Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Playing the race card in the Romanian presidential elections

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The first round of the Romanian presidential election on Sunday produced a result more or less as expected. The Prime Minister, Victor Ponta, from the PSD, the party which is in effect the successor to the Romanian Communist Party, scored 40%. His centre-right PNL (Liberal) challenger Klaus Iohannis scored 30%, a bit better than expected. If you add on the votes of the other two centre-right candidates Mr. Iohannis’s vote almost equals Mr. Ponta's but Mr. Ponta says he will name former Liberal Prime Minister Mr. Tariceanu as Prime Minister and this may bring over most of Mr. Tariceanu’s supporters. But the election result may be decided by the ethnic Hungarians who make up about 7% of the population and usually vote as a disciplined phalanx as their leaders instruct them.

Wise people who know about how things work in Romania always confidently but mysteriously say that the politicians are marionettes behind whom stand occult interests, shadowy business leaders and the former Communist secret police (and the very boyish Mr. Ponta does rather look like a marionette or even a ventriloquist's dummy). The well-informed people say that the PSD election strategy is a long term one by which Mr. Ponta was persuaded against his will to stand for president and Mr. Tariceanu was persuaded to stand to draw away votes from the Liberal Party and split the anti-PSD vote in return for the premiership. It is also said that the local Liberal barons, powerful political figures in the provinces who are believed to wax fat on sweet deals and immoral activities connected to the public service, have not tried hard to get the vote out for their party leader, preferring the other side to win for financial reasons. 

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Be that as it may Romania has divided in the most interesting way over this contest.

The electoral map of the results of the first round is very telling. Hunedoara and Caras-Severin are the only Transylvanian counties to vote for the PSD, as did the Bucovina. Otherwise the border between Austria Hungary, or Catholic Europe and the Ottoman Empire or the  Balkans is reflected in the voting. The areas which voted for Iohannis were not necessarily more prosperous than those which voted for the PSD but they are culturally very different. This division derives from the nine hundred years that Hungary ruled much of what is now Romania but before that to the dichotomy between Eastern and Western Christianity and the division of the Roman Empire into two halves.

Romania is an example of incomplete nation building, though it coheres, which is much more than Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia did. Ethnic Romanians do not share a common history or the same Orthodox religion  (some adhere to the Greek Catholic church and Rome) but they share a common literary language, accepted in all parts of the country, and a common fear - the spectre of Hungary one day talking back the lands she lost in 1918. Like all spectres this danger is insubstantial and doesn't in fact exist, but is nevertheless scary. Since the revolution the the party that now calls itself the PSD have played on this fear with great effect, as did the Communist party throughout its period in power.

You might expect the Hungarians to prefer a Transylvanian German but there are signs that there might be an unholy alliance between the ethnic Hungarian party, the UDMR, and the PSD. We should know which candidate the UDMR endorse on Thursday but if they think Mr. Ponta will win they will want to give him their support and he is expected to win and.

Ethnic Romanians made up a fraction over half the population of Transylvania before it was taken from Austria Hungary and given to Romania after the First World War. The rest of the population were made up mostly of Hungarians and Germans. The numbers of Germans diminished when very many were ethnically cleansed after the Second World War. Under Communism many more left for West Germany in return for payments by Bonn. In December 1989 when the Romanian revolution took place there were about only 200,000 Germans in Romania, a year later half that. Klaus Iohannis would have left in 1990 had he not fallen in love with an ethnic Romanian girl to whom he is now married.

Sibiu, or Hermannstadt to give its German name, is a city designed by Germans and Hungarians for Germans and Hungarians and is a masterpiece of Habsburg architecture that it is now inhabited mostly by the descendants of the peasants in the hinterland. The same story can be told for old cities scattered across Romania, Serbia, Croatia, Slovakia and Ukraine. After the revolution the numbers of Germans fell so low that the ethnic German party only filled one seat on the city council. Mr Iohannis, an able youngish schoolmaster, was expected to win that one seat in 2000 but to his and everyone else's astonishment he won the job of mayor. He was chosen not for his own merits (he was an unknown)  but, like Mr. Obama, purely because of his ethnicity, all Romanians thinking that ethnic Germans are more honest and more efficient than Romanians. This was the reason why he later became leader of Sibiu County Council and then was summoned to Bucharest, the Great Wen, where the PSD candidate in 2009 promised to appoint him Prime Minister if he won the presidency.  

When he announced he was standing for president I thought Mr. iohannis's ethnicity would swing it for him. Almost all the Romanians that I know trust foreigners more than other Romanians ('so long as they're white' was the caveat a leading businesswoman added when she told me this). But I spend most of my time with intelligent, educated Romanians who went to university. The peasants and factory workers think differently.

There is an interesting book to be written about the intertwined relationship between Germans and Romanians. It would have to include the the German occupation of Bucharest in the First World War. The German commander, Field Marshal August von Mackensen, complained when he left that
"I came to Bucharest two years ago with a legion of conquering heroes. I leave with a troupe of gigolos and racketeers.”
The same trajectory has been followed by a number of German businessmen who came to Romania. Let us hope that Mr. Iohannis preserved his principles despite the temptations presented by political life in Bucharest. His opponents point however to allegations of misconduct. 

Be that as it may - and Mr. Iohannis is the owner of six properties - it is thought that the astonishing arrests of large numbers of leading businessmen and politicians for corruption which have made the last few years in Romania so hopeful are more likely to continue under President Iohannis than they are under a PSD president. President Traian Băsescu has used the presidency to protect the independence of the prosecutors from being unfairly influenced by politicians, in the PSD and other parties he dislikes, and the so-called 'structure of power', the Romanian shadowy equivalent of the Turkish 'deep state'. This is one principal reason why the fight over the presidency is so important.

Ethnic Hungarians are regarded with suspicion by ethnic Romanians but ethnic Germans enjoy good relations with both groups and are much respected. Romania's first king, King Carol I, was German and is regarded as one of Romania's very few good rulers. But is Romania ready for a German president? Perhaps more to the point is she ready for a Lutheran president? (Like almost all ethnic Germans, Mr. Iohannis is a Lutheran in a deeply religious country where being Romanian means being Orthodox.) Mr. Ponta thinks not and is naturally playing the ethnic and religious cards as much as he can. In the countryside these things matter and not just in the countryside. 

People tell me things are complex but I think two issues dominate the election - whether people want the PSD and the post-Communist old guard in power and whether they think a German president would be better. 


22 comments:

  1. "You made me laugh in tears with that expression: "I came to Bucharest two years ago with a legion of conquering heroes. I leave with a troupe of gigolos and racketeers.” Now the article has your signature. Congratulations for the text."
    Andrei Dragomir

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  2. Romania is "an incomplete nation building"?! who gives you the right to make such sick assumptions!? has your nation struggled for the past 2,000 years to defend the people that have lived between Black Sea, Danube and North Carpathian since ...ever?Romania has not formed based on colonialism!! and has not got enriched via geological layers of wealth stolen from the "crown pearls": India and other poor countries which were robbed by this clever island of yours!! Who gives you the right to state the incompleteness of the state building in Romania implying that Hungarians would have had the right to continue their illegal dominance in Transylvania (as they also did in Slovakia) even after 1918, after several centuries of the same Robbery in Transylvania as UK did it in India?! Sir, fyi, Romania is a COMPLETE state building since 1918, when all the provinces were finally ALLOWED by the Great Powers in Europe, like yours, to UNITE!!! if you discuss further more about the conquerers who settled in an occupied Transylvania along the centuries, I will start talking about your Scottish, Welsh and Irish ethnics ... and you don't want that. It you live in Romania, you should respect the history and the sufferance of this nation!!!... alternatively, you should go back to your island. Regards,

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    1. Fissures between the communities opened up in World War II, persisted throughout Communism, and continue today in the electoral rolls. Mr Wood says that Romania has remained coherent. You, on the other hand, have not. You need to calm down.

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    2. Transilvania allways was filled with mixed nationality peoples unlike other 2 part from Romania.

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    3. Don't see any hungarian dominance in Transilvania, except few people, the most of hungarian and romanian live in peace with eachother amd hungarian also was part in properity of Transilvania, just go around and see how much building/factory/monument/bridge was builded in bigger cities because peoples can cooperate and don't got a sick ideology like Vladim or Tôkés, who's talk but do nothing.

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  3. Romania is "an incomplete nation building"?! who gives you the right to make such sick assumptions!? has your nation struggled for the past 2,000 years to defend the people that have lived between Black Sea, Danube and North Carpathian since ...ever?Romania has not formed based on colonialism!! and has not got enriched via geological layers of wealth stolen from the "crown pearls": India and other poor countries which were robbed by this clever island of yours!! Who gives you the right to state the incompleteness of the state building in Romania implying that Hungarians would have had the right to continue their illegal dominance in Transylvania (as they also did in Slovakia) even after 1918, after several centuries of the same Robbery in Transylvania as UK did it in India?! Sir, fyi, Romania is a COMPLETE state building since 1918, when all the provinces were finally ALLOWED by the Great Powers in Europe, like yours, to UNITE!!! if you discuss further more about the conquerers who settled in an occupied Transylvania along the centuries, I will start talking about your Scottish, Welsh and Irish ethnics ... and you don't want that. It you live in Romania, you should respect the history and the sufferance of this nation!!!... alternatively, you should go back to your island. Regards,

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  4. Paul loves Romania with a passion, but sees also with an educated English ex-pat's eyes. I am jealous of his love and knowledge of her.
    I'd love to read the item that contained von Mackensen's opinion.

    .

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    1. p.187 http://www.uniset.ca/misc/Athene_Palace_Bucharest.pdf

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    2. What a nice thing to say, by the way, anonymous.

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  5. The article goes dangerously close to religious segregation which in my opinion is not an real issue. I think we have to start voting in what we believe and follow and analyze what the person that we vote for is doing. We cannot act as citizens only when the elections came. If you can find the same map for 2009 and for 2004 elections you will understand what I’m saying. Codrut

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    1. You are absolutely right ,I thought it was just me thinking that . In almost 40 years I lived in Romania I have never encountered religious segregation ,not even in communism time .The neighbours were just neighbours ,friends where just friends ,never religion was mentioned .When a marriage had to be arranged for an urgent and soon obvious reason the religious differences where quick brushed aside and they all headed for a good all night dancing and clapping together . More so Johannis is already married outside his religious group anyway. Very interesting Romanians have never been segregated by religion ,definitely not like UK . Colour of skin ? Yes but mainly if you ,, lose '' your wallet while on the bus to work . Based on my Romanian experience, the social ladder is the one who divides our nation the most .

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    2. Problem is religion was used by politicians for manipulate the votes....
      The old peasant in most of poor part of country still listen to priests without asking anything.

      Religion must be free for political manipulation!

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  6. An interesting article. However, what that map is missing is the fact that it only reflects Johannis-Ponta and not left-right. In many red regions the combined right canidates got more than the left.

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  7. It'a a manipulation in my opinion. Macovei is much better than Johannis and further to the right than him. She got more in the red regions than in the blue, yet her result didn't count in the map. In Bucharest alone, Macovei got 13%, highest bar the diaspora, and together with Johannist makes 40% compared to Ponta at 30 %
    And her votes got stolen by double stamping. She would've been much higher in B alone. Maybe double.

    The left had 1 real candidate. The right had 3 if not 4 candidates. This the map doesn't catch yet it will be reflected in the final round.

    Adrian

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    1. I would love if Macovei vs Ponta the second round...

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    2. That would have been very good, I agree, but I do not think Mrs. Macovei would have won in that case, if only because she is a woman and Romanians do not want a woman leader.

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  8. I share the same experiences, namely that I've met mostly educated Romanians. But I've also learned there's a good part who isn't interested in 'german' leadership or any other 'foreigner' sniffing around in Wallachia - I fully understand that, no European nation is different in that aspect. I favor Iohannis for a single reason - he appears more suitable to deal with European leaders. In contrast, Ponta's ellbowing had European leaders take a step away from him - that's not healthy for Romania. I want a president who has the manners to build bridges and not to burn them.

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  9. Nice to see you excited and inspired to write ,Romanian adventure must be still good . Would you feel the same about elections in UK ? Hope the Romanians are excited too ,horrible not to feel a little bit lifted at least in the week before the big day . You are only going to get crushed again in disappointment shortly after . I envy you ,nothing new here , Cameron ,Cleg ,Miliband all just like a big ,big endless constipation and Farage ,who thinks he's the new and much improved senokot of British politics but not good to make a positive difference . More like a vicious Salmonella in my view .

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  10. "Playing the race card"

    what race(s) are talking about, actually ?

    i'm suspecting you have no clear notions about it

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    1. I am talking about the Romanian, German and Hungarian races, of course and I think my notions are reasonably clear.

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