(Internet) Hate Speech and the Issue of Finnish National Purity: A Gender Perspective

Finland has stereotypically been considered to be an example of Nordic consensus culture. For long internet hate and hate speech in general have rarely been discussed in the open in Finland, in public debates, and even rarer have been the cases in which several people would stand up and confess to being subject to hateful email and death threats.

However, the straw that broke the camel’s back came on Monday 27 May 2013 in the form of an e-mail addressed to Bettina Sågbom, well known Finnish Swedish-speaking journalist and presenter working for the state television YLE. The e-mail contained death threats targeting Sågbom and her family; the e-mail was followed by several other messages in the same register the following day. Sågbom chose to finally break the silence and made public the threats, raising the issue of internet hate but also connecting the rather abstract discussions that have taken place so far with a well-known public figure. In response, she received a subsequent threat in which she was warned she would die in circumstances made to resemble an accident (in English, here; in Swedish, här). Sågbom received the death threats because she has allegedly presented an eschewed picture about the status of Swedish language in Finland. The message contained also a demand that Sågbom invite to her TV-show a representative of the Association of Finnish Culture and Identity (Suomalaisuuden Liitto/ Finskhetsförbundet) to discuss the topic of oppression and linguistic repression that the Finnish-speakers were subject to during the time Finland was part of the Swedish realm. The said association has close ties to the radical right populist party in Finland, the (True) Finns (Party) (PS/ Perussuomalaiset/ Sannfinländarna/ SF), being chaired by Sampo Terho, who is a Finnish MEP on the PS/SF mandate.

But Sågbom is far from being the only person to have received such hate mail with such a precise request. Paula Salovaara, managing editor of Helsingin Sanomat, the largest Finnish-language daily in Finland, has also admitted on a Tweet to having received death threats for taking a public stance in support of Swedish language as the second national language in Finland. In addition, Päivi Storgård, vice-chair of the Swedish People’s Party (SFP/ Svenska folkpartiet i Finland/ Suomen ruotsalainen kansanpuolue/ RKP), has also made public that she has been target of hate messages, mentioning a recent incident in which she has been threatened with rape by a man in a telephone conversation (in Swedish, här). The Left Alliance MP Silvia Modig (Vas/ Vasemmistoliitto/ Vänsterförbundet) has later on confessed to having been harassed because of her publicly admitted homosexuality, and mentioned she had received e-mails containing dozens of pictures of male genitalia. Her conclusion was that her political convictions and the values she stands for have angered quite many, but she underlined she did not fear for her life. However, she is living now at a secret address, a direct result of the hate mails she has received (in Swedish, här).

A salutary reaction to the wave of hate speech flooding the web and pushing the boundaries of what is deemed acceptable in public debates in Finland has been the  reaction of Helsingin Sanomat. The newspaper published in its internal news pages a bilingual section addressing the issue of hate speech in the public domain, containing interviews with PM Jyrki Katainen (Kok/ Kansallinen Kokoomus/ Samlingspartiet/ Saml / The National Coalition Party) and police representatives, allocating equal space to both Finnish and Swedish (in Finnish/Swedish, tässä/här). Only towards the end of the week, on 31 May 2013, and after several demonstrations in support of the country’s bilingualism and against hate speeches, Terho has eventually distanced himself and the association he chairs from the hate messages (in Finnish, tässä).

The ongoing discussion about the need to denounce intimidation as a means to achieve certain political outcomes, while much needed, seems to be preoccupied with only one side of a multifaceted phenomenon. In my view, it is not only the language aspect that media, researchers and public figures alike should be paying attention to. Indeed the status of the Swedish language in Finland appears to have galvanized the wave of hateful reactions, but I would like to draw attention on the gender aspect that intersects the former, since the majority of those who have acknowledged to being subject to such intimidation are women, on both sides of the language divide but with an assumed commitment to defend bilingualism in Finland. So the questions that arise in this context concern the many aspects of purity, and how such purity – understood, it seems, in exclusionary language terms – may be instrumentally employed to discipline and punish those Finnish women – Finnish- and Swedish-speaking alike – that defend the country’s plural legacy and bilingualism? What place do threats of ‘corrective rape’ – both at the most physical but also at symbolic level – have in this effort to maintain national purity, and what are those mechanisms that justify them?

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Friday, May 31st, 2013 Research No Comments

The Parliamentary Elections in Romania (9 December 2012): Chronicle of a Quagmire Foretold?

(The original piece on the Romanian Parliamentary elections has been first published in Baltic Worlds, here)

The results of December 9th 2012 Romanian elections for the two Houses of Parliament (the Chamber of Deputies, respectively the Senate) appear to validate what opinion polls have been registering during the whole electoral campaign. The governing coalition of PM Victor Ponta has won a sweeping majority, with the serious perspectives of profound changes on the Romanian political scene and a redrafting of the existing constitution in store.

These elections were the second time around when a “mixed member proportional representation electoral” system was in place, and consecrated the previously established electoral colleges, which represent sub-county level constituencies. The electoral threshold of 5% for each chamber has also been confirmed; however, the rule is circumvented if a party succeeds to win a minimum of 6 electoral colleges for the Chamber of Deputies and 3 colleges for the Senate with over 50%. Specific to this electoral system, a candidate wins a certain electoral college provided she/he receives more than 50% of the votes in said college. In case no candidate has won a majority, the seat is subsequently allocated through the D’Hondt method; if required, an extra number of seats for each chamber of Parliament might be allocated – it has already been speculated that the future Romanian legislative might have around 550 MPs as a direct consequence of this rule[i]. In addition to this, there are a certain number of seats allocated exclusively for the representatives of the legally acknowledged national minorities in the Chamber of Deputies (in total, 18 MPs)[ii].

With regard to voters turnout, compared to the previous Parliamentary elections in November 2008 – when a meager 39.26% of registered voters were present at the ballot boxes, with only 35.63% in the cities, and a slightly better turnout of 44.24% in the rural areas[iii] – these elections have been slightly better attended, with an average of 41.72% participation rate – 40.49% in the cities, respectively 43.40% in the rural areas[iv]. The numbers are telling for the lack of legitimacy that the two Houses of Parliament have constantly registered in the polls, indicative of the perceived remoteness of political elite (regardless of its ideological convictions) from the hardships of average citizens in Romania[v].

POLITICAL LANDSCAPE IN MOTION: THE LIMITLESS OPPORTUNITIES OF COMBINING PARTIES

At present, the most important entity in Romanian politics seems to be the Social Liberal Union (USL/ Uniunea Social Liberală) consisting of the PM Ponta’s Romanian Social Democrats (PSD/ Partidul Social Democrat) and their allies the Center Right Alliance (ACD/ Alianţa de Centru Dreapta), which reunites the National Liberal Party (PNL/ Partidul Naţional Liberal) and the Conservative Party (PC/ Partidul Conservator). The USL has been created in February 2011 with the expressed aim to seize power from the then center-right conservative government, which was deemed to be under the tutelage of President Traian Băsescu. After a tumultuous beginning of the year, which witnessed two center-right conservative governments fall, the USL eventually succeeded to form a governing coalition under the premiership of the PSD leader Ponta.

Subsequently, the USL registered a very good result in the local elections on June 10th 2012: 45.85% for presidents of county councils; 38.46% for mayors; 49.80% for members of county councils[vi]. However, when comparing these numbers to the previous 2008 local elections, the constitutive parties of said alliance (namely, the PSD, the PNL, and the PC) have registered better results individually, totaling around 51%[vii]. In the aftermath of local elections in July 2012 the PSD entered a political alliance with its break-away wing, which had previously made the center-right conservative government possible, namely the National Union for Romania’s Progress (UNPR/ Uniunea Națională pentru Progresul României); the alliance thus created was named the Center Left Alliance (ACS/ Alianţa de Centru Stânga)[viii]. The two main parties in the USL alliance, namely the PSD and PNL appear to apply the principle of strict parity among themselves (despite the generally better score in polls by the former); thereby the appellation of the USL as a center-left coalition is not totally accurate.

Right of center on the political stage, the conservative Democratic Liberal Party (PDL/ Partidul Democrat-Liberal) had already registered a dip in electoral support in the local elections in June 2012, polling only 15.10% for presidents of county councils; 15.44% for mayors; 15.29% for members of county councils[ix]. Then the party was sanctioned, not necessarily for the austerity measures during the PDL-led cabinets of Emil Boc I (2008 – 2009), and especially Boc II (2009 – 2012) and the short-lived cabinet of Mihai Răzvan Ungureanu (February – May 2012), but mainly for its complete lack of sympathy for the hardships the average population has been going through from the beginning of the financial crisis, for its undisguised corruption, and contempt for the principles of democratic accountability.

By the end of September 2012, the newly elected PDL chair Vasile Blaga announced the creation of a political alliance reuniting the PDL, the Civic Force (FC/ Forța Civică), the pocket–party of former-PM Ungureanu, and a faction of the Christian–Democratic National Peasants’ Party (PNT-CD/ Partidul Naţional Ţărănesc-Creştin Democrat). The alliance was titled the Right (or Just) Romania Alliance (ARD/ Alianța România Dreaptă). The ARD left from the beginning with a major handicap in the electoral competition: in their internal survey in September 2012 the ARD scored somewhere around 22 to 24%, far below the 48% registered by the USL in the same poll[x]. Already by October 2012, the polls registered a serious decrease in the level of support for the ARD among the Romanian voters with only 16%, even below the PDL’s individual score[xi].

A new political presence that seems to have taken mainstream Romanian politics by storm and establish itself as the third largest party is the People’s Party-Dan Diaconescu (PP-DD/ Partidul Poporului Dan Diaconescu). The PP-DD polled 9.23% for presidents of county councils; 7.29% for mayors; 8.96% for members of county councils in the local elections in June 2012[xii]. The PP-DD is the product of eponymous TV-channel owner Dan Diaconescu. Diaconescu, more or less single-handedly, has founded the party and created its nation-wide network of branches. At a quick glance, the PP-DD appears to have a rather complex ideological makeup, displaying strong populist appeals, such as social justice to be undertaken in the framework of a strong state (which reminds of the former communist state); trial of all previous governments found to have mismanaged the country; confiscation of illicit fortunes gained from pillaging the public goods, but also some surprising stances, decidedly right wing neoliberal, such as tax cuts, and tax simplification[xiii]. All these are tinged with discrete nationalist appeals (the numerous and insistent references to supporting “Romanianism”, respecting the Romanian national anthem, subscription to Romanian Orthodox Christianity, etc.)[xiv].

Inspected more closely, however, the PP-DD political agenda displays strong similarities with that of the consecrated radical right populist (RRM) party in Romania, namely the Greater Romania Party (PRM/ Partidul România Mare). In particular, it is reminiscent of the PRM successful political campaign in the 2000 parliamentary and presidential elections, as it were personified by the party leader Corneliu Vadim Tudor[xv]. Another similarity lies in that the PP-DD candidates had their candidacy endorsed “on air” at the TV station owned by Diaconescu (OTV). This comes to strengthen the classification of the PP-DD as an emerging radical right populist party, with a strong (male) leader that gives his formal ‘blessing’ to his acolytes live on TV. In this light, if in 2000 Tudor had a very influential weekly magazine at his disposal to maneuver his captive electorate, in 2012 Diaconescu has taken the process to a new level, having his own TV station. It is worth mentioning that the PRM appears to have lost most of its raison d’être, with Tudor comfortably enjoying the perks of being a Romanian representative in the European Parliament (EMP), thereby away from the forefront of Romanian national politics and the party’s rank and file left in a profound disarray as a direct consequence of his absence.

Last but not least, another consecrated presence in Romanian politics has been fighting for its political survival: the Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania (UDMR/ Uniunea Democrată Maghiară din România, RMDSZ/ Romániai Magyar Demokrata Szövetség) that has traditionally represented the political interests of the Hungarian minority in Romania, the only ethnic party that competes in direct elections side by side with parties of the Romanian ethnic majority. In the local elections in June 2012, the UDMR/ RMDSZ has narrowly managed to fend off the negative effects of being in government, in way or another, for most of the past decade, and even succeeded to portray itself as a moderate and rational option in contrast to the radicalized nationalist escalations sponsored by the center-right conservative government of PM Viktor Orbán from Hungary – particularly the Hungarian Popular Party of Transylvania (PPMT/ Partidul Popular Maghiar din Transilvania, EMN/ Erdélyi Magyar Néppárt). As such, the UDMR/ RMDSZ registered some loses, but succeeded to collect 4.95% for presidents of county councils; 3.90% for mayors; 5.52% for members of county councils[xvi].

THE DEBATE THAT NEVER WAS: POLITICAL NONCOMBAT AND CAMPAIGNING THROUGH SCANDALS

In this context, two competing events, which took place concomitantly in the capital Bucharest, signaled the start of the election campaign. The first, which was organized on October 18th 2012 on the National Arena in the presence of approximately 70.000 supporters, marked the official launch of the USL candidates in the presence of PM Ponta (PSD) and President of Senate Crin Antonescu (PNL). In a parallel event housed in the Palace of Parliament, the ARD candidates were officially presented within the larger framework of the congress of European People’s Party (EPP), to which the PDL is affiliated[xvii]. President Băsescu attended the latter event, and strengthened the animosity between the two branches of Romanian executive[xviii]. The ensuing campaign promised to be articulated along two clear cleavage lines: anti-austerity measures and redistribution vs. budget streamlining and financial discipline; renegotiation and rearrangement of powers (at times on the border of legality) of various public institutions vs. strengthening of the presidential institution as a guarantor of division of powers in the state.

These notwithstanding, the media monitoring agency ActiveWatch, in its comprehensive analysis undertaken between November 9th and November 22nd 2012, which was supposed to be the most effervescent period during the electoral campaign, reached the conclusion that what dominated the campaign were vague electoral messages with little if any relevance to the ongoing public debate, which was still dominated by the interventions of President Băsescu. More clearly, during the monitored period attention was monopolized by the dispute between President Băsescu and PM Ponta; the question of who were entitled to represent the country at the EU summit in late November 2012; and the eventual position Romania could afford in the context of ongoing negotiations with regard to the 2014–2020 EU budget. Illustrative of their parti pris, the TV channels Antena 3 and Realitatea TV have presented only the USL candidates (4, respectively 3 live presentations), while the B1TV had a clear preference for the center-right conservative candidates (9 live presentations of the ARD, and only 3 of the USL candidates); at the same time, the PP-DD candidates have been presented most often on its leader’s own OTV (55 out a total of 60 live presentations). In contrast, the state television TVR1 had a total of 11 live presentations, evenly distributed among the main political alliances and parties. As such, the USL candidates accumulated a total of 209 TV appearances, whilst the ARD had 157 appearances. Third were the PP-DD candidates, with 129 TV appearances, and at a significant difference were the candidates of the UDMR/ RMDSZ with 32, and respectively the PRM with only 22[xix].

THE 300 THAT TURNED INTO OVER 550

From the provisional final data released by the Central Electoral Bureau (BEC/ Biroul Electoral Central) the USL is the clear victor of the present electoral competition, polling 58.63% of the votes for the Chamber of Deputies, respectively 60.10% for the Senate. Trailing behind, the ARD polled 16.50% for the Chamber of Deputies, respectively 16.70% of the votes for the Senate. The PP-DD has been confirmed as the third largest entity in Romanian politics, receiving 13.99% of the votes for the Chamber of Deputies, respectively 14.65% for the Senate. In turn, the UDMR/ RMDSZ has succeeded to mobilize its electorate and has passed the 5% electoral threshold, polling 5.13% for the Chamber of Deputies, and 5.23% for the Senate, respectively. Bellow the line, the PRM polled only 1.24% for the Chamber of Deputies, respectively 1.47% for the Senate, in a sense confirming the downward spiral the party has registered in the previous parliamentary elections. The other main political party competing for the votes of the Hungarian minority, the PPMT/ EMN has been unconvincing, polling only 0.64% for the Chamber of Deputies, respectively 0.79% for the Senate[xx]. At the moment, it seems that PM Ponta has successfully secured a seat in the coming legislative, whilst his direct counter-candidate, the PP-DD leader Diaconescu has not polled enough votes for a mandate. Among the ARD leadership, the results appear to be a cold shower, with both the PDL chair Blaga and the FC leader Ungureanu failing to poll a majority of votes in their respective electoral colleges, and thereby constrained to wait for the redistribution of seats for the future Senate.

How the percentages above are to be translated into MPs in the new Romanian legislative remains to be established. However, one of the surprising effects of the December 9th 2012 elections is that the number of Romanian MPs will definitely increase. It will be a significant increase, at that – a bitter irony, having in mind that on November 22nd 2009 some 77% of the voters (50.16% of the Romanian population with a voting right) have supported the initiative to reduce the two Houses of Parliament to a maximum of 300 MPs[xxi]. Even more so, as the preliminary data from the 2011 census have indicated, the total population in Romania has shrank significantly, and consequently so did the body of electors; however, the Ponta government has nonetheless chosen to enter the electoral competition based on the old data, which had been employed for the 2008 parliamentary elections. The immediate consequence is that the new legislative will swell, with an excess of between 50 to 80, or even 100 MPs, more clearly to a total number of 550, or even 580 MPs[xxii]. It is yet unclear how this would be explained to the average citizens who, for the past years, have witnessed a continuous depreciation of their living standard, and have been told continuously by the political elite that the state budget is limited.

Another uncertain issue is that of the future government and the name of next PM. President Băsescu has indicated in several occasions that he does not regard the PSD leader Ponta as a suitable PM, although the categorical victory of the USL might constrain President Băsescu to reconsider his stance. These notwithstanding, the future PM and government will have to address the worsening of Romanian economy, and the need to rein in corruption; reply to the constant critique voiced by the EU bodies with regard to the meager percentage of absorption of the allocated funds, and the issue of respecting the democratic system of checks and balances.

Post scriptum: According to the latest data provided by the BEC, the Romanian Houses of Parliament are to increase to an unprecedented 588 MPs (118 MPs more than the previous legislature). More clearly, the USL has a total of 395 MPs, the ARD has 80 MPs, the PP-DD 68 MPs, whilst UDMR/ RMDSZ 27 MPs. In addition to these, the Chamber of Deputies has 18 MP seats reserved for the representatives of legally acknowledged national minorities in Romania (see detailed information in the table below). What is worth keeping in mind in this context, however, is that the electoral law, which has actually led to the present oversizing of the legislature, is the one that has ensured the presence of other parties than the USL alliance in the Houses of Parliament. More clearly, through redistribution there have been allocated some extra seats to all parties: the PP-DD was allocated an addition of 61MPs; the PDL received an extra of 55 MPs; the USL was allocated 1 MP extra; and the UDMR/ RMDSZ received too 1MP in addition [xxiii].

Political entities Chamber of Deputies Romanian Senate
Alliance Party Votes (%) Seats Votes (%) Seats
USL PSD 58.63 273 PSD+ UNPR: 158 MPs

PNL: 102 MPs

PC: 13 MPs

60.10 122PSD+ UNPR: 63 MPs

PNL: 51 MPs

PC: 8 MPs

UNPR
PNL
PC
ARD PDL 16.50 56PDL: 52 MPs

FC: 3 MPs

PNT-CD: 1 MPs

16.70 24PDL: 52 MPs

FC: 1 MPs

PNT-CD: 1 MPs

FC
PNT-CD
PP-DD 13.99 47 MPs 14.65 21 MPs
UDMR/RMDSZ 5.13 18 MPs 5.23 9 MPs
PRM 1.24 1.47
PPMT/ EMN 0.64 0.79
Minorities 18 MPs

Figure1. Romanian 2012 Parliamentary elections (data as of December 12th 2012) ©Norocel


[i] http://adevarul.ro/news/politica/liviu-dragnea-ard-vor-80-parlamentari-plus-1_50c5be78596d720091dffbe6/index.html#, accessed on 2012-12-11.

[ii] William Downs, “The 2008 parliamentary election in Romania”, Electoral Studies 28(3) (2009), p. 511.

[iii] http://www.becparlamentare2008.ro/statis/prez_ora22.pdf, accessed on 2012-12-11.

[iv] http://www.becparlamentare2012.ro/A-DOCUMENTE/Prezenta%20la%20vot/prezenta%20ora%2021.pdf, accessed on 2012-12-11.

[v] http://www.ziare.com/social/romani/de-ce-le-e-frica-romanilor-si-in-cine-au-cea-mai-multa-incredere-studiu-ires-1157753, accessed on 2012-12-11.

[vi] http://www.beclocale2012.ro/DOCUMENTE%20BEC/REZULTATE%20FINALE/PDF/Statistici/Situatie_vve_part.pdf, accessed on 2012-12-11.

[vii] http://www.beclocale2008.ro/documm/Voturi%20pe%20Partide/votpart.pdf, accessed on 2012-12-11.

[viii] http://www.mediafax.ro/politic/eugen-nicolicea-unpr-si-psd-au-incheiat-alianta-de-centru-stanga-acs-9858275, accessed on 2012-12-11.

[ix] http://www.beclocale2012.ro/DOCUMENTE%20BEC/REZULTATE%20FINALE/PDF/Statistici/Situatie_vve_part.pdf, accessed on 2012-12-11.

[x] http://www.nineoclock.ro/right-romania-alliance-officially-launched/, accessed on 2012-12-11.

[xi] http://www.adevarul.ro/actualitate/politica/Sondaj_IMAS-_USL-prima_crestere_dupa_scandalul_suspendarii_0_802719989.html, accessed on 2012-12-11.

[xii] http://www.beclocale2012.ro/DOCUMENTE%20BEC/REZULTATE%20FINALE/PDF/Statistici/Situatie_vve_part.pdf, accessed on 2012-12-11.

[xiii] http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/11/22/romania-politics-idUSL5E8MD5G320121122, accessed on 2012-12-11.

[xiv] www.partidul.poporului.ro, accessed on 2012-12-11.

[xv] Cf. Tom Gallagher, Theft of a Nation. Romania since Communism, London, UK (2005): Hurst & Company, p. 272; Ov Cristian Norocel, “Heteronormative Constructions of Romanianness: A Genealogy of Gendered Metaphors in Romanian Radical-Right Populism 2000–2009”, Debatte: Journal of Contemporary Central and Eastern Europe 19(1-2) (2011), p. 454; Paul E Sum, “The radical right in Romania: Political party evolution and the distancing of Romania from Europe”, Communist and Post–Communist Studies 43(1) (2010), p. 27.

[xvi] http://www.beclocale2012.ro/DOCUMENTE%20BEC/REZULTATE%20FINALE/PDF/Statistici/Situatie_vve_part.pdf, accessed on 2012-12-11.

[xvii] http://www.economist.com/blogs/easternapproaches/2012/10/romanian-politics?zid=307&ah=5e80419d1bc9821ebe173f4f0f060a07, accessed on 2012-12-11.

[xviii] In an earlier move, PM Ponta and the USL have attempted to impeach President Băsescu in July 2012. However, the referendum failed to meet the required turnout and consequently Băsescu has been returned his presidential prerogatives. The tensions were nonetheless far from over. In the aftermath of the December elections, President Băsescu has been hinting that he might nominate someone else than PM Ponta as the future prime minister, even if the USL would be confirmed the victors. http://adevarul.ro/news/politica/rezultate-alegeri-parlamentare-2012–planurile-traian-basescu-1_50c51e86596d720091dc7134/index.html, accessed on 2012-12-11.

[xix] http://www.activewatch.ro/ro/buna-guvernare/evenimente-si-activitati/preliminar-in-campania-electorala-mesaje-vagi-fara-relevanta-pentru-alegerile-parlamentare/, accessed on 2012-12-11.

[xx] http://www.becparlamentare2012.ro/A-DOCUMENTE/Rezultate%20partiale/Rezultate%20provizorii.pdf, accessed on 2012-12-11.

[xxi] http://jurnalul.ro/stire-alegeri-2009/referendumul-validat-prezenta-de-50-16-528153.html, accessed on 2012-12-11.

[xxii] http://www.gandul.info/puterea-gandului/noi-mai-putini-ei-mai-multi-10383452, accessed on 2012-12-11.

[xxiii] http://adevarul.ro/news/politica/cei-118nepoftiti-parlamentul-romaniei-vedetele-politice-intrat-legislativ-mandate-suplimentare-1_50c8e634596d720091f30899/index.html#, accessed on 2012-12-12.

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Wednesday, December 12th, 2012 Research No Comments

Brace Yourselves for the Storm: the 2012 Parliamentary Elections in Romania under the Sign of Radical Right Populism

There is little doubt that the mainstream political scene in Romania is presently undergoing some dramatic convulsions. The current affairs have come to be compared by foreign and native political analysts alike, matter-of-factly, with the equally tumultuous period that Romanian witnessed during the early 1990s. Indeed, besides the ideological polarization specific to the eve of such important political confrontation as the Parliamentary elections (scheduled for December 9th 2012), the tone and manner of political discourse in Romania has witnessed a return to a level that many have hoped it was a thing of the past. In this context, these elections appear to be taking place under the sign of radical right populist discourse, which seems to come also from established political entities with a different ideological profile, not only the now consecrated radical right populist parties – and in here I refer to the Greater Romania Party (PRM/ Partidul România Mare) – and some newcomers – the previously discussed Popular Party–Dan Diaconescu (PP–DD/ Partidul Popular–Dan Diaconescu).

In this context, several political events are illustrative of the said political climate. These are, in approximately chronological order: first, Dan Diaconescu’s surprising participation in the (by now failed) privatization process that the largest petrochemical companies in Romania (namely Oltchim) and in Central and Eastern Europe had undergone this September. No matter how perplexing this might sound, but Dan Diaconescu (PP–DD) has participated in the Oltchim privatization as a private person and declared he is motivated by his desire to return such a national asset back to its rightful owners: ‘the Romanian people‘. Even more perplexing, Diaconescu has later been declared the winner of the privatization bid and were to assume control over the Oltchim shortly thereof. Diaconescu played his role of being the ‘Saviour on a white horse’ (as labelled in newspapers; in Romanian, aici) very well. Despite accusations that he did not have the financial resources to perfect the privatization (accusations that are yet to be proven in court), he eventually presented no less than 1,8 million EUR in cash (several sacks allegedly filled with money had been transported in front of the Ministry of Economy in Bucharest, which was widely discussed in media; in Romanian, aici) to pay for the privatization. In this context, in decidedly populist manner, Diaconescu claimed that the sacks of money he brought to the Ministry of Economy were in fact destined ‘to pay the salaries of Oltchim workers’ (which have not received their salaried rights for several months). The governing coalition landed in a very ungrateful situation: mismanaging a significant privatization process, and coming out humiliated in such a populist manner by Diaconescu. The event signalled that the Romanian Social Democrats (PSD/ Partidul Social Democrat) are going to encounter a serious competitor in the PP–DD in their appeal for the support of Romanian working class. The few traditionally social-democratic policies implemented since the cabinet Ponta assumed office earlier this year are apparently going to be counteracted by a reputable adversary, which is versed in using the populist rhetoric.

Second, the more recent announcement that George (Gigi) Becali – former leader of a minuscule radical right populist party, the New Generation Party–Christian Democrat (PNGCD/ Partidul Noua Generaţie–Creştin Democrat), and elected EMP on the PRM list – will be joining the ranks of the National Liberal Party (PNL/ Partidul Naţional Liberal). Becali was later confirmed as the PNL candidate for a deputy seat on the common list of the Social Liberal Union (USL/ Uniunea Social Liberală). The USL consisting of, as previously mentioned, the PM Victor Ponta’s  and their allies the Center Right Alliance, which reunites the  PNL and the Conservative Party (PC/ Partidul Conservator). The fact that Becali has joined the PNL and has immediately received an eligible place on behalf of the party on the USL list for the Lower Chamber (Camera Deputaților) has determined several commentators to wonder if this was the wisest political move the PNL could have done at present, just weeks from the Oltchim privatization in which it was heavily involved. Even more so, there are serious question marks on how compatible is the PNL’s self–declared subscription to liberalism with Becali’s blatantly xenophobic, homophobic and sexist misogynistic remarks (in Romanian, aici). Some others have seen in this just another case of a nouveau riche purchasing himself an eligible parliamentary seat on the lists of a respectable party, and wondered if the PNL would actually survive past this electoral cycle (in Romanian, aici).

Right of centre on the political spectrum, the conservative Democratic Liberal Party (PDL/ Partidul Democrat-Liberal) announced to have crafted a political alliance together with the Civic Force (FC/ Forța Civică), the pocket–party of former-PM Ungureanu, and a faction of the Christian-Democratic National Peasants’ Party (PNT–CD/ Partidul Naţional Ţărănesc–Creştin Democrat). The alliance is titled the Right (or Just) Romania Alliance (ARD/ Alianța România Dreaptă) (in Romanian, aici). Among the main figures of the new alliance, Adrian Papahagi, the Vice-president of the Christian–Democrat Foundation has succeed to draw the public outrage through a xenophobic, homophobic and sexist remark, which he posted on his Facebook profile. Expressing displeasure with the acting PM Ponta and his rather chaotic months of premiership (the plagiarism scandal, which is still pending a definitive decision, the forceful change of chiefs of institutions, and the failed attempt to depose the acting President Traian Basescu, to name just a few) Papahagi argued that: “After all, if we have reached that stage to have prime minister who is a plagiarist, and a putschist and Guevarist, why shouldn’t we soon have as President a Roma lesbian atheist.” It is highly troublesome how plagiarism, intrigue–making and ideological radicalism could easily lead, what according to Papahagi was the image of absolute Alterity – yet another Evil Other – manifest in Romanian politics: a Roma (thus not Romanian, but the most discriminated ethnic minority in Romania, thereby indicating the total reversal of the ‘normal’ hierarchy of values); lesbian (thus, not only less than man – read woman –  but also sexually deviant from the heteropatriachal norm); atheist (thus, not Romanian Christian Orthodox, deviating from the allegedly one and only true way of being Romanian, and a Romanian President at it). His statement was quickly sanctioned (both original quote and the reaction to it, in Romanian, aici).  Papahagi reacted swiftly by labelling his critics as “commissars”. The word reminds both of the feared Russian “commissars” of USSR, but also closer to our present days, of the epithet usually employed by the radical right populist leader Tudor (PRM) to describe one of his female adversaries (Zoe Petre) – perhaps unsurprisingly one of Papahagi’s critics is a woman (Alina Mungiu–Pippidi) (in Romanian, aici).

Finally, the PRM leader’s return to his previous anti-Semitic discourse, manifest this time through a reiterated denial of the Holocaust in Romania, and thereby lending support to a PSD member, incumbent Minister of Relations with the Parliament in the Ponta cabinet. Indeed, the PRM leader, Corneliu Vadim Tudor, did not fail to disappoint and delivered another anti-Semitic rant. Commenting on the issue of Holocaust in Romania, and the active participation of Romanian forces in the mass killing of Jews on Romanian soil, Tudor argued that no Romanians have ever been involved into the killings, rather they have been victims of the Holocaust themselves, together with the Jews and Romani (in Romanian, aici). Tudor defended in this context Dan Șova (PSD), now incumbent Minister of Relations with the Parliament in the Ponta cabinet. In March this year, Șova, then newly appointed PSD spokesperson, argued that “no Jew suffered on Romanian territory, thanks to marshal Antonescu”, causing widespread outrage – despite expressing regret that his statement has been misunderstood, Șova has refused to apologize (in English, here).

This leaves way to a lot of questions with regard to the coming Parliamentary elections: is the Romanian political mainstream taking the road of populist xenophobic extremism? Will there be any place for a debate about viable competing solutions for the country’s economic recovery between the left (i.e. the PSD, perhaps much watered down as a result of the USL electoral alliance) and the right (perhaps in this case it would be the PDL, and their ARD centre–right conservative alliance)? Is the Romanian political mainstream, in general, becoming permeated by radical right populism, with an increasing number of mainstream parties succumbing to xenophobia, homophobia, and submission to heteropatriarchism? Is it of any help to reflect how the main political forces in Romanian plan to address the serious democratic deficit the country is witnessing (Romania has one of the lowest percentage of women involved actively in mainstream politics from the whole EU)? Why would be of any importance if any woman active in Romanian politics, would be of Roma origin or from any other ethnic minority, or if she would be a lesbian, or a professed atheist?

Parliamentary Elections in Romania (1996-2008) (Click to enlarge) (Source: NSD-EED)

In an attempt to ease the understanding of the various abbreviations present within the present post, I attach herein a succinct presentation of the main political parties and their electoral results in the Romanian Parliamentary elections between 1996 and 2008.  For this purpose, I made use of the European Election Database (EED) that has been compiled by the Norwegian Social Science Data Services (NSD/ Norsk samfunnsvitenskapelig datatjeneste). I do not have any copyright claims on the attached graph, which has been generated on the NSD–EED website containing information about Romania.

Notes:

The total number of seats increased from 332 in 2004 to 334 in 2008. Seats: 316 (elected) + 18 assigned to ethnic minorities other than the Hungarians = 334.
2000: PSD ran as PDSR as Social Democratic Pole Alliance with PSDR
2001: PDSR merged with PSDR into PSD.
1996: PDL ran as part of Social Democratic Union (USD)
2000: PDL ran as PD
2004: PDL as part of Justice and Truth Alliance (DA: PNL-PD)
2004: PNGCD ran as PNG
1996: PNL ran as part of Democratic Convention of Romania (CDR)
2004: PNL ran as part of Justice and Truth Alliance (DA: PNL-PD)

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Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012 Research No Comments

What Maps Do Not Tell Us? Peering Past Victorious Shouts and Humbled Mumbles of Defeat

The recent local elections in Romania (10 June 2012) have reflected what several political commentators and researchers have warned about: the Social Liberal Union (USL/ Uniunea Social Liberală) consisting of the PM Victor Ponta’s Romanian Social Democrats (PSD/ Partidul Social Democrat) and their allies the Center Right Alliance, which reunites the National Liberals (PNL/ Partidul Naţional Liberal) and the Conservative Party (PC/ Partidul Conservator), made significant inroads into the formerly center-right liberal democrat (PDL/ Partidul Democrat-Liberal) ‘fiefs’, thereby capitalizing on the general dissatisfaction with the PDL’s mismanagement of the past years.

Without doubt, the PDL has registered a significant loss of the citizens’ support, polling only 15.10% for the presidents of the county councils; 15.44% for mayors; 15.29% for members of county councils (according to the Romanian Central Electoral Bureau (BEC), aici). The PDL was sanctioned, not necessarily for the austerity measures during the PDL-led cabinets Boc I (2008-2009), and especially Boc II (2009-2012), but mainly for its complete lack of sympathy for the hardships the average population has been going through from the beginning of the financial crisis, for its undisguised corruption, and contempt for the principles of democratic accountability.

A lot of attention has been given to the apparent ‘colouring in red’ of most Romanian counties (with refrence to the USL’s electoral colours), though such a phrase is not the most accurate, as the PSD did not succeed to gain the majority of positions within the county councils, president of county council, or as city mayor. The USL has registered a very good election result indeed, 45.85% for the presidents of the county councils; 38.46% for mayors; 49.80% for members of county councils. However, as it was aptly pointed out, in the previous 2008 local elections, the constitutive parties of the said alliance have registered better results individually, totaling around 51% (the official results for 2008 available from the BEC, aici ).

Romania 2012 local election results (www.Infopolitic.ro)

Many commentators have rushed to assure – even ex ante – that the results of the elections are to be seen as ‘true’ measure of the coming Parliamentary elections in November 2012. With the recent change of the electoral law, the social-liberal USL is forecast to gather some 60 to 70% of the votes. Leaving aside the frenzy of counting in advance what could happen in a few months from now (especially in the very volatile context of European politics, with – among others – a very tough negotiations with regard to the future of the common currency and the overall economic (in)stability in the EU, the second round for the French Parliamentary elections yet to take place, and the new Greek Parliamentary elections scheduled later this week), there is another development, less visible from the country-wide maps of the election results.

Indeed, something does not become apparent

Romania 2012 local election results (www.adevarul.ro)

at a simple look over the various maps displaying the election results (see for instance the one provided by Infopolitic.ro, aici ; Adevarul, aici; and even Evenimentul Zilei, aici). In the electoral competition between the USL, on the one side, and the PDL on the other, a third political force has made its presence noted on the Romanian political scene. More clearly, the third largest party is the newly founded People’s Party–Dan Diaconescu (PP-DD/ Partidul Poporului Dan Diaconescu) (the party’s website, mainly in Romanian, aici). The PP-DD polled 9.23% for the presidents of the county councils; 7.29% for mayors; 8.96% for members of county councils. Concomitantly, the consecrated radical right populist (RRP) parties in Romania, namely the Greater Romania Party (PRM/ Partidul România Mare) and the New Generation Party (PNG/ Partidul Noua Generaţie) seem to have had only a marginal presence in the preferences of the Romanian electorate (the PRM polled somewhere around an average of 2%, while the PNG only 0.20%), and might actually signal that popular dissatisfaction is most successfully channeled by the PP-DD.

The PP-DD is the product of the eponymous TV-channel owner Dan Diaconescu, who more or less single-handedly has founded the party and created its nation-wide network of branches. At a quick glance, judging from the 20-Points Proclamation the party has uploaded on its website (see link above, in Romanian), the PP-DD appears to have a rather complex ideological makeup, displaying strong populist appeals, such as social justice to be undertaken in the framework of a strong state (which reminds of the former communist state); trial of all

Romania 2012 local election results (click to enlarge) (www.evz.ro)

previous governments found to have mismanaged the country; confiscation of illicit fortunes gained from pillaging the public goods, but also some surprising decidedly right wing, such as tax cuts, tax unification. All these are tinged with discrete nationalist appeals (the numerous and insistent references to supporting Romanianism, respecting the Romanian national anthem, subscription to Romanian Orthodox Christianity, etc.). In a sense, it reminds a lot of the PRM‘s main tenets at the beginning of 2000s as they were expressed by the party leader Corneliu Vadim Tudor.

Even more so, as Romanian sociologist Mircea Kivu aptly noted in his analysis of the Romanian local elections and the emergence of new political entities contesting the elections (in Romania Libera, in Romanian, aici), the PP-DD candidates did not engage in any classical campaigning, opting for having their candidacy endorsed ‘on air’ at the TV station owned by Dan Diaconescu. This comes so strengthen my categorization of the PP-DD as an emerging radical right populist party, with a strong (male) leader that gives his formal ‘blessing’ to his acolytes on TV. In this light, if Corneliu Vadim Tudor had a very influential weekly magazine at his disposal to maneuver his captive electorate, Dan Diaconescu has taken the process to a new level, having his own TV station.

Looking at how the local electoral competition has tested the newly founded parties within the Hungarian-speaking community, it becomes apparent that the Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania (UDMR/Uniunea Democrată Maghiară din România, RMDSZ/Romániai Magyar Demokrata Szövetség) has managed to fend off the negative effects of its being in government the past decade, and used the nationalist escalations sponsored by the Hungarian government to appeal for a return to rationality and moderation. As such, the UDMR/RMDSZ registered some loses, but succeeded to collect 4.95% for the presidents of the county councils; 3.90% for mayors; 5.52% for members of county councils.

In this context, the questions that arise pertain to the stability of the present political system in Romania, especially having in mind the wider developments across Europe. Is the USL alliance aware of the very delicate situation it is facing, with an interim government, already marred by serious scandals – it suffices to point at the no less than 3 ministers that succeeded in the Education portfolio in less than a month- , and the PDL apparently surprised by its own defeat? Does the PP-DD have the electoral appeal to play a similar function as the PRM in the 2000 Parliamentary elections, when it became the largest opposition party? Is the PP-DD the emerging radical right populist force in Romania? What would be the consequences of such a development, with the UDMR/RMDSZ apparently excluded from future government coalitions, and an ever more polarizing and nationalist Hungarian government? Are we witnessing yet another backlash against women in Romanian politics – only one woman has been elected mayor in one of the major cities in Romania, namely Lia Olguţa Vasilescu (PSD) in Craiova?

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Thursday, June 14th, 2012 Research No Comments

When ‘Joking’ Fails, Use ‘Satire’ – How to Make Sure Finland Is Kept Pure If Social Engineering Is No Longer An Acceptable Solution: Make Those Others Wear Patches

It appears that the Nazi ideology has consolidated its place at the main source of inspiration for the True Finns (PS/ Perussuomalaiset/ Sannfinländarna) rank and file. Indeed, in October 2011 the PS MP Teuvo Hakkarainen was suggesting ‘jokingly’ – as it was later on quickly dismissed – that the autonomous Åland/Ahvenanmaa islands (inherently symbolizing the Swedish–speaking Finnish community in Finland) are the perfect place where to ‘put’ all ‘homosexuals’, ‘lesbians’ and ‘Somalis’ to live side by side and see what kind of ‘model society’ takes shape from that (see my previous blog entry discussing the matter, here). It was then evidence the uncanny resemblance with the anti-Semitic Madagascar plan of the Nazis (a Wikipedia entry on the infamous Madagascar plan – in English, here; in Finnish, tässä; in Swedish, här).

On 11 April 2012, this was further exploited by Helena Eronen, assistant to the PS MP James Hirvisaari. Helena Eronen published an article on the Uusi Suomi e-newspaper, titled ‘Ratkaisu poliisin ulkomaalaisratsioihin’ (‘The Solution to Police’s Raids Among Foreigners’, in an approximate English translation). Shortly after it was published, the article was removed from the e-news platform (yet, available in its entirety in Finnish, tässä). It is worth noting that the PS MP James Hirvisaari was elected in April 2011 into the Finnish Parliament (Eduskunta/Riksdagen) on a strong anti–immigration platform, being one of the authors of the Nuiva Vaalimanifesti (on signatories, in Finnish, tässä). The same PM MP James Hirvissari has been also the subject of a trial for incitement to racial hatred because of his blog entry on the same Uusi Suomi, titled ‘Kikkarapäälle kuonoon’.

In her article, Helena Eronen identified a readily available solution to the Finnish Police’s dilemma on knowing a person’s ‘worth’ in the Finnish society: make them wear sleeve badges! According to her, it is useful to know, from the very first sight, ‘who is a Somali Muslim’ or ‘a beggar from Romania’. The symbols on badges were just as easily provided to the readers: a half-moon for the Muslims, a hammer and a sickle for Russians, a landmine for Cambodians (sic). Neither the Swedish–speaking Finns, nor and the LGBTQI–community members were forgotten – in the latter case it was aptly suggested a patch depicting ‘a rainbow’ (media comments on her article, in Finnish, tässä; in Swedish, här). Helena Eronen even envisaged a means to account for someone’s accommodation to Finnish customs: a Muslim foreigner’s half–moon could later be exchanged to a blue–white half–moon thereby enforcing integration (on her article, commented at length in English, here). Eventually, the ‘blue–white half–moon’ badge could be handed in, a sign of the person’s complete assimilation and secularization: the birth of a new Finn. In other words, there are degrees of Otherness, and degrees of sanction and reward for all Others. The similarity with the Nazi methodical classification of the undesired Others is, yet again, uncanny (a detailed article on the Nazi identification system using badges – in English, here; in Finnish, tässä; in Swedish, här).

One may wonder why has it become so crucially important among the PS rank and file to be able to make a distinction between an apparently ‘true’ Finn (to keep with the PS’ own denomination) and a ‘Somali Muslim’ or ‘a beggar from Romania’? What is the purpose of such process of selection and differentiation? Why to distinguish between a Muslim with a ‘red half–moon’ and one with a ‘blue–white half–moon’ when Islam is squarely rejected by the PS as foreign to the Finnish national fiber? Having a closer look at the hierarchy suggested by Helena Eronen, another question that insinuates itself is why are Swedish–speaking Finns to be ‘marked’ – what is their shortcoming for not being deemed worthy to be part of the Finnish un–badged majority, and why would this justify them being bullied by the majority Finnish–speaking Finns ?

Even more so, applying what appears to be a rudimentary heteropatriarchal logic of structuring, if the LGBTQI–community members have to bear a rainbow, how should then the distinction be made between, for instance, ‘true’ Finnish women dutifully married with Finnish men and bearing Finnish offspring, and those also ‘true’ Finnish women, but who however fail do so? In the Nazi system of badge marking, the political opponents were also classified; with this in mind, it would have perhaps been instructive to know if Helena Eronen also considered a system to differentiate between the common voters and those ‘true’ citizens identifying themselves with the PS cause? And by ways of conclusion, why continuously ‘making jokes’, and writing ‘satire’ on a subject that appears to be such a sensitive point of discussion? Whom is to gain from a radicalization of the whole discussion and at which price?

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Thursday, April 12th, 2012 Research No Comments

CfP: From Welfare States to Welfare Chauvinism under the Sign of Economic Crisis: Nationalism and Exclusionary Politics vs. Communitarian and Cosmopolitan Positions in the Nordic Context @ ESA RN32 Interim Conference (University of Milan 30.11.12-01.12.12); DL: 15.04.12

We are pleased to announce a call for papers for the panel we organize for the Second Mid-Term Conference of the RN32 Political Sociology to be held at the University of Milan (Italy) (30.11.2012-01.12.2012).

From Welfare States to Welfare Chauvinism under the Sign of Economic Crisis:
Nationalism and Exclusionary Politics vs. Communitarian and Cosmopolitan Positions in the Nordic context

The ongoing economic crisis has had polarizing effects across the entire Europe. In the Nordic context, it was accompanied by the emergence of strong appeals for exclusionary politics, such as the bold emergence of radical right populist parties at the forefront of parliamentary politics across the region, and the sharpening of the debate about the future of the Nordic model of welfare state.

The Nordic welfare system, underpinned by comprehensive labor force participation, promotion of gender equality, egalitarian and far–reaching levels of redistribution and benefits, and comprehensive fiscal policy, has been confronted with the sweeping wave of neo–liberalism and economic globalization.

With this in mind, the panel encourages the submission of papers exploring the emerging political cleavage along the nationalist vs. cosmopolitan dimension. Particular emphasis is put on the intensification of dichotomies such as that between forms of particularist
nativism (i.e. narrow definitions of the modern Nordic societies as welfare chauvinistic projects) versus universalist cosmopolitanism (integrative and accommodating definition of the welfare state in the age of globalization).

Abstract (200 words maximum) must be sent within 15 April 2012 to both panel chairs (Susi Meret: meret[at]cgs.aau.dk and Ov Cristian Norocel: cristian.norocel[at]helsinki.fi ). The panel description with the accepted abstracts will be submitted by the panel chairs to the conference organizers (for details on the conference, see conference details bellow). The final answer will be communicated by 30 May 2012.

Keywords: exclusion/ inclusion, nativism/ cosmopolitanism, Nordic region, radical right populism, welfare state/ welfare chauvinism.

Panel chairs: Susi Meret (Aalborg University) & Ov Cristian Norocel (University of Helsinki/ Stockholm University)

ESA Research Network 32 – Political Sociology

The European Sociological Association’s Research Network on Political Sociology (RN32) is pleased to announce its second mid-term conference, to be held at the University of Milan (Italy), 30 November and 1 December, 2012:

Political Participation and Beyond
Multi-level dynamics of inclusion/exclusion in times of crisis

Political participation is a founding theme of political sociology. In broadest terms, it refers to all forms and activities through which individuals or collectives express opinions and also exert influence on decisions that are of common concern. While concerned with apathy, abstention and “exit”, political sociology has also described and categorized a broad and ever-changing repertoire of citizen (and non citizen) voice, i.e. activism and formal or informal involvement whether individual/ collective, manifest/ latent, institutionalized/ unconventional, direct/ mediated, online/ offline. In an age of globalization and multilevel (local, national, supranational, global) networking of collective decision-making processes, in which social and political boundaries are being reshaped and new dynamics of social and political inclusion and exclusion are emerging, this scope of political participation is potentially wider and rapidly changing. One may wonder if participation is heightened in times of crisis, which favour more exclusive forms of governance and tend to mobilise new forms of protest, or on the contrary generates anomie.

The aim of this conference is to explore the extended scope of political participation in relation to transnational government arrangements and processes. Within this broad theme, all crucial concepts of political sociology are embraced. These include: challenged legitimisation of democratic representative institutions; changing power relationships between citizens and the state; the making of a new political order across the interaction of macro- and micro-level actors; the battle for cultural, social, and institutional change involving networked individuals and organized groups at local, national and global levels.

A number of key contemporary political and social phenomena can therefore be analysed from a political participation perspective:

  • Globalizing forms of protest and new forms of political mobilization
  • Changing interactions between public opinion, political elites, mainstream media, and social media
  • The plebiscitary nature of leader-followers relationships as regards populist parties
  • Party primary elections and campaigning
  • New patterns of electoral turnout and volatility
  • Citizens’ deliberations and experiments in participatory democracy
  • The emergence of a new political cleavage along the nationalism vs. cosmopolitanism value dimensions
  • The ongoing conflict over norms of citizenship
  • Processes of agenda-setting and the role of migrants’ organizations in key policy areas
  • Political dimensions of immigrant integration and the politics of voting rights
  • Urban governance and urban conflicts

Proposals can relate to all levels of – local to global – mobilization and participation in the polity. Studies employing a European comparative perspective or EU-wide framework, that address the multi-level dimension of participation, or discuss more recent challenges to citizens’ participation and legitimacy in times of financial and economic crisis are particularly welcome.

Abstract submission: Both panel proposals and individual paper proposals are encouraged. For panel proposals please submit a short description of the theme of the panel and at least three individual paper abstracts.

Deadline: The deadline for panel and paper proposals is Friday  30 April 2012. Please submit abstracts of max 200 words to: rn32mtc2012[at]socpol.unimi.it

The conference committee will notify applicants by 30 May 2012.

Conference venue and organization: The conference will be hosted by the Department of Social and Political Studies, University of Milan (Italy). The Department is located in the centre of Milan. Participants are asked to make their own travel arrangements and book accommodation. We will suggest a list of hotels. Information will be available at: http://www.socpol.unimi.it.

To encourage participation by a broad range of early career researchers and experienced academics, there is no registration fee. To register, please write to rn32mtc2012[at]socpol.unimi.it with the following information: name, position, affiliation with postal address, country, email address and dietary preferences.

Further information: Contact  Mauro BARISIONE at  rn32mtc2012[at]socpol.unimi.it

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Thursday, February 2nd, 2012 Research No Comments

Reality Check in Romania: A True (Orthodox) Romanian Man Explains Why ‘an Arab’ Cannot Be the Catalyst of the Disenchanted People Marching Against State Abuse.

A bit over a year ago, the people took to the streets in several countries across the ‘Arab world’ in what was later on called the ‘Arab Spring’. The Western medias have rushed to praise the people’s ‘democratic aspirations’ and their courage to speak against a brutified state apparatus. In contrast to that, in the UK the 2010 protests against the massive increase of the tuition fees and the 2011 anti-austerity protests were not met with the same sympathy. Demands for transparent and accountable democratic processes that have people at the center – instead of profit – were dismissed as ‘rioting’, ‘extremist’, ‘thuggish’ and ‘outright criminal’. In a similar vein, unfortunately, the massive protests witnessed these days in Romania, not only in the capital Bucharest but across the whole country, are derided in a similar manner. Reports mainly discuss the ‘football hooligans’, ‘mindless rioting’, ‘extremism’ or even ‘street warfare’ (in Romanian, aici).

A week ago, an apparently inconspicuous law triggering the profound reform of the healthcare system was uncovered to be a naked demonstration of political will on behalf of the acting center-right conservative government. Instead of being yet another law coming into force through the back door of a confidence vote in the Romanian Parliament, it was publicly condemned in a TV debate by Raed Arafat, the then Undersecretary of State for Health. Arafat, a Syrian Arab that has become a Romanian citizen, has distinguished himself by successfully founding the only professional emergency rescue service in Romania (SMURD/ Serviciul Mobil de Urgenţǎ, Reanimare şi Descarcerare), thereby embodying professionalism and moral standing in a healthcare system that is mostly regarded as book-example of corruption and oftentimes considered an expressway to the grave. Arafat’s opposition to the coming law was vehemently criticized and quickly dismissed by an angered President Băsescu, who called and demanded to intervene in the live TV debate. President Băsescu labeled Arafat’s criticism to the privatization of the healthcare system as mere ‘leftist views’ and decreed the necessity of opening the system to ‘the market forces’ (in Romanian, aici). The consequence of such a forceful televised intervention on behalf of President Băsescu was that Arafat presented his resignation shortly afterwards.

His resignation was met with popular indignation and triggered a series of demonstrations across the whole of Romania, from Târgu Mureș/ Marosvásárhely where Arafat founded SMURD and Cluj-Napoca/ Kolozsvár in Transylvania, to Constanța on the Romanian seaside and the capital Bucharest. The protests were initiated on January 12th 2012 in Târgu Mureș/Marosvásárhely as a non-violent demonstration in support of Arafat, and transformed in full fledged popular protests across the country in the coming days, continuing throughout the week and eventually gained the support of 5 trade union organizations. The riot police and the gendarmerie have been called to intervene in Bucharest and elsewhere under the pretext of ‘maintaining order’ and combating ‘the extremism’ of ‘paid football hooligans’ (in Romanian ‘ultras‘) and other such ‘elements’ (in English, here; here; and here; in Romanian, aici and aici).

Perhaps it is worthwhile to take a step back, and have a closer look at what does such a label of ‘extremism’ conceal. ‘Extremism’ is not represented by the tens of thousands of peaceful protesters that have had enough of a corrupt and idle political system that does not offer so much of a political alternative, but an alternation of the same unreformed political forces. Arguably, it is rather to be found impeccably dressed and allegedly representing Romania in the European Parliament.

Indeed, commenting on the ongoing demonstrations, George (Gigi) Becali, Romanian MEP on behalf of the radical right populist Greater Romania Party (PRM/ Partidul România Mare) and football club owner, defended President Băsescu. MEP Becali expressed his ‘disgust’ that thousand of Romanians have taken the streets in support of ‘an Arab’ against President Băsescu. MEP Becali added, in the same vein, that Romanians are not allowed to take the ‘Arab’s side’ on this matter and that the TV images with the demonstrators were ‘sickening’. He then concluded that ‘Arafat should go back to his country, among his Arabs! How can I take the side of an Arab against the President of my country?’ (in Romanian, aici).

In this context, the question that comes to the fore is why someone who has become a Romanian citizen is dismissed as a simple Other and recommended to return to his (or her) ‘home country’? What does it take for an Other to be accepted as a full-fledged Romanian citizen? Even more so, why ‘the Arab’ Arafat is refused the ability to coalesce popular dissatisfaction against a corrupt political system? The irony of history perhaps, but Arafat simply represents a continuation of the line of Others that triggered the coagulation of the people’s discontent in Romania.  Here it suffices to mention another key figure in Romanian recent history:  Pastor László Tőkés – a Romanian of Hungarian ethnicity and a Reformed Pastor. Pastor Tőkés played a major role in the initiation in Timișoara/ Temesvár of the December 1989 manifestations that led to the overthrown of Ceausescu dictatorship. In the manly confrontation that Romanian politics have turned into in the post-revolutionary period, why is Arafat deemed less than a man that President Băsescu? Since when the protection of a corrupt political system and taking the side of a Romanian President that has oftentimes stepped over the powers of his mandate is a clear marker of devotion for the country? MEP Becali defied the Romanian National Council for Fighting Discrimination (CNCD/ Consiliul Naţional pentru Combaterea Discriminării) and argued more recently that no possible fine would deter him from taking the side of ‘Romanians’ (in Romanian, aici). The immediate question that comes to mind is why is then President Băsescu more Romanian than the tens of thousands of Romanians (be them ethnic Romanian, Hungarian, Rroma, or even Arab) that have peacefully demonstrated against a state apparatus and a political elite that appears to have become just as brutish as the ones that ruled so ruthlessly in the ‘Arab world’?

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Tuesday, January 17th, 2012 Research No Comments

The Finest Art of Finnish Social Engineering: A Heterosexual (True) Finn Envisioning the Society of Tomorrow?

Not so long ago, the True Finns (PS/ Perussuomalaiset/ Sannfinländarna) has decided to change its English name and be titled (only) the Finns (see my previous blog entry discussing the matter, here). However, it appears that despite their name change, the the PS is keeping true to its previous radical right populist (RRP) line of discourse that so often has bordered with outright instigation to hate (be it against the Swedish-speaking Finns, the Somali community in Finland, or the LGBTQI–community in Finland).

The most recent example is constituted by the remarks of Teuvo Hakkarainen, the PS elected MP. He appears to have remained truthful to his line of reasoning (on this, please see my previous blog entry, here). When told he has a certain amount of male admirers that happen to be homosexuals, Teuvo Hakkarainen replied to the newspaper Ilta Sanomat that he would be more interested in having a female following. On the topic, he then presented his ideas about a ‘model society’ (in Finnish, tässä; in Swedish, här). According to him, the autonomous Åland/Ahvenanmaa islands (seen as the epitome of what the Swedish–speaking Finnish community in Finland stands for) are the perfect place where to ‘put’ all ‘homosexuals’, ‘lesbians’ and ‘Somalis’ to live side by side and see what kind of ‘model society’ takes shape from that. This way, the Swedish People’s Party (SFP/ Svenska folkpartiet i Finland/ Suomen ruotsalainen kansanpuolue/ RKP) could no longer accuse the PS of not taking into consideration the needs of the minorities in Finland. He then concluded that on Åland/ Ahvenanmaa the ‘Somalis would finally be free to ‘shout from the minarets’ whatever they see fit. The ‘model society’ could be then replicated on the mainland.

Despite the uncanny resemblance of such a suggestion to the anti-Semitic Madagascar plan of the Nazis (a Wikipedia entry on this matter – in English, here; in Finnish, tässä; in Swedish, här), the Finnish MP Teuvo Hakkarainen does not seem troubled with that. Instead, he appears to have taken on himself this laborious task of social engineering. It does not take long to understand what would such an undertake entail. Finland as it is nowadays has failed the standards of truthfulness established by the PS. In order to correct that, Åland/Ahvenanmaa appears to be safely far and yet soundly Finnish to have all those who fail off the normative spectrum of Finnishness removed from the native mainland soil and sent there. What would this mean? If the Swedish–speaking Finns native of Åland/ Ahvenanmaa and from the rest of Finland, together with the deported Somali community and all those identifying themselves as LGBTQI previously living on the mainland would engage in crafting that ‘model society’ envisioned by the PS MP Teuvo Hakkarainen, one can only wonder what would happen in the meantime on the Finnish mainland thus vacated? Will a purely and truly Finnish heterosexual society blossom on the Finnish mainland, a place where only Finnish men will marry Finnish women and born Finnish babies that would finally balance the pressing demographic problems Finland has to deal with, where finally there will be no calls for prayer from the minarets, where there will be no minority one could think of? And if the SFP/ RKP would probably be busying itself with the ‘model society’ taking shape on Åland/Ahvenanmaa, what would the other parliamentary Finnish parties do then? Would the Left Alliance (Vas/ Vasemmistoliitto/ Vänsterförbundet) or even the Greens (Vihr/ Vihreä liitto/ Gröna förbundet) – only those who are (true) pure heterosexual Finnish-speaking Finns, that is – be participating in engineering this purely Finnish heterosexual society, or would this task be exclusively assumed by the party that IS the Finns?

Unfortunately, Pirkko Ruohonen–Lerner the chair of the PS parliamentary group did not allow for a full development of the PS MP Teuvo Hakkarainen’s ideas and label them as ‘vitsailua‘, or joke (in Finnish, tässä). On who this joke is, however, it has not yet been disclosed. Is it a joke on the Swedish-speaking Finns who see themselves thrown out of the national construct called Finland, or is it on the Somali community whose members have come to Finland with the hope of escaping death and oppression only to be welcomed with a discriminatory superiority of the native Finns, or is it a joke on the LGBTQI–community that is refused membership in this construction of (true) Finnishness? Or is this joke on those who were not yet named and who would, one way or another, end up as unaware pawns in the social engineering plan of a rightfully elected parliamentary representative into the Finnish Eduskunta/ Riksdag?

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Sunday, October 23rd, 2011 Research No Comments

Who Are Those Brave Men Who Support the (True) Finns?

In another move that has left very little room for interpretation with regard to the party’s intentions on the Finnish political stage – and should have signaled that some time for reflection is needed in the headquarters of the main political parties – the radical right populist True Finns (PS/ Perussuomalaiset/ Sannfinländarna) has chosen to drop the ‘true’ particle in their name’s English version and title themselves simply and perplexingly: The Finns (in Swedish, här). Besides the argument that most foreign media has been misusing their name, there is a deeper lying explanation and has to do less with the foreign media, than with the PS’ captive electorate: the Finns (the party) thereby appeal to those that have cast their vote for them that they the Finns (the voters) are to see themselves as one with all the Finns (the people). In other words, through a simple name change, the PS has anchored itself ever more comfortably in the populist discursive field, thus erasing the difference between a small community within the Finnish society and the society as a whole, while proclaiming its representativeness for the whole Finnish society.

Such claims of homogeneity and representativeness have nevertheless determined the media to scrutinize into the PS’ voter profile. Taloustutkimus hurried with a survey that was aimed to offer a better picture of the PS supporters. The survey was first published in Yhteiskuntapolitiikka (in Finnish, tässä) and later on was popularized further by among others Helsingin Sanomat, the Finnish daily with the widest circulation in the country (a more recent article in Finnish, tässä; in English, here). The study revealed that the PS has a serious support base among the workers and lower middle class small entrepreneurs. Noteworthy, the PS supporters are spread among all income categories. They also appear to share an affinity with the voters of governing conservatives, the National Coalition Party (Kok/ Kansallinen Kokoomus/ Samlingspartiet), in terms of conservative values. Nonetheless, the educational profile of the PS supporters is below the Finnish average, but this however does not necessarily mean that the party does not have its voters among the student population in Finnish universities. In addition to that, the finding that two thirds of the PS supporters are recruited among men was flatly reported as a stereotype with ‘some factual basis’ (a wording present in the English version of the Helsingin Sanomat article, see link above).

The media hype thus created around the PS voters unfortunately lost focus on certain important aspects. For instance to which extent does the fact that the party has a serious gender imbalance in terms of its electoral support reflect into the media’s labeling of the PS as a ‘party encompassing all classes of people’ (as the aforementioned English version of the Helsingin Sanomat article claims)? Is this representative for all Finnish parties, or is it rather a defining aspect of the radical populist parties that in the specialist literature are even called ‘men’s parties’ (Männerparteien)? And if the previous holds true, how much do the PS converge with the Finnish political mainstream and to which extent is the party actually getting closer to the other such radical right populist parties across Europe?

Even more so, is it to be understood that the unit of comparison in the Finnish context for a party to be part of the mainstream is to be voted by (Finnish) men? Are the voting patterns of Finnish women less representative and thereby there is no need to investigate the reasons of the gender imbalance among the PS supporters? Looking closer at the voter base of the PS, to which extent their support reflects a ‘perceived’ uncertainty (in this context, my previous blog entry discussing the situation of a ‘perceived precariousness’ becomes perhaps more anchored into reality)? In the end, one may wonder to which extent the media’s unabated reporting on the PS as part of the political mainstream does actually contribute to the party’s normalization?

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Monday, September 12th, 2011 Research No Comments

The Oslo Terror Bombing and the Utøya Shootings: Where Is the ‘Man’ in the ‘Gunman’?

22 July 2011 was black day for Norway and for the whole mankind. According to police reports, at least 85 youths have been killed by a gunman that opened fire at an youth camp of the Norwegian Social Democratic Youth (AUF/ Arbeidernes ungdomsfylking) on Utøya – an island close to the Norwegian capital Oslo, just hours after a bomb was detonated in downtown Oslo, in the vicinity of the Norwegian Prime Minister’s offices, killing 7 and wounding dozens. The two attacks are the worst to occur in Europe since the 2004 Madrid train bombings in which 191 people missed their lives. The terror attack in downtown Oslo was first assumed by an Islamist terrorist organization, and some European medias had hurried to collectively condemn Islam, such as the Italian Il Giornale that read ‘It is always them who attack us’ (‘Sono sempre loro ci attaccano’) only to alter its main page hours later as new information uncovered that the Norwegian police has apprehended a man whom they suspected was the perpetrator of both attacks (see, in Italian ecco qui).

The main suspect, Anders Behring Breivik (32) is a native Norwegian, residing in a wealthy neighborhood in Western Oslo. A first insight into the main suspect’s background was that he was a lone man that lived together with his mother, who during the past few years has had several companies. His latest enterprise (Breivik Geofarm in Rena) founded in 2009 apparently activated in agriculture, through which he apparently purchased around 6 tons of fertilizers, which seems to have been used to manufacture the explosives in the two bombs (the one detonated in downtown Oslo, and the other one found on Utøya) (in Swedish här; in Norwegian, her). The manner the bombs were made has a strong ressemblance to that used in the attack in Oklahoma City in the USA in 1995 when 168 people were killed. There are speculations that Breivik might have been assisted in his shooting spree by a second person, not yet apprehended by the Norwegian police (in Swedish, här).

As more information continued to be gathered, it was revealed that Breivik had been active in the Oslo western district of the main radical right populist party in Norway the Progress Party (FrP/ Fremskrittspartiet/ Framstegspartiet) since 1999, but disagreed with what he regarded too appeasing an attitude in immigration questions (in Norwegian, her), and was expelled from the party in 2006 for not paying his membership fee. On this regard he was very active on radical right forums where he unveiled his uncompromising stance against what he called the dominating ‘cultural Marxism’ of the Norwegian elites and their constant ‘bashing’ of the nationalist conservative right. Even more so he unleashed a vivid critique against PM Stoltenberg and his Social Democratic Party, talking about ‘Stoltenberg’s jugend’ thus comparing the Norwegian Social Democratic Youth organization to the Nazi ‘Hitler jugend’ (in Swedish, här). A collection of his internet comments on various political issues has been put together and is available on document. no (in Norwegian, her); illustrative are his comments with regard to whom is entitled to be considered a full-fledged Norwegian and his opposition to the inclusive definition of citizenship:

“Everyone who are holders of a Norwegian passport are ‘authentic/full-fledged’ ‘Norwegians’ … Which in other words means that even those Somalis (with a Norwegian passport) who all day (do nothing but) chew khat, do their wives and send half of the social benefits to al-Shabaab should be viewed as fully Norwegian. If anyone in this country DARES to look at these Somalis as something other than full-fledged Norwegians, then they are racists and should be stygmatized publicly. And they say that everyone who disagrees with their extreme cultural-Marxist worldview – the utopian, global citizen definition – are racists?” (my translation, in original in Norwegian, her).

Perplexing, the gender dimension shines with its absence from any media analyzes. It is puzzling that a man in his prime designs such a terror attack on such a scale, not only literally besieging the Norwegian center of power, but also killing a whole generation of future political activists animated by Social Democratic ideals. The questions that flood in on this issue concerns the gendered nature of violence, and the perceived ‘cowardice’ (read unmanliness) of the Norwegian radical right populists that have sold their souls to be accepted by the political mainstream and turned themselves into the puppets of PR firms. Is Breivik the representative of an extreme masculinity that resorts to violence to ascertain its traditional patriarchal masculine values and purify the national body through the physical extermination of those threatening it with a multicultural accommodative project? What sort of parallels can be drawn with the shooting incidents in Finland that I have addressed in earlier blog entries, such as in here? Why was the gender dimension silenced in the media reporting? How far is the ‘far right’, or ‘extreme right’ as the media reported from ‘radical right populism’ that I also wroteabout in here, and here?

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Saturday, July 23rd, 2011 Research No Comments