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 Witch-hunt of Moldova’s Twitter revolution. How to search for hidden messages/ financers/ benefiters while forgetting the defense of basic human rights

Squeezed between the news about the rescue of the US captain from the Somali pirates and the unfolding events in Thailand, the situation in Moldova risks to soon fall off the international media attention. To the benefit of whom, I wonder?

What is even more worrisome is the wave of probably well intended analyses of the geo-political situation in the Eastern Europe that regard the convulsive manifestations in Chisinau simply as some sort of abstract power struggle between Western-financed and encouraged think tanks and political entrepreneurs and the power-clinging East-faithful. But this is, however, an overly simplistic dichotomous model, since Romania, the main culprit as it is portrayed by out-going president Voronin, is not the most important member country in NATO, nor does it have such a crucial leverage in the decision making process regarding the whole security architecture in Eastern Europe. Second, the Eastern sympathies of the out-going president Voronin have changed quite often, as it was noted across time. What has persisted though, was a desire to remain in power and ensure that the next elected president would not upset the internal power balance instated during Voronin’s time in office. I am afraid that, as they use to say, the devil lies in the details, and a rushed and disconnected analysis of the ongoing events in Moldova do not help the cause of the demonstrators against the electoral fraud from the 5th of April 2009.

It appears that the foreign analysts do not bother to read the local news, be them biased on the side of the manifestants or the centrally controlled state media. Otherwise how could one explain the complete silence regarding certain issues that cast a different light on the event? To start with the most obvious, Moldova Azi  discusses the mysterious man (see video attached) that repeatedly appears in the midst of the anti-governmental demonstrations, planting the EU and the Romanian flags on both the Moldavian Presidential residence and the Moldavian Parliament; the same person was filmed among those opposing a manifestation of the one of the opposition parties, only to be later one of those disclosing that he was payed to demonstrate for (this time for) another opposition party. The same topic was discussed by Jurnal de Chisinau, a proof that Twitter meets YouTube when it is about genuine popular movements, and that we truly live in an age of ever more internet connectedness. An educated guess would be that this is a intoxication maneuver to create the false impression that governmental forces were taken by surprise (well, most comments on the internet focus on how cooperative and non-combative a treatment the mysterious man received from a police officer on the roof top).

So what actually happens in Moldova while foreign analysts involve in sophisticated discussions about balance of powers, emergence of new security architectures in Eastern Europe, radical re-drawing of alliances and imminent power struggles, or even more fashionably today, blaming it on the global economic downturn? On the one hand, people die. Or maybe, unfortunately, not as many people die as to attract media attention. Despite that, a young man died, allegedly as a result of the savage beatings of the police forces (the official report blames it on the tear-gas fumes; even so, no discussion on the responsibility of those making use of such lethal means to reprimand demonstrators is allowed to take place). On the other hand, journalists are harassed, this was even difficult for the foreign media to miss. CNN ran yesterday an article on this topic, but that was pretty much it. In the meantime, we are told that a vote recount would take place. However, one may wonder if counting defrauded votes would make a dramatic difference.

In this context, what about taking a step back and leaving aside the grand politics and grandiose theories of international politics, to start looking into how those people manifesting against the result of the elections are (miss-)treated? I think the lives of human beings should value more than a witty comment about new power balances and that a chance for fair democratic elections should be given also to those not as lucky to be in such world hot spots as Thailand or citizens of the US. Maybe it is time for the influential media figures in the West priding themselves with non-partisan stances to take a second and reflect on the fate of the Moldavian youth. I think they owe it to the thousands of young demonstrators in Chisinau and to their future. Or is their future to be gambled for a new security format to better account for the sensitivities of the today’s multi-polar world?

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Monday, April 13th, 2009 Miscellaneous No Comments

Chisinau: the revolution that wasn’t?! Or talking about the External Evil Other

Reading/ Watching the news one gets the surreal impression that what is (still) happening in Moldova is a sort of a missed chance. What is for instance the difference between the wave of savage reprisals going on now on the streets of Chisinau, and what was going on in say December 1989 Bucharest? The amount of shooting?  Or maybe, to start in most cynical a way, because we have no body count as yet for what is going on the streets of Chisinau? There are a lot of unsettling signs that if the first couple of days were euphoric, not everything appears to get some very strong shades of … blue.

Then, we learn who is to blame for the whole thing. It is not because of the possible election fixing and all sorts of uncertainties and suspicion around the ill-fated Sunday 5th. No, we are told that no matter the complaints, the blame is on Romanian shoulders. Now I can only wonder how could Romania (I am not sure if the whole country, only some parts of it, or some of its citizens; for the sake of the argument we accept this common label of the Evil: Romania) orchestrate and masterfully coordinate the street protests in Chisinau (some estimate that there were around 10,000 to 30,000 manifestants)? The same person that looked the Evil in the eye and dare to speak its name, out-going president Voronin, concluded that the Evil, i.e. Romania, has had/ still has/ may have (/ should have?) a dirty plan with Moldova.

Why? Well, because such an explanation suits his needs so good. If in some countries we have immigrants to be blamed for every single wrong-doing, well, in Moldova things are pretty different.The thing is that most Moldavians were forced by a disastrous country leadership to find their fortune elsewhere. So they may be, in turn, the evil Other some other place across Europe. Because of that there is not so much/ so many to blame before rising one’s eyes in the direction of the country’s leadership.

So then an external Evil comes in handy. Out with the Romanian ambassador for he has sinned (?!?), out with the Romanian journalists that dared to … do what journalists do, present the news. In this case they were accused they did a bit of rioting together/besides/ before and of course after doing their jobs. The supreme proof (if it was needed) was flagging the Romanian (and the EU) flags on the Moldova’s Presidential residence.

Taking one step back (from the Presidential residence that is) one could notice that Romanian flags were a rather conspicuous sight throughout the demonstrations. So, when most of the people manifesting against the electoral fraud were youth this means that Romania did a hell of a good job sending flags to Moldova (one often forgotten detail is that most traffic to Moldova from Romania was heavily restricted even before the tragic elections)? It does not mean that they, the young Moldavians, look at the example of the German reunification as a possibility to at least start hoping things will be better as a part of a EU country? So popular will does not count in this case? Why not?

The same out-going president Voronin, if it is to believe the same wrong-doing journalists, appears to have consciously allowed/ encouraged/ stimulated (?!?)  the vandalizing of the Moldavian Parliament, and the Presidential residence, and that even the famous Romanian flag that sourced so much discussion and his fiery remarks was actually planted on the residence with the help of some policemen.

So what is left now? A revolution that wasn’t, a soon to turn bloody hunt for those to be held responsible for the “attempted attack to the state’s sovereignty”, a president that halfhearted admits to have played a rather dubious role in the whole chain of events, and a comfortably Exterior Evil Other (maybe that’s why out-going president Voronin spoke Russian, and not even Moldavian-than-is-so-easily-confused-with-Romanian?). Foreign media regards the mass demonstration in Chisinau with some sort of curiosity, expecting for the bloodier details, and not really bothering to delve into too deep an analysis of the causes, events, repercussions, implications.

However, trying to leave these aside, the questions that comes over and over again is: Aren’t the people the sovereign in a democracy? Shouldn’t they be listened to? How much blood/suffering/misery needs to be aired before things to be taken seriously?

How democratic is democracy, and whom is it to serve after all?

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Friday, April 10th, 2009 Miscellaneous No Comments