Dispatch from Bucharest: Are we Having Another Revolution?

 

shutterstock_171837251Greeting from troubled Europe, Ricochet and America! Romania is in political turmoil. I write from calm, prosperous, populous Bucharest, probably the safest, least troubled capital in Europe. The protests and political turmoil here have nothing to do with immigration. Horror came over the weekend — I thank again my fellow Ricochetti who inquired as to my safety! — when a nightclub burned down; there are nearly three dozen dead, another seven dozen wounded. These poor souls have somehow been connected to a political anger that is rarely voiced and never articulated here.

It is no explanation, but the facts are as follows: Prime Minister Victor Ponta will resign. The leader of the party running the legislature — and, therefore, the government — made the announcement; Ponta himself has not yet spoken. In name, this is a socialist party or social-democrat party. In deed, it is the party of the oligarchy. The PM runs the country, but it is not clear on what leash he runs.

The man who runs Ponta’s socialist party is Mr. Liviu Dragnea, of whose criminal deeds no one is in doubt. He is a new, corrupt man of ambition representing one of the more important fiefdoms. He has risen through the party without any connection to popular politics. He resigned from government earlier this year — in happier times — because of an unfortunate indictment. This is not necessarily held against him by the oligarchy (I hope to explain the basics of Romanian politics in a sequel post). For now, let me give you a view of democratic politics here.

PM Ponta went to Mexico last week to preach the gospel of government transparency. He is a young man with a weasel’s charms and the vague suggestion that wealthy men with dark designs have his back. He married into the heirs-of-the-communists part of his heir-to-the communists party, as had his mentor — a former prime minster — now in jail, or maybe recently released, who did it when communism was still alive and well.

Ponta has been successful in legislative and local elections lo these five years, leading his party to victory and the country to despair. He has thrived while the various people who claimed to stand for the democracy self-destructed, usually taking their parties with them. Lacking the sporting quality much treasured in storytelling, the law is looking to send him to jail for the crime of committing all sorts of crimes; he has not, however, been indicted, so it’s not clear what will become public knowledge. This can be said of many Romanian politicians of any importance. It cannot be said of all, as many others are — or have been — indicted. Justice is a growth industry in Romania.

Ponta was defeated, however, in last year’s presidential elections, the forbidden fruit of Romanian politics. The president has little authority and wields little more influence, but socialists treasure the position because of its prestige, as if it could transform Romania into a more open oligarchy. It cannot. They have failed, however, to win the presidency in the last three elections and — despite holding the legislature — doomed themselves politically for trying. This is not Macbeth country.

Through the nightclub disaster, the popular anger now grasps at various systemic failures starting from safety codes and running all the way to adequate facilities and personnel for medical care. All these things are intricately tied up with the state and its administration. The mayor of the district of the capital where the nightclub burned has also resigned. He is named — or has named himself for — an old start of Italian campy Westerns, Piedone. Romanian politics sometimes looks like American wrestling, with more than a touch of Mexican wrestling.

There is a hatred of corruption in Romania, but not much love of justice. There is not much sense among the people that they deserve better; there is no sense that they know who might do better by them. Why should a PM be held responsible for such a rare, unpredictable horror? This is not Prime Minister’s questions! There are many young people vaguely democratic believers who hate the man, that is why. This country, they fear — or they know — is run by an oligarchy that is not even using the institutions of the modern state to defend itself: it is using them to enrich itself while the people literally die.

The president, a Klaus Iohannis, who is not a politician, has declared — on Facebook? — that he supports the protesters. A more lackluster, unpopular, unlovable president is hard to imagine. He is the Peter Sellers of Romanian politics. He is of German descent and demeanor, let us say, and the object of a popular hysteria in last year’s presidential election. Everything that should have taught the people that the country cannot trust him taught them to trust him: he is not a politician; he is not a party creature or creator; he is not connected with any of the big organizations or policy changes of the EU, etc. The presidency does this: people persuade themselves that democracy might come through the office designed to excite hope but find disappointment, for it lacks any policy-making or even policy-breaking powers. Indeed, the Romanian president does not even have a real veto.

There is a hatred of politics in the country now. People — young people especially — are talking about getting rid of them all. From the gap-toothed old woman who has seen hell to freshly-minted, pale-faced poli-sci grads turned activists and community organizers, the refrain is the same: they’re all corrupt, they’re all thieves. Almost no one is speaking about organizing parties or political societies of any kind. There is confusion and euphoria in the small minority that might be described as middle-class or aspiring to that description. Anger has made its victims. Political wisdom is something else entirely, I fear.

Last night, reports spread of 15,000 people protesting in the capital, in front of the Parliament, as well as other places. More protests will follow. Romanians do not generally protest, but they are doing astounding things these days. The previous PM was also toppled by a protest in the capital, if a much smaller, sillier affair, than this one and lacking its moral claims, but with the same anger. Will a haunted protest make a real difference? I doubt it. The government is what it was; the legislative majority is what it was. Some of the less enthusiastic types are saying, let’s not have elections now, because the only parties with any organizations are the enemy. That is probably true.

I hope to have more to say on the relationship between the the oligarchy-democracy fight, party system, the institutions of the modern state in Romania. For now, let me end with this note: there will be some surprised faces at the next meeting of the various EU councils, and yet another man will get to shake hands with an American president.

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  1. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    Valiuth:In your opinion Titus is there any political party/ movement in Romania that is even remotely trust worthy and competent even if they lack actually power? To me it seems that if anything is to be done you can not expect it to form ex nihilo. You need some seed of competence to germinate however slowly. Does Romania have that? Without it all these protest will do is reshuffle the same crooked/incompetent deck of cards.

    Hello, Mr., well, Valiuth, you are right that the fire was only shocking in Romania by its rarity. There is just not a lot of unrest or trouble of any significant kind.

    There was a scandal just previously involving the now-former deputy PM: He was by negligence or political privilege involved in the accidental death of a policeman–going around the city with a motorcade was the occasion.

    Maybe people made the connection.

    The anger is easily understood. Take from people politics & they will either be slaves or turn hatefully against every administrative failure…

    Now, as to Romanian politics, the situation is worse than depressive. The serious questions are about constitutional design & the relation between a few important institutions & what part of politics people see. Electoral politics; the legislature; the magistracies. I’ve got ideas–I’m not sure you wanna get me started!

    It seems like the president & some part of the liberal party are ok; they would be an improvement only in the usual sense: Less fear of oligarchi takeover…

    • #31
  2. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    My young miss told me a few things she’s learned from the news. An interview with a callow youth, a pol.sci grad who says, we want to take down the system. That’s education for you. People who have no idea that this is no time to be moralistic & that people are not dying for the sake of hysteria!

    A weirdo with an audience, today on Facebook: We need to reset the system! He then advertised a technocratic PM–this is a serous proposal in the sense that legislative elections next year mean no one wants to govern this year. Bad mojo. The weirdo has no idea he is basically a puppet for oligarchs who neither need nor want nor pay him. He really is an innocent. He really wants out of politics, as if it’s a choice or, if a choice, anything but self-destruction. He has no idea how supremely vulgar it is to bring tech terms for chaos–there’s the courage of one’s euphemisms, much on display lately–in a political talk in a place where politics really might overturn the little order & peace people have. People should learn to talk politics in political terms, so that they lie to themselves less… No one is helping with that, I don’t think…

    Some are boasting, our parents made the revolution–0f ’89–now it’s our turn. These are fantastic, ineffectual lies covering more dangerous passions & dark designs connected with the protests.

    • #32
  3. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Titus Techera: A weirdo with an audience, today on Facebook: We need to reset the system!

    Revolution IS politics. I don’t get how this yahoo can believe otherwise.

    • #33
  4. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    There is a great anger among the people & a great hatred of rule; there is a dangerous desire to escape politics–because it’s a game, & it’s rigged, & they’re getting played. That sort of outrage.

    I’ve seen more of it. Clever journalists prattling about how older people made their compromises, are soft, & have not much time left, as opposed to youths who have not yet compromised themselves & are harder & may grow into or amount to something. They’ll change things–it’s our own damned fault we did not offer them any better than this.

    Clever journalists telling their audience they approve of the language of protest–political change required, justified by the spilled blood. The dead should haunt the living until we get good gov’t! What then?

    Of course, street protests in the capital are a French example of democracy. They lack political thought as much they lack organization, & are only careful about the latter, though not too much.

    So far as I know, the consensus among those of us who are not given to enthusiasm is, it’s almost over. The changes that were going to be made have been made; the panic among politicians & the anger among citizens will subside in the next day or so.

    • #34
  5. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Titus Techera: Clever journalists telling their audience they approve of the language of protest–political change required, justified by the spilled blood. The dead should haunt the living until we get good gov’t! What then?

    Rabble-rousers to stir things up, with no vision of what comes next.

    Of course, street protests in the capital are a French example of democracy. They lack political thought as much they lack organization, & are only careful about the latter, though not too much.

    Yes, democracy in the style of the French Revolution is not the carefully-considered sort.

    So far as I know, the consensus among those of us who are not given to enthusiasm is, it’s almost over.

    I love it when people adhere to the ancient tradition of despising enthusiasm.

    • #35
  6. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    Arahant, I had every hope you’d be the voice of moderation. There is not a lot of that left. There are lots of things happening with my family right now, but the womenfolk take time now & then to talk politics. There is outrage, occasioned by what goes on on the news. A girl from the North just dropped into town, visiting a very pregnant friend–she called, we talked about preparing for baby with shopping & the infinite variety of fantasies capitalism supplies–then the talk turned to the tens of thousands of protesters & the various elections upcoming. I’m not sure people can say hello without bringing in the possibility of snap elections or apolitical government.

    On the other hand, people who are involved in these things without losing their sense of humor have noticed that one does well to protest–one can meet everyone from old school mates & professors to former flames. It’s memory lane all over again…

    • #36
  7. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Arahant:

    Titus Techera:

    So far as I know, the consensus among those of us who are not given to enthusiasm is, it’s almost over.

    I love it when people adhere to the ancient tradition of despising enthusiasm.

    Indeed. One should remember that the word means “possessed by the gods“.

    • #37
  8. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    It means to have a god within oneself-

    • #38
  9. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    Hello, Ricochet, here is the second installment, or the nitty-gritty. 

    • #39
  10. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    Folks, here’s the last dispatch. It is not hopeful, but it is not despairing…

    • #40
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