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May 19, 2022

A Romanian tragicomedy

Premier Victor Ponta can be proud of his government: the team is welded, it acts in unison, the zeal of solidarity is not absent. They are like Dumas’s musketeers: “all for one and one for all.” The only unusual nuance is the tragicomical character of the “governmental” intervention. The Internal Affairs Minister is turning the whole Western culture into an endless history of plagiarism, while the Foreign Affairs Minister accuses prestigious Western media institutions of being tributary to some mercenaries easily bought by some oriental satrap.

A former Culture Minister certifies that Huntington’s civilizational fault line really goes through the Carpathians: what is ethical in the West is not ethical at the gates of the Orient. An interim Education Minister nonchalantly dismisses the commissions meant to judge plagiarism “at high level.” Even the “independent” rector of a prestigious national university self-flagellated himself for being part of a commission that, in his opinion, surpassed its competencies. In other words, a whole political-media machinery has been set in motion in order to prove the contrary of what is obvious: almost a quarter of the Premier’s doctoral thesis has been copied without the sources being pointed out. Apart from any political contextualization, we are witnessing a phenomenon of alienating language and logic from reality. Media manipulation is inherent in contemporary democracy, but the difference is made by the capacity of not leaving much too visible traces. Of maintaining a sufficiently high degree of ambiguity. When self-evidence stands out the lie is given away and heads roll. That is how democracy works. Regimes that make up for a lack of credibility through authoritarianism are at the other end. There are also mixed cases – such as the current situation – when a combination of interested complicity and nonchalant lying lead to a hallucinating and inconsistent atmosphere of “Ubu the King.”Several conclusions already stand out. First of all, political passions determine some “intellectuals” to give up elementary exigencies of credibility. At least “Basescu’s intellectuals” were authentic, irrespective of their value. As unlikable as he may be to some, Gabriel Liiceanu left behind his own work (too little for some, insignificant for detractors, representative for admirers). He backed Basescu for a while, bringing arguments in support of that. But he did not come up with intellectual aberrations that would exclude him from the exigent world of culture. How can one impertinently state that Plato and Aristotle were plagiarists? The fact that any great philosopher was part of a common tradition of intellectual preoccupations is one thing, but to build one’s prestige on hidden thefts is something else. The second conclusion is that the PSD style of making politics has not changed. Actually it has invaded politics in general, so that all parties do it, with differences of nuance. We’re talking about excessive politicization that stakes on power of influence throughout the state institutions. Any head of institution thus understands his status as being dependent on government support and feels obliged to support its actions in an almost servile manner. In other words, the autonomy margin drops and solidarity becomes an imperative beyond institutional responsibilities. Who could have forced the rector of the Cluj-based Babes Bolyai University to issue doubts about the competencies of the commission that declared that the Premier is a plagiarist? Had he argued that the decision was erroneous he would have been credible. But invoking procedural issues gave the impression of a man that wants to win favors with the regime. How could anyone not feel threatened when the very Constitutional Court judges, immovable during their terms according to the Constitution, can lose their offices at the whim of a political leader? However, let us not forget the wider issue of plagiarism. The system encourages such frauds. The prestige (real or symbolic) that a Ph.D. offers results in the number of aspirers to such an academic title growing disproportionately with the aptitudes that such a work of research calls for. The doctoral coordinators take advantage of such a situation, thus giving birth to the doctoral “black market.” Professor can sometimes ignore the theses’ shortcomings and failure to point out the sources (which simplifies the elaboration and argumentation) is one of them. Let’s be real: few are those capable of coming up with an original academic research thesis. And of those that could aspire to such a thing some are too caught up in other activities to be able to seriously focus on authoring a pretentious paper. The prestige advantages however make them vulnerable to the temptation of fraud. There is however a political context. Obviously the plagiarism war is a ploy of the skilled politician that Traian Basescu continues to be. But the fact that he is involved does not diminish the moral and political impact of the dispute. A politician is credible not just through his strictly political competencies (no matter how much professionalism there is, they are not that clearly circumscribed), but through his more general moral attitudes. A politician’s moral fiber remains an electoral evaluation criterion, even though most of the times the image is false and artificially sustained through media manipulation. At the same time, the political situation is more than intricate. A radical political change took place after years of “Basescu regime.” The Premier’s resignation would complicate the calculations even more, because his party has found a relative balance by electing him at its helm. The current alliance would suffer a premature PR crisis too, one that could affect its electoral result. The “detestable” Traian Basescu is still in office too and some of his former critics have ended up regretting him. Which is not a good sign for the vigor of the current government.

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