On February 3, the body of Metropolitan of Cluj, Alba, Crisana and Maramures Bartolomeu Anania was entombed in a lavish ceremony presided by Patriarch Daniel Ciobotea of the dominant Romanian Orthodox Church, Democrat-Liberal Prime Minister Emil Boc, an impressive cohort of righteous monks, upcoming church hierarchs and pious politicians, and thousands of weeping faithful. Representatives of both Orthodox and non-Orthodox churches were in attendance. Some of his former students and admirers authored hastily written apologetic obituaries emphasizing the manifold merits of the former metropolitan – his endurance in the face of communist repression, well written verses, patronage of a new Romanian translation of the Bible, long-standing anticommunist allegiances, twelve-year-long missionary work in North America, efforts to reform the Romanian Orthodox Church in post-communist times, and support for cautious modernity and ‘true’ Romanian values. However, Anania remains a controversial figure who’ll continue to cast a long shadow over religion and politics in his country.
He is controversial for a number of reasons on which his chorus of adulators have remained silent. First is his collaboration with the dreaded communist political police, the Securitate, attested directly by the information notes Anania filed after he got out of jail in 1964, and indirectly by his prolonged visit in the United States on behalf of the Romanian Orthodox Church at a time when travel outside communist Romania was possible only with the approval of and within the strict confines established by the Securitate. Anania signed two information notes against Antonie Plamadeala, who was to become the Metropolitan of Transylvania during the 1982-2005 period. The notes were signed with the code name Apostol (The Apostle) in 1964, months after Anania’s release from the Aiud prison and shortly before he was sent by the Red Patriarch Justinian Marina to the United States to reorganize that Romanian diocese (1). As all other Romanian Orthodox leaders, with the exception of Metropolitan of Banat Nicolae Corneanu, Anania repeatedly denied any known and conscious collaboration with the communist secret police, even after hard evidence was brought before the public. His supporters believed either than the information notes did not do that much damage to those named in them (recte Plamadeala) or that Anania accepted to collaborate for a good cause – helping his church avoid obliteration at the hands of the communist authorities. No Securitate agent ever said that his collaboration was rooted in the wrong reasons, so Anania’s work for the communist political police should not be considered just a footnote to a generally pious life.
Second is his fascist past. In his much-awaited Memorii (2), which received a special prize from the Romanian Writers’ Union in 2009, Anania focused attention on his suffering as a political prisoner during communist times, and a victim of the horrific reeducation program (3). But the fact is that, as other Romanians who were politically persecuted by the communists, Anania was never a true believer in democrat principles, which he never internalized, even after spending over a decade in North America. His communist-era persecution was the result of his long-standing extreme-right allegiances, first as a member of the Brotherhood of the Cross (Fratiile de Cruce), recruited when he was only 15 years old, and then as a sympathizer of the Iron Guard, the brutal Romanian inter-war fascist organization responsible for a string of pogroms. Memorii glosses over this dark past, claiming that the Brotherhood was not anti-semitic in spirit and deed but had all the characteristics of a benign boy scouts organization, and that his involvement with the Iron Guard was limited to attending the funeral of a known Guard member. In other words, according to his Memorii, Anania was imprisoned by the communists because he just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, not as a result of any evidence of political extremism on his part. Here too there is one ‘but’. Anania’s encounter with fascism was far from being a simple brush, as attested by a number of interviews he gave to various newspapers after 1989, in which fascist ideas were couched in terms of an assumed anticommunist stance. Among his former students and disciples, some of whom went on to pursue doctoral studies in Western universities, fascism, not democracy, remains the accepted alternative to communism.
Third are the radical, ultra-conservative positions that Anania adopted after the collapse of the communist regime. These positions could have spelled disaster for the Romanian Orthodox Church, if Anania’s bid for assuming the Patriarch post succeeded in 2007. True, immediately after Ceausescu’s overthrown, Anania was a member of the Group of Reflection on Church Renewal, which called on Synod members who showed obedience to communist authorities and collaborated with the Securitate to step down. Seeing the faults of the older Synod members did not help Anania acknowledge his own. His opposition to the restitution of places of worship to the Greek Catholic Church, reconstituted in post-communist times, is well known. Anania’s unwillingness to share with the Greek Catholics the Cathedral of the Transfiguration in Cluj led to guerilla fights in which seminarians representing the two denominations fought pitched battles inside the church, in the altar and finally on top of the holy table (4). Anania also publicly opposed homosexuality and extolled the virtue of the traditional position on sexual relations by rejecting any “Westernization” of Romanian mores and remarking that “Europe asks us to accept sex, homosexuality, vices, drugs, abortions and genetic engineering, including cloning,” and came against the “impoverished Europe … built exclusively on politics and economics, lacking any trace of spirituality, culture or religion” (5). Surely, post-Cold War ‘Europe’ did not constrain Romanians to accept sex – they discovered it much earlier.
His Euro-skepticism drew support from nationalists of all persuasions, but reflected a poor understanding of history and democracy. In his words, Romanians “have always been Europeans, and thus one can speak not of our ‘entry’ into Europe, but of our reinsertion into Europe or, more precisely, Europe’s reinsertion into us” (6). Instead of denouncing Romania’s undemocratic political culture and under-performing economy, Anania reasoned, the West should set aside its “feelings of superiority” and realize that it, and it alone, was to blame for the country’s misfortunes (as though domestic politics and political culture had no impact). He lamented Western Europe’s penchant to treat Romanians as “impoverished primitives” and readiness to belittle Romania’s cultural riches and accomplishments. The West “calls us ‘Balkan’, although geographically we are not part of that region” and Romanians “always had the vision of and lived in Europe, the real Europe.” That “real Europe,” Anania reminded, gave the world great philosophers like Plato, Aristotle and Sophocles, a contribution invalidating the oft-cited division of the continent into the civilized, superior West and the primitive, inferior East. The Balkans were Europe’s roots drawing inspiration from “Hellenic thought, Christian spirituality and Roman civilization.” Rejecting this old, “real Europe,” the new Western Europe proposed instead “one Europe built on economics and politics, without any trace of culture and religion” (7). The fact that Plato, Aristotle and Sophocles were not Romanians and Romanians have scored the highest in world rankings of crass materialism were just small details to Anania’s broad argumentation (8).
Anania certainly led a complex, and often dangerous, life that should be considered in both its positive and not so positive aspects, as historian Cristian Vasile rightly suggested (9). If his legacy is to be preserved and his work is to be continued, as his testament called for, then I hope that his many vociferous and self-righteous disciples will not endeavor to perpetuate his clerical conservatism, Euro-skepticism, fascist allegiances, and anti-democratic sentiment.
(1) Mirela Corlatan, “Blestemul Apostol: Anania si Plamadeala s-au turnat cu acelasi nume de cod,” Evenimentul Zilei, 4 February, 2011, available at: http://www.evz.ro/detalii/stiri/blestemul-apostol-anania-si-plamadeala-s-au-turnat-cu-acelasi-nume-de-cod-920226.html.
(2) Bartolomeu Anania, Memorii (Iasi: Polirom, 2008).
(3) Virgil Ierunca, Fenomenul Pitesti (Bucharest: Humanitas, 1990).
(4) Lavinia Stan and Lucian Turcescu, “The Romanian Orthodox Church and Post-Communist Democratization,” Europe-Asia Studies, vol. 52, no. 8 (2000), pp. 1484.
(5) Bartolomeu Anania, “Ce ne ofera Europa?,” Evenimentul Zilei, 16 April 1998.
(8) See the work of Russel Belk. A more recent article is R. Stephen Parker, Diana Haytko and Charles Hermans, “The perception of materialism in a global market: a comparison of younger Chinese and United States consumers,” Journal of International Business and Cultural Studies, 2005, available at: http://www.aabri.com/manuscripts/09148.pdf.
(9) Cristian Vasile, “Bartolomeu Anania sau arta de a trai periculos,” http://www.contributors.ro, 1 February 2011.