or her role is to incite. Thus, "the Jew being vexed by the anti-Semite is no longer an abstract being, only defined by his or her position, as in administrative law, or by his situation or actions, as in the Legal Code. He is a JEW, the son of a Jew, identifiable by his it her physical appearance, clothes and, nonetheless, his or her character. Anti-Semitism is not part of the category of messages under the protection of the Right to Free Expression" (J.P Sartre, 2005, p. 11-12). It is an ideology where "passion", emotions and irrationality, all have an important part in the construction of the message.

For the purpose of this analysis we will employ the definition of anti-Semitism as provided by the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC, 2004, p. 12): "any attitude/action that is hostile towards Jews perceived as "Jews" or "because they are Jews" (5). This sentence puts forward, on the basis of the anti-Semitic literature from Nazi Germany, seven stereotypes for the identification of anti-Semitism. Sentences in which the Jew appears as: (1) liar, dishonest, shrewd; (2) alien, having a different nature from others; (3) hostile, irreconcilable, agitator; (4) radesman, a symbol of capitalism; (5) corrupt; (6) holder of power and influence, conspirator; (7) author of deicide (having killed Jesus).

This perspective also has its critics. Kenneth S. Stern in Anti-Semitism Today. How it is the Same, How it is different, and how to fight it, considered that stereotypes are derived from anti-Semitism, and not a feature of it (Kenneth S. Stern, 2006:98). As a result, EUMC formulated a new definition of anti-Semitism in 2005. This time, the organization planed to elaborate "a practical guide for the identification of incidents, for gathering information and for supporting the implementation and application of legislation about anti-Semitism". Under these circumstances, anti-Semitism was defined as

[...] a certain perception about the Jews, which can be expressed as hatred for the Jews. Verbal and physical displays of anti-Semitism are focused against Jewish individuals, non-Jews or/and against their properties, against Jewish communal institutions and religious buildings.

Among other things, EUMC's framework qualifies as anti-Semitic public displays the support or justification of violence against Jewish people on behalf of a radical ideology or accusing Jewish people of being guilty for real or imaginary abominable deeds EMUC equals Holocaust denial to a form of anti-Semitic display.

In our view, Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism are not the same things. As Michael Shafir mentions, though anti-Semitism is for sure one of the causes of Holocaust denial, it could not be the only one, and definitely not always the main one. Shafir is right to mention that "Holocaust denial is a reflection of a...

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