Saturday, 19 January 2013

Romania is a much freer country than England but much less democratic

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Is Romania really a democracy? Yes compared to Russia and Belarus, no compared to Western Europe. Greece is a very corrupt (and socialist) country and but Greece is democratic in the sense that elections, as we have just seen, are fought over very real issues. 

How can the EU remedy the democratic deficit in East European countries like Romania?

It's an easy question - it cannot. The ambition to enter the EU helped make most of the  post-Communist countries stay democratic, save for the states of the former USSR, but the EU cannot impose democratic values. It can help by heckling from the sidelines and by offering a good example. The trouble is that the EU is not democratic itself and in Romania the population has no faith in the ideals of the EU, though a lot of hope that the EU will be a source of money and a providential deus ex machina. In the short run democracy can be imposed from above as it was after 1945 in West Germany and Italy, but only in the short term.


On the whole there is a lot more freedom in Romania than in Western Europe. People smoke in restaurants and make sexist remarks and disregard EU regulations. But they do not think government is on their side. Romanians do not have a party system which allows people to choose between parties that reflect different points of view and the EU cannot help here  nor does Romania have politicians who are respected or trusted.The EU might help by hectoring in improving slightly the quality of the judges and thereby building the rule of law. 

The essence of democracy is that one party leaves office after defeat to be replaced  by another party which brings in distinctly different values and laws from as happened in the UK in 1979 and 1997, in France last year, such as has not happened in Russia. This is where rule by the masses comes in and this fear of the electorate colours everything democratic governments do (though obviously the European Commission does not have to worry about electorates). With democracy goes press freedom and independent institutions that police corruption. Perhaps the EU can help marginally here too. On balance though the EU takes power away from electorates, obviously. 

The 1996 election in Romania which ousted the revamped Communists and the 2000 election which brought them back  did represent real change and people who voted for Traian Basescu in 2004 hoped his victory would do so too, but since 2004 all parties have seemed corrupt and not to represent divergent philosophies. In Eastern Europe it is hard to think that there are coherent right wing or left wing programmes. The liberals here are not liberal, by which I mean believing in a free market, and the socialists are not socialist. There are no conservatives, as people do not think there is much worth conserving.

Successful democracies are two party systems where the parties disagree over real issues but agree on a consensus of issues far bigger than the issues they disagree about. This is then called democracy and anyone who disagrees with the consensus is regarded as an extremist or mad. When the parties disagree on a lot things become more fractured.

What is so dull is that since 1945 European politics has become subsumed by economics and governments are supposed to manage the economy. Politics was much more interesting when it was about interesting things like separation of church and state or foreign policy or whatever - things electors can understand. 

Issues that generate heat elsewhere like abortion never get raised as far as I am aware. Many such issues have been decided by the EU anyway. To a larger extent than people realise things are now decided by the EU not by the Romanian parliament and I think most Romanians prefer it that way. And since the alternative is a clique rooted in the Communist regime and the secret police, it is very understandable that they should.

Freedom is unfashionable these days in the West, which is much more authoritarian than Romania (though much less authoritarian than Russia). I see signs of the whole feminist- liberal-authoritarian caravan coming here, via young Romanian academics and people educated abroad. I also see a young generation of the sons and daughters of demnitari (high dignitaries) who resemble their parents. Both species fill me with gloom. Both groups display that contempt for ordinary people that progressive people and rich people usually feel and which Romanians also usually feel. Contempt squared, so to speak. 

I think most of the interesting topics in politics can be dealt with very satisfactorily by referendum, which is by the way a wonderfully conservative instrument. 
How referendums on whether pigs should be slaughtered in the streets, horses allowed on roads or smoking in bars would raise political participation in Romania. But I forgot. These things have all been decided by Brussels, which, like Big Brother, knows best. 



6 comments:

  1. Ah, the conservative now wishing for some form(s) of direct democracy! I share your sentiment here, if not your outlook; but I also appreciate the general cynicism in Romania. It would be too ridiculous if the people actually believed in their corrupt rulers.
    -Joel

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  2. Conservatives have liked plebiscites since the time of Louis Napoleon.

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  3. Paul,

    Interesting observation.

    But is Britain a democracy? A two-party system (well the third was included to make things more interesting) that just passes control from one another and this gives the masses a false impression of a democracy. How representative of the people is the British parliament? The MPs and the people are two different worlds.

    The truth is that there are almost no real democracies left out there and the visible discrepancies that we see now between West and East is a result of a much better PR. The corruption in the West has moved several steps up the ladder and is not visible to the masses and it took centuries to get there. It is the same strategy as with the taxes: after the bloody outburst of the masses culminating in the French revolution one of the concessions made by the ruling elite was to make everyone pay taxes (not only the low classes). A noble move, pleasing the masses but in reality, with a good consultant, you can pay 1% in taxes if you make use of all the loopholes.

    The notion of democracy takes time to insert into peoples minds, a lot of marketing and PR is needed, over time and generations - and this is all. I hope you still do not think that people's votes make real changes in UK?

    Santa

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  4. Paul, you are saying in the article: "Successful democracies are two party systems where the parties disagree over real issues but agree on a consensus of issues far bigger than the issues they disagree about. This is then called democracy and anyone who disagrees with the consensus is regarded as an extremist or mad...."

    It reminds me of a paragraph from Leonard Cohen's biography: "In interviews at the time Leonard referred to democracy as "the greatest religion the West has produced", adding, "[as] Chesterton said about religion, it's a great idea, too bad nobody's tried it."

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  5. "tolerance" but not true freedom. And, lipsa de respect fata de nefumatori. As for the rest, this comment nailed it.
    Peter

    “On the whole there is a lot more freedom in Romania than in Western Europe. People smoke in restaurants and make sexist remarks and disregard EU regulations. But they do not think government is on their side. Romanians do not have a party system which allows people to choose between parties that reflect different points of view and the EU cannot help here nor does Romania have politicians who are respected or trusted.”

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