A Suicidal Declaration
It isn't just mistakes, excesses and professional incompetence that we are talking about now. We are talking about a radical and brutal attack on the country's institutions, on democratic principles and on the independent and reliable judiciary.
In a suicidal declaration, the current prime minister, Dr. Victor Ponta, claims that he devotes "75 percent of the time in government meetings to political turf warfare." For weeks, he has been confronted with accusations that he plagiarized extensively when writing his doctoral thesis. Yet his behavior leads us to conclude that he doesn't know what constitutes plagiarism. He believes that he can copy 85 pages from another work with impunity, and without identifying the text as a quotation. When the commission that was appointed to investigate the charges of plagiarism confirmed the suspicion, it was summarily dismissed.
Meanwhile, the prime minister travels to the E.U. summit in Brussels even though he lacks the mandate to represent Romania. In doing so, he ignores a ruling by the constitutional court that it was the president who should have gone to Brussels instead. And what happened next? The powers of the constitutional court were drastically curtailed.
Half-baked amendments are bulldozed through the parliament and institutional powers are restricted, established procedure is ignored without any plausible explanation being provided. The management of the national archive (which had been tasked with securing access to documents relating to the communist dictatorship) is dismissed as are the boards of the government-run television station and the institute for investigation of political crimes before 1989. The same fate befalls the ombudsman, who represents Romanian citizens in complaints against government entities, as well as the chairmen of both chambers of parliament.
An Ordinary Phenomenon
The Monitorul Oficial -- the Romanian official gazette -- is placed under control of the government and the Romanian Cultural Institute becomes the provenance of the Senate. It was one of the few institutions that did outstanding work in recent years. Now, however, the management -- seen as being supportive of the president -- can be replaced.
All of this is taking place during a period of long-deferred economic, financial and organizational problems. Within two months, the prime minister nominated two education ministers, only to quickly withdraw their nominations because of plagiarism allegations. Then he appointed a third candidate as interim education minister, only to ultimately choose a fourth, who faces pending litigation over an alleged conflict of interest among his various positions.
Prime Minister Ponta took a similar approach with his culture minister, who was forced to resign for a similar reason. Then, the position of agriculture minister was filled with a parliamentarian even though (or perhaps because) he is involved in a fraud trial with the Agriculture Ministry. The list could go on and on.
The interior minister, by the way, has defended the prime minister in his plagiarism scandal by pointing out that plagiarism has been an ordinary phenomenon since the days of Aristotle and Plato. And the foreign minister states that Europe's leading politicians could take a page from Russian President Vladimir Putin's book when it comes to competency and efficiency.
The governing coalition has rushed into the impeachment proceedings against the president. The new president of the Senate, Crin Antonescu, who became Romania's acting president on Friday due to the suspension of Basescu, attained his position as the head of the Senate despite an unusual circumstance: He was absent from about 98.5 percent of the sessions of the body which he now leads. There is nothing on the 52-year-old's résumé to indicate why he should be suited for his future duties. The only political idea on his agenda is the impeachment of Traian Basescu.
Spinning Out Of Control
An atmosphere of amazement and uncertainty prevails in Romania. Two Nobel Prize winners, Herta Müller and Tomas Tranströmer, many foreign institutions, the ambassador of the United States in Bucharest, the European Justice Commissioner, leading European politicians such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel, countless Romanian artists and intellectuals, various institutions of civil society and youth organizations are protesting against current developments -- because it has clearly begun spinning out of control.
Who wants to live in a country like this? For my part, I feel burdened by the atmosphere created by the Romanian government. I want to be able to do my work, and I have no special demands. All I want is a minimum level of normalcy that makes it possible for me to bring my projects and my life to a successful conclusion.
In essence, this is also the responsibility of governments. They should make it possible for the people in their country to go about their business in peace, and under humane conditions. But for some time now, I have been waking up every morning to witness the disconcerting signs of social decay.
And now, for the first time in 40 years, I am not eager to return "home" from Berlin.
Intellpuke: This article by Prof. Andrei Plesu was posted on Spiegel Online's edition for Tuesday, July 10; you can read it in context here: www.spiegel.de/international/europe/democracy-the-loser-in-romanian-power-struggle-a-843449.html
This article was translated from the German for Spiegel by Christopher Sultan.