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Bucharest
May 17, 2022
EDITORIAL

Virtues of contestation

Prime-Minister Emil Boc says the protests going on in various Romanian cities are a reason of concern for the EU. It would be more correct to say the opposite. The prolonged absence of any form of civil protest is an indication of a frail democracy.

More than that, it also proves the political Opposition is alienated by the real trends of the society, being just a formal alternative within the same system of parties. It also proves that the Power has artificially insisted on a consensus, paralysing the challenging dynamics on its merits for the benefit of a levelling project. Not least, it is a symptom of the reduced potential of political innovation, a new movement being possible more as a voluntary project of an initiative group than as the expression of a popular opinion current. In other words, Romania is far from the idyllic image of a nation manifesting solidarity with the ‘wise’ austerity proclaimed by the Power.

Romania has ended up in ‘the place where nothing important happens’ from a political point of view. A fatigue of political life.

If we look back detachedly, that shouldn’t surprise us. Political responsibility for this situation is shared. First, it was the experiment of the ‘playing president’ who wanted to take revenge on everything and everyone. He couldn’t destroy the credibility of the entire system of parties as he intended, probably dreaming of some sort of Romanian `Mani pulite` that, like in Italy in the 1990s, would have generated a big leader’s party. He has not ended up being the providential leader he wanted to be. However, counting on a popular consensus, even despite partisan attachments, the playing president has been infected by the old plague of Romanian politics – an excessive politicisation of the society. A mixture of clientelism, solidarity in corruption, media manipulation and partisan ‘civism’ are the ingredients of a type of regime rooted in the moral drift of post-communist transition. But, cornered by a president in a hurry to sing their mortuary hymn, the parties have sought support in trans-party solidarity. A new ‘monstrous coalition’ was thus shaped up, one which, also being trans-ideological, led to an extreme dilution of doctrine identities. So the poor citizen has to choose base don how charismatic leaders are, for programmes lost their character of strategic landmark altogether. The consequence is a weak political attachment, parties ceasing to represent people’s expectancies to a great extent. This lack of civic protest denotes a not exactly bright situation of the political system. Not the issue of stability is crucial right now, despite the premier’s rhetoric alarmism.

What is crucial is political innovation. Protest is not part of Romanians’ mental routine. One reason could be its history. The first years after the fall of communism were a follow-up on the spirit of the bloody December 1989 revolution. Protests bringing together thousands of people, concurrent demonstrations, hunger strikes, incendiary speeches, marches. And a special creation by the Iliescu regime: the thievish ‘civism’ of the miners’ riots. Do not forget that miners were descending upon Bucharest to hold protest. All those forms of protest have fed political partisanship. But the 1996 change of regime was followed by a rabid disappointment. Civil movements thus lost their challenging pathos. A change of generations also occurred at the same time the young people actually studied at the school of a soft civism, on themes without a direct political impact. The contestation of the ‘Rosia Montana’ project for example enjoyed quite a surprising success, attracting a notable popular support. However, it didn’t generate a true ecologist movement capable to seriously join the political game. Young intellectuals with political ambitions, in their turn, would like to see commensurate civil movements, but that is just a desideratum. It is the case of New Republic founder Mihai Neamtu who still dreams about a Romanian ‘Tea Party’, or the ‘Critic Atac’ lefties who are still dreaming about a local `Occupy Wall Street’. Of course ‘street’ political manifestations are impure. Civism is just one of the several components. Frustrations of all kinds, even the rage of destructive violence coexist alongside the solidarity of public contestation. The problem is the one of the course starting at contestation and ending with political innovation. To be constructive, a protest has to accurately identify proposed alternatives which, in their turn, should identify their promoters capable to give it a shape, a programme and pathos. Unfortunately, Romanian parties are not political schools. Political leaders of a different quality (in fact an old objective of the sitting president – we don’t know how sincere) can only emerge from the exercise of civism. Let’s hope this protest will not degenerate into sterile violence, but blow fresh air into a foul political system.

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