Romanian Bank says coin not meant to “hurt anybody’s feelings”
By Joshua McMorrow-Hernandez and Coinweek Staff Reports …….
On May 13, the United States Embassy in Bucharest issued a statement expressing its disappointment in the National Bank of Romania’s decision to keep the fascist, anti-Semitic former bank governor Mihail Manoilescu on the obverse of the latest issue in a series of commemorative coins honoring the bank’s past governors.
Manoilescu’s image appears on three new Romanian commemorative coins: a copper one-lei coin, a silver 10-lei coin, and a gold 100-lei coin. On each obverse, Manoilescu is flanked by two other former National Bank governors: Ion Lapedatu (governor 1944-45) to his left and Ion I. Câmpineanu (gov. 1888) to his right.
However, officials at the United States Embassy in Romania believe Manoilescu’s anti-Semitic socio-political views should have unequivocally precluded his appearance on the three commemorative issues.
“The U.S. Embassy is disappointed by the National Bank of Romania’s decision to honor former interwar National Bank Governor Mihail Manoilescu through the release of coins bearing his image,” reads the official statement issued by the Embassy on behalf of Hans G. Klemm, United States Ambassador to Romania.
“Manoilescu was an active promoter of and contributor to fascist ideology and anti-Semitic sentiment in Romania, which ultimately led to the country’s darkest period. While the U.S. Embassy acknowledges Romania’s right to celebrate the traditions of its institutions, these celebrations should not include images of people who have been condemned by history and, through honoring them, validate them.”
Manoilescu’s fascism and anti-Semitic reputation are well noted. He once proclaimed that “the racial basis of Romania is the same as that of Aryan Europe.” Manoilescu was also associated with the Iron Guard, a radical political organization established in a platform of anti-Semitism, clerical fascism, and Romanian nationalism.
Indeed, the U.S. Embassy’s criticisms of the new coins appear merited. So why would Romania seemingly discount the concerns of the United States Embassy? While ties were severed during World War II–and remained awkward during the Cold War under the communist dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu–relations between the eastern European nation and the United States have grown in recent decades as both countries joined forces on economic goals, counterterrorism initiatives, and political development.
Since September 11, 2001, Romania has proven one of the United States’ strongest European allies in combating international terrorism. In 2004, Romania joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and has been an active member of the global allied forces fighting against terrorism organizations in the Middle East and elsewhere.
Perhaps these facts make the situation seem even more counterintuitive as to why officials in an ostensibly pro-Western nation such as Romania would numismatically honor an individual such as Manoilescu; his views conflict with those of the United States and other nations that fought against anti-Semitism in World War II-era Europe, and run counter to the multicultural sensibilities of the West today.
The overall situation speaks to broader issues in the former members of the Soviet-backed Eastern Bloc. Political corruption and rippling social tensions threaten the vitality of democracy in the region – unnerving circumstances that give rise to the debate that Romania, which joined the European Union in 2007, may not be ready for such social, political and economic integration.
This may in part explain why Romanian authorities, including those leading the National Bank, have so far responded quietly but defiantly to disapproving comments from the U.S. over the new coin program.
According to a rebuttal issued later on the 13th, the coin is “dedicated to the activity of three central bank governors and marks the anniversary of a significant number of years since their birth … 125 years since the birth of Mihail Manoilescu. The three held office at different historical times.”
The National Bank’s response continues:
“We hereby reaffirm that the NBR’s numismatic issues are, by no means and under no circumstances, intended to hurt anybody’s feelings, and all the less so to stain the memory of any community or convey messages that may be construed as offending, xenophobic, or discriminating. The National Bank of Romania has been carrying out its entire activity, with no exception whatsoever, in the spirit of respect for the values of humanity, democracy, and multiculturalism.”
But it’s not the first time Romania has paid knowing numismatic tribute to a noted anti-Semite.
In 2010, the National Bank of Romania issued a 10-lei silver commemorative coin featuring Miron Cristea, who helmed Romania’s Orthodox Church from 1925 to 1939 and served as the nation’s prime minister in 1938 and 1939. Cristea notoriously used his governmental power to strip 225,000 Jews–about 37 percent of the local Jewish population–of their Romanian citizenship.
The 2010 Cristea coin was lambasted by Dr. Radu Ioanid, director of archives at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. Dr. Ioanid says he was “shocked” by the coin, one of a set of five honoring patriarchs of the Romanian Orthodox Church, and demanded that the issue be recalled.
Furthermore, Robert Schwartz, who represents Romanian Jews in the city of Cluj, said of the coin: “I can’t understand how the patriarch managed to pass through the filter. It is known there are black stains connected to his attitude towards the Jews.”
At the time, bank governor Mugur Isarescu responded by saying that they “did not wish to send a racist, xenophobic, or anti-Semitic message,” and that the bank would “analyse the situation and come up with a solution.”
The National Bank refused to withdraw the 2010 coin.
The Bank’s 2016 statement conveys a similar message. “The NBR will take steps to establish working procedures with the relevant institutions in order to avoid any unfortunate situations in the future,” it states.
There are currently no indications that the three 2016 Romanian coins honoring Manoilescu will be pulled from distribution.
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