Úz Valley Cemetery

Úz Valley memorial not a far-right symbol: Elie Wiesel Institute

The illegally placed and forcefully inaugurated Úz Valley Memorial is not a legionary symbol – which is illegal in Romania, according to law – but a Celtic cross, a pre-Christian symbol taken from the Christian funeral culture, the National Institute for Romanian Holocaust Studies “Elie Wiesel” (INSHR EW) told TransparentNews. This symbol is used in cemeteries, places of worship, vestments, or church adornments, while admitting that the Celtic cross has been used by far-right extremists in the interwar period, both in Europe and the U.S.

“This symbol is widely used in Europe, more frequently on funeral monuments in Ireland and Scotland. In Romania, it is used particularly in the Máramaros/Maramures area, both on funeral monuments and wooden gates,” the INSHR EW commented.

The INSHR admits that during the interwar period this symbol was used by far-right extremists and is currently the most widespread visual element used by the “white supremacy” movement, and that the neo-fascist organizations from Eastern Europe, Narodowe Odrodzenie Polski (the National Revival of Poland, an ultra-nationalist national-revolutionary far-right political party in Poland), the National European Front (2004–2015), and the Noua Dreapta party from Romania have used a version of the same symbol.

The Úz Valley Memorial, which is a huge Celtic cross, however, doesn’t violate the law, “because it is placed in a Christian necropolis”, the INSHR commented.

As we reported earlier, the illegally erected Celtic cross, which consists of a square cross interlocking with or surrounded by a circle, is one of the most important symbols used by the ultra-nationalist far-right political party Noua Dreapta in Romania. Interestingly, this party and its affiliated organizations use the same symbol in street demonstrations that spread hate speech.

What we can understand from this is the following: it all depends on the context. The Celtic cross that dots hundreds of cemeteries across Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, as well as Europe and beyond, is considered a Christian symbol. However, it also has its roots in ancient pagan beliefs (see Odin’s cross). The Norwegian Nazis used a version of this symbol in the 1930s and 1940s, and after World War II, a variety of supremacist groups and movements adopted the symbol, but today to judge the message of a symbol, you need to consider the context: if it’s placed in a military graveyard, the symbol is part of the Christian culture; if used on the streets and other places by ultra-nationalists and far-right extremists, it’s a legionary symbol prohibited by law in Romania.

Note: to understand the connotations of the word legionary – as opposed to its more traditional meaning of Roman legions or the French Foreign legion – we must go back a bit in Romanian history: the Iron Guard or Legion of the Archangel Michael was a fascist, anti-Semitic, anti-Hungarian and xenophobic movement active for most of the interbellic period. The members of its infamous paramilitary force were called “legionnaires”.

Author: István Fekete