Union Day: President snubs festivities, PM speaks to a deserted Parliament

Traian Basescu sends a viral message to Romanians. Opposition representatives attended festivities in the Union Square in Iasi. The special session of the Parliament was attended solely by the ruling coalition MPs.

By    Daniela Baragan

Some 5,000 people gathered yesterday in the Union Square in Iasi to celebrate 153 years since the Union of Principalities. Unlike previous years, this year the opposition leaders, Victor Ponta (the Social Democratic Party – PSD), Crin Antonescu (the National Liberal Party – PNL) and Daniel Constantin (the Conservative Party – PC), were the only political figures to attend the festivities, accompanied by members of their respective parties. Representatives of the ruling coalition saw fit to keep away from the people and their discontent (e.n. the coalition marked the Union Day by a solemn session in Parliament). Although he was invited to attend the celebrations in Iasi, alongside Government officials, president Traian Basescu also shied away from the ceremonies. The head of state send the Romanian people a message posted on the Presidential Administration’s website. “January 24 is a happy occasion for all Romanians, marking the founding event of modern Romania, by which we became a dignified, united nation, recognized by Europe,” the message reads. Acknowledging that “the power of a nation lies, also, in the ideals that guide it”, as well as arguing that “solidarity is not an abstract idea”, but an “exercise whose democratic and especially human value we need to discover anew”, the head of state concludes: “our duty is to continue the efforts of those who made the Union possible, participating jointly in the consolidation of the rule of law and in the modernization of Romania”.

The president’s decision came as no surprise taking into consideration ongoing social tensions. Last year, Traian Basescu was booed when receiving the army’ salute, during the singing of the state anthem, as well as while delivering his speech before the one thousand-strong people gathered in Iasi’s Union Square – which only goes to show the president’s appeal was already on the ebb at the time.

The Presidency was represented, however, during yesterday’s manifestations in Iasi by the presidential aide Iulian Chifu, who was met by the booing actually meant for president Basescu. According to Mediafax, participants in the manifestations booed and cried out “Down with Basescu!”, “Thieves!”, and “Down with the government!” as Chifu was laying the two wreaths (e.n. one on behalf of the Presidential Administration, the other on behalf of the Executive) at Alexandru Ioan Cuza’s statue. Although he was due to address the people as well, Chifu thought the better of it, taking into consideration the people’s reactions, as well as the way in which the Iasi prefect Dragomir Tomaseschi (the Democratic-Liberal Party) was booed during his speech.

The Romanian Orthodox Church Patriarch Daniel pleaded in turn for unity, arguing in his address during the Te Deum mass in the Patriarchal Cathedral that “only a nation that stands together is a dignified nation, any union is great and any division is ill and a loss”.

USL leaders show solidarity with protesters’ demands

The Social-Liberal Union (USL) leaders did not miss the opportunity of criticizing the ruling power during their Union Day speeches. “It is obvious that the message the people are sending, not only in the University Square and not only today, is that the current government and the current president have to go and we should have elections as soon as possible,” PSD leader Victor Ponta argued, adding that the message the opposition received from the Romanian people was: “’Help us get rid of Basescu and save us from dire poverty!’”. He underlined that, although the people’s lives would not change for the better immediately after the Boc Cabinet’s overthrow, they should hold on to the hope that things would look up in the future. “I am persuaded that we can give back trust and dignity to the people,” Ponta added.

“Our mission is not only to replace the current power, but also to govern Romania and to repair all the harm done during these years,” the PNL leader Crin Antonescu argued in turn. In this context, he voiced his solidarity with all the people protesting across Romania, with “those who think they can call those in power to task”.

“My message is a call for unity, as well as a reminder that we need each and every one. We don’t propose to join together the mockers and the mocked, the thieves and their victims. (…) It will take a lot of time and work as you can’t fix overnight what it took years to wreck,” the Liberal added.

Slogans against ruling power

Some participants shouted “down with Basescu,” while many others carried placards reading “down with Basescu,” “no to merged elections, we want early elections,” “the people worked, you robbed them,” “in honor of the great unifier (Cuza – editor’s note) let’s topple the traitor (Basescu – editor’s note),” “thieves” and “down with the government.” The special events were marred by protests in Oradea and Craiova too. People there carried placards with messages against the Head of State and the Premier and shouted “Basescu you’ll end up like Gaddafi,” “riot policemen are like us, overwhelmed by worries and needs,” “fear not, the government will fall,” “resign” and “early elections.”

Boc calls for unity

Avoiding, like the rest of the members of government, direct contact with the people, Boc told Romanians while attending a special session of the Parliament that “despite its shortcomings” the current political class is the one that fulfilled Romania’s major goals of joining NATO and EU and the solution to the crisis is unity among politicians and the population alike. He pointed out that Romanians maintained their identity through time thanks to national unity. “Now we face another major confrontation – the economic crisis – and the answer has to be unity once again. United we can push through more easily, divided each of us will lose, the country will lose and the national interest will lose,” Boc said. The PM reiterated that populism is not the solution to the crisis and reiterated his call on the political class to sign an economic and political stability pact.

At first Boc did not plan to attend go to Parliament, having posted early in the morning, on the government’s website, a message occasioned by Union Day. The Head of Government reconsidered his decision soon after the members of 16 unions from the army, education system, health system and transport system, as well as pensioners, started a protest outside the government headquarters. The Premier’s speech failed to captivate many of the ruling coalition MPs, the latter being more interested in using their iPhones, iPads or in talking on the phone.

The opposition MPs’ absence angered Speaker of the Lower Chamber Roberta Anastase. “The opposition demanded this solemn meeting, this special session; we respected that, we voted unanimously and I expected to see here all the MPs that convened this solemn meeting, which after all is a special day for Romania,” Anastase stated. The Speaker of the Lower Chamber nevertheless avoided a clear answer when asked whether she will celebrate January 24 only in Parliament. “It’s a solemn meeting and this is how we celebrate,” the PDL’s First Vice-President stated. Her party colleague Vasile Blaga was just as evasive when asked why he does not go out to celebrate Union Day in the street, alongside people. “We are attending the solemn meeting and, after all, we each celebrate such a day in our hearts. I haven’t celebrated it in the street in general, I haven’t danced Hora Unirii (Union’s Hora) too often,” the Speaker of the Senate stated.

Ponta claims he can’t be bought off by Basescu

Victor Ponta argues he can’t be bought off by Traian Basescu, adding he started the year “with all documents and shots in order”, after being investigated, in turn, by the National Integrity Agency (ANI), the National Tax Administration Agency (ANAF) and the National Anti-Corruption Directorate (DNA). “I am most happy I’ve been checked by all the institutions. I’ve got a document from ANAF, from ANI, from DNA. I’ve got all the documents and shots in order. I can start the year carefree. (…) I can not be blackmailed by Basescu, you know, this is how the MPs in the opposition are recruited, a check-up by ANI or DNA, a general’s rank. Basescu can’t buy us off, me or my colleagues,” the Social-Democrat leader stated, quoted by Mediafax. Crin Antonescu stated in turn he could empathize with “Ponta’s delight at being investigated”, but argued such checks should be conducted under the legal provisions. In this context, the Liberal leader stated that ANI was looking into his own assets, without a prior notification, paving the way for “the most absurd nonsense”. “We will address this matter at some point, but not right now when the country is faced with serious problems,” the Liberal added.

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