You can’t buy us off!

Ro­ma­nian So­cial Democrats won elec­tions by a land­slide but face stiff re­sis­tance from so­ci­ety when­try­ing to stop the anti-cor­rup­tion drive

The Ukrainian Week - - CONTENTS - Sorin Ioniţă,

The legacy and the fu­ture of Ro­ma­nia’s anti-cor­rup­tion cam­paign

No­body ex­pected that, less than two months af­ter win­ning hands down the elec­tions in Dec 2016 and form­ing a solid 58% ma­jor­ity in the Par­lia­ment with their al­lies, the Ro­ma­nian So­cial Democrats would be con­fronted with the largest street protests since the fall of the Com­mu­nist regime. It was all the more un­likely as their newly in­stalled cab­i­net hit the ground run­ning in the first days of 2017, im­ple­ment­ing a pro-busi­ness, pro-con­sumer pack­age widely ad­ver­tised dur­ing the cam­paign: a hun­dred taxes and fees were slashed; the min­i­mum salary was in­creased by 16%; small state pen­sions were raised and the stu­dent al­lowance was dou­bled. Some an­a­lysts ex­pressed doubts about the sus­tain­abil­ity of such spend­ing plans, ex­trav­a­gant even for an econ­omy grow­ing strongly at a yearly pace of 4-5%, but the mood in so­ci­ety was largely ap­a­thetic. Af­ter all, this was the left win­ning elec­tions and it was their le­git­i­mate turn to try their hand on the econ­omy.

All hell broke loose on February 18, how­ever, when the cab­i­net did some­thing that was nev­er­men­tioned in the cam­paign but was the hid­den top pri­or­i­tyof the So­cial­ists all along. Namely, they pro­posed two “emer­gency or­di­nances” (acts of gov­ern­ment be­com­ing ef­fec­tive im­me­di­ately): oneto grant a col­lec­tive par­don to some peo­ple in de­ten­tion, al­legedly be­cause jails were over­crowded and a EUR 80mn fine from the Euro­pean Court of Hu­man Rights (ECHR) was im­mi­nent; the other, to amend the Crim­i­nal Code and cut some in­ves­tiga­tive in­stru­ments used with in­creas­ing suc­cess by the DNA (the highly praised anti-cor­rup­tion procu­ratura).

It didn’t take long for the pub­lic to re­al­ize that the mo­ti­va­tions were­justa pre­text. The ECHR fine was not at all im­mi­nent; the Ro­ma­nian jails are in­deed in poor con­di­tion, but over­crowd­ing is ac­tu­ally di­min­ishin­gon a yearly ba­sis; and the col­lec­tive par­don cov­ered, among oth­ers, sen­tences with sus­pen­sion, ben­e­fited peo­ple who were never in jail.

This last point hap­pens to be con­ve­nient for no­body other than the cur­rent pres­i­dent of the So­cial­ists, Livi­uDrag­nea, the strong­man who mas­ter­minded the elec­toral suc­cess and would be prime min­is­ter now, had this not been blocked by his crim­i­nal record: he has asen­tence of two year­swith sus­pen­sion(!) for elec­toral fraud, is now on pro­ba­tion and so, by law, he can­not be a min­is­ter, hav­ing

to consume his frus­tra­tion as speaker of the Cham­ber of Deputies. But if his sen­tence is par­doned by a quick­de­ci­sion of a pli­ant cab­i­net, the in­ter­dic­tion dis­ap­pears and he can come out of the shad­ows, tak­ing the reins of­fi­cially.

Of course, it was not just about him. The anti-cor­rup­tion cam­paign has been the main suc­cess story of the past decade in Ro­ma­nia, ma­te­ri­al­ized in a more in­de­pen­dent ju­di­ciary and solid re­sults by flag­ship anti-cor­rup­tion in­sti­tu­tions (DNA and ANI), which are por­trayed in EU re­ports as the best prac­tice in the re­gion. Dozens of min­is­ters and ex-min­is­ters were in­ves­ti­gated, some al­ready serv­ing time in jail (in­clud­ing two prime-min­is­ters). The same hap­pened to hun­dreds of city and county may­ors and coun­cil­lors, busi­ness or mass me­dia own­ers, plus, for a good mea­sure, vir­tu­ally all foot­bal club own­ers. Im­por­tant peo­ple from all par­ties and gov­ern­ment lev­els, as well as from the ju­di­ciary it­self, were brought to trial and convicted for cor­rup­tion-re­lated of­fences, which dis­pelled to a large ex­tent the im­pres­sion that cer­tain peo­ple are above the law, in place since times im­memo­rial. As some apt ob­servers noted, the anti-cor­rup­tion drive is a com­plete his­tor­i­cal nov­elty not only for re­cent pe­ri­ods, but ever: since the cre­ation of the mod­ern Ro­ma­nian state in the mid-19th cen­tury, no min­is­ter had served time in jail for cor­rup­tion. Only the re­forms of ju­di­ciary launched in 2005 made this pos­si­ble.

As a re­sult, in the past 10-15 years the con­flict over the anti-cor­rup­tion pol­icy has be­come the mostim­por­tant topic in Ro­ma­nian pol­i­tics and the line of frac­ture re­plac­ing left vs right as the main axis of the party sys­tem. Par­ties used anti-cor­rup­tion as a ref­er­ence in po­si­tion­ing them­selves in elec­tions, or as a strat­egy to get rid of po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents. The anti-cor­rup­tion drive has shaped the re­la­tion­ship be­tween gov­ern­ments and suc­ce­sive pres­i­dents of the coun­try, the lat­ter bein by and large sup­port­ers of these poli­cies while in of­fice, while a large ma­jor­ity in the Par­lia­ment, hid­den un­der the um­brella of col­lec­tive (ir)re­spon­si­bil­ity, was op­pos­ing them.

Sup­port­ing or op­pos­ing the DNA and its in­ves­ti­ga­tions is the real sub­ject of ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween politi­cians be­hind the closed doors, over which rul­ing coali­tions form or break down. In of­fice, min­is­ter and par­la­men­tar­i­ans spend a lot of time, for­mally and in­for­mally, de­fend­ing them­selves against the in­creas­ingly as­sertive anti-cor­rup­tion pros­e­cu­tors, by re-writ­ing laws, ma­nip­u­lat­ing in­sti­tu­tions or launch­ing vi­cious cam­paigns against mag­is­trates in the mass me­dia chan­nels they con­trol. The only ob­sta­cles which stopped so far the par­ties from killing the DNA and the purg­ing of the po­lit­i­cal class are, on the one hand, the strong sup­port for the anti-cor­rup­tion drive ex­pressed by Brus­sels, Wash­ing­ton and the main Euro­pean cap­i­tals; and on the other hand, the pop­u­lar­ity of the of­fen­sive with the Ro­ma­nian pub­lic.

It is there­fore easy to un­der­stand the furor of the masses when the new So­cial­ist cab­i­net came out of the blue with the two emer­gency or­di­nances which were any­thing but ur­gent, were never dis­cussed be­fore, were adopted dur­ing a night meet­ing of min­is­ters and pro­vided for a hid­den amnesty for light and cor­rup­tion-re­lated crimes. The ur­ban pub­lic ex­ploded in a se­ries of protests which lasted two weeks and cul­mi­nated with an es­ti­mated half a mil­lion peo­ple tak­ing the streets on February 5, in more than sixty ci­ties across Ro­ma­nia. About 200,000 of themwere in Vic­to­ria Square in Bucharest, in front of the gov­ern­ment build­ing, for an anti-cor­rup­tion evening show of light and lasers pro­jec­tions.

This un­ex­pected so­cial re­sis­tance made the gov­ern­ment re­lent: af­ter pro­cras­ti­nat­ing, threat­en­ing with im­plau­si­ble counter-demon­stra­tions and serv­ing “al­ter­na­tive re­al­i­ties” on sub­servient TVs which only in­creased the pub­lic anger, the two emer­gency or­di­nances were even­tu­ally re­pealed. Laws are to be ini­ti­ated in­stead, af­ter con­sul­ta­tions, and send to Par­lia­ment on nor­mal pro­ce­dure. Pres­i­dent Klaus Jo­han­nis, who by any anal­y­sis was a half-loser dur­ing the elec­toral year 2016, sud­denly emerged as a hero for his stern op­po­si­tion to the or­di­nances: a typ­i­cal ex­am­ple of win­ning a match by the own goals of the op­pos­ing team. Res­ig­na­tions from the cab­i­net will prob­a­bly fol­low this week: at least the Min­is­ter of Jus­tice Ior­dache, the drafter of the or­di­nances, will have to go, but the street is de­mand­ing the head of Prime-Min­is­terGrindeanu too.

Protests con­tinue, though in re­duced num­bers, lest the gov­ern­ment tries some du­bi­ous movesagain. The mess in the le­gal sys­tem has in­creased af­ter this failed coup against the rule of law: the Con­sti­tu­tional Court will have to de­cide on the con­sti­tu­tion­al­ity of the pro­posed acts, ret­ro­spec­tively, in spite of them be­ing re­pealed by the ini­tia­tor, be­cause it had been pe­ti­tioned last week by the pres­i­dent and the Om­buds­man. Mar­ginal cor­rec­tions to the harsh Pe­nal Code of 2011 will have to be made, fol­low­ing past de­ci­sions of the same Con­sti­tu­tional Court, to bet­ter clar­ify some cor­rup­tion-re­lated of­fences.

Stronger civil­ian su­per­vi­sion of the in­tel­li­gence ser­vices must be put in place, as the cur­rent one through par­lia­men­tary com­mit­teesis vis­i­bly de­fi­cient. In­tel­li­gence ser­vices were in­stru­men­tal in the early stages of the anti-cor­rup­tion of­fen­sive and acted as a trusted part­ner of DNA, but there are le­git­i­mate con­cerns in so­ci­ety that they have no busi­ness in pro­vid­ing “tech­ni­cal as­sis­tance” in nor­mal pe­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tions. In fact, a de­ci­sion of the Con­sti­tu­tional Court from 2016 al­ready cur­tailed their at­tri­bu­tions and or­dered the trans­fer of wire­tap­ping equip­ment to the civil­ian po­lice su­per­vised by pros­e­cu­tors. Not every­body, in­clud­ing in the DNA, was happy with it, but it was nev­er­the­less im­ple­mented and no ma­jor case failed in court sub­se­quently.

The­fine-tun­ing of the anti-cor­rup­tion in­stru­ments, by bet­ter bal­anc­ing the ef­fec­tive­ness of the prose­cu­tion with the proper pro­tec­tion of the rights of the de­fend­ers, in light of 15 years of prac­ti­cal ex­pe­ri­ence, is nec­es­sary, wel­come and must con­tinue. The prob­lem is that no­body in Ro­ma­nia trusts this gov­ern­ment any­more with such sen­si­tive and im­por­tant tasks, af­ter the at­tempt to pass overnight self-serv­ing leg­is­la­tion, us­ing real prob­lems merely as win­dow-dress­ing for get­ting top politi­cians off the hook. In process, they only man­aged to ed­u­cate a whole new ur­ban gen­er­a­tion into civism and re­sis­tance. By one in­ter­nal sur­vey of the So­cial­ists, in two weeks the party has dropped by 23% in Iaşi, the cap­i­tal of north-east­ern re­gion of Ro­ma­nia, one of their strongholds. Not bad, for less than two months in of­fice.

Anti-cor­rup­tion cam­paign as ide­ol­ogy. In the past 10-15 years, the con­flict over the anti-cor­rup­tion pol­icy has be­come the most im­por­tant topic in Ro­ma­nian pol­i­tics and the line of frac­ture re­plac­ing left vs right as the main axis of the party sys­tem

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