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 (+ here) that 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 ‘protesting’ on 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]