Archive for December, 2008

2008: the final year of radical right populism in Romania?

As a result of the November 30 parliamentary elections in Romania, the two major radical right populist parties have disappeared from the main political stage. The newly introduced electoral system, that of mixed member proportional representation (MMP), produced some interesting results.

As such, the Greater Romania Party (PRM) that since 1991 has represented the radical right pole in Romanian politics, failed to attain the 4% threshold for any of the chambers of the Romanian Parliament. With less than half a million votes, PRM managed to poll 3.15% for the lower Chamber of Deputies, and 3.57% for the Senate. This practically interrupted Vadim Tudor’s, PRM‘s unquestioned leader, presence in the Romanian legislative fora.

The other populist contender, the New Generation Party (PNG-CD), had an even poorer performance. With only 2.27% of the votes for the Chamber of Deputies, and 2.53% for the Senate, the party was confined to a presence at local level ( where it received some 1203 seats in the local councils, of 37,915 nation-wide). As a consequence of these results, the party announced that it entered a period of “preservation” (link in Romanian). George Becali, the colorful leader of PNG, failed to become a Romanian version of Silvio Berlusconi. Even though he is the main shareholder of the Steaua football club, a name in Romanian football, he did not manage to use this successfully in politics.

But does this mean that radical right populism is a thing of the past in Romanian politics? Or is this just a sign that radical attitudes have permeated the political mainstream? Populism has been long assigned to political center stage in Eastern Europe, and Romania is no exception. However, the presence of the Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania (UDMR/RMDSZ) in the governing coalitions in the 1996/2000, 2000/2004, and 2004/2008 mandates, ensured that the radical right with its xenophobic manifestations was only peripheral. But the new grand coalition, that gathers together the Romanian Social Democrats (PSD) and the Liberal Democrats (PLD) could not accommodate the presence of UDMR/RMDSZ in the governing architecture. Surprisingly enough, it was PSD the party that officially requested their expulsion from the partition of ministerial portfolios. Romanian political analysts have generally labeled this as the party’s “hunger for the public money”, and unwillingness “to divide the governmental cake”.

But what if this is a disguised return to xenophobic populism? After all, PSD governed with PRM and other two xenophobic parties in the 1994/1996 mandate. 2009 is definitely going to be a very interesting year on the Romanian political scene.

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Tuesday, December 30th, 2008 Research No Comments

Populists of All Faces Beware: The Evil Other Strikes Again!

It is true, the Evil Other (with capitalized letters for reasons to be detailed bellow) strikes again. If one controversial person got onto the city council on a ticket from the True Finns Party (Perussuomalaiset/ Sannfinländarna) (PS) mainly exploiting the fears of the local Finns of a possible ‘immigrant invasion’, more recently the Mayor of Helsinki/ Helsingfors Jussi Pajunen expressed his worries about an ever increasing population with an immigrant background in the capital.

Helsingin Sanomat’s article on the matter reveals the mayor’s calculations: from a soon to break the 10% threshold, to a worrying (!?) 24% around 2025. Another interesting point in the article is that the unemployment rate among the people of a migrant background is 2.5 higher than among the Finns. The ‘natural’ conclusion is drawn quickly, the asylum seekers (said by Statistics Finland to be at 1703 for 2007, including ‘refugees by quota, asylum-seekers having received a favorable decision and persons admitted under the family reunification scheme’ for the whole country) are too numerous, and thus Mayor Pajunen recommends a return to the previous gate-keeping.

How really evil is this Evil Other? I will not launch in cross country comparison (if someone will look at the numbers reported by the Swedish Migrationsverket, one may easily understand why). However two questions come forward. One regards the presumed danger that may pose a 10% population of a different background than Finnish. The other is how accurate are Mayor Pajunen’s numbers?

First, this can be a very contentious issue when discussed from the perspective of a mono-cultural landscape. The temptation of purity (the sort of purity that at any other time in history has hardly existed) was/is mainly ventilated by the True Finns Party (PS), since populism appears to be very close to their political soul. (Un)Surprisingly, such populist ideas are taken for granted by other political actors as well. What surprises me though is that it comes from someone from the National Coalition Party/ Kansallinen Kokoomus/ Samlingspartiet (Kok) that was thought to exhibit a liberal agenda. It seems that fear of diversity and  lack of initiative towards a more inclusive city are part of a Finnish liberal agenda. Is the present economic crisis used as some sort of excuse for a job-market of a solely ‘sinivalkoinen’ workforce? Can this realistically be achieved? And at what price? Are we all that evil?

Taking the second question, that of statistical accuracy, according the Minister of Migration and European Affaris Mrs Astrid Thors, quoted in an article in Hufvudstadsbladet, the number of asylum applications will not overpass 5,000 this year, and 2007 witnessed an exceptionally low number of applications. So there is not too much substance to portraying the Finnish capital of 2025 so ‘diverse’ that one in four inhabitants will be foreign. Moreover, I have the inconfortable feeling that Mayor Pajunen is mixing the statistics: I doubt that all those ‘almost’ 10% Others of the total population living under his administration are refugees. They may have a foreign background, yes, but not necessarily unemployed asylum seekers and refugees. So assimilating Others=asylum seekers=unemployed looks very much like a shorthand for something of an outright anti-immigration stance. In this light, is Mayor Pajunen riding on the populist horse? And if he does not, then I wonder what are his comments supposed to mean?

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Wednesday, December 3rd, 2008 Miscellaneous No Comments