Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Thoughts on today's coup in Romania


One of my rules in life is that analogies with the Nazis are always false and misleading. Still, last night's and today's 'coup d'etat' in Romania, aimed at removing the President and the speaker of the Senate and packing the Constitutional Court, did involuntarily put even me in mind of how easily and smoothly the Nazis took power in Germany after Hitler was appointed Chancellor by President Hindenburg. This is something I have recently been reading about in Sebastian Hafner's absolutely wonderful memoir called Defying Hitler, an eyewitness account which was not published until about ten years ago and which deserves to be a classic.

Photo: HEIL!
10 ONG-uri incearca sa-i opreasca, totusi. Gasiti mai jos scrisoarea catre Barroso si Comisia Europeana. Asteptati zilele urmatoare reactia.

Nor is the analogy lost on Hitler's countrymen who wrote an opinion piece in today's Deutsche Welle  which mentions the Enabling Act by which Hitler was constitutionally granted dictatorial powers. A moment's reflection is enough to see that this analogy is very superficial and in bad taste (nothing wrong with bad taste in politics, though). No-one is going to deprive the Romanian electorate of its right to a free vote in November.  But the leaders of the governing USL coalition, Victor Ponta and Crin Antonescu, are making a huge mistake in terms of Romania's image abroad by behaving in a way which begs Deutsche Welle's comparisons with contemporary Belarus, the Third Reich and Stalin.  Romania's poor image abroad is something which matters absolutely enormously to the Romanian electorate, even though they are very used to it. It is foolish of the USL to  make a proud people even more ashamed than usual of their leaders. 

Actually, another analogy that comers to my mind is the coup that overthrew Gorbachev in 1991 for three days, made by drunken Soviet Generals. That collapsed very quickly though not before being welcomed by Francois Mitterand and George Marchais. This coup will not collapse so quickly, but we shall see what we shall see come the November elections. I have a feeling that, though Ponta's rise has so far been meteoric, he may fall like Lucifer. Certainly, like George W. Bush, he is a bold but clumsy politician. We shall now see whether he is lucky, which he certainly needs to be.

No-one is going to deprive the Romanian electorate of a free vote in November, no, but free votes are not enough to make a system democratic. There must also real exist alternatives, that are sufficiently different to make a choice real and sufficiently similar for stability and cohesion. Some say that the best system of government is a two party system where the two parties agree on all the important issues. Unfortunately this is not very democratic, but it is how democracies usually work. In democracies, people argue over trivia like taxes and public spending but no-one ever argues about, for example, ending the welfare state or ending immigration - it is simply not permitted to be discuss important issues. In Europe, many of them have even been completely removed from discussion by international law. When parties do sharply disagree with each other, as in the USA in Ronald Reagan's time and the UK in Margaret Thatcher's, or in Greece now, this can be exciting and creative but very divisive. 

In Romania's case, the parties fight between themselves, but not on real issues. It would be very hard to say what the real issues are. The Liberals are not really right nor are the Social Democrats really leftists and, even if they were, free market economics and social democracy have little relevance to the problems of Romania. Instead, as the daughter of a very senior person in the 'power structure' once told me, "All the parties, PSD, PDL, PNL, are all exactly, exactly, the same thing." Meaning well-connected shysters (mostly, but not entirely, ex-Communists and their children) fighting over patronage and jobs. It is rather, in that respect, like Whig and Tory politicians in eighteenth century England, except that they had better manners and more Latin and Greek. None of the Romanian parties knows how to eradicate the systemic problems of Romania. How can the political class seek to abolish itself or create an educated, high-minded elite?

I don't use Twitter except in political crises like this one and am not completely at home with it. Last night I read this tweet: 

Romania has renounced its treaties with Britain & sent "important ambassadors" to Germany: "Reich is now the dominant power of Europe." 

For a moment I thought it was part of the coup d'etat or something to do with Mrs. Viviane Reding, but it was a headline from 1940. 

But it provoked this thought - for how much longer will sovereign states be judges of their own constitutions? Perhaps the greater threat to democracy is not from demagogues and wide boys like Mr. Ponta and Mr. Antonescu but from the European Union and the very well meaning people at Deutsche Welle

According to the net, Winston Churchill wrote that, 'The new fascism will be anti-fascism.' I hope he did say it. It is true.

1 comment:

  1. "The right are not really right nor are the social democrats really leftists." That is the basis for beginning to understand politics in Eastern Europe. 'Right' and 'Left' are imported labels that do not really address the issues under consideration.