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April 1, 2023

On political and economic realism

Nations, just like persons, are appreciated by the way in which they take decisions in difficult situations. Wars, political or economic crises, blockades, the struggle against the forces of nature or against deadly pandemics – these are just some examples of watershed moments for a nation, a people. Just like in the case of individuals, the periods of prosperity and success are not the ones that bring to the forefront shortcomings or defects. On the contrary, the periods of difficulty are the ones meant to define the strength of character and the solidarity.

History is replete with such examples. At hand is the example of Lithuania in 1990, an example that is maybe the closest to Romania considering that Lithuania is a former socialist country that came out of the communist camp. Let us briefly remember: on March 11, 1990 the Parliament in Vilnius proclaimed the country’s independence from the USSR, with Lithuania being the first Republic from the former Soviet Union that started out on that road.

At that time it seemed a foolish action, with those able to think about the success of the independence-seeking action being few in number. The USSR immediately imposed an economic blockade that brought the Lithuanian economy to the brink of collapse. On January 13, 1991, in order to stop the local ‘propaganda’ the Soviet troops stormed the television station in Vilnius, a mission in which 13 Lithuanians lost their lives. On February 4, 1991 Iceland was the first country that recognized the independence of Lithuania. From then on independence gradually became a reality.

After the USSR imposed an economic blockade the Lithuanians went through difficult moments. For a time the lack of heating in homes, the lack of food and fuel became day to day occurrences. What did the Lithuanians do in the face of this indirect aggression? They exhibited an enviable solidarity. In order to save the authorities fuel for hospitals, ambulances and other essential institutions, the Lithuanians managed as best they could without much clamor. The contemporary pictures showing people riding bicycles or walking for kilometers or dozens of kilometers in order to go to and return from work are relevant in that regard. Nobody complained and the solidarity that the Lithuanians exhibited back then impressed the whole world.

We are in Romania of 2009 and this isn’t about obtaining independence or about some external aggression or blockade. Romania is under the ‘aggression’ of the world crisis, a crisis that affects the greatest part of world states, with few exceptions. After years of economic growth, even aggressive economic growth unfortunately based on exacerbated consumption, the economy is in an obvious slump. A drop of over 8 per cent of GDP is expected this year and despite some optimistic opinions the year 2010 is not foreshadowed as any better economically-wise. In recent years the Romanians grew used to a rising living standard, to quick access to credit lines, to the possibility of buying a vehicle or of contracting a long-term credit for buying a house. We’re not talking about all of the Romanians, but a significant part of those in large cities entered this dream mixer. The crisis that appeared in the autumn of 2008 is destroying all these dreams. The crediting is very expensive, the salaries are stagnant or dropping, the private companies and the public sector are sacking employees, the construction works are stagnating, the economic activity is in an obvious downturn. Subsequently, the state budget revenues are proportionally dropping. There are fewer funds for investments in all economic sectors and fewer funds for salaries. We are passing through a difficult period that impacts most of the Romanians. This is in fact a non-military ‘external economic aggression,’ an effect to which Romania did not contribute. It’s true, the Boc Government did not know or did not promote any measure meant to lessen the effects, quite the contrary one could say. But that is another discussion.

What are the Romanians doing in this context that calls for solidarity? The labour union leaders are now the vanguard of the social categories’ dissatisfactions and frustrations. Professors, magistrates, railway workers, health sector employees, public servants etc. – all public sector employees are sitting on a powder keg from the point of view of salary demands.

Nobody wants to understand that if the budget registers fewer revenues it cannot have higher expenditures. Maybe it cannot even have the expenditures that it used to have until now. In this context of a slump in revenues the normal thing would have been for the negative economic effort to be sustained by everyone so that its effects would be felt as less as possible by each of us. However solidarity and realism are entirely lacking. No Romanian wants to do the smallest personal sacrifice in order to surpass the current period. On the contrary, the wage and bonus hike demands are flooding the Government chancelleries. The magistrates, who enjoy incomes that surpass by far the national average as it is, are making a title of glory out of ‘defeating’ the Government and forcing it to maintain the bonuses of all kinds that basically double their incomes (that are huge for a country like Romania). Where should the funds come from? That is of no concern to them and the leaders of the magistrates are permanently comparing themselves to their European colleagues. But Europe and the European Commission are not the ones that pay their salaries and bonuses, Romania’s state budget does that. A drained budget that after the Presidential elections this autumn will most likely end up postponing the payment of salaries to other, less ‘influential,’ social categories.

With the approval of the second EUR 1.8 bln tranche of the IMF loan, the Boc Government has secured for now its credit worthiness at least until the elections and probably until the end of the year. What will happen afterwards nobody knows. An increasing number of voices contradict Finance Minister Gheorghe Pogea and claim that an important deadlock will occur in Romania both in the payments to companies and in the payment of pensions and salaries. However apart from the Government’s aptitudes and capabilities – debatable and prone to analysis – we notice a total lack of realism and minimal solidarity from the part of Romanians. Of course, compared to the Lithuania of the years 1990-1991 we’re not talking about an ambitious goal such as independence. But we’re talking about Romania, the country we live in and in which we want to continue living. Our well-being depends on the way in which its economy works. There’s no question of giving up on vehicles, savings and of lowering demands. On the contrary, Romania now looks like a dying animal upon which hyenas, vultures and jackals are waiting to converge. The magistrates, the professors, the public servants are waiting to gorge themselves on what is left of the economy. After them, the flood… The irony is that the poorest Romanians, the ones that live on EUR 100-200 per month, are patiently waiting for better times, times that have minimal chances of coming about if the ‘scavenging’ social categories carry on with their initiatives.

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