Coaliția pentru Familie, între Est și Vest 1

Textul de mai jos este extras din lucrarea comună Propaganda Made to Measure: How Our Vulnerabilities Facilitate Russian Influence. Varianta publicată pe site-ul nostru are ceva mai multe detalii si note de subsol care ar putea interesa pe cei ce se apleacă asupa Coaliției pentru Familie  în acest context turbulent dar care, în contextul lucrării mai largi, ar fi putut fi excesive,

Lucrarea este descrisă după cum urmează:

Think Cambridge Analytica is the worst it gets? No, it’s only the tip of the iceberg!

GlobalFocus Center study is first to map out the internal vulnerabilities in our states & societies, which #Russia, illiberals, #Daesh etc profile and use against us.

Complete with PROPAGANDA PERMEABILITY INDEX, which measures structural vulnerabilities in each country, in the four major sectors relevant to subversion efforts: society, economy, politics, foreign policy/security.

The Coalition for Family

The present study focuses primarily on the tools and avenues which propaganda could use, on where and how it could hit and the shape it could take. This is not to say though that our study material is entirely theoretic or speculative. Just as we write, we are witnessing the most prominent (non-electoral) propaganda operation in years: the effort, sponsored by “traditionalist” NGOs, to amend the Constitution to ban gay marriage. Our analysis of this effort, carried out below, not only serves as a practical demonstration of how propaganda operates, but also aims to sound the alarm on a risky misconception: that a country like Romania, consistently Europhile and Russophobic, relatively well-anchored in the European space of norms and values as compared to its neighbours, is consequently sheltered from malicious influences, either of Russian origin or which align – fully or partly, willingly or not – with the Russian agenda. It also describes how a movement started around a rather niche, focused, limited goal can snowball into a larger social phenomenon of contestation of some of the fundamental principles which organise a society – effectively punching well above its apparent weight.


In the ‘90s, Romanian Orthodox conservatism generally aimed to follow the community from Mount Athos and, more generally, Greek Orthodoxy. However, the centre of gravity of Orthodox conservatism shifted in time from Greece to Russia. While Greeks became more liberal and would eventually admit same-sex legal partnerships, Moscow became a centre of conservatism, heavily supported by the Russian state. As far as we can tell, the shift happened gradually. There have been rumours about privileged contacts between Russian and Romanian Orthodox conservatives, especially in Moldavia, but we have not been able to corroborate them. The recent exchange of visits by the Patriarch of the Romanian Orthodox Church Daniel to Moscow (December 2017)(1) and of the Patriarch of the Russian Church Kirill to Bucharest (October 2017, the first such visit in decades)(2) offers the only visible instance of significant bilateral contacts. Also, at its worse, Romanian Orthodox conservatism sees itself as continuing the tradition of the interwar (fascist) organisation called The Legion of the Archangel Michael / Iron Guard(3)

There have been rumours about privileged contacts between Russian and Romanian Orthodox conservatives, especially in Moldavia, but I have not been able to corroborate them(4). However, while punctually praising the Russian Orthodox Church and maybe approving acts by Putin, Romanian Orthodox conservatives try to remain as staunchly anti-communist and as wary of Russian power as ever. This is to say that sympathy towards Russian conservative policies does not readily translate into trust in “geopolitical” Russia(5).

Traditionally, much of the conservative activity happens within the metropolitan jurisdiction of the Romanian province of Moldova. To give a quick example, the metropolitan Teofan (a conservative himself) was reprimand by members of his own flock for taking part at the Crete Orthodox Synod (6,7). The superior patriarchal chair, held by Teoctist and currently by Daniel, has typically held friendlier (ecumenical) positions towards Catholics and more obedient towards the state.

Despite the existence of a significant conservative movement, the Orthodox Church did not initially throw its weight behind any legal marriage (8) discrimination towards homosexuals. It preferred to let the state act with relative freedom.

The Coalition for Family (Ro: Coaliția pentru Familie) is a coalition of NGOs that nominally supports and protects families. It is currently focused on an initiative to change the Constitution so that it forbids any marriage that is not between a man and a woman.

The coalition appears to combine American ‘Neo-Protestant’ (9) know-how and presumably money with the access to population provided by the Orthodox Church. Its positions are also aligned with Russia’s views on sexuality and human rights.

The roots of the current coalition do not lie with the official church or extremist parties, but rather with the centre-right Liberal Democrats. In 2012, while the party was in government, several parliamentarians initiated a proposal for compulsory counselling before abortion (10) (which has since been tacitly buried and forgotten somewhere in a parliament committee). It was reportedly supported by:

  • Orthodox intellectuals around the Christian Democrat Foundation

  • Orthodox militants around the (anti-abortion) Pro Vita Association and its chapters

Note that, while CDF is generally considered mainstream, Pro-Vita is not. The leader of the (important) Bucharest Chapter was proved (11, 12) to have spoken favourably of the Legion of the Archangel Michael. The two organizations worked together on abortion issues (13, 14).

  • The (mostly though not entirely) Neo-Protestant Association of Families in Romania, currently run by Peter Costea. AFR seems to have good contacts in the United States.

Note that the only personal contact for AFR is a Neo-protestant American lawyer, Peter Costea (15). There is widespread speculation that Neo-protestants from the US have provided money and experience for campaigns against abortion and gay marriage. The money trail has not been investigated thoroughly, to the best of my knowledge. But the intellectual influences are visible. Even the idea of pre-abortion compulsory counselling seems to originate from the American political practice.

Note that is shared by  Pro Vita Bucharest, AFR and other similar organisations.

Note that Bogdan Mateciuc, once apparently the most prominent Orthodox figure in AFR (16, 17) appears to be a legionnaire sympathiser (18).

  • Liberal Democrats from Western Transylvania, led by Gheorghe Falcă.

In 2013, people and organisations who had fought together to oppose abortions came together again to oppose gay marriage and require banning it in the Constitution (19). This meant again Pro Vita (several chapters) – the Bucharest chapter of Pro-Vita actually controls the CfF donations account, since the Coalition for Family (CfF) is not a legal person; again, AFR; again, the Falcă political group (20).

In 2016 they started a popular legal initiative to change the Constitution.

Only this time the Romanian Orthodox Church is on board and this changes everything.

The great synergy

Even though CfF comprises more groups and orientations, the most important are the (American-influenced) Neo-Protestants and the (Russian-influenced?) Conservative Orthodox Christians. It is relevant to mention here that this is a David and Goliath alliance. The Neo-Protestants are a small religious minority, albeit well organised, while the Orthodox Christians are more than 85% (21) of the population.

The alliance is both pro-American and, discreetly, pro-Russian. CfF are great supporters of Donald Trump and publish photos and messages from him (22). But they also mention Russia positively when they find it appropriate (23).

It would appear that the Protestant lobby brings in the branding and name recognition. A brief Google (24) inquiry shows that the Romanian term “Coalitia pentru Familie” is searched almost exclusively in the capital and the western counties where both Neo- Protestants and former Liberal Democrats are strong.

At the same time the Orthodox Church appears to have delivered the access to the larger population. While CfF is known more in the Western parts of the country, most signatures

for the proposal were obtained in the Eastern counties under the (Orthodox, conservative) metropolitan seat of Moldova (25).

In the map below, you can see the four counties that brought in most searches for the Coalition (blue) (26) and the states that appear to have brought in most signatures for the effort to change the Constitution (dark red) (27).

What does CfF actually stand for? A multilayer analysis

As a strategy for its advocacy work, CfF seems to offer a minimum of “attack surface” (28). It has a more complex official manifesto, but only accepts to speak of its current endeavour to change the Constitution. It has various semi-official representatives/ proxies who can make occasional public appearances, but it can also disavow them when convenient. It is known to have deleted Facebook posts and altered the content of its own web pages. While it rarely (if ever) contradicts its past positions directly, CfF can add or subtract critical nuances into/from its own discourse and act like no change ever happened.

As such, it would be futile to distil a single “essence” of CfF, but it is better to speak of various different levels of its discourse. While this is not an academic endeavour, it has been influenced by research on Richard Nixon’s Southern Strategy (29) and by the work of Hannah Arendt on totalitarian movements (30).

The outer layer: An effort to change a single article in the Constitution

The Romanian Civil Code already prohibits gay marriage. The official movement wants to enshrine this in the Constitution. It justifies its endeavour by the people’s right to direct the politicians through referenda. It can occasionally refer to Rousseau’s concept of volonté générale as an epitome of what a democracy should be.

On the other hand, CfF has argued that, should marriage be defined exclusively as the union between a man and a woman, non-nuclear families will continue to be protected (31) by other articles in the Constitution. It also keeps silent on civil unions between gays and, generally, does its best not to be seen as an intolerant or discriminatory group.

Thus, the CfF programme is actually fluid. The coalition holds firm on its current strategic objective, but in other areas it can make tactical retreats.

In the very first public document (32) in 2013, CfF asks that the Constitution speaks of the Christian roots of Romanian values. This request has been silently dropped, and representatives would occasionally (33) insist that CfF promotes “traditional” and not strictly “Christian” values.

Formal (34 and informal representatives of CfF prefer to be served rather than hostile to civil unions beteween homosexuals. However, in 2013 (35), 2015 (36) and 2016 (37) CfF was officially opposed. It had since deleted the position documents or the links to them.

CfF has deleted from its website the link to a controversial (38) set of proposals (39) resulting from the public consultations they organised.

The middle layer: messages for the connoisseurs

CfF claims (40) that if they fail to change the constitution, a large array of negative consequences will likely occur. These include homosexual adoptions, exposure to “gay propaganda” in schools, parents having a lesser say in children’s education, conservative Christians being forced to act against their conscience (such as in baking cakes with gay messages) (41). It claims that, by preventing gay marriage and maybe civil unions, steps are made towards protecting society against such “unfortunate” events.

This is not legally accurate. From a legal standpoint, successfully changing the Constitution may limit (though not forbid) gay adoptions and it will do precious little in all other respects. If we were to read the actions of CfF only from the legalistic perspective offered by the “outer layer”, these predictions would be absurd. We must, therefore, read them from a cultural perspective.

Changing the Constitution would reinforce the societal message that gay people are “not normal” and “deviant”. Thus, they can be granted many rights similar to those of “normal” people but not all the rights of normal people. We can call this agenda the a-normalisation of homosexuality. It is opposed to an agenda implicit in the lay state and in the workings of international institutions to normalise homosexuality, either by active measures or by mere neutrality.

Once the abnormality of being gay has been re-established, there is indeed a better chance that social workers will refuse adoptions to “suspicious” single people. There is a better chance that teachers and professors would suppress references to gay people and gay culture from schools. There is a better chance that Christian bakers will never have to write the word gay on cakes.

But a once-off grand gesture of a-normalisation does not suffice. We can safely assume that there is an implicit promise that CfF will continue to fight above and beyond the current episode and ensure that the “perilous measures” mentioned above do not come to pass. Perhaps it is useful to compare with what Hannah Arendt calls “infallible predictions”. Such predictions are, in fact, promises to act in a certain way once in power.

[The method of infallible prediction] is fool-proof only after the movements have seized power. […] Before mass leaders seize the power to fit reality to their lies, their propaganda is marked by its extreme contempt for facts as such, for in their opinion fact depends entirely on the power of man who can fabricate it. The assertion that the Moscow subway is the only one in the world is a lie only so long as the Bolsheviks have not the power to destroy all the others. In other words, the method of infallible prediction, more than any other totalitarian propaganda device, betrays its ultimate goal of world conquest, since only in a world completely under his control could the totalitarian ruler possibly realize all his lies and make true all his prophecies.”

CfF arguably works with what Arendt might call masses. It does show some contempt for facts, as shown in discreetly re-writing parts of its history. At least four documents have been withdrawn from its official website (section: documents for discussion). At least one organisation withdrew (42) from the Coalition under accuses of extremist (legionnaire) sympathies – the name has been deleted from the official member list (43) with no comments. At least one point of its official manifesto (44) has been altered (45).

While it is not a totalitarian organisation, CfF had a (brief but official) Christian fundamentalist past, and many in the larger movement have authoritarian tendencies (manifest in opposing gay pride parades, gay presence in the streets, etc.). It is not unreasonable to also read the factual predictions of CfF as threats and promises.

The inner layer: Christian fundamentalism and far-right

Due to rather low church-attendance rate, Romania is not a great market for religious fundamentalism (46) and extremism. Indeed, it would be difficult to find a topic where mainstream opinions are fundamentalist. For example, the largest party in Romania, currently in power, came close to appointing a Muslim woman as prime minister and there was minimal religious protest.

Homophobia is one of the extremely few topics where fundamentalists seem to be mainstream. Data from a FRA 2012 study (47) show that 77% of Romanians evaluate that sightings of gay persons holding hands are very rare. In the countries studied rarer sightings have been reported only in Lithuania and Croatia.

As such, CfF is an attraction for fundamentalist and extremist religion-based organisations. Pro-Vita Bucharest (which holds the donations accounts of CfF) is run by a person that used to admit sympathies for the Legionnaire Movement (Romanian fascists). Pro Vita also has a fundamentalist agenda that speaks of a separate role for women in family (including accepting gender-based wage discrimination and providing subsidies for staying at home and making babies). The main purpose of Pro-Vita is to oppose legal permission for abortions. Another example is Asociația Rost, which has only retired from the Coalition to avoid controversy, as it was once accused of extremist sympathies. Some organisations are involved in the anti-vaccination movement or domestic violence as a way to educate unruly children.

Such entities arguably fight for more than a one-off change in the Constitution. They fight for more than the implicit agenda seen in the middle layer. They fight to amass legitimacy and resources so that they can fight their “holy war”. It is difficult to estimate how many organisations have an extremist agenda, as they do not exactly advertise, but it can be empirically estimated that at least a quarter of the forty-some CfF organizations harbour demonstrable extremist ideas or militants.

Does CfF make Romanians more vulnerable to (foreign) propaganda?

An answer to this question also has multiple layers.

The bright side: CfF gives a voice to people who have been voiceless to some extent in mainstream debate. It has also acted so far squarely within the law. As such, it may be useful to create loyalty to the workings of the democratic state.

The grey side: CfF seems to aggravate the gap between conservative tendencies on the one side and liberal or progressive tendencies on the other. Understanding gaps fosters debate and a societal debate may bring both parties to a better reciprocal understanding and can educate a public opinion that is more robust and resistant to external influences. But, given the current populist surge in the world, we can also fear that some divisions may not heal so quickly. It may be worth noting that CfF employs heavily manipulative discourse tactics (48), further diminishing the chances for honest debate.

The dark side: CfF promotes a simplistic understanding of democracy, where “the people” are generally (maybe always) right and referenda are the highest form of democracy. This doctrine is not “open to populist interpretations” – it is purely and simply populistic itself.

Liberal constitutional democracies rely not on the raw power and will of the people but on checks and balances.

In terms of political leverage, the third largest party in Romania, the Save Romania Union (USR), has lost its leader during heated internal debates on whether it should oppose CfF or not. The party enjoys the fortunate combination of two attributes: it is anti-system but in no way anti-democratic. If it should disappear by 2020, anti-system sentiment may become easier to manipulate towards populist platforms.

If the Constitution does modify as requested by CfF it may bring forth new intolerance towards gay people, further the members’ agenda and, perhaps, make the Romanian polity more similar to the one in Poland or Hungary.

More along the lines of our present study, the Christian fundamentalist conservative agenda aligns with the Kremlin’s as described above and could offer the ideal fertile ground for surreptitiously building a constituency.

It also illustrates how a narrative which starts out as a message on a niche topic, which apparently presents little mass appeal or interest and did not feature high on the public agenda, can snowball into a major national scandal, involving a mandatory constitutional referendum. Furthermore, it can erupt (as has been the case) into a whole range of anti-EU messages, all stemming from the fabricated East/ West opposition, whereby the West is the sinful bearer of ‘decadent’ customs (homosexuality, abortion, family dissolution etc.) sapping at the root of society, while Russia is the defender of orthodox traditional values. The consequences of said propaganda campaign are still unfolding, as Eurosceptic messages are multiplying day by day and are being taken on board at the highest levels of political leadership and intellectual elites, whether out of pure ideological conviction or electoral opportunism.

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  1. Pingback: Romania: il referendum per ridefinire l’idea di famiglia – The United Network Post

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