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’?
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.
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