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July 31, 2021

Unequal before the law?

`Dura lex, sed lex`. Some successors of the Latins are no longer convinced by the moral justness of this saying. And not just our compatriots. The speaker of the Senate and possibly the future president of the state, Crin Antonescu, doubts the usefulness of institutions like
DNA or ANI. Or sees them as the hunting dogs of political adversaries (better said of the only adversary who holds some power, President Basescu). A minister of his own party had to resign after he was sentenced in a first court, and a former premier (from the allied party) spent some months in detention. Without realising the analogy, Crin Antonescu cultivated a type of discourse which is at the heart of politics abroad. In Italy, former premier Silvio Berlusconi defended himself from a definitive condemnation for fiscal fraud invoking a two-decades long hounding by the ‘red togas’ (a pun hinting to the pretended leftist sympathies of the magistrates that investigated him for countless legal issues).

And there is much talk, these days, about pardoning and other ‘solutions’ so he, still the ‘owner’ of an important Italian party, does not lose his political rights. Of course, the Italian case has several specificities. Berlusconi descended in the political arena two decades ago also to legislatively control a Justice with which he already had serious problems. His success so far in the fight against magistrates was largely due to the political measures that led to changing the laws in his favour (eliminating certain types of crimes, prescriptions etc.). The moral polemic that was born refers to how equal can citizens be before the law. Does the leader of a ruling party deserve being regarded more leniently than an anonymous or even an apolitical personality? With this question we can return on Romanian soil. When he was condemned, Adrian Nastase no longer was a foremost leader of his party. He had become just a voice, at best ‘a historical reference’ for a certain political regime (marked by a monocolore governance). Gone was the time when he personally led a delegation of the main opposition party of those years to the prosecutor’s office, in sign of solidarity with the ‘politically hounded’ Gabriel Bivolaru (eventually sentenced to several years of prison). In the case of Relu Fenechiu, the discontentment was more intensely politicised. He had enjoyed full support from his party chief (the same presidential candidate Antonescu), despite the repeated warnings of President Basescu and of European officials. But the former minister is only the most visible case of a series of liberal politicians under criminal investigation, to such measure that the social-democrats are one step from giving, at media level, the relay of ‘party of corrupts’ to their present allies. But is the Justice controlled by certain politicians against others? Unfortunately magistrates are inevitably shy after years of politicised Justice, so in the ‘heavy’ cases they probably think at a `nihil obstat` of the executive power. What would have happened if Adrian Nastase were instead of Traian Basescu now, his adversary of 2004? The condemnations of some politicians can sadden us, in human terms, but they represent a sign of democratic normality. Only the tyrants and (indirectly) the oligarchs benefit from the advantages of impunity. The former president of Germany will be tried for only few hundreds of EUR, a case incomparable to that of one of the richest Italians, Silvio Berlusconi. Is justice more independent in some countries than in others? Let’s not forget that in Italy, two decades ago, there was a real political revolution due to a handful of magistrates that waged the judiciary campaign `Mani pulite` (`Clean hands`), a campaign that still provokes the resentments of some people. However, something changed in Romania too. Politicians are more careful with the political impact of their issues with Justice. The proof is the acting premier, who learned quickly that it is better to get rid of controversial ministers than go ahead with problems of image. And for his own problems he mobilised the pertinent institutions to clear him from the suspicion of plagiarism (which legally did not impede on the political office, but would have been a moral setback for his career). Crin Antonescu, on the other hand, chose the older way of suspicion (and implicitly disagreement) twoards Justice. Magistrates may be wrong and may misuse their powers, but the political control upon Justice must be well documented. One cannot accuse the lack of independence of the Justice while conceiving massive interventions upon it. The problem rather pertains to political culture. Justice (not in a judiciary sense) must once again become a civic virtue. And magistrates – its ‘priests.’ Italy, for example, has the tradition of those sacrificial magistrates that did not hesitate taking risks in the fight against terrorism, mafia, big corruption. When can we see such a tradition in Romania?

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