(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
|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
|PP-DD||13.99||47 MPs||14.65||21 MPs|
|UDMR/RMDSZ||5.13||18 MPs||5.23||9 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.
[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.
[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.
[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.
[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.
[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.
[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.
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 (PNG–CD/ 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?
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.
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)
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 ).
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
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
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?
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?
Cyber-defenders of National Pride? On Romania’s bad reputation abroad, and the discrimination of Romanians and Romas alike
Without doubt, Romania and Romanians seem to have a rather tarnished reputation in Europe. Especially the European medias do not spare any criticism when it comes to describing the country’s problematic development and its citizens’ misdemeanors. Throughout the years, British readers have been warned of the flood of Romanian immigrants that will take over the British isles once the country joined the EU. The Italians were informed that Romanians are but beggars that have rape and assault in their genes, and more recently Danish and Norwegian newspapers reached the same conclusion about the Romanians’ inherent violence from the brutal assassination of a Norwegian air hostess at the hands of a Romanian citizen, in an hotel room in central Copenhagen. Such rushed conclusions raise some serious questions about how much do the medias in Europe really know about Romania.
And to add insult to injury, no one seems to pay attention to the distinction between Romania and its citizens, generally called Romanians, and the Romani people (also known under the derogatory name of ‘Gypsies’). Indeed, some of the Romani people now present across Europe may come from Romania (there were 535,140 Romani registered in the 2002 census; link in Romanian). But they may be as well from Hungary (some 205,720, according to the 2001 census), Slovakia or any other Central and Eastern European country that has/had a significant Romani population and has an anti-Roma record (ranging from forced sterilizations and forced expulsions from local communities, to violent killings of Romani people). Such treatments are unfortunately widespread across the region.
The equation of Romanians with Romani people and the subsequent discrimination of both groups has become a common occurrence across “Old” Europe. Most recent in France, where even the institutions supposed to combat discrimination and racism fail to act even when this takes place on the public television. Such an example is the performance of Jonathan Lambert on France 2 on April 17th. At the end of the “On n’est pas couchés” show where he was invited, he chose a rather peculiar way to express his gratitude in the sense of “performing” the so-called “salut roumain”/”Romanian salute” (link in French). The gesture mocked Romanians- the hand trusted forward with the open palm typical for begging. The public imitated Lambert’s gesture in a manner that made most believe it was not a spontaneous move, but a rather well rehearsed act.
However, besides official complaints issued by the various Romanian embassies there is a new trend of what I call cyber-nationalism. If official statements may be regarded as ineffective and easily overruled by the media “perpetrating” the anti-Romanian offenses, the cyber-defenders of Romanian dignity act against the very presence of the medias on the internet. The Romanian cyber-nationalists, labeled “hacktivists” by the very media they threaten with their acts, seem to have coagulated into a group suggestively called Romanian National Security [RNS]. Witness the globalization pressures and the localist-nationalist aspirations, the group’s name is in English while their messages are to most part written in Romanian.
Their anger and cyber skills became apparent to the whole world when a Daily Telegraph third-party website was defaced on April 14th 2010. The text, mainly in Romanian, read:
“We are tired of watching how some ‘scum’ like you mock our country. The way you portray us, which has nothing to do with the reality, and how you name-call us ‘Romanian Gypsies’ and airing such s*ite shows as TopGear. For having the guts to piss of a whole country, be aware that we won’t stop here!” and added in English “Guess what, gypsies aren’t Romanians, morons.”
The TopGear reference concerns the first episode of the series’ 14th season, which follows the TopGear team in its quest to locate and drive along one of most picturesque roads in Romania, the so-called “Transfăgărăşan”. The mentioned episode is a classical example of journalistic “faux pas” being filled with unflattering remarks about the country and its people. On top of all there is the careless editing of the episode that contains a discussion apparently taking place somewhere in Romania. The dialogue is in a Slavic language and it infuriated Romanian viewers, evidencing the journalists’ unawareness of the various sensitivities at work in that part of Europe.
Mass media in France did not escape RNS’ attention either. Sunday, April 18th- only shortly after the France 2 show, it was the turn of Le monde’s website to be defaced. The more elaborate text, still in Romanian, took issue with the equation of Romanians to Romani people and the undignified reaction of French media in general to the “Romanian salute” affair:
“This is not a resistance movement, nor a protest, nor a rebellion! It is the cry of the whole Romanian people calling their brothers, who have forgot that Roman blood flows through or veins too! The blood spilled on battlefields so that our people’s history can be written urges now for JUSTICE. Our national heroes will never die! The memory of those who paid with their live so that Romania exists on the world’s map will never be forgotten. We want to proudly remind our children and our grandchildren of them and to give them the honor they deserve. We’ve had enough of mockery! The Gypsies are not Romanians! The have not written our history! When you make reference to our compatriots do not use such phrases as ‘Romanian Gypsies’.” The message is concluded with the warning “We have respected your French, you will respect our ROMANIA! RNS KEEPS GUARD for this to happen.”
According to an interview with one of the RNS members (link in Romanian), the 20-something group members do not know one another, but they are decided to signal that Romanians’ tolerance has been abused for too long. Described as a 17-year old man whose parents are also nationalists and who know and agree with his activities, the interviewee appears to live a “normal life” “preparing for his exams, grill parties at the weekend and dates with his girlfriend”. In a sign of civility the young man mentions that when defacing the websites RNS abstained from collecting sensitive personal information from the websites, or infecting the computers of both editors and readers accessing the web-pages. In other words they signaled of not being mere “hackers” but people animated by a national ideal and passionate about computers. Even more intriguing is his attempt to absolve RNS from any accusation of racism, apologizing to “all Romani people that live a honest life and are know the value of honest work, and respect”. So the “Gypsies” that the texts made reference to are, by contrast those who do not live a honest life, begging and pickpocketing in the streets of European cities, though it is rather difficult to assess if the Romani people in question had any choice in living such a life. The two messages and the interview are saturated with a rather romantic take on nationalism, remembering proud and upright masculinities, war heroes and civilized citizens alike, as opposed to the “Gypsies” that the authors want to distance from themselves and the entire Romanian nation.
Unfortunately, what the cyber-nationalists from the Romanian National Security group managed to do, was not only to draw attention on the stereotypical presentation of Romanians as beggars in European press, but also to point at the naturalized discrimination of Romani people that occurs both in Romania, but also across the EU. In their attempt to restore the dignity of Romanians they seem to have silenced the extreme discrimination and stereotyping experienced by the Romani people. Indeed, if Romania’s reputation is defended by dedicated hackers, who is willing to demand action for the integration of Romani people in the European societies? How stringent is the need to distinguish between Romanians, as in citizens of Romania (regardless of their ethnic belonging, i.e. Romanians, Hungarians, Romani people, etc), and Romani people? Can Romani people born in Romania called themselves and be called Romanians? How will RNS’ actions will impact on the situation of the Romani people?
UPDATE: Workshop at XLII Annual FPSA (11.03.2010 University of Helsinki, Helsinki/ Helsingfors Finland)
The workshop titled Can Others Become Part of Us? Questions of National (Im)Purity, which I have organized for XLII Politiikan tutkimuksen päivät/ XLII Annual Meeting of Finnish Political Science Association (FPSA, conference web-page in English, here), will be taking place at the University of Helsinki on 11.03.2010 in Helsinki/ Helsingfors Finland. The workshop is scheduled to take place at the University of Helsinki main building, Fabianinkatu 33/ Fabiansgatan 33, Room 4 (3rd floor).
The following papers are scheduled to be presented within the workshop (the language of the workshop panel will be English):
1. Indigenous Subjectivity Challenging Ethnic Particularity
Tanja Joona (University of Lapland) (details in English, here)
Sanna Valkonen (University of Lapland) (details in Finnish, tässä)
The Sámi have constructed national unity since 1950’s by creating their own political institutions and by defining the Sámi symbols and cultural features. Since 1970’s the Sámi unity and subjectivity have been constructed as an indigenous people. The indigenous Sámi discourse is connected to the crowing awareness and political activity of the indigenous peoples globally and to the strengthening of their international position. Nowadays the Sámi of Finland have a constitutionally recognized position as an indigenous people, and they have a cultural autonomy in an area situated in the Northernmost Finland, e.g. Sámi Homeland. The cultural autonomy is implemented by the Sámi parliament. A Sámi definition of the Sámi Act defines the legal Sámi subjects legitimate for instance to vote in the Sámi elections. However, striving to define the Sámi subjects has caused protection of Sámi cultural purity in a situation in which most of the Sámi don’t live in a traditional Sámi way anymore.
Our presentation deals with the problematic related to the indigenous subjectivity both from the viewpoint the ILO convention no. 169, which is the most important international treaty concerning the indigenous peoples, and also from the “Sámi viewpoint”. We examine the ambiguous practices of ethnic and indigenous lining and labeling in regard to an empirical example of so called “Lapp discussion”. The concept “Lapp” refers to people who are no longer recognized as Sámi among the Sámi but who descent from the original/indigenous inhabitants of the region and are thus potential indigenous subjects and right holders according to national and international law.
Keywords: Sámi, Lapp, ILO Convention, subjectivity, ethnicity, indigenous people.
2. Orchestrating Integration into Finnishness. Top-down Representations of National Identity through Discourses of Othering in Media, Parliamentary Debates and Legislative Documents
Niko Pyrhönen (CEREN, University of Helsinki) (details in English, here)
European regimes of immigration law, especially in the Nordic welfare countries, are often understood as being increasingly constrained by the international discourse of human-rights and free mobility stressed in treaties of the European Union. I argue, however, that nation-specific identity constructions and the subsequent considerations for political prudentiality play a major part in the formulation and evaluation of policy programmes for regulating immigration and organizing immigrant integration. This is particularly true in Finland, underlined by the fact that a markedly heated political debate has evolved over the phenomenon, even though the country has experienced levels of immigration significantly below that of EU-15 countries.
In my paper, I examine the Finnish Integration Acts of 1999 and 2009 and the Foreigner Act of 2004 in order to assess how Finnishness is reconstructed through a legislative discourse of Othering as presented on three different levels.
Keywords: immigration, integration legislation, national identity, othering.
3. Defending Romanianness and Heteropatriarchy. Masculinity Metaphors in Romanian Radical Right Populism
Ov Cristian Norocel (University of Helsinki)
The present paper investigates the recent history of the Romanian family as a heteropatriarchal matrix for metaphors of masculinity at the beginning of the 21st century, as it is heralded by the main radical right populist party Greater Romania Party (Partidul România Mare, PRM). Focusing on Greater Romania Magazine (RRM, Revista România Mare) – the party’s main media outlet- the analysis focuses on PRM leader’s editorials during a well defined timeframe in recent history of Romanian radical right populism, from the preparations for presidential elections in 2000, which witnessed PRM leader’s surprising run off, through the subsequent presidential elections in 2004, and up EU Parliamentary elections in 2009, that enabled PRM to send three representatives to European Parliament.
The staunchly restrictive definition of the family, portrayed as the exclusive heteronormative domain of the Romanian male, has developed across time with the help of the NATION IS A FAMILY and the STRICT FATHER conceptual metaphors to proscribe the existence of family narratives including ethnically diverse or any sexually different Others. The article accounts for the discursive (re-)definitions of Romanianness enabled by conceptual metaphors so that to accommodate centrally located heterosexist masculinities, and underlines the need for further explorations of the radical right populist narratives of Romanian purity.
Keywords: conceptual metaphors, heteropatriarchal family, masculinities, radical right populism, Romanian purity.
Probably Madonna’s Sticky & Sweet Tour in Europe was awaited with great expectation and excitement. One by one, European cities have greeted her and her music. Most notably, with the occasion of her concert in Bucharest (Romania), she chose to address a message of tolerance towards one of the most discriminated against minorities in Europe: the Romani, commonly known as Gypsies:
“It has been brought to my attention … that there is a lot of discrimination against Romanies and Gypsies in general in Eastern Europe. [...] It made me feel very sad. [...] We don’t believe in discrimination … we believe in freedom and equal rights for everyone.” (Associated Press)
How was her message met? By boos and jeers from some of the 60,000 people gathered for her concert. And that was just the beginning, since Romanian press took up the subject and transformed it into a matter of hurt national pride. Not few were the editorials that questioned her motivations, her position, and her right to make such a statement in Bucharest. Inflammatory pieces accused Madonna of equaling Romanians with Gypsies, and of purposefully exploiting this subject, a painful one for Romanians, for her own marketing purposes. A Romanian TV channel (link in Romanian) collected the opinions of average Romanians on the topic. Tellingly, they read: “the fact that a whole nation did not succeed to educate and civilize this ethnic group, but on the contrary [...] is no reason for national pride,” reads one comment; “I see no difference between our discrimination against Gypsies and their discrimination against the Blacks,” is another reaction; “Why don’t you [Madonna] go one night in Ferentari [a neighborhood in Bucharest with the reputation of the most violent and poorest borough in the city; inhabited by a large Romani population] to enrich a little your knowledge about them. To be robbed, beaten up, and possibly… to be still alive afterward,” recommends another.
They all revealed the uneasiness of a large majority in Romania with the subject. The “Gypsy question” so to speak, brings forward the shameful episode occurred a couple of years ago in Rome (Italy), when a Romanian Gypsy allegedly robbed and raped an Italian woman. At that time, the Italian press was quick to make the analogy between Romani and Romanians, to the deep dislike of latter group. Unfortunately, the tragic episode in Rome is one of a multitude of such stories. Even in Romania, Gypsies (as they are commonly called) are accused of raping, stealing, and pillaging “common” Romanians. Little was done to improve their status of pariahs and marginalized group. Behind the well intended initiatives, there is a deep seated distrust that very easily degenerates into violence against them.
It seems that a Romanian essentialist nationalist cliche has taken hold of the debate in which the Gypsy are stereotyped as uncivilized, robbers, beggars, and rapists, unworthy of any help, and the source of all possible evils and national shames. Gypsies as a whole group are accused of actively resisting “civilization”, “integration”, assimilation in the name of “Europeanization”, strikingly reminding of racist reasoning and civilizational superiority. The Romanians may be considered Easterners elsewhere in Europe, but they have identified an immediate Other at home that can be regarded with contempt. In other words, discrimination and hierarchical structuring of Whiteness goes in concentric geographical circles, from the very White and very Western center, to the intermediate Eastern Europeans, and it meets its Easternmost periphery in the person of Romani people.
Even more unsettling is that not all Romanians are some innocent, saintly creatures either (not that it would come at a huge surprise to anyone). More often than not one reads (if there is any such interest) about horrendous acts of violence of Romanians against Romanians. Newspapers are bursting nowadays with news about fathers that rape their children, women that sell their newborns, women that are being trafficked. The less fortunate aspect is that even these are oftentimes dismissed with a quick brush “The perpetrator must have been a Gypsy! No Romanian would ever do that.”
But then a whole range of questions arise: Really, is it really only the Gypsy/ Romani/ or whatever one may wish to name them, the ones who must take the blame? Why is not there any thorough interrogation about the so-called deep Romanian values, and the much heralded “true” ways of being a Romanian, and to compare them with what actually happens in the country, or wherever else in Europe Romanians may happen to be? Why is it so difficult to assume responsibility for one’s own deeds? Is hating the less privileged such an easy and convenient way out, postponing emancipation from old stereotypes and toxic judgments? Perhaps it is about the time the whole Eastern Europe (keeping in mind the horrendous anti-Romani acts in Hungary, and the strong discrimination they face elsewhere in the region) needs to accept its responsibility and seriously engage in a wider discussion about the Romani/Gypsy with the very Romani/Gypsy that are so easily accused and discriminated.
And this is, unfortunately, just one side of the issues some Romanians have when it comes to relating themselves to Romani people. In a similar vein, Madonna’s appeal for fighting discrimination against the LGBT community, at the same concert, was met with even stronger boos and jeers. In this light, it seems that Romanian essentialist nationalism is one deeply anchored in racism and patriarchal heterosexism, highly intolerant with anything not conforming to the norm, but at the same time extremely uncertain about its own identity and aspiring to a “rightful” place in the “Great family of European nations”.
It is often said that the European Parliamentary (EP) elections from June 2009 witnessed a rise of the radical-right populist parties. These parties have performed, indeed, very well. For instance in Finland, the True Finns (PS/Perussuomalaiset) has a mandate, in Romania, they surprisingly got 3, after Greater Romania Party (PRM/Partidul Romania Mare) surprisingly co-opted PNG‘s leader on their lists for the EP, and in Bulgaria the National Union Attack (Ataka) received 2 mandates. Not to mention that in the Netherlands the Party for Freedom (PVV/Partij voor de Vrijeheid) won 4 .
So far all these newly elected MEPs are crowding the ranks of the Non-Attached Members (NI/Non-Inscrits), with rather few options or ideas for building up their own party alliance within EP, which would ensure visibility and access to European financing. But things appear to be more complicated, and the fate of the now-deceased Identity Tradition, Sovereignty (ITS), and of the Independence/Democracy Group (IND/DEM) and Union of Europe of Nation (UEN) clouds the future of any possible alliance of the radical right populists in the EP.
The aforementioned “alphabet soup” of various combinations of abbreviations and short-writings may be succeeded by the nascent Europe of Freedom and Democracy (EFD), reuniting Finnish populists (PS), with Italian Northern League (LN/Lega Nord), and Danish People’s Party (DP/Dansk Folkeparti). The Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ) seems to be negotiating with the new alliance, though it is not very clear if this would be successfully concluded or not.
Worth mentioning, while looking at the NI, the non-attached parties, is the difficulty of the radical right populist parties from this category to position themselves according to their party agenda, and at the same time consolidate a functional alliance in EP.
One such example is the interview given by Geert Wilders, leader of the Dutch PVV to Euronews channel (the whole interview may be viewed here). While most of the interview is focusing on what Wilders calls the danger Europe faces to giving in to Muslims pursuing to enforce Sharia on the continent, the title underlines the existing tensions between the “old” EU (The Netherlands are among the founding members) and the “newly arrived” from the last round of enlargement, Romania and Bulgaria. According to Wilders “the Dutch people think that Europe is large enough”, especially with regard to the hypothetical EU accession of Turkey and Ukraine. Playing the card of the menacing Other, especially the Muslim Other, is part of his usual discourse. The mention of cohorts of fanatical Muslims that corner ever-appeasing European-wide political establishment into granting Sharia legal standing within EU is not something uncommon in his speeches and interviews.
But then it appears that not even the EU latecomers Bulgaria and Romania are to be spared because “those countries were not ready at all, were very unready and very corrupt as well.” Suddenly the focus from the possible threat coming from a so distinctive Other (as the European Muslim) moves to the eastern borders of the EU, eying the newest EU-members. In this case the evil Other is no longer that easily perceived, and comes with an air of Balkanism, and suspicions of bribe and unruliness. Yet again fantasies of purity and of social welfare are interestingly mixed to portray an Other that is rather a peripheral presence, somewhere in an indistinct, far away and backward East, but positing the treat of always coming among the People, and possibly corrupting them. Even among the newly elected MEPs, one of PRM‘s representatives, George Becali, was put under a travel ban by Romanian judges under the suspicion of corruption.
In this context, one cannot but to wonder where are the radical right populists of Bulgaria and Romania in this whole conspiracy of the Other? Doing the maths, 2 MEPs from Ataka and 3 from PRM, may be just as good, and some may dare say as European as PVV‘s 4. What is then what divides them, and will they be able go past treating themselves as one another’s Others? Will radical right populists in EU manage to look past their obsessions of purity and settle for the compromises of daily politics?
Lately, I have been working on a paper titled ‘Conceptual Metaphors at Work in Radical Right Populist Discourses: Romania Is a Family and It Needs a Strict Father.’ My intent was to flesh out how certain metaphors were consistently employed by the two presidential hopefuls from the Romanian radical right populist parties in their 2004 televised final confrontation. The two were Vadim Tudor of the Greater Romania Party (PRM/Partidul Romania Mare) and George Becali of the New Generation Party (PNG-CD/Partidul Noua Generatie). The conceptual metaphor of the STRICT FATHER (i.e. the power to take care of the family members in need; the Messianic ability to read and interpret holly texts; the capacity of deciding who belongs to the family and who is excluded; the commitment to enforcing the set rules; and the ability to punish wrong doers, and bring justice to the defenseless) made direct reference to that of the NATION IS A FAMILY conceptual metaphor. The way these metaphors were used underlined a deeply heteropatriarchal structuring at work in the radical right populism in Romania. The discourses were obsessively structured around male figures, and their possible male contenders; women were almost invisible, and when their existence was acknowledged, they were presented merely as some subordinated beings. From this point of view, I think that a closer look from a feminist perspective at how such metaphors structure the reality these parties put forward and want to make people take as given is a worth doing enterprise.
I will present it within the workshop titled ‘From postcommunism and transitology to non-teleological change. Present and future research on Eastern and Central Europe.’ organized by Associate Professor Ann-Cathrine Jungar, research leader at CBEES, Södertörn University College, Stockholm.
The workshop is arranged by the CBEES (Center for Baltic and East European Studies) theme ‘Society and the Political’, and it aims at ‘at bringing together junior and senior scholars in the social sciences and humanities (political science, sociology, economics, ethnology and history) doing research on the political, economic and social developments in Eastern and Central Europe. The workshop is divided into thematic slots, which are introduced by senior scholars with experience in the specific research area and in which the participants are invited to present their ongoing research. A special session is devoted to issues of fieldwork in the area.’ (quoted from a more extensive workshop description; for more details, please read here).
I am very curious about the feedback I will get from the other researchers on Eastern Europe, especially since mine is very specific a reserch topic and it is undertaken from a consciously chosen gender sensitive perspective. In general populists managed to present masculinity as the norm, and I wonder if this would be accepted as such or discussed critically. I think it will be a very interesting workshop.
The coming EU elections have very interesting effects on the radical right populists across the Union. From the corner that interests me the most I can definitely say that these elections would be some very interesting events.
For instance in Finland, the leader of the populist True Finns (PS/ Perussuomalaiset/ Sannfinländarna), Timo Soini suddenly decided to take upon himself the task of getting the party into the European Parliament (EP). However odd this may sound, but he declared he had changed his mind, in the sense that he turned from a staunchly anti-EU party leader of previous EU elections into the main candidate of the PS alliance with the Finnish Christian Democrats (KD/ Kristillisdemokraatit/ Kristdemokraterna). This came to calm down suspicions that the two parties will support the candidacy of a controversial independent politician that was elected into the capital’s city council with the support of PS. He was later on accused of racism and discriminatory remarks.
So now party leader Soini has to convince his faithful that his party has any clear agenda once sent to Brussels. But what he is allegedly convinced of is that he would manage to bring to life an EU alliance of like-minded parties. One may actually start wondering how successful would he be, having in mind that the last such enterprise, the now defunct Identity, Tradition, Sovereignty (ITS) EP political alliance, did not manage to live more than a year, a result of the inherent clashed between parties with an agenda defined by their strong suspicion of the Other. How would Soini manage to convince all those populist EMPs and their national leaders that in fact they are not each other’s Evil Other, but in fact more than circumstantial allies? Le Pen was recently bared from symbolically opening the coming EP session, so an educated guess is that any such suggestions may go well. But how persuasive can be a Finnish MP, future EMP, with no experience of the European dealings? Does the announced cooperation with the future to be trans-European EU-skeptical Libertas alliance (there is a lot of irony in being an anti-EU, and yet pan- European grouping, isn’t it?) hold any chances for successful political leverage at EU level?
Or will he attempt to join the European People’s Party and European Democrats (EPP-ED), the biggest alliance of parties within the EP, based on his electoral alliance with the aforesaid KD? But how effective will this be, having in mind PS’s record as a party at least suspicious, if not outright against anything that may be even hinted at as not being Finnish? Soini has always appeared to tone down the sometimes radical affirmations of his subordinates, so this may play in his advantage, but how much can one do to improve PS’s reputation as an isolationist, and even racist party? Well, these are just a few of the question that come to mind once reading about Soini’s EU turn.
Looking at Romanian politics, it is going to be a very unusual election period. The Greater Romania Party (PRM/ Partidul Romania Mare) has decided, or more rightfully said, its leader Corneliu Vadim Tudor decided that the party’s EU election list will be opened by him and another controversial political figure, George Becali. Becali was for a while leader of another populist party, the New Generation Party (PNG) but this seems to have become a thing of the past.
As such, the two former rivals, Tudor and Becali appeared on the party’s electoral posters reading: “Two Christians and patriots will purge the country from crooks” (“Doi crestini si patrioti vor scapa tara de hoti!”). What the two apparently have in common is their dedication for the church. This is intended to heal the rift between the two after several years of public confrontations that ended up in personal remarks not at all elegant, to put it mildly. It is to be seen how well the two temperamental leaders will put aside their past conflicts and march towards a EMP position.
So, what could such a churchly dedication of the two do in the EP is not as obvious as the party leaders may think. PRM has already a certain tradition of allying itself with the French populists led by Le Pen (they were actually instrumental in the constitution of the aforesaid Identity, Tradition, Sovereignty (ITS) political group). But they are also those responsible, at least partly of its demise. To complicate matters further, PRM did not manage to convince Romanian voters of its ability to represent them at European level last time. It is to be seen if two religious figures, or at least declaratory religious, would manage to get the party the desired seats in the EP.
On a closer look, it is not very clear what PRM has to offer this time around either. Romania has recently been criticized by the ineffectiveness of the judicial system and there are rumors that the country may have a similar fate as neighboring Bulgaria and see its EU funds frozen. How could the two populist leaders demise these dangers from their possible EMP seats? There is no easily distinguishable answer to these questions. The only sure thing is a discourse focused on, at least symbolically, punishing the corrupted elites. But here is a serious problem PRM faces, how to balance a discourse that promises impartial and harsh justice with a presence in the EP that is the epitome of compromise and long negotiations. What is almost certain, however, is that if they manage to get in, they will not be alone as the anti- sentiments across EU are on the rise. And for that is enough to look at another neighbor, Hungary, and the recent backlash against the Roma this country witnessed.
Swinging back to the north of EU, what is happening in Sweden? Well, not much really. The main parties appear to be more preoccupied with rowing over internal politics, even when it comes to televised public debates about the future of EU. Having in mind that the country will be undertaking the presidency of the EU council the coming July this does not look too promising. But even Sweden may appear EU-friendly when compared witht the Czech performance so far.
Returning to populists, the Sweden Democrats (SD/Sverigedemokraterna) do not fare much better than in previous opinion pools. SD has been ostracized to the peripheries of Swedish politics from early on, so the party still struggles to gain national representation; it is however quite strongly represented in the southern parts of Sweden. Even if they could have tried to ride the same populist, panic driven agenda as elsewhere, there is another forseable winner in the confrontation. SD was hoovering around the parliamentary threshold for a while but it is unlikely it will surpass the popularity of the Pirate Party (Piratpartiet).
Theirs is a different type of populism, concerned, mainly, with the issues of copyright and patents and privacy writ large. And if it is to take into account the party membership numbers (which exceed to date those of the second largest governing party, the Center Party/ C/ Centerpartiet), and their strong support among the young voters, the Pirate Party seems to be on its way to register its first electoral success. But then again, labeling the Pirate Party as populist does not do much justice for its cause. It is more a single cause party, and it is to be seen, if it will enlarge its political agenda with other issues as well. Of crucial importance, in case of a victory is if the party will manage to survive its own political success and how much of the initial agenda will be preserved in the daily compromise politics at EP level.
Three countries, three different populist trajectories. All competing for votes for a suddenly much wanted EMP position. Here rests the populist dilema, how much of the anti- attitude can a party preserve once joining the place where everything is ground to small, almost imperceptible nuances of language in official communiques?
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