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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, February 1, 2012

Romania's first jailing of a senior politician

One of Romania’s ex-Prime Ministers was sentenced yesterday to 2 years in jail – although, compared with the wider suspicions against him and all those who occupy such positions here, the issue on which he was sentenced smacks a bit of the Al Capone syndrome (done for taxation issues; this is Capone's mugshot) -
Romanian High Court of Justice magistrates gave former prime minister Adrian Nastase on Monday a 2-year sentence and stripped him of certain rights in a corruption case known locally as the "Quality Trophy" file. In this case, Nastase, who served as head of the Romanian government between 2000 and 2004 (see pic below), was charged of supporting his electoral campaign through funds collected in a "Quality Trophy" event organized by the a public institution. The sentence can be appealed. UPDATE Adrian Nastase said on Monday he would appeal the verdict and that he was sure "things will be corrected on appeal". He called the verdict a "political decision, a dirty decision" and referred to "rumors" that head judge Ionut Matei "had meetings with representatives of the National Anti-corruption Department", the body which launched the corruption investigation against him.
In fact, Nastase cut a fairly impressive figure when he was PM - open and intelligent - probably the least corrupt of the lot (apart from Trade Unionist lawyer and National Peasant Party Ciorba). He did attract some ridicule for his attribution some years back of his unexplained wealth to the inheritance from an old aunt. He is in fact the first high-level politician to go to jail - Severin, the MEP, still shamelessly draws his salary and expenses - despite his exposure a year ago for corrput practices and banishment from the socialist bloc.
Those who wish to know about current events in Romania are best to follow the Sarah in Romania blog which is on my links. And she had a good post recently on the protests here which continue even in the biting cold here (minus 22 last night) -
Romania's president incumbent, Traian Basescu, spoke on national television last week for the first time since protests began almost three weeks ago, in defense of his government's tough austerity measures. The measures suffered in Romania have been immensely strict. "Brutal and unthinkable in a West European country" was the verdict on the two years of austerity from Andreas Treichl, the president of Austria's Erste Group, the largest foreign investor in the Romanian banking sector.
• 2011 budget deficit 4.35% of GDP
• public sector pay cut by 25%
• VAT raised from 19% to 24% (only surpassed by Iceland, Hungary and Norway)

We have been very much aware of the harsh conditions inflicted on the Greeks due to their own government's wheelings and dealings for decades, but very little, if anything, was reported by the international press up until the protests on those suffered by the Romanian people. In his 35-minute address to the nation, Mr Basescu acknowledged "some citizens have lost faith" but said the measures had pulled the country out of a recession, the Associated Press reported. "I know what needs to be done. We are where we should be. Romania has come out of a recession," he said.
To say that 'some citizens have lost faith' is something of an understatement. If the press and the social networks are to be believed, a very large majority of the country has lost faith - and that can be seen in the thousands who have taken to the streets across the entire country over the last 13 days. Teodor Baconschi, the Foreign Minister, was fired after he called protesters "inept and violent slum dwellers," and compared them to the miners who took to the streets of Bucharest in the 1990s. Clearly, the government believed this would mollify the protesters, but they remain wholely unconvinced.
In the nationally televised speech delivered live from the presidential palace on the occasion of Cristian Diaconescu's swearing-in as the new Foreign Minister, Basescu said his government would continue to create more jobs and fight against corruption and tax evasion. If Romania is really going to fight corruption, surely those in power now will have to step down and certain members of the opposition (the majority, in fact) would be unable to take power. You know the saying - 'the fish rots from the head...' Of course, corruption is so deep-seated one is helpless in knowing where to begin, but those in power today are as guilty of it as anyone. As are some in the opposition. There is the quandry. They are both as bad as each other. Today, the US Ambassador to Romania, Mark H. Gitenstein, criticised the country's high-level corruption - not particularly helpful, since it's nothing particularly new...
Those calling for Traian Basescu's resignation continue to state that ANYONE would be better than him. Those hoping he stays say that this is truly not the case. And so far, there is nobody else.
On 24 january, about 2,000 teachers, nurses, retired army officers and trade unionist rallied outside the government's headquarters: "I want to regain my dignity, I want this dictatorship formed by president and prime minister to fall," said Otilia Dobrica, a kindergarten teacher and part-time secretary who earns around $420 a month.
"We can't take any more," nurse Adriana Vintila explained. "Four million Romanians have left to work abroad because they can no longer survive in their home country. I don't want to leave; it's the government that should go."
About 5,000 people rallied in Iasi, calling for early elections, whilst in Bucharest's Piata Victoriei, protesters shouted "Freedom, Early Elections!" during yesterday's anti-government rally. “When I was the captain of a ship I never failed to bring my ship to port and I won’t fail to bring Romania to safe harbour,” Traian Basescu said during his address. “The belief that the president no longer represents the people is false. The president’s obligation is to represent them continuously, as the president has been elected through direct vote.”
Romania has been transformed since the overthrow of the Communist dictatorship in 1989 and the sometimes violent instability that followed. The nouveau-riche jet-set of young Romanians fill trendy nightclubs and plush restaurants that have sprouted up in Bucharest, and shiny new SUVs cruise the capital’s boulevards. There are many who do not wish to lose what Romania has today - better, richer in comparison to the way things were. They say that Traian Basescu is not a dictator and that Romania is no longer a dictatorship - they lived in and survived one. They know. Today, they have an opposition in parliament and they can protest in the streets. That is proof that no dictatorship exists today.
And yet, those in favour of the opposition, or at least, those calling for the resignation of Traian Basescu, Emil Boc and the fall of the present government say the benefits of progress have been uneven: life is harsh in rural areas and in the capital. Seventy hospitals nationwide have been closed; education has taken a nose-dive; if one wants a decently-paid job then one must go abroad; pensions are insultingly low; salaries have been cut. Among the EU nations, only neighbouring Bulgaria is poorer. Laws are passed without going through parliament to suit those in power, eg. Rosia Montana. That is NOT democracy.
Traian Basescu's speech, said Crin Antonescu, leader of PNL, was a sign that he was out of touch with reality and that he should resign, whilst Victor Ponta, the leader of PSD, told Agerpres that the speech said nothing at all and had no link whatsoever to do with what was happening in Romania.
Indeed, Romania finds itself today at a deeply messy and complex impasse. To choose between rotten apples and rotten pears is impossible and, until someone better comes along, until a new party surfaces that is not filled with officers and informants of the securitate and yesterday's nomenclatura, I remain fearful for the future of the country of my heart.
And Sarah also has a very readable piece today about Romania’s great dramatist – Caragiale – who was, as I mentioned on the 30 January posting, born 160 years ago -
By the late 1870s, Caragiale began writing the plays which cemented his reputation as an important playwright in Romania. In both plays and prose, he showed an incredible sense of the Romanian language, customs, and mannerisms, especially in the common person, and successfully used them for comedy and satire. Caragiale was highly observant of the human condition, particularly our tendency towards mistakes. He used what he saw and heard in his stories which generally focused on social conflicts and political corruption. The plays, especially, were full of fast-moving action and farce, employing solid characters with witty dialogue who usually failed in their goals. In the 1980s, Caragiale's plays were banned until the dictator Nicolae Ceausescu was executed in 1989
Thank you, Sarah, for these excellent posts!

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