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August 4, 2021

Rhetoric of the hands

USL has released the ‘Com­mitment for Romania’. It’s a 12-page brochure with basic illustrations and printed in the colours of the national flag which happen to be the colours of the combined emblems of the two parties in the Union (yellow-blue and red).

Although is looks more like an electoral flyer, the little leaflet is meaningful for the rhetoric prepared in view of the confrontations of the year to come. The word ‘commitment’ is part of a not exactly glorious tradition, given its inherent disappointment, of mobilising electoral pledges.

The scheme is simple and is also resumed in this particular case: a solemn promise (accompanied by the illusion of accountability ), a turning point (‘Romania of a new beginning’, in the same pocket brochure, on the last page, above the portraits of the two ‘providential’ leaders), a radical alternative (‘a Romania resettled on moral foundations’), a general set of reforms, broken down on priority sectors (which happen to be overlapping with the various categories of voters).

Millennialism (heaven on earth), radical rupture with the past, a call on the wipe of moral standards, the myth of the honest ruler (‘a fair Romania’) – there is a bit of each of these ingredients.

The call on such collective phantasms is inevitable while there is no more concrete programmatic alternative in place. Let’s first notice the iconographic suggestion of the hands, used in the illustration of all 10 points (obviously a Decalogue) of the ‘commitment’. There are working people’s hands (a rhetoric element specific of the left), or hands of people who design the system (the dynamic individualism with liberal roots), hands asking for help (‘a generous one dressed up in red for a reason – see social-democracy – gives them support), there are voting hands (the gesture of a public rally solidarity), there are ‘clean’ hands (allusion to an endemic corruption), there are professionals’ hands (doctors, teachers and policemen).

But what is this ‘commitment’ promising? First of all, it moves the moment of results more to the end of the electoral cycle. It is the kind of realism meant to mitigate the suspicion of past commitments always contradicted by failures. All the more so with the global crisis ‘having not announced’ its retreat. From the ‘first 100 days of governance’ to ‘three years after’ there is a small rhetorical leap with certain psychological effects. The obloquy of corruption, clientelism and excessive politicising of the society could not have been missing However, it is hard to forget who the local ‘patent holder’ for this particular style of leadership is. For this reason, at this chapter the accent on the lack of transparency in the relations with major international bodies is moved to the end, as the subject is more easily imputable to other ones (it is not by accident that the banknote of ‘corruption’ is not local, but the European one). Of course, promises could not have avoided a theme which if not only dear to the left, but also very ardent in a time of unusual austerity: the providential state. `Absolute priority given to deprived categories’ is what USL promises. And here are the priority groups: people with chronic diseases (who already have to buy their own permanent medication), broken families (for whom school allowances are essential), intellectuals (who have been humiliated with the tax on their ‘creativity’), retired people (unable to pay their utility bills mounting as a result of the evolution of the energy market), impoverished villages (through depopulation and partially through migration). We can also identify a special emphasis placed on the strategic reform of the energy sector, a target with electoral implications (all those people unhappy with the big household utility bills they are paying), even if the document does not enter into any detail.

Down the same line, whole categories of the population are targeted: those who depend on the public healthcare system (one really sore spot for the majority of the population), rural communities, the youth (condemned if not to unemployment, at least to vocational compromise), and all the victims of the conjugated pressure of the credit culture and foreign exchange fluctuations. ‘We need a new economic model’, the ‘commitment’ claims, but here rhetoric becomes very vague again (I wonder what ‘stimulating taxation’ could mean, knowing that PSD is an advocate of dropping the flat rate tax). There are also accusations (sure to have an impact) about the disadvantageous concession of national resources (probably a hint at the presidential passion ‘of a more recent date’ about the otherwise unpopular Rosia Montana gold mining project).

UDMR, a potential ruling partner they are reaching out to (the text uses phrases such as ‘always deceived minorities’ and it is little probable that those may be sexual minorities or any other than ethnic ones) is not forgotten either. The end of ‘the commitment’ is truly apotheotic: ‘moral landmarks… solidarity, respect and tolerance’.

It sounds good, but also a little… hollow. USL is not promising quick prosperity, but does promise ‘new people’ (which may sound like an unpleasant reminder of the ’15,000 specialists’ of the centre-right administration after 1996), and, most importantly, ‘a new model of society’ , as if the solution had stood in the magic rod of the leaders and not in a genuine political creativity. Anyway, there is also one very concrete promise: a public execution, with a very accurately identifiable victim: Traian Basescu ‘is going to pay for the disaster’ in the country. That, too, can be a way to stir up popular fervour.

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