Romania: The whimsical dictatorship
5 July 2012
Coups, a drift towards dictatorship... The political offensive of the government, which could lead to President Traian Basescu being impeached, has revived fears of a return to authoritarian rule. For editorialist Mircea Vasilescu, it’s merely a creeping political capriciousness that demands a response.
There will not be another dictatorship. Things are much as they were during the years when the power was in the hands of the right, when those who talked about “Băsescu the dictator” [President of Romania since 2004] were making empty noises.
The days when people bought food with ration cards [under Nicolae Ceausescu] won’t be coming back. Nor will the era when people dared not say what they thought, for fear of being spied on by the party and Securitate. For all that, though, the situation won’t be getting any rosier.
There will not be another dictatorship. Traian Băsescu wanted to be a “president-player”, and he played badly. He talked a lot to say nothing, and he created a lot of conflicts. Today his confrontational “style” has turned against him. The USL [Social-Liberal Union] and its government [led by Victor Ponta] have begun an offensive to remove the president – their one and only project. And to realise their fantasy they are trampling on the democratic rules and institutions of the rule of law. They can, so they do.
Heading for the political graveyard
If they can impeach Băsescu [a vote is expected in Parliament on July 6], they will probably also change the Constitution, which means to them exactly what private property meant to Ion Iliescu [former leftist president in the 1990s]: “a caprice”. And they will change it the way Crin Antonescu [elected President of the Senate on July 3] wants, by completely eliminating the prerogatives of the president, or by becoming a parliamentary republic, to permit future president Crin Antonescu to doze quietly at Cotroceni [the presidential palace] bathing in his own complacency.
Even his colleagues realise it would be inappropriate to give him just any old task, let alone pack him off him to the European Council – at least not until he’ll be able to converse in a foreign language.
And Victor Ponta hardly seems interested in his future political career, which gets buried a little deeper each day: certainly, he’ll go down in history as “the youngest Prime Minister” [he is 39]. He did have his picture taken at the European Council, which he travelled to on June 28 in place of President Basescu, and against the latter’s will, but he has almost exhausted all his ambitions. He cannot become a true dictator; to do so, some authoritarian tendencies are necessary.
The accusation of plagiarism [for his doctoral thesis in law] will dog him for the rest of his career, whatever the official conclusion of the Ethics Committee; from the moral point of view he’s washed up, and in the European Union morality in politics matters. And he knows that very well. So he continues to play, at home, his role as the little dictator in transition, pushed to make certain decisions by the party system behind him. The Economist was right: he “may be heading for the (...) political graveyard.” That too he is well aware of. And so he will gracefully cede his position to someone else, who really knows how to work the authoritarian party-state system that’s being built these days.
Civil society and citizens must wake up now
In the meanwhile, though, Romania has already started to lose out over the long run. The country's credit rating is sinking, and it will keep sinking. The program of economic measures agreed with the IMF and the European Commission has gotten bogged down – so goodbye international aid. The external debt is already very high, and our children will have to foot the bill. Some of the few European funds that we have received (we have been unable to attract more) may also be suspended.
The U.S. ambassador has expressed his concern openly: “The stability of the state institutions is essential for Romania and for its future.” Soon it will probably be the turn of investors to react: some will withdraw, and others will decide not to come to an unstable country where the government is not working on solving the real problems but stubbornly waging war with the president. And where justice is trampled on by the Prime Minister and the parliamentary majority.
No, there will be no dictatorship, because – it’s true, isn’t it? – there is a Parliament. Of course, the parliamentary opposition could be cut to one percent, as Crin Antonescu desires. But we will continue to hold “democratic” elections – probably along the lines of Belarus or Serbia under Milosevic. Who can possibly oppose it? In any case, the press no longer has the influence it had in the 1990s, and strictly speaking, it could be muzzled by a press law. Civil society and citizens must wake up now to defend the rule of law and democracy. When we have to buy our food with ration cards once again, it’ll be too late.