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Eastern’s Roland Clark Authors “Holy Legionary Youth”

Published on September 04, 2015

Eastern’s Roland Clark Authors “Holy Legionary Youth”

When Roland Clark, history professor at Eastern Connecticut State University, was an undergraduate in Australia, a professor mentioned “clerical fascism” in one of his courses. “I was already interested in the relationship between religion and politics,” he said, “and my 20-year-old self thought that the idea of priests with guns sounded pretty cool.”

Years later, after delving into the fascist movement of interwar Romania, Clark has just completed a book on the topic — “Holy Legionary Youth: Fascist Activism in Interwar Romania” — and the notion of “priests with guns” turns out to be far from the truth.

While “the Legion” — Romania’s fascist movement of the early- to mid-1900s — has long been used in comparative studies about fascism, there was no comprehensive literature written about it in English. Previous texts “presented the movement as a religious cult with a charismatic leader who conned naïve peasants into worshipping him,” said Clark.

After living in Romania and comparing oral histories and memoirs with the archives of the Romanian Secret Police, Clark found the reality was very different. “I think my book proves that not only was the Legion not a religious movement, but the peasants, workers and intellectuals who supported the Legion knew exactly what they were signing up for when they became fascist activists.”

This awareness and willingness to join the movement is the phenomenon that the “Holy Legionary Youth” aims to describe. “The heart of the book is about how becoming an activist changed everyday life,” said Clark. “Becoming a ‘legionary’ marked you; you were labeled an extremist. Many went to prison. Marriages and friendships were broken. Many of Romania’s best and brightest joined; they dropped out of school, traveled the country as full-time activists, endured intense physical training, fought the police.”

Beginning in 1927, the Legion was one of Europe’s largest and longest-lived fascist movements. It started as a way to rebel against the government, which had maintained oppressive power for generations. “It developed out of hooliganism, but they believed they were fighting for their country,” said Clark. “Even though they were on the edges of the law, people still had respect for them and thought they were honorable.”

Researching the Legion was a complicated process. “Getting access to the archives of the Romanian Secret Police was very difficult,” said Clark. “In order to view files, you need hard-to-find details about your subjects” — the information is sensitive — “then you don’t always have the full archive. Even worse is that the confessions in the archives were made under torture. I had to compare those files with other sources to decide which were true.”

“Holy Legionary Youth” builds on the only other major monograph on the movement, written 30 years ago in German. “That is an amazing book,” said Clark. “Not one footnote is wrong, which is incredible because he did not have the access to information that I had. He argued that the Legion was indeed a fascist social movement, not a religious cult, but relied mostly on writings by the movement’s leaders. Mine is the first book from the perspective of rank and file legionaries.”

Clark will give a book talk Sept. 23 on Eastern’s campus in room 301 of the Science Building.

Written by Michael Rouleau