Wednesday 22 October 2014

Corina Creţu ten years ago


Corina Creţu was confirmed this afternoon as the European Commissioner (the Romanian word 'comisar' has a strangely Communist flavour) for Regional Development and therefore the statutory Romanian member of the European Commission.

People in England have been asking me about her which led me to dig out this article I wrote about her part in the exit of Ion Iliescu from the leadership of the post-communist Social Democratic Party (PSD), in April 2005.

We have passed a lot of water under the bridge since those days, to quote Sam Goldwyn, and much has happened to all the figures mentioned in the article. Corina Creţu, before being nominated to the commission, was best known for having exchanged "very personal emails" with the very married Colin Powell. These had begun in 2005. Guccifer the Romanian hacker who hacked into her email account and made the contents public has  just been sentenced to seven years, poor fellow. It seems very harsh.

Mircea Geoană came within a whisker of beating Traian Basescu in the presidential election in 2009, just as Adrian Nastase had done in 2004. Mr. Geoană has since been expelled from the party and then readmitted, but is effectively sidelined, while Adrian Nastase is serving his second prison sentence for corruption. Mr. Meleșcanu runs the external secret service and is standing for president, but doesn't have much of a chance. Mr. Iliescu is still honorary president of his party.

Ole Ole Ole Iliescu nu mai e!

History said a now discredited German philosopher repeats
itself first as tragedy then as farce. Marx's comment on the French
revolution of 1848 sprang to mind as Ion Iliescu was
removed in an unexpected internal coup from the leadership of the
Social Democratic Party (PSD) the party he founded and for fifteen
years dominated even when as President he was required not to belong
to a political party. The parallels with the way in which he removed
his predecessor Nicolae Ceausescu from power were irresistible. Ole
ole ole Iliescu nu mai e! sang the front page of the tabloid Libertate
and the headline appeared in other papers, a paraphrase of the
euphoric chant of the crowds in the 1989 Revolution: hurrah hurrah
Ceausescu is no more!

Fifteen years ago Iliescu and his fellow Gorbachov Communists took over the Oedipal popular uprising against Ceausescu which many now say was staged by an alliance between the KGB and Western intelligence agencies. For most of those fifteen years Ion Iliescu, now 75 and educated at Moscow University in Stalin’s time, where he is said to have been recruited by Russian intelligence, had presided over Romania as she made the slowest progress of any former Soviet satellite in Eastern Europe towards functioning capitalism. In those fifteen years former Communists ran a kleptocracy comparable with Yeltsin’s Russia or Lukashenko’s Belarus while the Government slowly adopted chapter by chapter the requirements of entry to the European Union.
Now the younger generation of Social Democrats whom Iliescu had nurtured turned on him and at last cornered the consummate political fixer.  It was Iliescu who to his
surprise and horror found himself losing control of the Party Congress
of April 21.This time a coup de theatre rather than a coup d'etat. And
marvellous theatre it was.

In the four months since PSD Prime Minister Adrian Nastase snatched
defeat from the jaws of victory in the Presidential elections, Iliescu
had given effortless master classes in how to outmanoeuvre your
political rivals. He had checkmated Nastase and Mircea Geoana in the
same way that he had sidetracked in turn Petre Roman, Teodor Melescanu
and every other rival for power within his party for fifteen years.
Nastase had discovered that he wasn't strong enough to stand against
Iliescu for the leadership of the party and was touchingly grateful to
be earmarked the specially created position of Executive President
Iliescu was confident enough to humiliate Geoana his former disciple
describing him as a dunce (prostenac) for making an alliance with the
Hungarians in round two of the Presidentials. In so doing he
precipitated Geoana's decision to gratify his injured pride by making
a seemingly unlikely bid himself for the leadership.

But Geoana's candidature was no mere marker for the future. Undetected
the tectonic plates within the party were shifting. An alliance had
been secretly put in place that was strong enough to topple Iliescu
but secrecy was vital just as it was for there conspirators of 1989.

Geoana only announced a firm decision to stand for the leadership at
the last possible moment and by then  had secretly built alliances
with Miron Mitrea, Viorel Hrebenciuc and with Ioan Rus's Cluj group.
On Wednesday night  these party elders secretly directed their
followers to switch support from Iliescu to Geoana. Only immediately
before the start of the Congress did the three went to Iliescu and
offered him the chance to stand down gracefully and be elected
honorary party president. Iliescu's reaction was one of blind fury and
he angrily turned them out of his office.

At that point the Congress opened and Iliescu was voted to chair the
Congress. This kept him on the platform and out of contact with
opinion amongst the party delegates, the PSD barons from the local
party branches, in the corridors of Sala Palatului and in nearby
restaurants where the deals were being made. Nastase who at lunchtime
praised Iliescu fulsomely to delegates who knew the two hated each
other began negotiations with the conspirators and by the afternoon
was describing Geoana as `A team player with whom I always
collaborated very well.'

Just so did figures in December 1989 like General Stanculescu play a
double game until the end. Talleyrand in the  French Revolution of
1830 went to the window looked out at the streetfighting and said `I
see our side is winning.' Someone asked him `Which side is that?" and
Talleyrand very shocked replied `I shall tell you tomorrow.'

The conspiracy would not have succeeded so well and might not have
succeeded at all had not Iliescu very angry and badly frightened made
a terrible mistake. Calling Nastase to the podium he said `I now
invite to speak Comrade Nastase'. The walls of the hall blushed. The
word tovarasi (comrade) has been unspeakable except in black jokes
since December 1989. Immediately Iliescu added that the `comrade' was
regularly used by Social Democratic parties elsewhere in Europe but
the word once uttered could not be recalled.

At that moment Iliescu lost the delegates and the party. None of his
supporters could provide an excuse for him. Either Iliescu was still a
Communist or he was becoming senile and no longer knows what he is
saying. Or of course both. Either way Iliescu belonged to another age.
Fifteen years after the Revolution had been hijacked by Iliescu
everyone realised, irrespective of the backstairs political deals
being struck and unstruck, that the party needed a new leader.

It is very strange that moment when power suddenly passes from those
who have long held it securely. It happened with Margaret Thatcher in
1990 and with Mikhail Gorbachov a year later. Ceausescu at the famous
speech from the balcony of the Central Committee building sensing the
hatred of the crowd had promised increases in rations and salaries.
That was the moment when his power was broken.

Iliescu was left alone on the podium in the hall while power shifted
elsewhere. In this case power did not fall in Lenin's phrase into the
streets. It fell for the moment into the manicured and improbable
hands of Mircea Geoana. Corina Cretu, Iliescu's devoted spokeswoman
and Senator Nicolae were almost the only supporters who by midnight
remained loyal to the old man. It was Mrs. Cretu's melancholy duty to
keep her mentor informed of how the conspiracy against him was
prospering. The whole second tier of the leadership had forgotten
their rivalries and grudges and momentarily united against him.

These past three weeks have been full of gripping events abroad (the
death of a Pope and the election of another) and closer to home (the
Romanian hostage crisis goes on and on and becomes more alarming by
the day) but for drama the Party Congress eclipsed for the moment
anything else. Iliescu kept his lonely place on the  platform until 3
in the morning but he left before the vote was announced: Geoana  964;
Iliescu 530.

Geoana was President (leader) of the party, Nastase Executive
President, Mitrea Secretary-General. Iliescu was a rank and file party
member. Of his supporters only Corina Cretu, Vacaroiu and Dan Ioan
Pascu were elected as Vice-Presidents. Mrs Cretu had threatened to
resign from the party if Iliescu were not chosen leader. Nastase's
people tracked her down in the confusion to ask her when she would
resign so that a new Vice-President could be chosen in her place.

Iliescu's reaction when he knew defeat was unavoidable was to cry out
in a rage worthy of King Lear: `I do not need a position in order to
continue to lead the party.' But in fact for Iliescu there is no way
back. He has not been shot by firing squad and so unlike his former
leader he will be able to make scathing and damaging comments those
who betrayed him but his political importance is over. In the words of
Enoch Powell, `All political careers, unless cut off by untimely
death, end in failure.'

`From now on the party is democratic' announced Mircea Geoana as he accepted the leadership of the party, but the truth is that like the takeover Ion Iliescu led in December 1989 this was a palace coup pretending to be  a revolution. The man at the top changed but the people beneath mostly stayed the same.

Geoana is a good-looking, well-dressed figure who looks and sounds acceptable to other European
leaders but he has been content to be a leading figure in one of the
most corrupt Governments since the Phanariots ruled in the eighteenth
and early nineteenth centuries. He himself has been less dogged by
scandals and less dishonest than many of his colleagues but there is
nothing in his record or in his character to suggest that he has the
strength or political skills to be leader in fact as well as name.

A party dominated by figures like Adrian Nastase and Miron Mitrea has
a very long journey indeed to go to become a modern European
left-of-centre party. Indeed corruption is not the issue here. Iliescu
was probably justified in boasting that he himself was poor but
honest. No one ever suggested that he himself stole. Even the men in
his camp were usually less egregiously corrupt than the so-called
modernisers in the party who grouped themselves around  Nastase or Mitrea.

But even the PSD must like all mortal things change and develop. The
party activists joined the party to enrich themselves and they did so
from fraudulent privatisations and embezzling banks. That era, as
Alina Mungiu-Pippidi has pointed out, has come to an end. Today the
biggest source of money in politics is European Union grants. The wind
blows from Brussels and to align themselves towards Brussels the PSD
has to camouflage itself in European colours.

With the final passing of Ion Iliescu, a PSD apparently led by Geoana
will be a more formidable rival for the present Government. Whether
the PSD manages to return to power or whether it continues to decline
along with its natural constituency, the pensioners, the workers and
the peasants, will depend on what always decides political success or
failure: events.

P.S Corina Cretu did not resign as a Party Vice-President and she is now one of the leading supporters of Mircea Geoana.

No comments:

Post a Comment