Thursday, July 19, 2012

Going back in time.

Romania, as you may be aware, has suddenly been transfixed by political shenanigans. As I mentioned a couple of months ago, the previous government fell and was replaced by one led by a man named Victor Ponta.  After a slowish start this government swung into action and started laying waste to any sense of democracy or even thought.  I'll spare you all the details (here's a brief summary from the Economist) , but essentially, they decided they wanted very very desperately to get the president, Basesecu, out of office as soon as they possibly could.  But constitutionally this was not as easy as they hoped and so they had to change and/or ignore the constitution.  So, they changed the law on impeachment referenda, they took as many powers away from the constitutional court as they could and put them in the hands of parliament and then voted to start the process of impeachment.

So the upshot of all this is that there will be a referendum here on July 29th at which Basescu could be booted out of office.  Having bowed to some pressure the government have grudgingly accepted the ruling that 50% of the electorate must show up for the results of this referendum to be valid.  (It seems certain that a majority of people who do show up will vote against Basescu, but not so certain that 50% of the country will bother to vote).  

Now I don't have any axe to grind for Basescu.  I think, in general, he's a bit of an arsehole (quite a big bit, at times - such as this one), and I have absolutely no time for his politics, as he has enthusiastically cheer-led the last-but-one government's policy of slashing pensions and public sector pay by up to 25%.  He's deeply unpopular in the country and for good reason.  Having him voted out of office would not be a tragedy.

But, why now? Why so suddenly? Why is there a need to ride roughshod over due process? Why is any semblance of the constitution and democratic structure ignored?  I mean he's no chance of being president again, and his party is likely to be absolutely hammered at the next parliamentary elections due later this year.  He's a lame duck president already. 

Ponta heads up the PSD, the party which mostly consists of ex-members of the Ceausescu regime (though Basescu is also an ex-communist), and which since 1989 has mostly held power.  They have a very strong power base, especially in rural areas, and the party's spiritual leader is Ion Iliescu, Ceausescu's right hand man who (allegedly, he says for form's sake) used the ant-Ceausescu protests in 1989 to engineer a coup d'etat and take power.  Subsequent to that revolution (or whatever it actually was), Iliescu used all the power at his disposal to hold on to power, in the turbulent months following.  At more than one stage, for example, when protesters were out in the streets of Bucharest, Iliescu tooled up a bunch of miners and brought them into the city to quash the protests (Wikipedia page).  Essentially, this is not a man who was much of a fan of democracy.  What has happened these last two months is no mineriada, but it has some of the same properties.

Iliescu's protege was Adrian Nastase, a man who was recently convicted of corruption and sentenced to jail for two years.  Nastase's protege in turn is Victor Ponta. The way that the PSD seems to work, on patronage, nepotism and corruption, it would surprise no-one to learn that this whole new attempted coup is purely to pardon Nastase and repay whatever mafia-style favours Ponta owes him.  

[One such favour, by the way, seems to be Ponta's doctorate.  His thesis was recently revealed to have been plagiarised - although on the conclusion, Ponta and his government replaced the panel which convicted him, and the new panel has just ruled that it wasn't plagiarised, even though 87 pages of the thing were directly copied without attribution. Which begs the question as to what plagiarism actually is then, and whether it's worth anyone getting a higher education in Romania.  What's the point?  You might as well just download a thesis and hand it in. But, I digress.  Who do you imagine was Ponta's doctoral adviser? Yes, as you might by now have twigged, it was Adrian Nastase]

What I find most depressing about this whole thing is the retrograde nature of it all. While I haven't agreed much with Basescu, or various governments under his presidency - especially that of Emil Boc - the overall feeling that I had was that Romania was generally moving forward.  That it was developing in some way, that things were being addressed, that there was some sense of democracy, and that whatever Romania would turn out to be, whether or not I agreed with the direction it had taken, was something which more reflected the needs, aspirations, and wants of its citizens.  But now I feel like we've been taken back to 1990. It's just vicious petty vindictive political infighting. Ponta himself has said that he devotes 85% of his time to political turf wars.  And he's the fucking prime minister - of a country which has some serious problems. And yet he spends 85% of his time on attacking his opponents and cultivating his alliances.

[One more article, on yesterday's EU report: "The report says the Romanian government may not understand how a pluralist democracy works"]

I've heard some people, those who are supporting of this coup, say that it's time for Romania to take back its pride, to run things in a more Romanian way, to stop kowtowing to Europe or the IMF or the USA or whoever.  I have some sympathy with this, but is the Romanian way simply corruption, theft, megalomania, dishonesty and vindictiveness?  I really don't believe it is.  Not the Romania I know.   

I have gone from disagreeing with the government to ceasing to believe that there really is anything approaching a strategy or an idea of where to go or how to move in any direction other than the consolidation of power by those who have it.  Perhaps I was naive before, believing that there may be something there.  But now, I just feel that this country is irredeemably fucked.  people will get by, people will still struggle on, things on an every day level are as they are.  But ultimately the country is run by the mafia.  Fuck the lot of them.