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This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Time for international action on Romania

A lot of us have been despairing recently about democracy - but the current crisis in Romania reminds us why millions of people have been willing to die for it. Basically it is about those in power not being able to ride roughshod (with jackboots) over opposing voices. It is about a default position which forces those with power to at least think twice - if not actually engage in dialogue - before they try to take drastic actions. The default position is created by constitutional (or semi-constitutional) institutional structures which you respect and change only through dialogue and consensus.
I asked recently why the independent voices of Romania seemed so silent in its present crisis of democracy. This morning, the country’s most distinguished intellectual Andrei Plesu published a powerful article in der Spiegel. A university professor under dictator Nicolae Ceausesucu, Plesu was banished to a small village and barred from teaching in the 1980s for associating with dissidents. After the fall of communism, he served as minister of culture and, from 1997 to 1999, as foreign minister (for the Christian democrats). He was, briefly, an adviser to Basescu at the start of the President's rule - but resigned after only a few months under circumstances which have never been properly explained. He was also a leading figure in the Romanian Cultural Institute whose sudden transfer to government control was one of the early moves in this escalating power sweep. So he is not a completely Olympian figure - but he is most certainly not someone who would take a party position. His commitments are, first and foremost, to principles of freedom of expression and rule of law. His piece includes the following -
In a suicidal declaration, the current prime minister, Dr. Victor Ponta, claims that he devotes "75 percent of the time in government meetings to political turf warfare." For weeks, he has been confronted with accusations that he plagiarized extensively when writing his doctoral thesis. Yet his behaviour leads us to conclude that he doesn't know what constitutes plagiarism. He believes that he can copy 85 pages from another work with impunity, and without identifying the text as a quotation. When the commission that was appointed to investigate the charges of plagiarism confirmed the suspicion, it was summarily dismissed.
Meanwhile, the prime minister travels to the EU summit in Brussels even though he lacks the mandate to represent Romania. In doing so, he ignores a ruling by the constitutional court that it was the president who should have gone to Brussels instead. And what happened next? The powers of the constitutional court were drastically curtailed.
Half-baked amendments are bulldozed through the parliament and institutional powers are restricted, established procedure is ignored without any plausible explanation being provided. The management of the national archive (which had been tasked with securing access to documents relating to the communist dictatorship) is dismissed as are the boards of the government-run television station and the institute for investigation of political crimes before 1989. The same fate befalls the ombudsman, who represents Romanian citizens in complaints against government entities, as well as the chairmen of both chambers of parliament.An atmosphere of amazement and uncertainty prevails in Romania. Two Nobel Prize winners, Herta Müller and Tomas Tranströmer, many foreign institutions, the ambassador of the United States in Bucharest, the European Justice Commissioner, leading European politicians such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel, countless Romanian artists and intellectuals, various institutions of civil society and youth organizations are protesting against current developments -- because it has clearly begun spinning out of control.
Who wants to live in a country like this? For my part, I feel burdened by the atmosphere created by the Romanian government. I want to be able to do my work, and I have no special demands. All I want is a minimum level of normalcy that makes it possible for me to bring my projects and my life to a successful conclusion.In essence, this is also the responsibility of governments. They should make it possible for the people in their country to go about their business in peace, and under humane conditions. But for some time now, I have been waking up every morning to witness the disconcerting signs of social decay.And now, for the first time in 40 years, I am not eager to return "home" from Berlin
For what some local papers are saying, see here and here. This is the second article this week in Der Spiegel about the situation. The first is here.
And here is an excellent post from another expat here which adopts the useful "devil's advocate" approach on the situation ie starting from the position that the President has indeed been overstepping his role and setting out -
  • what a more reasonable strategy would have been
  • the incredibly stupid mistakes which this Prime Minister has made
As someone who has been a Labour activist for 50 years (!), what I now want to know is what the Socialist International is going to do with these cretins. I'm apparently not able to contact them directly so have written to David Martin, Scotland's most senior MEP and an old political colleague to find out what action (if any) is being considered against the PSD who form the main party in the current unholy alliance of liberals, conservatives and socialists.
Incidentally, if ever you needed proof of how much the Romanian political class is out for its own interests, the composition of this alliance is it!
A decade or so ago, the EC sanctioned Austria (for 7 months) for daring to take the far-right Freedom Party into a coalition. What is happening here is ten times worse. The basic principle of the European Union is supposed to be its commitment to democratic principles. Standing by while they are thrown on the bonfire would be the final nail in the EU coffin. 

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