Politeía Digest

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Posts Tagged ‘The New York Times

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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NYT: Symbol of Romanian Leadership? Hands on a Throat

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BUCHAREST, Romania — Perhaps the best that can be said of relations between the president and prime minister of Romania is that they are unambiguous: they can’t stand each other.

That is less than surprising, given that one of the first major actions taken by Prime Minister Victor Ponta after he came to power in May was to push for a vote on whether to impeach the president, Traian Basescu. The attempt to oust Mr. Basescu failed in July, but the poisonous effects are still being felt.

The acrimony has dashed the high hopes that accompanied the electoral victory of the 40-year-old Mr. Ponta, who promised to usher in generational change in a country that has struggled to overcome one of the harshest Communist legacies among the former Soviet bloc states.

The two men are now locked in an uncomfortable cohabitation until elections in December, leaving this poor Balkan nation adrift. And even that vote, analysts say, may prove inconclusive.

In an interview at the gargantuan and opulent 1,100-room Palace of Parliament, built by the former Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu as a monument to his authority and grandeur, Mr. Ponta acknowledged mistakes but fell short of expressing outright regret. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Theophyle

October 22, 2012 at 10:38 am

NYT: The New World

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By Frank Jacobs and Parag Khanna

IT has been just over 20 years since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the last great additions to the world’s list of independent nations. As Russia’s satellite republics staggered onto the global stage, one could be forgiven for thinking that this was it: the end of history, the final major release of static energy in a system now moving very close to equilibrium. A few have joined the club since — Eritrea, East Timor, the former Yugoslavian states, among others — but by the beginning of the 21st century, the world map seemed pretty much complete.

Now, though, we appear on the brink of yet another nation-state baby boom. This time, the new countries will not be the product of a single political change or conflict, as was the post-Soviet proliferation, nor will they be confined to a specific region. If anything, they are linked by a single, undeniable fact: history chews up borders with the same purposeless determination that geology does, as seaside villas slide off eroding coastal cliffs. Here is a map of what could possibly be the world’s newest international borders. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Theophyle

September 29, 2012 at 8:36 am

Krugman NYT : Separating Law and Politics in Romania

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Another post from my Princeton colleague Kim Lane Scheppele, after the jump:

 Separating Law and Politics in Romania

Kim Lane Scheppele (Princeton University) and Vlad Perju (Boston College Law School)
12 July 2012

As the Romanian political crisis spirals into dangerous territory, it helps to understand what is legal, what is political, and where the line between the two is blurred. Ordinary party politics is a contact sport that can generate much public passion, but it is perfectly legal. Constitution-smashing conduct crosses the line into revolutionary territory. The actions of the Ponta government combine polarized party politics with a constitution-smashing revolution.

Since the last post on this subject, the Romanian parliament voted Friday by 256 to 114 to remove President Basescu from office. On 29 July, the Romanian electorate will be able to confirm or reject the parliamentary vote. If the people vote to oust Basescu, which the polls predict they will, he must go. In the meantime, he is suspended from office.

Ponta and his allies have been so intent on removing Basescu that they have stopped at nothing to achieve this result. They changed the referendum law to make it easier to rid themselves of Basescu. They have fired the ombudsman, the only person who could challenge the government’s decrees before the Constitutional Court. They have ousted the presidents of both chambers of parliament in order to bring the line of succession for the presidency into their party alliance. They threatened to remove justices of the Constitutional Court who had sided with Basescu in the past and – when international criticism roared about the threats to the judges – instead cut the jurisdiction of the Constitutional Court. The prime minister’s allies also seized control of the official gazette in which all legal documents must be published before they can take effect, which theoretically gives them the power to delay the publication, and thus the entering into force, of decisions contrary to their political interests. Read the rest of this entry »

Krugman NYT : Romania Unravels the Rule of Law

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A political crisis has gripped Romania as its left-leaning prime minister, Victor Ponta, slashes and burns his way through constitutional institutions in an effort to eliminate his political competition.

In the last few days, Ponta and his center-left Social Liberal Union (USL) party have sacked the speakers of both chambers of parliament, fired the ombudsman, threatened the constitutional court judges with impeachment and prohibited constitutional court from reviewing acts of parliament – all with the aim of making it easier for Ponta to remove President Traian Basescu from office. They hope to accomplish that by week’s end. Read the rest of this entry »

New Conservatism in Europe Impedes Two of Its Nations

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The infrared cameras here near Bulgaria’s borders with Greece and Turkey are high powered enough to pick up rabbits scampering across farm fields in the dead of night. But on a recent afternoon, the men inside the border station were focused on a car — moving a bit too fast along a country road. Maybe a smuggler, they thought. They called over their radios to have the car stopped. It turned out to be a false alarm. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Theophyle

September 5, 2011 at 9:25 am

Forecasts for Growth Drop, Some Sharply

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A drumbeat of disappointing data about consumer behavior, factory sales and weak hiring in recent weeks has prompted economists to ratchet down their 2011 economic forecasts to as little as half what they expected at the beginning of the year.

Two months ago, Goldman Sachs projected that the economy would grow at a 4 percent annual rate in the quarter ending in June. The company now expects the government to report no more than 2 percent growth when data for the second quarter is released in a few weeks. Macroeconomic Advisers, a research firm, projected 3.5 percent growth back in April and is now down to just 2.1 percent for this quarter. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Theophyle

June 25, 2011 at 10:19 am