Now, I am no longer ashamed of being a Romanian; I'm really disgusted.
Octavian Blenchea seems to be just one of a few Romanians who is appalled by the results of the recent parliamentary and presidential elections. Others were quite happy to vote for a crypto-Communist or an ultranationalist—and who can blame them? Sick of poverty, Romanians have voted for change. However, wanting change and living with the consequences of change are two very different things.
On Sunday 26 November, Romania voted out the liberal centre-right coalition, the Democratic Convention of Romania (CDR) in favour of Ion Iliescu's Party for Social Democracy (PDSR) and Corneliu Vadim Tudor's Greater Romania Party (PRM) [read more about the elections in CER].
In the run-up to the parliamentary and presidential elections, Iliescu and the PDSR consistently led the opinion polls. The surprise came from Tudor and the PRM, who in the last week of campaigning soared into second place. Results revealed that the PDSR had received 37 per cent of the vote and the PRM 20 per cent, while Iliescu gained 36.7 per cent of the presidential vote and Tudor 28.4 per cent.
Both PRM and PDSR will require support from a number of the smaller parties to ensure an absolute majority in Parliament. Two centrist parties hold the balance of power: the National Liberal Party (PNL), with roughly ten per cent of the vote, and the Democrat Party (PD), with roughly seven per cent of the vote. Whichever party the PNL and PD choose to ally themselves with will determine the composition of the next Romanian government.
The presidency, however, still remains in the hands of the electorate. On 10 December 2000, Ion Iliescu and Corneliu Vadim Tudor will battle it out in a second round play-off for the presidential office; the results could bring a turnaround in domestic and foreign policy and a reversal in international policies toward Romania. A new pariah of Europe may be just around the corner.
A new pariah of Europe?
Romania's options for president are no longer that great. Ion Iliescu, once a member of Communist dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu's inner circle was disgraced in the 1980s only to resurrect himself as the leader of post-revolutionary Romania in 1990. In 1992, he was elected president but lost office in 1996 to the more liberal Emil Constantinescu.
In 1996, Romanians voted to relinquish their ties to Communism and to progress towards democracy. Iliescu was seen to epitomise the "old regime," and the election of Constantinescu symbolised the dramatic change that Romanians desired. In the November 2000 elections, Romanians have once again shown a desire for change: the only difference being their will to return to the old style of governance, because many feel they were "better off under Communism."
The Romanian electorate appears to have forgotten that Iliescu is the man who is largely responsible for the slow, sporadic economic and political development of the early 1990s. As a result, Iliescu can be apportioned a degree of responsibility for the current state of Romania and the poverty that many Romanians now face.
It seems the Romanians would rather have as president the man who, during the past year, has allegedly been linked to a series of scandals revealing the extent of corruption within the country (See The Red Line and Parisian Scandal). It also seems that the man who summoned miners to Bucharest in 1991 to rampage through the streets and violently break up student protests has been forgiven.
"They will be liquidated"
He has waited on the sidelines as the other presidential and parliamentary candidates battled it out in an attempt to discredit each other. Tudor seemed to be of little threat to the likes of Iliescu and current Prime Minister Mugur Isărescu (standing as an independent presidential candidate). They couldn't have been more wrong.
Tudor is famed for his nationalistic comments, many of which have been published in the party newspaper România Mare. His statements concentrate on three main issues: his idea of the "nation," an imminent revolution of the masses and the liquidation of ethnic minorities.
"Cannot we deal with the murderous rapist Gypsy gangs? No problem; they will be liquidated..." (24 March 2000); "Within 48 hours, we will liquidate the Mafia which is choking Romania!... Within 48 hours we will ban and dismantle the UDMR [Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania, ed] segregational organization!" (3 March 2000).
Iliescu and Tudor are now the only options Romania has for president. The vote on 10 December will essentially seal the fate of the nation in the immediate future. Although both men have pledged to continue transitional reforms and the European Union enlargement process, it would clearly be a mistake to take each of the candidates at face value.
Romanians are voting for change; the question is only how far they are prepared to go: the hard line or the soft line. Either way, the country's perception in Europe could well take a turn for the worse.
Hard and soft options
Compared with Corneliu Vadim Tudor, Iliescu is the "softer" option. Even his most vehement opponents from the PNL and the PD are fully prepared to collaborate with the PDSR, simply to prevent Tudor and his party from gaining too much influence. Both the PNL and the PD have unconditionally pledged their support for Iliescu in the second-round vote. They have also pledged allegiance to a PDSR minority government on the condition that Iliescu commits his party to European integration.
Officials of the PD and PNL have asked their supporters "...to vote against extremism." In itself this is a painful experience. Both parties have always had an unsettled relationship with the PDSR and, indeed, with each other. As members of the outgoing coalition, PD and PNL have rarely agreed and have always been strongly against the majority of PDSR policies.
Unfortunately, they have little choice but to co-operate. In order to prevent Tudor form destroying Romania's transition to democracy and reversing the policies that have taken ten years to implement, PDSR, PD, PNL and the UDMR have to unite.
PDSR deputy president Adrian Nastase has suggested that the PDSR form the opposition, leaving the PRM to create a minority government. Under the current regulations, this would be feasible. The opposition parties would not have to be united but would be united enough to prevent the extreme nationalist policies of Tudor from passing through the system.
However, this option is flawed. The outgoing coalition was disunited and dysfunctional, unable to agree on the majority of proposals. Often, the only means of passing legislation was via emergency ordinances. This would still be feasible if the PRM were allowed to form the government. In Hitleresque fashion, the PRM could dismantle the democratic procedures that Romanians have fought hard to secure.
But this is perhaps exactly what Romania needs and wants. One positive aspect of Hitler's rule was that he managed to reduce inflation and unemployment and raise general prosperity levels—isn't this what Romanians desire?
Roughly 40 per cent of Romanians live in poverty; inflation is at 45 per cent; official unemployment is 9.8 per cent but in reality probbaly higher; and the average monthly salary is roughly USD 90 (Agence France Presse, 28 November 2000). Ruling with an iron fist, Tudor may be able to transform Romania, but the cost to human rights would be considerable.
The results of Romania's democratic vote has sent shock waves through the international community. Next year, Romania is set to chair the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and concerns are increasing over the composition of Romania's next government.
One senior diplomat at the OSCE has commented that "everybody is looking at the election with concern because of the surge of the far-right" (Agence France Presse, 28 November 2000). He continued to say that everyone was wondering who the next Romanian foreign affairs minister would be, because that person would also be the chair of Europe's most respected and reliable security organisation.
Indeed, if the next Romanian government is a PRM minority, then the next chair of the OSCE would be an extreme nationalist. This is not only worrying for security in Romania but for security in the Balkans and, to a lesser extent, Europe as a whole.
With Iliescu and the PDSR in government, however, the party's reliance on the centrist PNL and PD would be enough to secure some form of ongoing programme dedicated to European Union integration and the responsibilities of that process.
Romania's position in terms of EU accession has been damaged by the large percentage of votes for the PRM and Tudor. This position will worsen if Tudor is elected president.
Of particular concern is the attitude that PRM has towards minority groups. For the past four years, the largest minority group, the Hungarians (roughly seven percent of the population), have been represented in the ruling coalition and Parliament by the Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania (UDMR).
László Borbély, deputy leader of the UDMR, has expressed his concern over the prospect of being ruled by extreme nationalists: "We must sound the alarm... about a party led by a chauvinistic character."
Luckily, the alarm bells are sounding; but Romanians may not take heed. Since the local elections in June, Tudor's popularity has increased by 2.2 per cent. If this considerable growth continues, then Tudor could be the next president of Romania (Alina Mungiu, Central Europe Online, 27 November 2000).
However, as Valeriu Stoica of the Liberals stated, he would urge his supporters to "not necessarily vote for Iliescu in the run-offs but certainly to vote against Tudor and his party." (Central Europe Online, 27 November 2000)
A strategical vote could be the only way to keep the PRM and Tudor from having a large say in the running of the country. Perhaps voting to prevent a man who declared that "NATO is nothing but a satanist organisation, a malignant tumour on the brain of mankind" (Romania Mare, 23 April 2000) is not such a bad thing.
Ten years after Romanians fought to destroy the restrictions on human rights and freedoms, they have voted to reinstate ethnic hatred and a return to Communism. Once the president and the government have been decided, 80 per cent of Parliament will be made up of ex-Communists.
More frightening is the fact that an ultranationalist party may well be installed within the Balkans—again. This does not bode well for future relations with neighbours and international organisations. Within a few months, or even weeks, the majority of Romanians could come round to the opinion of Octavian Blenchea: "Iliescu's Romania is not my Romania." However, perhaps Tudor's Romania would be even worse.
Catherine Lovatt, 29 November 2000
Photographs courtesy of Monitorul de Braşov
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