Friday 11 January 2013

Romania’s Rotten Oligarchy


This interesting article by Kostas Vaxevanis in the New York Times and International Herald Tribune this week about Greece reminded me of Romania:

DEMOCRACY is like a bicycle: if you don’t keep pedalling, you fall. Unfortunately, the bicycle of Greek democracy has long been broken. After the military junta collapsed in 1974, Greece created only a hybrid, diluted form of democracy. You can vote, belong to a party and protest. In essence, however, a small clique exercises all meaningful political power.

For all that has been said about the Greek crisis, much has been left unsaid. The crisis has become a battleground of interests and ideologies. At stake is the role of the public sector and the welfare state. Yes, in Greece we have a dysfunctional public sector; for the past 40 years the ruling parties handed out government jobs to their supporters, regardless of their qualifications.

But the real problem with the public sector is the tiny elite of business people who live off the Greek state while passing themselves off as “entrepreneurs.” They bribe politicians to get fat government contracts, usually at inflated prices. They also own many of the country’s media outlets, and thus manage to ensure that their actions are clothed in silence. Sometimes they’ll even buy a soccer team in order to drum up popular support... 

Romania like neighbouring countries is not really a democracy and how could she be? Will she be one? Some look to the EU to help but how can the EU remedy a democratic deficit? 

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. 

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 its predecessor, as happened in the UK in 1979 and 1997, in France last year, such as has not happened in Russia. This is democracy, rule by the masses, and this fear of the electorate colours everything democratic governments do. In Romania parties leave office regularly but the same 'Structure' of shadowy interests seems to rule. The 1996 election in Romania which ousted the revamped Communists and the 2000 election which brought them back  did represent real change 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 pro-business, and the socialists are not socialist. There are no conservatives as people do not think there is much worth conserving.

The present political class or their successors will In power for generations. I wonder if real democracy is possible in Orthodox countries. What Romania needs is a public minded elite and a moral revolution from below but it is not her destiny to resemble Norway or England. Perhaps corrupt but not too corrupt  Ireland might be a role model.

Economics springs from culture which springs mostly from religion and genetics. Roger Scruton writes interestingly on this  here.

Thank God Romania unlike Greece is not in the euro. 


  1. I agree on the rotten oligarchy, but I wouldn't blame it on orthodoxy (or genetics) - event though I am not a believer myself.
    When I think of my country's (geopolitical) situation, I think: West Germany - USA, East Germany - Russia, South Korea - USA, North Korea - Russia, Western Europe - USA, Eastern Europe - Russia.
    And I only think the USA are a bit more civilized/practical, not a lot more democratic than other countries.
    Well, I actually feel sick when I hear "politicians" like Dmitry Rogozin speak.
    If only powerful countries would (>will) let smaller countries live and have their own ways!

  2. "'Democracy' is an unfathomable word. If you ask someone from each country in Europe (or beyond) what it means, you'll get a different answer from each. Romanians cannot grasp democracy on any level simply because they have never lived it and thus, it is either idealised or an unknown entity.

    You are perfectly right about an absence of a party system that allows people to differentiate between them. Liberalism no longer exists in Romania - and liberal living there whether they support USL or whether they can't bear to will tell you that. People migrate from one party to another (not just voters but politicians) at the drop of a hat and as regularly as we change our socks.

    "Economics springs from culture which springs mostly from religion and genetics". How sad. Culture continues to be as attacked and as persecuted by today's politicians and officials in Romania (Oprescu and the last motley crew of Culture ministers being the chief perpetrators IMHO) as it was under Ceausescu. Culture comes second to making money and demolishing listed buildings, historic monuments or beautiful villas in protected zones (illegally) doesn't seem to phase anyone much anymore...

    I won't even touch on the 'religion' thing, except that this is what you get in a country where no reformation ever took place.

    In my 13 years of working and travelling to Romania, I have never known it to be this bad. Let's hope that the only way is up, but with the politicians as they are, I somehow doubt it. "

  3. "What Romania needs is a public minded elite and a moral revolution from below"
    I absolutely agree. Romania needs a moral revolution in order take its head out of the mud. But, it won't come neither from 'below' nor from 'above'.
    The 'bottom' has no power. It is powerless and disoriented... and, lacks stamina. The 'top' is corrupt to the bone, and lacks moral authority.
    It will have to come from the middle.

    And, yes... unfortunately, you may be onto something here... in regard to the 'Orthodox countries'... - it looks like all the Orthodox countries are like cursed. From Russia to Greece... from Romania to Ukraine...
    On the other hand, Hungary and Bulgaria (to name just a couple) are neither Latin, nor Orthodox... but, they are in the same crap hole with us.

  4. "There are no conservatives as people think that there is no much worth conserving."I would like to provide some evidence to the contrary. Being “conservative” is also a personality trait that is largely inborn. Many Romanians are conservative in this sense.Moreover, historically, Romanian peasants, as probably all peasants, were (and are) conservative in this sense too.The most prominent Romanian intellectuals and thinkers were and are conservative in the political sense: Maiorescu, Eminescu, Iorga, Eliade, Cioran, Liiceanu, Plesu, Patapievici, etc.The Royal family of Romania, which has integrated into Romanian society lately, conveys the values of “ conservatism” to the public at large.The Orthodox creed, which is fundamentally conservative in every sense of the word, is taken seriously by a certain number (many, few I don't know) of Romanians.

  5. Paul must have written his comment as a pretext for sharing with us the two mentioned articles. Very interesting articles. Thanks Paul.

    He also gave course to his hobby of criticizing Romania and Romanians. (Constructively, no question about it.) (People who also follow Paul on his blog know what I am talking about.) Plenty of Romanians share this hobby too. Welcome to the club, Paul.

    The referenced articles and authors said nothing new. Those things were well known to academics and educated people prior to the admission of Greece and Romania into the EU and of the former into the Euro Zone. Which begs the question of why they were admitted in the first place? (Rhetorical question of course.)

    Those things were said long before. (People with the habit of reading books know what I mean).
    Titu Maiorescu, for example, said it famously with his “teoria formelor fara fond” (forms without substance). (Romanian modern institutions are empty forms imported from Western Europe where they developed organically though centuries.)

    But all the those impressive scholars, mighty academics, fine intellectuals, advanced thinkers, famous journalists, popular bloggers, all those millions of articles, books and treatises written on this subject for the last one hundred years or more, could not change a jot from Reality (our dear Reality) which has the bad habit of clinging with impudence to the predetermined course of events.

    Vanitas vanitatum omnia vanitas.