Saturday

27th May 2017

Analysis

Something is rotten in the state of Romania

  • The bigger the car, the better (Photo: avlxyz)

There is a saying in Romania: "Beautiful country, too bad it's inhabited." It is the kind of black humour Romanians developed during the dark years of Communist dictatorship, when they had given up hope anything will ever change.

Sadly, after travelling through the country for a week, one can witness a similar sense of hopelessness returning to Romanian society.

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People are angry, upset, disappointed. They blame the politicians, whose main reason when taking up a post on local or national level is still to get rich and to help out a clique of 'friends' and relatives.

The recent political warfare between the President and the Prime Minister has revealed the worst in society - with even Olympic medal winners being publicly humiliated for having expressed a political opinion.

Values such as decency, respect for different opinions, common sense, truthfulness, accountability - are rare and derided.

'Successful' women shown on TV are those with implants, rich boyfriends in big SUVs and a 'talent' for loud gossip on live chat shows.

A mayor in a seaside resort boasted on Monday that he managed to score the highest turnout in a referendum by using dozens of models in bikinis who urged tourists to go vote.

Freedom of speech is being misinterpreted as a free licence to offend, libel and propagate plain lies according to party interests.

A journalist from Romania's public radio was accused on TV by Dan Sova, a senator from the ruling coalition, that she was "behind" the whole avalanche of criticism coming from the EU commission about the state of democracy in Romania.

Sova claimed to have an audio recording proving it.

Later on, he admitted that none of it was true and said he had read it in a newspaper. But for days in a row, the journalist was portrayed as a public enemy and never asked to confirm or deny the accusations.

The view of ruling politicians that public institutions - be they cultural institutes, media, or, more worryingly, the judiciary - need to obey the ruling party has never been completely eradicated since Communism fell, in 1989.

But the recent actions of the current government, to take over control of such institutions with the sole aim to get rid of the president - is a development that has rung alarm bells all over Europe.

The government's response: A disinformation campaign led by President Traian Basescu.

Covering up plagiarism

The same argument was used when two ethics committees ruled that Prime Minister Victor Ponta plagiarised over a third of his PhD thesis.

A third committee, under government control, countered that the thesis was written "according to the legal standards of 2003." Education minister Ecaterina Andronescu said this is the only verdict that counts and that, for her, the case is closed.

Some 40 university professors and staff from several universities in Romania, Germany and the US wrote an open letter to Andronescu denouncing the cover-up.

"Mr Victor Ponta is guilty not only of his plagiarism in 2003 but also of the current instrumentation of state institutions for covering up and turning around a truth that is as evident as it gets: plagiarism," they said.

"We think that this massive and brutal interference of politics in scientific research and professional deontology can reinforce the lack of trust in the quality and honesty of the Romanian education system ... and a serious degradation of Romania's democratic environment."

How can a professor now honestly expect from his students that to abide by strict rules of quotation, when the Prime Minister gets away with plagiarism?

To a young couple expecting a child, these questions are even more depressing.

How can they raise that child in a society where lying and cheating are the standard and those abiding by the rules are portrayed as "stupid."

Leaving the country for a better future abroad is increasingly the only options for those who can afford it. And for those who do not, the choice is grim: either they give up on their own values and 'blend in' or live a life of an outcast. In their home country.

Romanians prepare for divisive referendum

The Romanian government's campaign ahead of a referendum on Sunday on removing the president from office resembles a personal vendetta, amid EU worries about democracy eroding rapidly in the country.

EU commission still 'very worried' about Romanian democracy

EU justice commissioner Viviane Reding on Wednesday said she remains "very much worried" about the state of democracy in Romania. Meanwhile, there is intense political infighting in Romania ahead of Sunday's impeachment referendum.

Schulz fails to beat Merkel in German home state

Former EU parliament leader, Martin Schulz, says the defeat of his social-democrats in North Rhine-Westphalia is "difficult". The elections showed that a "Schulz effect" does not (yet) exist.

Austria heading for snap elections

Foreign minister Kurz has taken leadership of the conservative party in what could lead to an alliance with the far-right.

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