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January 29, 2022

The new populism

Dan Diaconescu is the man of the day. From being the presenter/owner of a TV station with limited ratings, he suddenly became the savior of the bankrupt Romanian economy, being secretly admired by a whole country. If the purchase of Oltchim does not turn out to be a simple bluff his political credit could overturn all electoral forecasts. Irrespective of how this case will end his popularity is growing. As much as other politicians despise him, for a while his name will matter. Maybe not decisively, but significantly.We are entering the age of a new populism. Dan Diaconescu is certainly the inheritor of the ‘Romania Mare’ phenomenon. A magazine that transformed itself for two decades into a vehicle of intertwined nationalism and populism. And of the paranoid ambitions of its leader. It was part of a government (as part of what was called at the time the “red quadrangle”), it closed in on the share of 1/5 of the number of MPs, it entered the second round of presidential elections.

And it had fervent supporters, some of them on the long run. PRM practiced xenophobia, anti-Hungarianism, a certain anti-Semitism, but also a left-wing statism that consisted of nationalizations and (fantasy) social justice measures. It also promised a police state worthy of the “siege” psychosis. Dan Diaconescu does not belong to C.V. Tudor’s generation. He gave up on the shrieks of nationalism that was seen, in the case of his predecessor, as Ceausism. He does not foam at the mouth, he does not threaten to execute people on stadiums, he does not scare through the unpredictable character of his personality. Dan Diaconescu is the opposite of a boiling volcano and raging bull, he is thin, smiling and even charming in his atypical nature. He inspires more confidence than a virile warrior would. And his anti-system rhetoric wins over many of those dissatisfied with the drawbacks of democracy. He has the tone of a justice seeker, but the tone’s optimism seduces. Now he is playing the messianic card. Others have tried that in the past too, and more recently it seems MRU finds it an appropriate electoral strategy too. Let’s not forget that the People’s Party already has approximately 10 per cent of the people leading local administrations, finishing third in this year’s local elections. It promoted people that did not go through the great parties’ seminaries, did not practice servility in “summer schools,” did not sell their honorability in exchange for promises. Many are considered outsiders in politics. But certain types of voters are more easily convinced by them than by persons already compromised in corruption rows. Nevertheless, who is behind Dan Diaconescu, who is willing to invest in his political future? To invest in putting Oltchim back on track is a cleverer maneuver than financing a regular elections campaign. It’s the concrete proof that populism can work. For the time being however these are all speculations, as long as the money are not paid. Especially since the investment has to be a lot bigger in order for the petrochemical plant to truly overcome the crisis. But irrespective of the twists and turns that the events will take, populism is experiencing a new stage, a stage that has a significant political stake, especially in the context in which the current clash between the two alliances will leave a desolate “after-battle landscape” that populists the likes of Dan Diaconescu will fill up for a while.

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