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Archive for the ‘Democracy’ Category

NYT: The Curse of Corruption in Europe’s East

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BUCHAREST — This summer, after the police arrived at the handsome villa of the former Romanian prime minister Adrian Nastase to arrest him on corruption charges, he apparently pulled out a revolver and tried to kill himself. Millions of Romanians watched on television as Mr. Nastase, 62, was carried off on a stretcher, a Burberry scarf wrapped around his neck. He survived, and one week later was behind bars. But this is Romania, where everything, it seems, is a matter of dispute.

Anti-corruption advocates hailed Mr. Nastase’s downfall as a seminal moment in the evolution of a young democracy. Others have called his conviction for siphoning $2 million in state funds for his presidential campaign a show trial. Mr. Nastase’s opponents now allege that he faked a suicide attempt in an effort to avoid prison. His son Andrei Nastase, who was at the house at the time, said the accusation was absurd.

Whatever the truth, Adrian Nastase now occupies a cell measuring 4 square meters, or 43 square feet. On his jailhouse blog, he recently recounted how prisoners ate cabbage and potatoes, braved rats and had hot water for two hours twice a week.

Today, analysts here and abroad say the Nastase case has come to reveal as much about Romania’s political polarization and dysfunction as its halting steps toward greater democracy. It comes amid heightened fears in the European Union that its newest and weakest members are not up to the task of rooting out corruption that is a legacy of decades of Communist rule and, indeed, of weak governance before that.

Across Eastern and Central Europe and the Balkans, countries are experiencing a surge of instability that, analysts say, stems almost in equal parts from endemic corruption and the sometimes ham-fisted efforts to combat it in the context of bitter political rivalries.

The European Union, with 27 member nations, is so concerned about creeping lawlessness among its new members that Romania and its neighbor Bulgaria, which both entered in 2007, have not joined the bloc’s passport/visa-free travel area. On Thursday, the European Commission, the executive body of the European Union, said concerns about corruption and fraud in Romania had prompted it to block E.U. development aid, potentially worth billions of euros.

In Croatia, which is set to join the European Union next year, former Prime Minister Ivo Sanader has been charged with embezzlement.

Romania, in particular, has struggled to overcome the aftermath of the ruthless, corrupt dictatorship of Nicolae Ceausescu. Over the past six years, 4,700 people have gone to trial on corruption charges, including 15 ministers and secretaries of state, 23 members of Parliament and more than 500 police officers.

To many, Mr. Nastase, a former member of the Communist elite who was prime minister from 2000 to 2004, is emblematic of a generation of still active politicians who assumed that power and influence could shelter them from the law. Once asked to account for his apparent wealth, he defiantly roared, “Count my eggs!” a Romanian slang word for genitals.

Monica Macovei, a former justice minister who is close to Mr. Nastase’s archrival President Traian Basescu, said that “There are too many people from the Communist era like Nastase who are still in power, and this has polluted the political class.” Read more in The New York Times.

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Aggressive opportunist

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Romania’s Prime Minister Victor Ponta risks all.

Victor Ponta has a taste for the political ambush. In 2010, he won the leadership of Romania’s Social Democrats (PSD) within five days of announcing his candidacy. This summer, in the space of four days, he used his position as his country’s stop-gap prime minister to suspend the president and remove the speakers of parliament and the national ombudsman.

Ponta is clearly a man who strikes fast and effectively. To have become a prime minister at 39 also suggests an astute, calculating brain. Yet within weeks of President Traian Basescu’s suspension, the European Commission – and, crucially, Germany’s Social Democrats – forced him to issue a mea culpa in the form of 11 promises of corrective action. Somehow, a man who has a decade of political contacts with the European Union, and whose wife is a member of the European Parliament, had misjudged the EU.

A polyglot who speaks English, French and Italian, Ponta comes from a modest family that had moved from southern Romania to Bucharest. Vladimir Tismaneanu, a professor at the University of Maryland, recalls Ponta as the leader of the PSD’s youth wing as a “flamboyant leftist militant with an unabashed admiration for Che Guevera” and some admiration for Chinese communism. “I thought he was a relatively naïve east European leftist”, he says, though Ponta was already the head of the Government Audit Agency. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Theophyle

October 24, 2012 at 11:25 am

The Economist: For richer, for poorer

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Growing inequality is one of the biggest social, economic and political challenges of our time. But it is not inevitable. In 1889, AT the height of America’s first Gilded Age, George Vanderbilt II, grandson of the original railway magnate, set out to build a country estate in the Blue Ridge mountains of North Carolina. He hired the most prominent architect of the time, toured the chateaux of the Loire for inspiration, laid a railway to bring in limestone from Indiana and employed more than 1,000 labourers. Six years later “Biltmore” was completed. With 250 rooms spread over 175,000 square feet (16,000 square metres), the mansion was 300 times bigger than the average dwelling of its day. It had central heating, an indoor swimming pool, a bowling alley, lifts and an intercom system at a time when most American homes had neither electricity nor indoor plumbing. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Theophyle

October 15, 2012 at 8:16 am

The WP: Romania’s political crisis puts spotlight on ragged democracy in Eastern Europe

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By Associated Press, Published: July 26

BUCHAREST, Romania — Romania’s President Traian Basescu says he’s on “Mission Impossible” to save democracy in this former Communist country. His opponents hope he’s on an impossible quest to save his job.

As Romania holds a referendum Sunday on impeaching Basescu, the ugly political battle has raised questions about the rule of law in the fledgling EU member. It comes against the background of similar concerns about shaky democracy across Eastern Europe, in countries such as Hungary, Bulgaria and Serbia that are striving to join the European mainstream.

Basescu’s rivals are seeking to impeach him for the second time in five years.

They claim the 60-year-old populist former ship captain violated the constitution by meddling in government business, coddling cronies and using the powerful secret services against enemies. Basescu says the impeachment process is a political vendetta carried out by opponents plotting to seize control of EU funds and the country’s justice system. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Theophyle

July 27, 2012 at 6:52 am

Between east and west, a gulf of stereotypes

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In the Netherlands, Eastern Europeans have replaced Muslims as a target of the far right. The hostility is fed by clichés widespread throughout Western Europe, regrets a Lithuanian journalist, who admits that his own countrymen are not free from prejudice.

Rasa Navickaité

“Are you having trouble with immigrants from Central and Eastern Europe? We want to hear!” The website of the far-right Dutch party welcomes visitors with this question spiced with encouragement. Geert Wilders, leader of the Freedom Party and known for his diatribes against Islam and Muslims, has discovered a new vein to mine for the backing of the average Dutch voter. In February his party launched a website designed to gather evidence on the problems caused by “the Poles, Bulgarians, Romanians and other eastern Europeans.”

According to the National Statistics Office of the Netherlands, about 200,000 eastern Europeans settled in the country legally in 2011. The 136,000 Poles make up the majority, followed by 2,708 Lithuanians, 1,885 Latvians and 665 Estonians. In a country of 17 million, this represents just over one percent.

It is intriguing that the far right’s hatred for immigrants who do not respect Western values has switched target. After September 11, Islam and Muslims became the scapegoats for all the ills of society; today, it’s the eastern Europeans who play this role. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Theophyle

July 23, 2012 at 9:24 am

Burberry Scarves, Impeachment, Plagiarism — It’s Romania

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By Marc Champion Jul 19, 2012 10:49 PM GMT

Romania is never boring.

A few days before I drove into the country on a journey from Turkey to the U.K, a former prime minister, Adrian Nastase, shot himself rather than be taken to jail for corruption. He missed. Wounded in the neck, he was carried away with a Burberry scarf wrapped around the injury.

Bucharest, meanwhile, was abuzz with the revelation that current Prime Minister Victor Ponta plagiarized 85 pages of his doctoral dissertation on the International Criminal Court. That’s a sin that also triggered the resignation of Hungary’s president in April and a German defense minister last year. After an educational board confirmed Ponta’s copy-and-paste job, he began dismantling the board to make its rulings toothless. Then he revoked the constitutional court’s powers over parliament. Read the rest of this entry »

Ceausescu super-star

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The Telegraph: Romania is sliding unremarked into despotism

By Daniel Hannan July 18th, 2012

It started with the cuts. In January, Romania became the fourth EU country (after Greece, Italy and the Netherlands) to see its government fall over Brussels-imposed austerity measures.

Romania has a largely parliamentary system. The president, however, does have important non-ceremonial powers, especially when it comes to the formation of new administrations. President Traian Băsescu, who had been loosely affiliated to the defeated Centre-Right government, accordingly asked Mihai Răzvan Ungureanu, an independent, to form a ministry that could deliver budgetary restraint. Leftist parties immediately began to suborn individual MPs until, three months later, the government fell on a confidence motion. A heterogeneous administration was then put together under the socialist Victor Ponta, united mainly by its hostility to the former regime. Read the rest of this entry »