Friday, January 20, 2012



Following the recent protests that took place in Hungary, the social-liberal opposition in Romania also pushed people in the street today using spontaneous demonstrations that have been held earlier days this week. This comes as a second attempt to the one that unfolded last year, when buses with demonstrators were brought to the Constitutional Square to demonstrate when the Romanian Parliament was discussing the third motion of no confidence. By coincidence, it happened that I had meetings in the Romanian Parliament that same day. The Romanian Military Police did not want to let me in, because some of the demonstrators in the parliament balcony had thrown something down. The Military Police got an order not to let any stranger in the parliament. Eventually I fortunately succeeded and after the meeting I went to the balcony to see the parliamentary debate about this motion. It looked more like a match than a debate. 

To my left were the supporters of the government. At certain moments, when someone from the government said something, they jumped up, shouted and applauded. When someone on behalf of the opposition said something, their supporters also jumped up and shouted. The debates, however, were not interesting. Moreover, the votes were already determined: had a parliament member of a governmental party voted for this motion, he or she would be excluded from the party, and the other way around; had a parliament member of the opposition voted against this motion, he or she would also be excluded. The outcome was thus already determined, even though there were a few 'dissidents' voting for the motion. 

The debate was not that interesting also because the opposition, instead of coming with sound arguments against the (in their eyes failing) government, they were just attacking persons and giving a complete show. Along with the balcony supporters from both sides, I had the feeling that I was watching a kind of Jerry Springer show. On my way home after the debates, I saw the buses that were waiting to pick up the supporters of the opposition; both those that were present at the debate in the parliament and the ones demonstrating in the Constitutional Square. The supporters were wearing T-shirts and flying banners that showed which syndicate or group they belonged to.

Demonstrations in Romania: against the government or against the political system?

This election year started with demonstrations in Romania. The current health care reform plans proposed by the Government was the last drop that caused the cup of patience to overflow and (uprisings to emerge) brought a number of people to the street this Sunday. The demonstrations, however, turned out to be violent. Windows were destroyed, shops were robbed by mainly young people with their heads covered by scarves, and certain places were set on fire. I was a bit afraid that the situation could have a turn of events similar to the one in the United Kingdom, where young people used the opportunity to rob the shops and create chaos. 

Nevertheless, protests remained peaceful after Sunday night. In different cities around Romania there were still a few hundreds of people on the streets, but there was no report of serious incidents, other than some fighting amongst the protesters. Most of the Romanian (social-liberal oriented) press showed live images the entire day, filming in such a way as to make a small number of people look like a big crowd. With some sensational background music, they gave the impression that a new revolution is starting.

And in order to mobilize people they focus the topics of the news on how the costs have been raised, the salaries decreased and the consequences of the economic austerity measures. It is interesting that the people are not demonstrating for the social-liberal coalition in the opposition. A deputy from the National Liberal Party also had to leave the crowd, afraid of being attacked. Therefore I have the feeling that the protests against the Romanian government are more a demonstration against the whole political system in Romania and the lack of trust in their politicians. On the Romanian news channel I also saw banners claiming that both the PDL (the governing party) and the USL (the social-liberal coalition) are both trash and that they are both part of the mafia. This opinion is supported by the Romanian national newspaper Adevarul that states that: "In times of protest it's difficult to explain that it's not democracy that's to blame, but the incomplete development of democracy in Romania and above all abuses of it that are passed off as democracy...."

Therefore, the coalition in the opposition called their people together from the whole country today for a big demonstration. In totally around 5000-10000 people gathered. The former Prime Minister of Romania, Calin Popescu Tariceanu compared the situation with the situation with Hungary. "In Hungary people were demonstrating against a totalitarian system and therefore they are rebuked by the European Union" he stated in a television interview. The EU should therefore support the demonstrations in Romania too. If these demonstrations are supported, then why should the demonstrations in Romania not be supported?

Democratic challenges for transition democracies in East Europe

We can unfortunately notice an ongoing power battle in many Eastern European democracies. In my view this has to do mainly with the fact that after the fall of communism and in some cases even dictatorship (such as Romania), there is a big struggle not only to accept new democratic principles, but also a culture of diversity and division of powers. The principle of checks and balances was neither practiced nor stimulated sufficiently in their history. 

Therefore, governmental power in Romania has an enormous power. After every election many institutions are politicized: loyalists of the winning (governmental) parties get positions as directors of all important institutions. Additionally, there is a strong party discipline. A Romanian MP therefore does not have that much freedom to vote what is in his opinion good for their electorate, but is in lots of times obliged to vote according to what the (leadership of the) party dictates. Also the juridical system is not as independent as it should be. Unfortunately, Romania and Bulgaria did not succeed to finish the necessary juridical reforms promised to be solved in 2010.. Therefore the Mechanism of Cooperation and Verification is still in power.

If the division of powers can not be clearly used in practice, and if there is a lack of implementation of the system of checks and balances and as long as there is an ongoing politicizing of institutions, there is a big possibility for corruption. I do not believe that corruption is the most important problem in these countries, but the system that allows this high level of corruption to happen.

The opposition is continuously attacking (sometimes violently) the powers of the governmental coalitions in order to get this power. From my own experience I know that in Romania there were numerous motions of no confidence, in the Republic of Moldova, there are elections almost every year, because there is no agreement between the opposition and the government to choose a new president, in Georgia the opposition went for months on the streets, in Ukraine they were literally fighting in the parliamentand the whole opposition is being neglected, and in Albania people were killed in demonstrations organized by their opposition in January last year. The governments are not willing to listen to an oppositional minority and the oppositional minority does not want to come with concrete solutions to improve the situation, but  are just focused on obtaining the power. If the opposition will get the same power, the same will happen with them.

The new president of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz made the following remark: "It is early to speak out, but I saw massive movements nationwide and my recommendation for the governments of all countries and especially for Romania ... is to take those people on the streets very seriously. There are people with no hopes for the future and the people having no hope for their children deserve to be taken seriously”. He believes that it is too early to say whether the political situation in Romania should become a topic of discussion in the European Parliament, as in Hungary's case." (find here the link to his remarks)

A Cultural war between the European Parliament and conservative governments??

It is interesting to observe that while the former president of the European Parliament supported the austerity measures in Romania, the new socialist president takes another direction.. Supported by a European Parliament of a social-liberal majority (non-inscripts not counted), this creates an interesting but also dangerous situation between the EU and some East European countries, a situation described by some as a 'culture war'. Many countries in East Europe support Christian values and traditional family values. The Hungarian constitution explains clearly what is human dignity and protects the rights of the unborn and defines marriage between one man and one woman. This can also be found in other constitutions like the Latvian and the Bulgarian constitution. In Romania the current ruling Democrat-Liberal party changed the civil law also giving a traditional definition of marriage.

However, the fact that these countries base their laws on Christian values represents a shock to officials from different Western countries and from the European Union. The European Parliament has since the1960s become more and more liberal-socialist and reflected these tendencies in their policies. Moreover, they hijacked and redefined terms like "European values" or "European identity" in their favor and did not wait for a more conservative movement within the European Union. Therefore, the Polish government was attacked as undemocratic and people were labeled as dissidents when they wanted to stand up for Christian values and not to sign the European Charter for Fundamental Rights because of a possible future influence on their family law. Lithuania was also rebuked because of their school manuals and the Hungarian government is now heavily attacked in the European Parliamentarian debate as well. In the media, articles even name Hungarian government leaders as dictators. I am used to the fact that even during these demonstrations in Romania, the protestors used this term quite often, which is understandable considering their historical background. 

However, to see these terms in the international press is quite surprising. Do people not understand that this government is democratically chosen and that it is the will of the people to build their societies based on Christian values and to end the communistic heritage?

Is the role of the EU to support oppositional (social-liberal) movements?

The remark from Schulz about the Romanian demonstrations is worrying. I hope that it will not be a trend for a liberal-socialist majority in the European Parliament to interfere in internal politics of countries that are supporting (Christian) conservative values. I hope that the liberal-socialist majority will not use their power to develop resolutions (although not binding, still influential) or other powers to push these countries to accept an agenda that is in line with the majority in the European Parliament. I also hope that European officials and leaders will refrain themselves from any statements that would support demonstration movements.. This is against the basic principles of the European Union concerning subsidiarity and diversity. Moreover, it will make the situation only worse in these countries where the road to dialogue and reform of the institutional system is the only solution. The danger is that the power battle between coalition and opposition can become a power battle between the EU and the conservative countries.

Instead the EU should push for real dialogue and reforms. The opposition wants to have the power. When they will have the power, they will do the same as the current government: they will politicize too, they will not listen to the other party etc. But maybe that is what liberal-socialists want: a liberal-socialist absolute power in these countries, completely in line with the current European politics, the European "identity" and the European "values".

In the mean time, the corruption remains, people remain in difficult economic circumstances. The demonstrations will stop. People will not trust democracy anymore. The EU that should normally offer democracy, would in fact encourage the dictatorship of the majority of the moment as long as it is in line with the majority of the EP. Results? People will not vote anymore. During the latest parliamentarian elections and presidental elections in Romania, only around 35-55% of the Romanians were voting. Demonstrations are not dangerous for the democracy, indifference of the people is!

Bringing real democracy is a generation-long struggle. The first step is to not impose any political direction on the members-states. The "unity through the diversity" motto of the European Union should be accepted and implemented. The second step is to push the countries to create a democracy based on dialogue and to make the necessary institutional reforms. This costs time and investment, but will create stability, welfare and peace in line with the thoughts of the founding fathers of the European Union. Clearly, some people in the European Parliament still have a long way to go to understand this very concept of democracy.  

1 comment:

  1. Looks like you hae a task to successfully combine low inflation, low unemployment, social benefints and stable government. It is worth a Nobel Prize!