The wall on the Liberal Democrat Voice office has another postcard, this time from Dr Cristian Ghita, a visiting scholar at Edinburgh University who hails from Bucharest. Here he takes us behind the current headlines.
On Monday, February 6th, The Romanian Prime Minister resigned, following nation-wide protests. The BBC reported that “In a statement, Mr Boc, 45, said that in a time of crisis, his centrist government had not taken part in a popularity contest but had acted to save the country.”
Wonderful statement, and one that would have befitted a Prime Minister leaving his office! A pity, therefore, that it has not been uttered by the Romanian Prime Minister, but by President Basescu’s handmaid, by the person whose complete obedience towards his political mentor has turned the country on its head and has seriously endangered the Constitutional order.
In January, Romanians took to the streets to vent their anger at the Government, and in this they have received the full support of the Opposition parties. The Liberals called their own rally on January 19th, in which more than 20,000 people participated. Moreover, the Liberal MPs (25 Senators and 53 Deputies), joined by the Social-Democrat and Conservative MPs, have declared a Parliamentary boycott until the demands of the protesters are met.
The discontentment was not caused primarily by the economic decisions of the government, although these had certainly managed to exacerbate and not diminish the effects of the crisis. The salary cuts were the most drastic in Europe, 25%, and this made consumption plummet; the increased fiscal burden on SMEs drove them into bankruptcy, and the number of the unemployed soared; VAT was raised from 18% to 24%, a measure all the more absurd as it was to become effective within 72 hours from the moment of the announcement! While the economy was so badly hurt, the government was pumping money into the pockets of the big contributors to their electoral purse, by lavishing on them lucrative contracts for such strategic and productive investments as parks, skating rinks and football stadiums in villages still lacking running water and sewage.
No, the anger of the Romanians was not caused by poverty, as news agencies have announced, nor by the incompetence of the government. They can easily forgive these, because they have been exposed to both in the course of their long history.
It was caused by the unbearable feeling that they were being robbed of their own country.
It was caused by the arrogance of the ruling clique, who were demanding that the people accept the austerity measures, and appealed to the feeling of solidarity, while behind closed doors they funnelled public funds into their own companies by preferential contracts and fixed “public” bids.
It was caused by the sight of the Cabal around President Basescu, which made a mockery of the basic precepts of democracy. It was caused by Secret Services subservient to the President’s will, illegally intercepting and immorally leaking the correspondence of any political adversary (most recently, private conversations of former Prime Minister Adrian Nastase were published by that part of the press closest to the presidential administration, although, being evidence in an ongoing trial, these were supposed to remain solely at the disposal of the judge). It was caused by the obedient prosecutors who have been making it their duty to pursue any who oppose the will of the President. It was caused by a Government which has consistently bypassed normal parliamentary procedures by the forced adoption of no less than 14 pieces of legislation, crucial laws such as the Criminal Code, the Civil Code, or the Education Law! It was caused, finally, by the sight of a governing coalition which, deprived of popular support and with no hope at the upcoming elections decides not to step down, but to postpone elections, under the pretext that there are no funds available to organise such an expensive event.
The demands of the people who took to the streets in all major cities were similar – the resignation of President Basescu, the resignation of the Boc Government, replacing it with a caretaker, technocratic government and early elections.
The Boc Government has stepped down on Monday, but this is, in and of itself, irrelevant. The same day, the President has nominated another Prime Minister, the former chief of one of Romania’s many Secret Services. One lackey has been replaced with another. Political life in Romania will continue to be tense.