Romanian Commem Draws Protests

By Richard Giedroyc, World Coin News

This article was originally printed in Numismatic News.

Seldom has a coin drawn so much negative attention, but the recent Central Bank of Romania decision to continue to sell the 2010 Romanian Orthodox Church Patriarch Miron Cristea silver commemorative has drawn criticism from, among others, U.S. Ambassador to Romania Mark Gitenstein.

The coin was featured in a headline front page story in the September issue of World Coin News. The coin on which Cristea appears is part of a non-circulating legal tender five-coin silver commemorative set honoring the five patriarchs of the Romanian Orthodox Church who have served in that position since 1925. Romanian National Bank spokesman Mugur Stet has insisted the coin is simply part of the set, and not a coin meant specially to honor Cristea.

Between 1938 and 1939 Cristea served as prime minister. It was during the period when Cristea served as prime minister that he was responsible for the revision of Romanian citizenship laws so as to strip about 37 percent of the local Jewish population of their citizenship.

This anti-Semitic move took away the rights of approximately 225,000 Jews. By some estimates Romania went on to become responsible for the exterminations of about 300,000 Jews and Gypsies during the Holocaust period that immediately followed the time when Cristea served as prime minister. Romania has denied this extermination ever took place.

According to the Aug. 3 issue of Thaindian News, “The decision of the central bank of the country to commemorate the church leader has come as a rude shock to Romanian Jews who showcased their protests on Monday [August 2] and demanded that the financial institution withdraws the circulation of the controversial coin.” There are currently about 6,000 Jews living in Romania.

U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum Director Radu Ioanid sent a letter July 29 to Romanian National Bank Governor Mugur Isarescu urging that the Cristea coin be withdrawn.

Ioanid’s letter was divulged to the Associated Press. Thaindian News described Ioanid as “shocked” by the release of the coin.

On Aug. 20 Ambassador Gitenstein followed this up with a letter to the central bank in which he said, “I am very disappointed by the decision on the part of the National Bank of Romania to issue the coin commemorating Patriarch Miron Cristea,” adding “Cristea’s actions as prime minister – specifically his role in the revocation of citizenship for over 225,000 Romanian Jews – cannot be ignored.”

The Cristea coin could become one of real interest to coin collectors. Should Romania withdraw the coin the commemorative could become a rarity. Should collectors refuse to purchase the coin, again it could become a rarity. If buyers speculate the coin will become rare and in doing so purchase more coins than usual for a Romanian commemorative, the coin could have a very low value in secondary markets due to its availability.

The Cristea coin could become a high stakes issue both politically and numismatically.