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POPULISM in CENTRAL and EASTERN EUROPE

The Beauty and the Beast: Romanian Young Conservatives against the Western “Seven-Headed Monster”

By Maria Alina Asavei

In a recent popular TV show presented by the acclaimed journalist Marius Tuca (Marius Tuca Show, September 9, 2021), the 29-year-old PhD candidate argues that a new type of seven-headed political monster has been born and has already crossed the Atlantic. According to Silvian-Emanuel Man, the monster manipulates and threatens the skill of critical thinking among Romanian young people. The mythical enemy is reminiscent of the Biblical discourse revolving around the seven-headed beast in the Book the Revelation: 13. Envisioned as a supra-national “ideological” power, the monster’s noxious influence should be resisted and fought back through what Man calls “classical and national culture,” “national-orthodoxy,” and “conservative values.” He then criticizes the imported sexual education in Romanian schools and the worrisome levels of illiteracy among the young generation. The UAIC student leader is also known for his open conflicts with the rector of the university and for mobilizing the students to regain “our university” from the hands of the corrupted elites. During the televised interview, Man pointed out that Romanian young people have a crucial mission to revive what is “ours” and to return to classical education and values.

The TV host, Marius Tuca, reacted to these statements by pointing out that it is quite unusual (or even downright “weird”) to listen to young people who oppose progressive, liberal values. He points out that progressive young people are customarily perceived as “beautiful and free” unlike their opponents, the conservatives, who are regarded as “odd” or “freaks.” Yet, for young, conservative Romanians like Silvian-Emanuel Man, the “weird” label does not impede his constant appearances in public, dressed in impeccably tailored suits, matching ties, and pocket squares. This kind of public appearance, dressed in his Sunday best, as well as the nationalist and anti-Western discourses, have contributed to Silvian-Emanuel Man’s growing popularity. One of his most acclaimed public appearances is marked by his speech at the notorious Anniversary Congress of Students (held at the Putna Monastery in August 2021).  The applauded speech was attended by numerous students, Orthodox clerics (including the Patriarch Daniel) and even by the current Romanian Academy of Science president Ioan-Aurel Pop (who, like the patriarch, presumably collaborated with Securitate during communism). Shielded by both the Church and science’s guardians, the young student leader invoked the Romanian “nation,” “faith” and the need to draw the sword against the enemies of the nation, citing Christ’s line from the Bible “I did not come to bring peace, but the sword”. Oddly enough and unlike in Western European democracies, where high representatives of the Church and science have hardly any political weight, the Church and academy enjoy a considerable reputation in Romania as custodians of national traditions. While the Romanian mass media reported on Silvian-Emanuel Man’s discourse in congratulatory terms (calling his speech “fabulous,” “courageous,” “daring,” and “patriotic”), some international media outlets drew attention to the revitalization of a type of discourse that is reminiscent of the fascism (Legionary Movement) of the interwar period. These voicessignal that the fascist legacy is back in business, and what Silvian-Emanuel Man presented as a program of moral rejuvenation belongs to a political current that has swelled underground for many years and resurfaced with increased vigor with the ultra-nationalist Alliance for the Union of Romania party (AUR) in the last national election in December 2020. While Man acted as the leader of the student syndicate at Alexandru Ioan Cuza University in North-East Romania, his Putna speech emphasizes his mission and leadership over all Romanian students: “We want to enjoy the patronage of our Romanian Orthodox Church and the Romanian Academy of Science as young Romanians, and at the same time we want this holy day to be the foundation of a new beginning, in which the youth of this country will no longer express hopes, but to get to the facts, because Eminescu’s words from 150 years ago are still valid today: “he who wants to do something does not discuss but works.”

Juxtaposing the image of the progressive, negligent youth in blue jeans with the image of young, “properly dressed-up” and elegant, new Messiah of national awakening, the UAIC student leader is eager to accept invitations from various TV moderators and media producers, ensuring that his mission to educate the young generation and to fight the “monster” has enough visibility. He slowly builds up his charismatic leadership, employing the vocabulary of national awakening, youth and solid “classical values,” as well as his experience as a PhD researcher working in the archives to expose the truth about the past. His academic track record and elevated vocabulary, as well as the excessive attention paid to the flawless clothing and elegant gestures displayed in public further complicate the image of a populist, yet elitist, young intellectual.

Silvian-Emanuel Man’s Putna Speech:

The author is a researcher on the POPREBEL project. This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 822682.

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