Comment: Romania’s image is the big loser in the political dog fight

Guest writer Paul Wood gives his personal view on the current political affairs in Romania. 

One of my rules in life is that analogies with the Nazis are always false and misleading. (Another is never climb things.) Still, last night’s and today’s ‘coup d’etat’ in Romania aimed at removing the President and the speaker of the Senate and packing up the Constitutional Court did involuntarily put me in mind of how easily and smoothly the Nazis took power in Germany after Hitler was appointed Chancellor by President Hindenburg. This is something I have recently been reading about in Sebastian Haffner’s absolutely wonderful memoir called Defying Hitler, an eyewitness account that was not published until ten years ago but deserves to be a classic.

Nor is the analogy lost on Hitler’s countrymen, one of whom wrote an opinion piece in today’s Deutsche Welle that mentions the Enabling Act by which Hitler was constitutionally granted dictatorial powers. A moment’s reflection is enough to see that this analogy is very superficial and in bad taste (nothing wrong with bad taste in politics though).

No-one is going to deprive the Romanian electorate of its right to a free vote in November. But the leaders of the governing Social Liberal Union (USL), Victor Ponta and Crin Antonescu, are making a huge mistake with Romania’s image abroad by behaving in a way which begs Deutsche Welle’s comparisons with contemporary Belarus, the Third Reich and Stalin.

Romania’s poor image abroad is something that matters absolutely enormously to the Romanian electorate, even though they are very used to it. It is foolish of the USL to make a proud people much more ashamed than usual of their leaders.

Actually another analogy that comes to my mind is the coup that overthrew Gorbachev in 1991 for three days, made by drunken Soviet Generals. That collapsed very quickly, though not before being welcomed by Francois Mitterand and George Marchais. This coup will not collapse so quickly, but we shall see what we shall see come the November elections. I have a feeling that although Ponta’s rise has so far been meteoric, he may fall like Lucifer. Certainly like George W. Bush he is a bold but clumsy politician. We shall now see whether he is lucky, which he certainly needs to be.

No-one is going to deprive the Romanian electorate of its right to a free vote, no, but free votes are not enough to make a system democratic. There must also real exist alternatives, that are sufficiently different to make a choice look real and sufficiently similar for stability and cohesion. Some say that the best system of government is a two party system where the two parties agree on all the important issues.

Unfortunately this is not very democratic, but it is how democracies usually work. In democracies people argue over trivia like taxes and spending but no-one ever argues about, for example, ending the welfare state or ending immigration – it is simply not permitted to discuss really important issues. In Europe many of them have even been completely removed from discussion by international law. When parties do sharply disagree with each other, as in the USA in Ronald Reagan’s time and the UK in Margaret Thatcher’s or in Greece now, this can be exciting and creative, but socially very divisive.

In Romania’s case, the parties fight between themselves but not on real issues. It would be very hard to say what the real issues are. The right are not really right nor are the social democrats really leftists and, even if they were, free market economics and social democracy have little relevance to the problems of Romania.

Instead all the parties, as someone intimately familiar with ‘power structure’ once told me, “are exactly, exactly the same thing”, fighting over patronage and jobs. It is in that respect rather like Whigs and Tories in eighteenth century England, except that they had better manners and more Latin and Greek. None of the Romanian parties knows how to eradicate the systemic problems of Romania. How can the political class seek to abolish itself or create an educated high-minded elite?

I don’t use Twitter except in political crises like this one and am not completely at home with it. Last night I read this tweet:

Romania has renounced its treaties with Britain sent “important ambassadors” to Germany: “Reich is now the dominant power of Europe.”

For a moment I thought it was part of the coup d’etat or something to do with Mrs. Viviane Reding, but it was a headline from 1940.

But it provoked this thought – for how much longer will sovereign states be judges of their own constitutions? Perhaps the greater threat to democracy is not from demagogues and wide boys like Mr. Ponta and Mr. Antonescu but from the European Union and the very well meaning people at Deutsche Welle. According to the net, Winston Churchill wrote that, ‘The new fascism will be anti-fascism.’ I hope he did say it. It is true.

By Paul Wood, Guest Writer

Paul Wood is the owner of Apple Search, the executive search company, and is writing a book about Bucharest where he has lived since 1998. His personal blog is here.

The views expressed are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Romania

Romania Insider
Free Newsletters

Be up to speed with what’s happening in Romania! Choose from our 7 newsletters, covering the entire array of business, social, politics, and entertainment news

Subscribe now