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Monday, 15 October 2012 13:37

Change: How Badly Does Romania Want It?

As citizens, I think we all have an exhausting duty to know what our governments are up to, and it is cowardice or laziness to ask: what can I do about it anyway? Every squeak counts, if only in self-respect.” Martha Gellhorn, The Face of War

As the Indian summer of Romania’s political turmoil continues, it is clear the last hope for stability stands in the upcoming parliamentary elections this December. Yet “change” is a funny word for Romanians. No one believes it anymore. Hoping for change is considered naive and inexperienced, and talking about democracy is frowned upon in bitter speeches which ask: “What democracy?” For generations the general discourse in this apathy-hit country has been: “Get real, don’t bother trying to change things. God forbid you might get your hands dirty.” However, as grand as it may sound, the country is preparing for its most important elections since 1990. If ever there was a time to think, act, speak up and try to change things, that time is now.

Băsescu the survivor

As expected, President Traian Băsescu is back in his seat following the failure of last July’s referendum. Băsescu is nothing if not a survivor. He might subordinate the justice system and cut pensions, but he will also put on a t-shirt, hold a baby in front of the cameras, and people will buy it. The problem is that this referendum was a close one: although a little over 46 per cent of the registered voters participated, leading it to be declared invalid, 87.5 per cent of that group voted against the president, which adds up to 7.4 million people. If you consider that in 2009, Băsescu was elected for a second term with only 5.23 million votes, it’s safe to say the population doesn’t want Traian Băsescu as president. So why is the country still stuck with him? As Martha Gellhorn would say: “If we cannot blame our leaders (…) we can only blame ourselves.”

Published in Under Eastern Eyes

UPDATE: This story reflects the situation in Romania on Friday, 6th July 2012. President Basescu has now been suspended by Parliament and will face a referendum on the 29th of July. PNL party leader Crin Antonescu is now the president of Romania, at least temporararily. European and American leaders have expressed clear concerns about the political situation in Romania, all of which have been firmly, even rudely, dismissed by prime minister Victor Ponta. Traian Basescu started his election campaign with the theme "Threats to the justice system" and turned to the people, whom he "never lied to" (ahem..), not even when the goin' got tough. Yeah, we're still a weird country...

It may not come as a big surprise that Romania is a pretty weird country. We have more stray dogs and cats than illegal taxis, we don't like to invest in tourism despite its huge potential, and it takes about ten years to complete a highway which then needs repairs after four months. However, after recent political turmoil, Romania may become famous for something much deeper than any of this - the savagery and stupidity of its political class, the trashing of its own Constitution, and, as much of the international media has already noticed, the breach of every democratic principle out there.

In the last two months we have witnessed the impossible becoming possible. Romanians have always believed their country was a place of all possibilities, but Victor Ponta's government and the centre-left wing ruling coalition (along with every other party and politician) took this belief to the next level.

Romania may become famous for something much deeper - the savagery and stupidity of its political class

Mr Ponta, the leader of the Social Democratic Party (PSD), was bound not to get along smoothly with President Traian Basescu, who is supported by the Democratic Liberal Party (PDL). President Traian Băsescu had designated Ponta as Prime Minister after the previous incumbant had fallen to a motion of no confidence, but the members of the PSD were hungry - they hadn't been in power since 2004 and President Basescu has done nothing but criticise their wrongdoings, while the justice system (allegedly under orders from the president) has taken many of them to court for corruption. Political vendettas, they say. On the other hand, anyone who remembers the pre-2004 period, when the PSD was in power, refers to it as the "golden age" of corruption, of threats to the freedom of the press, of total control over the justice system. This is why it's almost impossible to visualise a healthy collaboration between the two parties and this is why Romanians can't choose sides today.

Published in Snapshot
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