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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012 Research No Comments

UPDATE: Workshop at the XLIII FPSA (20-21.01.2011, University of Jyväskylä/ Jyväskylän yliopisto Finland)

The Workshop “Moulding Identity, Trust and Commitment in the Nordic Countries: Balancing between Assimilation and Accommodation in the (Post)Multicultural World?” organized with the occasion of the XLIII Politiikan tutkimuksen päivät/ XLIII Annual Meeting of Finnish Political Science Association (FPSA, conference web-page in Finnish, tässä; English, here) will be taking place at the University of Jyväskylä, Jyväskylä Finland on 20.01.2011 between 14:30 and 18:00.  The workshop is allocated room AgB201. The room is in the second floor of the Agora building in Mattilanniemi (here).

The following papers are scheduled to be presented within the workshop (the language of the workshop panel will be English):

1. Borders of the Finnish Nation: ‘Gang Rapes’ in the Rhetoric of Anti-Immigration Activists and Politicians
Suvi Keskinen (Department of Social Research/Sociology, University of Turku) (details, in Finnish, tässä; in English, here)

In recent years a European trend, that has been called the ‘backlash against difference’ (Grillo 2007) or the ‘multiculturalism backlash’ (Vertovec & Wessendorf 2010), has gained foothold in Finland too. While multiculturalism was previously considered a positive goal and future vision, it has more recently been subjected to critique and claims of ‘having gone too far’. One sign of this ‘backlash’ is the rise of neo-nationalist and anti-immigration forces in municipal and national elections. In Finland neo-nationalist and anti-immigration rhetoric is used especially by politicians in the True Finns party and by activists on the internet. However, such rhetoric has spread itself through the political field and been adopted by representatives of several political parties.

Issues related to gender and sexuality prominently appear in neo-nationalist and anti-immigration rhetoric. References to forced marriages, honour-killings and sexual violence are frequently used to construct dichotomous divisions between ‘us’ and ‘them’. In this presentation I will analyze how the events called the ‘gang rapes in Oulu’ in 2006-2007 were used by anti-immigration activists on the internet and by the politician Jussi Halla-aho to promote neo-nationalist and anti-immigration agendas. Although (or maybe because) the perpetrators of the rapes were never identified, the events were used to construct an overwhelming threat of the ‘other’ man towards both local communities (such as Oulu) and national safety. The boundaries of the Finnish nation were evoked through a threat from the outside, caused by growing numbers of asylum seekers and refugees from non-Western countries, as well as a threat from the inside, embodied by migrant people who were residents of the country but not regarded as belonging to the nation. The border-policing rhetoric was based on a racialization of criminality – a process in which criminal acts were stereotyped and turned into characteristics of certain ethnically or racially defined groups.

Furthermore, the presentation analyzes the blog text of the politician Jussi Halla-aho in which he comments on the ‘gang rapes’. It will be shown how, in his text, the discussion about the threat of the ‘other’ man turns into a discussion about the hindrances that white femininities create for the performance of patriotic masculinity. The gendered and classed figure of the ‘lady in a flowery hat’ (kukkahattutäti) is analyzed as the metaphor for the educated women in the Finnish society who speak for multiculturalism and work with integration or immigration affairs. The rhetoric will be analyzed in relation to how oppositions are constructed in present-day Finnish politics based on distinctions of gender, class and ‘race’/ethnicity.

Keywords: multiculturalism, neo-nationalism, racism, sexual violence, radical right populist parties, criminality

2. Regulation and encouragement of participation by ethnic minorities in Finland and Denmark
Marjukka Weide (Department of Political and Economic Studies, University of Helsinki) (details in English, here)

Resident foreigners in Finland and Denmark enjoy relatively extensive political rights. The level of political participation by resident foreigners and naturalized immigrants, however, remains low. A question arises as to how the two states are addressing this situation. Societal participation and related areas, such as naturalization, are at least in part governed by different bodies than those responsible for general immigrant affairs. This is why the answer cannot be provided by examining only one branch of government, as many immigrant policy studies do.

My aim in this paper is to identify the various policy locations in the two countries, which contribute to regulating participation by people with migratory backgrounds. On the basis of an extensive institutional mapping, I locate four policies of relevance in the sphere of traditional “immigrant policy”: 1) naturalization policy, 2) state “integration policy”, including language/integration courses, 3) municipal “integration” and minority policy, including advisory boards/integration councils 4) state institutions for minority representation. Furthermore, I find three other policy areas to be in a significant position: 1) electoral policies, 2) state policy of civic participation, and 3) municipal participation policy.

Regulation of immigrant participation can be of restricting character, as in the case of access to nationality, or of “proactive” character, i.e. spurring certain types of activity, as in the case of support to associations or organising elections to integration councils. In Denmark, political citizenship of new ethnic minorities is mainly addressed under the heading of integration policies; in Finland the policy area of “democracy policy” is of increasing importance. While the state level is decisive in the forming of the overall policy framework in both countries, municipal solutions, for example, determine the position of integration councils or multicultural boards.

Keywords: Denmark, Finland, immigrant policy, integration policy, minority representation

3. The Nation (Re)Imagined
Peter Holley (Department of Social Research (Sociology) / CEREN, The Centre for Research on Ethnic Relations and Nationalism, University of Helsinki) (details in English, here)

In recent decades there has emerged a significant debate within Western societies as to the nature of ‘the nation-state’ and the place of the migrant ‘other’ within its borders (cf. Benhabib 2002; Fortier 2008; Goldberg 1994; Modood 2005; Parekh 2006). In fact, in the Finnish context, a comparatively recent opening up of national borders followed by a modest flow of immigration (particularly to towns and cities in the capitol region) implies that a sharp change from a once perceived homogenous culture to a new understanding of a Finnish heterogeneity is now taking place. Such transforms therefore result in a new Finnish multiculturalism in which the migrant ‘other’ seeks to negotiate her belongings and identifications. How then, we might ask, do such migrants make sense of their position(s) within their ‘host’ society? And how do they articulate a space in which they too might be included within the ‘national family’? Moreover, to what extent is a fundamental change in Finland’s national identity currently taking place due to the impact of migration?

Keywords: Finnish identity, (political) belonging, transnational migration, multiculturalism and citizenship.

4. ‘Chauvinism’, ‘Xenophobia’ and ‘Flowered Hats’
Niko Pyrhönen (CEREN, The Centre for Research on Ethnic Relations and Nationalism, University of Helsinki) (details in English, here)

The municipal elections of 2008 marked the inception of the steep rise in the support for the True Finns party and their political agenda – in polls and in public debates the sentiments towards immigration and multiculturalism have become more hostile. However, significant challenges remain in attempts to explain the growth of anti-immigration and anti-multiculturalist (AIAM) voices in the public debate. In the recent scientific work their proliferation has commonly been attributed to relatively abstract developments, such as “work-related precariousness”, “the challenging of traditional ideas on national unity” or “ethnocentric in-group bias”. While these meta-narratives remain coherent, they also leave a crucial aspect of the phenomenon unexplored if they are not linked to actual articulations of AIAM sentiments that narratives seek to explain.

My work in progress seeks to help in filling this empirical gap by looking at the articulations of AIAM sentiments within the most commented news threads on the discussion boards of Helsingin sanomat during the years 2008–2010. My initial findings suggest that AIAM sentiments are not most commonly articulated with reference to concepts of identity and belonging such as “the national unity” or “the Finnish way of life.” Rather, these articulations appear to be outnumbered by references to redistributive issues whose implications go to the core of welfare ideology and its institutional manifestation in welfare state politics. This would suggest that the existing narratives behind the growth of AIAM sentiments need to be complemented with reference to the proliferation of an instrumental discourse whose AIAM underpinnings are regarded as rising from the redistributive demands of the welfare system.

Keywords: immigration, xenophobia, ethnocentrism, welfare policy, public debate.

5. Nationalisms and Europeanness in media discourses on Islam
Karin Creutz-Kämppi (CEREN, The Centre for Research on Ethnic Relations and Nationalism, University of Helsinki) (details in English, here)

The global aspects of media stories bring with them changes in spatial consciousness. This
means not only a greater involvement in events in other parts of the world, but also a
reassessment of one’s own position in the enlarged society. When the individual’s subjective world of knowledge is widened from the immediate surroundings to a global perspective, the self-categorization needs to be redefined to obtain relevance in the new context. In this paper, I examine the concepts that within the discursive othering of Islam
represent the notion of a We-collective. Through discursive polarization the boundaries for collectivity are clarified; these boundaries consist of typifications and routinized perceptions. As collectivity on a global level is distant to the everyday-life of the individual, without attachment to daily practices, it is from a sociological viewpoint interesting to look at how these conceptions of belonging are rhetorically constructed and legitimized as positions for identification. This assessment simultaneously shows articulations of the discursive power of specific institutionalized knowledge forms.

Nationalism is a central ideological aspect of boundary making – the nation, however, has a less important role as factor for identification in connection to global discourses on Islam. Instead the notions of Europe and the West function as the entities where the “own” and “right” values and traditions prevail. By excluding specific values, norms and cultural attributes from these concepts, denominators for collective identifications are constructed. Media rhetoric is a central element in the societal knowledge production; an inquiry in how the notions of collective identification are rhetorically mediated provides insight in the premises and knowledge structures of these positions. The analyzed data in this case study consists of all opinion articles debating the caricatures of Prophet Muhammad from seven Swedish-language dailies in Finland from a six months period in 2006.

Keywords: Othering, Islam representations, nationalisms, Europeanization, sociology of knowledge, media rhetoric

6. The Rhetorical (Re)Constructions of the Swedish Folkhem: A Feminist Reading of Conceptual Metaphors
Ov Cristian Norocel (Department of Political and Economic Studies, University of Helsinki/ Department of Political Science, Stockholm University) (details in English, here)

Acknowledging that the construction of radical right populism around the metaphorical depiction of the national family at the beginning of twenty-first century is a little researched area, this article explores the discursive redefinitions of Swedishness enabled by the folkhem conceptual metaphor so that to accommodate centrally located heterosexist masculinities at the intersection of gender, class, and “race”, as it is heralded by the main Swedish radical right populist party, the Sweden Democrats (SD) and its leader Jimmie Åkesson.

In order to do so, the main tenets of the conceptual metaphor theory are discussed and criticisms to the present methodologies are presented leading to the suggestion of a new, genealogical approach. The research material is then analyzed with the help of the proposed method, evidencing Åkesson’s use of the national family metaphor over time. The concluding part provides with an overview of the findings and indicates possible extrapolations for studying masculinities in radical right populist discourses with the aid of the suggested methodological apparatus developing conceptual metaphor theory.

Keywords: conceptual metaphor theory, feminism, genealogy, heteronormativity, Jimmie Åkesson, Sweden Democrats

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Friday, December 10th, 2010 Research No Comments