- Holy Legionary Youth: Fascist Activism in Interwar Romania by Roland Clark
Holy Legionary Youth: Fascist Activism in Interwar Romania is a welcome addition to the literature on political and social movements in twentieth-century Eastern Europe. The book aims to provide a nuanced description of the process by which the ideas and words of a few radical leaders met with a growing interest on the part of a varied following to create a mass fascist movement and party. Roland Clark is not the first scholar to be interested in the question of how this process unfolded and what in particular made this sort of fascism so appealing for so many different types of constituencies, but this is the first book that focuses primarily on the everyday aspects of how the movement grew and became shaped at the grassroots level.
The book is organized in a somewhat chronological fashion, though the focus of the chapters is thematic. The first focuses on the roots of anti-Semitism and other forms of ultranationalism that provide the historical context for understanding the rise of fascism after World War I. The chapter summarizes points made by other scholars and explains both the evolution of political parties and ideologies, as well as the specific challenges posed by the creation of Greater Romania after 1918 in terms of interethnic relations. Missing from this picture is a discussion of what other movements or parties coexisted with [End Page 521] ultranationalism. The impression one walks away with is that ultranationalism was the main flavor of political ideology, which renders the rise of fascism more of an obvious next step than a historically contingent set of events.
“Youthful Justice,” the second chapter, focuses on activities young people and especially male college students engaged in during the 1920s as a way to define their political style and allegiances. It does an excellent job of bringing together archival and published documentary evidence that others have looked at in less systematic fashion, and creates a more comprehensive picture of the radical activism taking place simultaneously in several centers of higher education. It also delves into the specific style these early activists adopted, suggesting implicitly that what the legionnaires would eventually develop as a clearly articulated aesthetic and set of ideas were initially part of a bottom-up set of youthful activities.
The following chapters focus on how, with these two sets of contexts established, the legionary movement sought to mobilize support (chapters 3, 5, 6, and 7) and discipline the movement (chapter 4). Chapter 3 focuses on some of the types of constituencies the legion targeted as primary grounds for recruitment, as well as on some forms of institutionalizing the linkages between willing followers and leaders. Though some of the story has been told by others, the author brings greater detail to the building and functioning of the Legionary Home and the specific efforts made by legionary activists to mobilize urban workers. The nuanced description of these developments helps paint a sophisticated picture of the creative ways in which legionary leaders developed an esprit de corps among followers. Yet the author decided not to include the ways in which the legion sought to mobilize the Orthodox clergy in this chapter, instead dedicating chapter 6 to the linkages between Orthodoxy and legionarism. Also missing from the discussion is a substantial gender analysis of how mobilization worked for both men and women.
Chapter 5 focuses on the use of publications and other means to publicize legionarism and mobilize followers. It presents an illuminating discussion of political publications, from funding to printing and distribution. But it also raises a number of questions about the author’s use of these same politically biased sources in the book. The book’s footnotes are filled with references to publications criticized in this chapter as being suspiciously propagandistic. If those references were simply part of a discussion of how the legion shaped its message, there would be little reason to be concerned. But in some cases, these are also the sources for facts, rather...