Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Romanians to their former ‘orange’ hero: “Come out, ordinary mutt!” [Românii către fostul lor erou ‘portocaliu’: “Ieşi afară, javră ordinară!”]

What has been a common sight of the past years – in some corners of the EU (Greece, Italy), in countries from EU’s periphery (Georgia), in several Arab states (Egypt, Libya) and to a lesser extent in Russia – is finally taking place in Romania.

People are taking their anger to the streets, a few for senseless rioting (like in England), some others simply to shout that they’ve had enough of the current Government and especially of the incumbent president since December 2004.

Many of those contested learders around the world had always been villains, but Traian Băsescu – just like Mikheil Saakashvili, in Georgia, and Ukraine’s former president Viktor Yuschenko – was portrayed as an anti-communist and anti-totalitarian hero not so long ago (by the mid 2000s).

It was a ridiculous image, as he was a merchant marine captain, in charge of the largest vessel in the commercial fleet of communist Romania, and he had never hid (nor had he ever seemed ashamed of) his communist past.

Far from winning elections  in landslide victories – and many believe he couldn’t have won at all without Uncle Sam’s help – he was, nevertheless, regarded as a hero’ by his fanatic supporters, as well as by the mainstream media of the Western world.

In spite of this pedestal of respectability on which he was put and of his ceaseless rethoric against the corruption and presumed authoritarianism of others, his regime proved to be even more malignous than the previous ones in post-communist Romania.

Eager to get richer, as the former communists had done before them in the early 1990s, the orange gang around Băsescu has engaged in parasiting on the Romanian economy.

That was nothing new for democratic Romania. What would eventually draw the ire of many was the aggressive manner in which he understood to exert his prerogatives, as if the political establishment could be steered like the oil tanker that was once under his command.

Unlike his predecessors – a shrewd former commmunist, always able to build consensus, and a politically weak geology professor, who refused to run for a second term, admitting that he had been defeated by the system” – Băsescu appears to be at ease only when at war with someone.

Because of his stubbornness and arrogance, the orange hero’ would soon be vehemently contested. Halfway into his first term, the Parliament voted for his impeachment. According to the Constitution, he was suspendend, the President of the Senate temporarily replaced him, and Romanian voters were called to approve or nulify the decision of their representatives.

Back then, Romanians were to bee too blind to see that the bogus anti-system hero, promising to tread on all enemies of democracy and prosperity, was himself the product of a despicable system. Thus, he won the referendum confirming him in office by 70%.

It would be simplistic to believe foreign media reports (+ herethat the protests on the streets have to do with the VAT increase (from 19% to 24%) or with some of the harshest austerity measures taken anywhere in the EU: a 25% wage cut of public employees, and a 15% tax on pensions. The decisions were taken in May-July 2010, and Romanians bit the bullet.

Maybe not even the incident that ignited the protests – in the second week of January 2012, Băsescu arrogantly took on the chief of the Romanian emergency rescue service (SMURD), accusing him of opposing a controversial health reform – should be overestimated.

Nevertheless, it was the spark that enraged many, among the millions in whose hearts the ‘Orange Revolution’ (a term which was not as much used in Romania as it was in Ukraine, while the colour was equally widespread) into an ‘orange plague’.

People are angry with a lot of things in this country, among which Băsescu’s divisive manner of leadership and resentful attitude rise above any other reasons of discontent.

The president who promised “to turn to the people” (in his war against a corrupt system) has turned his back on the people that put their hopes in him.

Only insiders from the system who knew exactly when to dress in orange are better off, while many of Băsescu’s fans, his reluctant supporters (who thought he was a lesser evil), the mass of politically indifferent Romanians, and those how never voted for him are worse off.

Although demonstations were held in many cities (some 60) apart from Bucharest, very few are those protesting on the streets these days, compared to the level of discontent in Romania.

Most protesters are against the entire ruling class, the opposition (former communists + liberals) is united only in weakenesses, while most other law abiding citizens are  ‘protestingon Facebook and blogs or cynically mock those on the streets.

It seems unlikely – but I like to never say never! :-) – that Băsescu and the Government he supports would resign and call earlier elections (as 2012 is electoral year anyway). Not even blocking unpopular reforms appears probable for now.

This happens because – thanks to the very same putrid system that he often criticized –  Băsescu has managed to forge a ruling coalition. His party (PDL) is propped up by a new party (UNPR) made up of dissenters  from the main opposition party (PSD).

With a popular support of 10%, Băsescu’s regime is currently a sort of elected dictatorship. The widespread (but far from being massive until now) protests and the president’s reaction to them will be one of the most serious test for the post-1989 Romanian democracy.

All in all, the hero of 2004-2009 has turned into public enemy number one. Like so often before in history, the same man who once personified so many hopes for the better became the personification of bitter disappointment.

Sadly, irrespective of all the anger and despair of many, there’s no true feeling of revolution in the air, as if everyone knew that, with of without ‘captain Băsescu, Romania would be still floating adrift boundlessly... As if only hitting an iceberg could possibly help this aimless nation come to its senses...

[For all the posts on this blog go to/Pentru toate postările de pe acest blog mergi la: Contents/Cuprins]


Mihai said...

Hello Bogdan,

Interesting post.

I don't think it's just his 'fanatic supporters that regarded Basescu as a hero, it was a large part of the population (over 50%), at least in 2004.

I was in high school at the time, and I remember the general excitement after the elections. I'm not sure everyone liked Basescu as much as it would seem, but they certainly thought he was a better option than the socialist/communist Adrian Nastase, and he certainly was.

There was this general idea that he is somehow less 'communist' than Nastase, that he wasn't as much impregnated with the communist way of seeing and doing things, that some of his cognitive structures remained untouched by the communist ideology.

And that might not have been far from the truth, considering that Nastase's socialists still had Iliescu as their party leader, and they all regarded him as some sort of a wise man, a hero of 'democracy'.

And it's not even necessary to mention that the new generation regarded Iliescu as a despicable character. At least all of my high school colleagues that cared at least a little about politics thought Iliescu should be hanged, or shot, or both at the same time :-).


I don't know if Basescu's 'regime proved to be even more malignous than the previous ones in post-communist Romania'. It's just that, I think, general corruption tends to grow at an exponential rate: the more you have now, the more you can expect in the future.

Regarding things this way, I think Basescu's regime just followed the ascending trend of corruption. The seeds have been planted before, especially by the socialists' regime (PSD) and he contributed to the growth.

I'm quite skeptical about blaming Basescu and Boc for everything that is wrong in this country of ours. It is a tragedy however that the president of a sovereign country is so willing to give up autonomy for the sake of a European version of USSR. It's also a tragedy that he's campaigning for Gabriel Resources to blow up our mountains, take the gold and leave us with a huge lake of cyanide.


I think that back when the Parliament voted for Basescu's impeachment, he was still better that the alternative. I can't remember exactly what the political configuration was at the time (I think the socialists - PSD - had Parliament superiority).

I don't think it's fair to blame the Romanians for being too blind. At the time, anything was better than PSD.


Managing the public deficit by a 25% wage cut of public employees was probably one of the most stupid things the government did. It made clear that the government is not willing at all to really clean its administration structures. Instead of operating some real changes, they decided to increase the burden on all the civil workers.


Basescu's attack on Arafat, the chief of the Romanian emergency rescue service, was not just a very stupid thing to do but also a sign of him descending into senility.

And after the first days of protests, instead of admitting his mistake, he somehow arrogantly accused everyone for not being 'enlightened' enough to see the necessity of his health reform.


I still do think that in 2004, at least, Basescu was a lesser evil. Unfortunately, he tends to become the worst evil.

I don't know how others are doing, but I couldn't say I'm worse than I was in 2004. Actually I'm better :-). And even if I were worse, I don't think I would have blamed Basescu for it.


I share your view that 'with or without ‘captain Băsescu’, Romania would be still floating adrift boundlessly'.

I don't expect that Romania will ever go through a wakening process, as a nation. And in these times, it's probably a mistake to expect such thing from large communities.

MunteanUK said...

@ Mihai (part 1)

Dear friend,

First of all, let me thank you for your long comment, which amounts to at least half of my article! :-)

Obviously, we don't have to be in full agreement on this blog all the time, thus I am glad that you had so many 'amendments' to bring to what I had to say.

You've certainly given me a lot of opinions to 'react to'...


[1] There's no way I could forget the feeling of 'great expectations' (and even some sort of elation, I'd say) that had engulfed Romania by the end of 2004.

Băsescu's surprising rise to power came only a year after the 'Rose Revolution' in Georgia, and was simultaneous to the famous 'Orange Revolution' in Ukraine.

Romanians had had only two years of free travel to most EU countries (since 2002), and there was still an overwhelming sentiment that Romania was a 'neocomunist' prison.

I'm telling you how many people of my age (I was 24 in 2004) felt, not how I personally felt.

Unlike 95% people of my generation, I voted for Adrian Năstase, as I categorically mistrusted Băsescu, the 'popular hero'.

Of the 'two evils', Năstase was the lesser one in my eyes... I wouldn't have emigrated to Congo, had he won the elections! :-)


[2] The idea that Băsescu was not as 'communist' as Năstase was a silly one, however, carefully induced by the media.

Actually, although it may sound 'conspirationist', I'd say that the electoral competition between the two was another act from a long undeclared war between the (former) Communist Party and the (former) Securitate.

With Băsescu's victory, it was 1-0 for Securitate. In 2009, the score would become 2-0, after his dubious (marred by vote rigging) victory over Geoană.

Well, remember what they say in footbal, that "two-nil is the most dangerous score..." :-) We'll see what happens in the current 'third round'...


[3] Just like the mainstream media in the USA demonize all Republican candidates, the Romanian media made a 'hero' out of Băsescu throughout the 2000s, while criticizing eveything that had to do with PSD.

For the US media and the leftist intelligentsia, all Democrats are good choices or lesser evils than Republicans; in the same way, in Romania, orange became 'good', while red was 'bad'.

Skilled (or not so skilled - often ridiculous) propagandists described the Romanian political scenery like a perpetual war between the 'forces of progress' (Băsescu) and the 'enemies of Romania's prosperity' (all others not under his command).

It was all simply put as 'Băse' against Năstase and Iliescu, 'Băse' against 'the 322', 'Băse' against mighty and arrogant Russia, 'Băse' against a corrupt system...

In fact, it was 'Băse' entirely for himself and 'against' no one else than the adversaries of his orange gang.


[4] Regardless of my view detailed above [3], I agree with your point that the widespread corruption under Băsescu's regime couldn't have grown out of nothing.

Indeed, the seeds had been planted since early 1990, if not even in the 1980s, when some 'smart guys' (from Securitate) could have anticipated the fall of Ceauşescu and made plans about how to benefit from economic freedom.

In the same way, the 'orange gang' that too power after 2004 (and more firmly since 2009) appeared eager to 'devour' what was left untouched by previous governments.

Note how a British researcher in political science described the 'Orange Revolution' in Romania, as "the revolution of millionaires [D.A., then PDL) against the billionaires (PSD):"


MunteanUK said...

@ Mihai (part 2)

[5] Of course, I wouldn't be so naive to put all the blame for what's happening in Romania on Băsescu & Boc.

Just like the Eurozone, Romania is suffering because of major systemic faults, and - let us never forget this! - because of the countless shortcomings of ourselves, members of a 'once-Christian-nation'.

To illustrate my point without going into further details, here is a very interesting article written by an American anthropoligist about how Romanians were in 1943:



[6] It's funny that, out of all possible faults of Băsescu, you firstly invoke the least 'specific' of them - his being a brainwashed euroenthusiast ready to sacrifice Romania' sovereignty for nothing.

It's not typical of Băsescu, as many other European leaders are naive and incapable of telling truth from fairy tale in regards to the 'European project'.

As much as I'm not an euroenthusiat blinded by fanaticism, I'm neither a vivid 'anti-UE' militant.

I believe that we need some form of EU and I'm for our nations to share some kind of 'union', however, I think that the 'Merkozy' approach needs serious amendments.


[7] It's not funny at all the other reason you consider 'a tragedy' about Băsescu - his fanatical support of a controversial mining project.

Well, this could be a 'specific' fault of his. What political leader of what European country would support something similar in our days?!?!?

Who - even in his last term in office - would not only allow but publicly support a company (foreign or Romanian) that wants "to blow up our mountains, take the gold and leave us with a huge lake of cyanide", as you say?!?!?!

In my view, there are only two possible explanations for his attitude, both of them being sufficient reasons for Romanians to want him out of office:

a) he is either insane;
b) or on the payroll of Gabriel Resources (himself or anyone from his orange gang).


[7] You named only two arguments for considering Băsescu's regime a 'tragedy', but here's a list of more solid reasons that make people shout "Come out, ordinary mutt!" to their former hero:



[8] For the lack of 'real changes', I wouldn't specifically blame Băsescu either...

Look at Obama, Merkel, Sarkozy, Zapatero, Cameron & Clegg and others!

What 'real changes' have they proposed and implemented since the Wall Street crunch of September 2008 ? Almost none.

They all seem to be not necessarily 'in the pocket of bankers' (as many anarchists around the world would claim) but utterly delusional.

All these 'great' leaders (along with their 'wise' counsellors) are enslaved by the ideology of progress, economic prosperity and economic growth.

Whether bankers truly 'own' them or not is irrelevant. These leaders are incapable of thinking outside the box, outside the bankrupt ideologies that held the world together for the past 60-70 years.

Nevertheless, I am not advocating 'world revolution' here. We should at least try to change leaders in power (through these imperfect but peaceful democratic processes), and also try to change the solutions and approaches to our challenges!

MunteanUK said...

@ Mihai (part 3)

[9] I was definitely against Băsescu in 2004, in 2007, and 2009, thus I couldn't 'objectively' say when he began to turn into the 'worst of evils' in the eyes of his former supporters.

But if you (and others, I assume) are beginning to feel that "he tends to become the worst evil", shouldn't this be enough of a reason for people to want him out?


[10] Băsescu's attitude towards Arafat that you consider "a sign of him descending into senility" is but the last drop from a flood of ungentlemanly gestures that enraged people.

He has been misbehaving like this ever since he took office (December 2004)... Why haven't Romanians noticed it before?

Allow me to answer with a little theory of mine: Romanians didn't feel uncomfortable with their leader's attitude simply because they liked it.

They must have liked this aggresive approach, because I'm witnessing similar gestures every day on the streets.

Many Romanians I interact with are:

- often insensitive to those around them;
- trying to impose their will on others;
- lacking minimum abilities (and willingness) to engage in genuine dialogue and to work together;
- raising their voices, shouting at each other or eager to bully other drivers and pedestrians with their vehicle horns;
- cursing and mocking those who do not share their views or somehow stand in their way;
- quick to 'judge' others harshly and slow to say 'I'm sorry';

Aren't 'average voters' like the above? Isn't Băsescu a typical Romanian from this perspective?


[11] It's sad that we seem to be in full agreement only concerning the last phrase of my article, which implies the fact that Băsescu is not the 'sole cause' of Romania's misery.

He's rather a 'symptom' of our lousy spiritual condition. If his personal acts surely contributed to Romania's current situation, we must always have in mind not only 'his (real or presumed) faults' but the Lord's will.

Everything happens for a reason, and our Maker only allows us to be under the rulers we deserve, as an article (that you sent to me :-) eloquently puts it:

"Lord, why have you made him [as bad as he is] our king?"
"Because I didn't find anyone worse."



[12] Now, let's get another thing clear! I'm by no means supporting any form of anarchism - be it secular or coming from people who think that their faith doesn't allow them to get involved into politics.

I don't know whether Băsescu would bow to 'street pressure' - which is, as I said in the article, only widespread but not 'overwhelming' in terms of number of participants - but I am clearly wishing that he would step down.

I don't condone fatalist attitudes like "PDL = USL = misery", I don't agree with those thinking in Orwellian terms ("four legs = good, two legs = bad"), that is refusing to vote and decreeing that all politicians are bad and that there is 'no choice'.

To all orange or not so orange cynics claiming that 'there's no better choice' apart from their Băsescu & Boc, I'd have only one message to convey.

History doesn't start, nor end with their 'orange plague'! Ruling classes can disappear over night, like it happened to Poland...


...and still countries can continue their evolution.

No one is 'irreplaceable', and surely not this 'orange hero' whose political capital is close to exhaustion.