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The Romanian mass fascist movement founded by Corneliu Codreanu in 1927, also known during the 1930s as the Iron Guard or, when running for elections, the All for the Fatherland Party. Their few months in power after September 1940 arguably made them the only fascists outside Germany or Italy to take over without direct foreign aid.

Violent, nationalistic anti-Semitism was at the heart of the Legion's beliefs, inherited from their early patron Alexandru Cuza. Cuza, in fact, was one of Codreanu's professors at the University of Iasi, where Codreanu formed his group's nucleus in the early 1920s among students engaged in pogroms against the Jewish shopkeepers of the town.

Although typically fascist in this respect, the Legion stands out among other movements of its kind for the intense religious mysticism running through its ideology. The decision to make the link supposedly came to Codreanu while he was in jail over the winter of 1923-24, although one can probably take his claim that he had the revelation before a statue of the Archangel Michael as backdated iconography. The crossed-bars emblem of the Legion and Guard may well refer back to this epiphany.

Legionaries, who were organised in cells or 'nests' of up to thirteen men, wore a bag of Romanian soil around their necks and were devoted to a cult of death probably rooted in macabre Romanian folklore with a touch of post-First World War nihilism.

Attracting students who had failed to obtain sinecures in the state bureaucracy and all the graft that would have come with it, Codreanu also made an effort from 1930 onwards to reach out to Romania's poorest peasants, unrepresented by any existing party and suspicious of the entire political system.

In the run-up to elections, Codreanu would ride into villages on a white horse, accompanied by Legionaries whose turkey feathers in their hats consciously recalled the Romanian haiduks, the bandits of popular tradition who were idealised in much the same way as American cowboys. Such treks out to remote villages where urban politicians - even the so-called National Peasant Party - rarely set foot must have made an impression in themselves, and the vague pledge of a hectare of land for every man can't have done too much damage either.

At the same time, however, the Legion dedicated itself to assassinations of democratic politicians (including the prime minister Ion Duca in 1933), and local officials who had obstructed them on campaign. In 1929, in fact, Codreanu had murdered the police prefect of Iasi for breaking up one of his pogroms; his trial and acquittal made him something of a folk hero to traditionally anti-Semitic Romanians in his own right.

By the elections of December 1937, relatively free by Romanian standards, the Legion had emerged as the third largest party, comfortably eclipsing a rival party on the far right led by Cuza and the ageing nationalist poet Octavian Goga.

Romania's trend towards the far right had already been recognised by King Carol II, who ever since returning to the country in 1930 had been much less enthusiastic about democracy than he was about making money out of industrialisation, designing his own uniforms and romancing his notorious mistress Magda Lupescu. When the incumbent National Liberals failed to reach their re-election threshold in 1937, Carol invited the Cuza-Goga duo to form a government, on a purely anti-Semitic and nationalist programme which lasted less than two months before Carol assumed power in his own right.

Since the royal Front of National Rebirth had all the style of fascism and none of its dynamism, Carol was well aware the Legion were likely to outflank him and ensured that Codreanu and two famous groups of Legionary assassins would be shot while trying to escape that November. As if the response the year before to the deaths of leading Legionaries Ion Mota and Vasile Marin while fighting on Franco's side in the Spanish Civil War hadn't been enough, the mass mourning for Codreanu showed off the Legion's enthusiasm for gigantic funerals six years before Evita had even been thought of.

After two and a half years of royal dictatorship, the Legion, now led by Horia Sima and abandoning any interest it might once have shown in social justice, forced Carol to abdicate in September 1940 when the Second Vienna Award returned half of Transylvania, Romania's major gain from the First World War, to Hitler's other Danubian fascist favourites, Hungary. Several months of reprisals against the Legion's enemies followed before Marshal Ion Antonescu, who had assisted their takeover, turned on them in January 1941 and ushered in a military dictatorship. Antonescu's regime collaborated in the expulsion of some 200,000 Jews, until the entry of the Red Army and his arrest by the young King Michael on August 23, 1944.

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