Last week an important report was published in the UK, following a long inquiry into a disaster at a football match in 1989, in which 96 people were crushed to death. The report confirms what many people suspected; the police in charge of stadium safety and order that day completely lost control of the situation and made bad decisions that probably led to the deaths of so many.
The report explains how far the police actually went to deflect blame for the disaster onto the victims. They even ran criminal checks on them and then implied that these people were simply a bunch of petty criminals who could not conduct themselves in a civilized manner at a major public event. Because the victims were associated with the northern English city of Liverpool, the police were able to manipulate and hide behind generally held negative stereo typing of the city.
The police knew they were at fault but refused to take responsibility for their mistakes. It has taken 23 years for the truth to be made public and the scandal will continue to dominate news in the UK as criminal proceedings are certain to follow. As a result, trust in the police among the population will be greatly reduced and a very important civil institution will be further diminished.
I have not been very interested in the scandal surrounding the credibility of Mr Ponta’s PhD. Perhaps I should care more as issues of public trust are involved, but I have always viewed the affair as a political attack on one senior politician by another. However, two aspects of this affair continue to interest me.
The attack on Mr Ponta’s academic credentials was almost certainly instigated by Mr Basescu but was made through the pages of an international magazine to which information was surreptitiously provided. Mr Basescu and his supporters did not take responsibility for their actions. They did not stand up in public and openly claim that Mr Ponta had plagiarized his thesis, was not to be trusted and should therefore resign, instead they stood in the shadows and allowed the sometimes rabid international media to do their work for them.
Similarly, Mr Ponta did not take responsibility for dealing with the charge made against him. Instead he involved two national institutions and one university committee to assess and pronounce on him. And of course his supporters then put pressure on those likely to confirm that his PhD award was unsafe. In the end the issue can still be regarded as unresolved and Mr Ponta remains in office; but the Prime Minister of Romania appears not to know whether or not he plagiarized his PhD thesis, leaving the public with the clear impression that he probably did.
More importantly, Romanians have been treated to a piece of grand political theater whose fundamental message is that their two most senior politicians are more interested in attacking each other and deflecting blame than offering them sound leadership.
In his recent argument with Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Mr Tony Blair contended that the invasion of Iraq, and the subsequent death of hundreds of thousands of people, was entirely justified because the country’s economy had vastly improved after Saddam Hussein had been removed. Being Mr Blair, he was happy to ignore the fact that Iraq’s economy had been completely destroyed, before the invasion, by the prolonged application of sanctions that he and many other western leaders had ordered.
Mr Blair is a trained barrister (a highly paid court lawyer) and a politician. Not only is he very unlikely to win a credibility contest against the Archbishop, he is utterly ruthless in his need to say whatever is necessary, no matter how stupid, to deflect blame for anything bad that happens. A senior British MP once accurately described a Blair speech as ‘eloquent, self-justifying drivel’.
However it remains true that our leaders and public institutions must be seen to be responsible and trustworthy when acting on our behalf. Otherwise, how can we trust them? As these three examples show, our leaders certainly want power but they seem increasingly uninterested in accepting the responsibility that goes with it. They wish to be seen as being infallible, always right on everything, and awkward truth and bad news is to be hidden as much as possible. This makes it very difficult for them to create a more convenient, simple narrative in a world that is becoming more complicated every day.
Sadly there are countless other examples to strengthen my case. I could mention Romania’s new Minister for Justice who, if she is to be believed, seems happy to sit in any unlocked car she can find. However, the fundamental question is this; if none of the people who strive so hard to obtain powerful positions are willing to act responsibly and accept blame for their policies that go wrong and their negative actions, why should the rest of us be honest and trustworthy? Why should we pay our taxes if the recent deposed Head of Romania’s tax authority doesn’t.
The issue is simple. The destruction of our belief in leaders and institutions will undermine our society from within and we will all suffer. Ultimately that is everyone’s responsibility.
By Ronnie Smith, Guest Writer
Ronnie Smith is Scottish and now lives in Romania, working as a professional training business consultant and communication coach. He is also a teacher of political science, a political and social commentator and a writer of fiction. The views expressed are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Romania Insider.com.