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The Alliance for the Union of Romanians: A litmus test for a far-right party (C-REX - Center for Research on Extremism)

  • The Hub on Emotions, Populism and Polarization (HEPP), University of Helsinki


After garnering considerable media attention during its first year, the Alliance for the Union of Romanians (AUR) is dropping in the polls because of the war in Ukraine. The change in media logic is affecting the clout of the far-right party in Romania.
The Alliance for the Union of Roma
nians: A litmus test for a far-right
After garnering considerable media attention during its first
year, the Alliance for the Union of Romanians (AUR) is
dropping in the polls because of the war in Ukraine. The
change in media logic is affecting the clout of the far-right
party in Romania.
by Ionut Chiruta — Aug. 1, 2022 1:39
Photograph by Arnaud Jaegers, under a CC license via UnSplash
If far-right parties do not get media coverage, they risk being side-lined in the political
arena. This has turned out to be the case for the Romanian far-right party Alliance for
the Union of Romanians (AUR). AUR emerged strongly during the COVID-19 crisis,
using populist rhetoric with a nationalist ideology centred on economic protectionism,
Orthodox Christianity, traditionalism, and anti-COVID restrictions and vaccines. Anoth
er major geopolitical crisis later, the trajectory of AUR is different.
AUR’s trajectory
The centre-right coalitions led by the National Liberal Party (PNL) and Save Romania
Union (USR) fumbled the response to COVID-19. This gave rise to institutional crises,
which, in turn, facilitated the far-right’s return to mainstream politics. Between May and
December 2020, the Romanian public discovered how politicised the healthcare sys
tem is and how connected hospital managers, who usually lack medical education, are
to political parties. Consequently, medical institutions almost succumbed under the
pressure of COVID-19, and the resulting unstable government coalitions facilitated the
rise of AUR.
While the mainstream parties debated COVID-19 restrictions and the freedom of
movement for Romanians on television, AUR opposed these policies and instead
communicated directly with the electorate via social media. Throughout this time, AUR
perfected its social media know-how to reach audiences who felt disenfranchised in
Romania or those who felt exploited in West-European countries like Germany or Italy.
AUR’s effort proved worthwhile, as 120.000 Romanians, whose identity was caught
between these realities, gradually radicalised. The Romanian diaspora, which once
tilted towards centre-right and pro-reformist parties, was swayed by AUR’s nationalist-
populist rhetoric. 23% of Romanians from the diaspora voted for AUR. In Italy and
Spain, the countries with the largest Romanian diaspora, AUR got the most votes.
Consequently, AUR reached 9.1% in the 2020 elections.
In 2021-22, the party managed to capture the public’s attention and elevate its position
to that of the second-largest party in parliament, at 22.3%, through carefully choreo
graphed protests. The use of violence did not drive people away, nor did its use of an
tisemitic and anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and policies convince Romanians to distance them
selves from AUR. If anything the opposite, while the party presented itself as a punish
er of corrupt liberal elites from the mainstream parties. However, the Russo-Ukrainian
war sharply reduced AUR’s popularity in February and May. In three months, AUR
dropped by 12% in the polls.
Internal turmoil
Before February 24, when the Ukrainian-Russian war started, AUR’s discourse grew
more extreme. Consequently, some news channels like Romania TV noticed an op
portunity and gave AUR a platform to increase their viewership. In return, AUR's
brashness and unconventional discourse reached new electorates. More channels
granted prime time exposure to AUR bigwigs George Simion and Claudiu Târziu, the
party’s co-chairs. While Simion is responsible for the mediatisation of demonstrations,
Târziu is the AUR’s ideologue. Simion rose to power after a career as a football ultra,
whereas Târziu was a journalist. Both have employed verbal and physical violence to
further their ends. Journalists and historians alike have underlined AUR’s imitation of
the Romanian fascist Iron Guard with their anti-system position, the creation of moral
panics, and deployment of verbal and physical violence.
But even as the party grew, its structure began crumbling in early February 2022. Al
ready before then, the public could see that the two chairs were at odds with each oth
er. Simion announced the acceptance of several far-right personalities into AUR, who
overtly glorified the interwar fascist Iron Guard which is criminalized in Romania
clearly opposed the EU, and favoured Russia.
Four days before Russia invaded Ukraine, AUR was a divided party. Târziu’s wing de
sired for AUR to become a respectable conservative party, accepted by a larger Ro
manian electorate. Târziu’s vision clashed with Simion's wing, which wanted to pre
serve AUR’s reputation as a fierce mover and shaker of Romanian politics. Fearing a
coup, Simion called for a party congress in March 27 to elect a single chair. In order to
forestall a further split in the party, in his new position as sole chair," Simion accommo
dated Târziu’s demands concerning pro-EU membership rhetoric, and the removal of
controversial figures who endorsed closer ties to Russia.
The consequences of the congress
AUR’s overhaul generated a plethora of new far-right groups. Several MPs who previ
ously supported AUR’s extremist direction went on to create new parties. Disillusioned
with the current management, they criticised Simion for his soft rhetoric on anti-COVID
measures and positive stance on EU membership, and went on to form other far-right
parties like the Romanian People's Patriots Party and Orthodox Brotherhood. They
oppose NATO and the EU, and promote conspiracy theories like the Great Reset, a
narrative which claims that a global elite is using COVID-19 to enforce radical social
change and exploit natural resources. It is unlikely that these parties will succeed in
the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The Russian invasion’s impact on the far-right
Before the war, AUR was the main topic of the RomaniaTV and Antena 3 news chan
nels, and the most shared Romanian party on Facebook. Indifferent to the damage
done by mainstreaming it, AUR’s extremism was exploited by the media for profit.
However, sensing the implications of Russia’s invasion for regional security, the media
quickly changed its narratives and reduced the coverage of the party, focusing instead
on the war and its consequences.
Overall, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has been a setback for AUR’s progress.
Across Western Europe, the Ukraine crisis made life difficult for right-wing populists
and far-right parties, because most like-minded leaders from Poland, Italy and Czechia
noticed the Russian threat to European security. The same may have happened to
AUR, which was not as quick to denounce Russia’s invasion as its far-right counter
parts elsewhere in Europe. As Russian guns levelled Ukraine’s cities and villages, the
Romanian public remembered the Russian occupation in the 1940s, so that the image
of Russia as a historical antagonist has been re-popularised.
Through the initial phase of the war, Romanian society showed incredible solidarity
with Ukrainian refugees, whereas former AUR senators, promoted by Kremlin’s mouth
piece,, claimed there was no war in Ukraine. The position of AUR became
uncomfortable for Simion when questioned by the media about the party’s silent
marches past the Russian embassy in Bucharest. The more Russian guns pummelled
Ukrainian cities, the less AUR had to say. Its rhetoric and street performances did not
have the same impact as previously.
Yet, the last nail in the AUR coffin was the reaction of the Romanian public vis-à-vis
EU and NATO unity. Anti-EU and anti-NATO rhetoric has become contentious for AUR
as popular support for EU and NATO membership has skyrocketed. Anti-EU and anti-
NATO statements made by AUR’s leaders were replayed in Romanian media. Journal
ists showed discursive similarities between AUR and the Russian-promoted narratives
on Sputnik or Facebook. Political analysts showed that the policies promoted by AUR
are similar to those of the Russian and Hungarian governments, and AUR opposed
EU sanctions of Russia. Quickly, the Russian connection became more visible to the
The media’s narrative shift might act as the cordon sanitaire that the political parties
could not establish because these mainstream parties may want to be seen before the
2024 elections as bulwarks against the far-right and defenders of Romania’s pro-Eu
ropean and NATO membership. However, 2024 is still a way off and Romania is noto
rious for its unstable political climate. The current coalition is fraught with regular inter
nal turmoil and is widely perceived as unqualified. The government of President Klaus
Iohannis is generally detested. High prices and increased corruption generate anxiety.
These are dormant crises on which far-right parties can still capitalise.
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