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March 29, 2023

The man at the table

This morning, I passed through the square located in front of the Government building, the place that has become, for well over two weeks now, the heart and the voice of the whole country.

In the middle of the square, a man was sitting on a chair, at a folding table, facing the great edifice that houses the country’s Executive. The temperature outside was minus six degrees Celsius.

The image of the lonely man sitting at a small table, in the middle of traffic, out in the cold, like a flag stuck on top of redoubt, struck me and was etched deep in my mind.

That man represents the sum and the exponent of thousands of other people who for days on end have generated a symbol and a bastion of what can be called not just the desires, dreams, expectations and will of an entire nation but especially the true essence of what is happening beyond any appearances or press comments or personal impressions. Romania has reached critical mass in what concerns the chronicity of the power imbalance at the heart of the state.

Starting from a government ordinance of abusive character (one in a long line of its kind), going through a continuous fight between so-called forces of good and forces of evil that want or, respectively, do not want the return to or, more exactly, the reaching of a point of balance and normalcy in the vital aspects of state governance – such as the separation of powers, the independence of the judiciary in relation to the country’s political power, the redefining and restructuring of the political poles in which the current political parties position themselves, the eradication of corruption, laws correctly and efficiently made and enforced for the many too, not just for the few and privileged, etc., etc. -, and continuing with the way in which the Romanian President saw fit and managed to position himself in this whole situation of socio-political crisis, there are questions whose answers have been expected for a very long time. Or, if they ever existed, the only effect they managed to generate was an even bigger confusion and to render chronic a situation that has been lasting for well over two decades.

The delight of the large-scale and long-endurance demonstrations that took place throughout the country in recent weeks seemed to be that of a state of paroxysmal unbearableness toward the attitude shown and path taken by the whole Romanian political class in the last 27 years.

People have grown tired of abuse of power and of the discretionary behaviour that each side of the political class, which took turns at the helm of the state, saw fit to systematically, despotically and discretionarily apply on Romanian citizens during all these years.

We are in a situation in which none of us, those who have been living in this country for a lifetime, can no longer say with certainty what is the true political situation in which we find ourselves, if there still are or there ever were true political parties with doctrines well-defined and well-oriented toward the interest of the citizen and of the country, that would represent us and that would make Romania a true democratic country.

We have ended up in the point in which a single party is threatening to hold all power in the state, while the Opposition is basically reduced to silence and ossification. Meanwhile, the president of the state is behaving like a solitary actor, just as solitary as that man sitting at a folding table in Victory Square, carrying out actions that are spectacular yet completely lacking in viable content, creating veritable emotional artesian wells among Romanians who are for or against Iohannis, for or against Dragnea, and finally exerting his position and presidential power and standing prerogatives through a referendum lacking real usefulness in the proper advancement of the country’s affairs and in turning the situation toward a way out of the crisis.

The president has asked for a referendum and has received the satisfaction of holding it.

However, the president does not yet know the question to be put on the ballot paper at the referendum.

All that the president can say about this referendum gifted to the Romanians brought on the threshold of despair is that it will concern the fight against corruption, which is gnawing as a worm at Romania’s body and image.

Romanians hate the PSD and they especially hate Liviu Dragnea as exponent of a monstrous, destructive left wing that is destructive and hostile toward the country and its people.

However, Romanians cannot say they love Klaus Iohannis. Although he is making spectacular and impressive efforts to attract the people’s love and to transform them into “my party,” “my Government,” “my Romanians,” “my political argument against the left wing’s evil.”

The president’s role is that of mediator and guarantor of the nation. And this role includes that of protector of Romanians’ interests from all standpoints and especially from the standpoint of national well-being. The president analyses the budget proposed by the new Government and concludes that there are grave and unlikely aspects in the current budget formula. Issues that prevent him from issuing his endorsement.

In conclusion, the president considers he needs a few more days to focus on the discrepancies detected within the draft budget. Although the country is waiting for well over a month to have a budget and to start working within normal parameters.

Meanwhile, the Opposition is in a prolonged silentium stampa. It lacks the necessary force and specific desire to make a common front with the president on the vital issues of the state.

Hence, the president remains alone and indefinitely deliberates on the state’s life-and-death problems.

And Romanians are continuing to protest in the streets. Numerous or not, cheerful or furious, optimistic or completely disappointed, the Romanians who take to the streets remain the only active Opposition in today’s Romania.

And Romanians, whether those in the streets or those at home, are about to go through yet another fiery test after the problematic and undecided fatidic “night of the ordinance.” The test of the referendum on continuing the fight against corruption.

Because nobody is trying to explain to the tens of thousands of Romanians eager for justice and freedom, equity and national harmony, that a referendum has two aspects that make the difference between wanting and being able to change something in a country’s fate – the consultative aspect and the deliberative or sovereign aspect.

According to Article 2, Paragraph 1 of the Romanian Constitution: “National sovereignty shall reside within the Romanian people, that shall exercise it by means of their representative bodies, resulting from free, periodical and fair elections, as well as by referendum.”

Yes! People are sovereign in case of a referendum only on aspects that concern the amending of the Constitution and the impeachment of the country’s president! On these issues, the people decide in a deliberative, meaning practical manner. Apart from that, any presidential initiative to trigger a referendum concerns the CONSULTATIVE aspect. In other words, NON-BINDING!

Hence, at this moment, a referendum on the so serious and delicate topic of the corruption that has been gnawing at Romania for years cannot be and is not a referendum that has a sovereign or binding character.

However, let us imagine for a moment that this topic could be included under the referendum’s deliberative chapter. Who would directly and in a fully-aware manner undertake a “NO” vote? Who would undertake such a vote and why?

And, to make myself better understood, please imagine the campaign for the referendum. Which political party would undertake the “NO”? Obviously, none. But, surely, each political party will come up with its own view on the fight against corruption. Another occasion for disagreements that can dangerously get out of hand. Even more dangerously than they already have.

Consequently, the presidential gesture remains noble in form, but in substance it hides a huge trap directed precisely toward those the referendum is meant for.

Moreover, to trigger now a referendum on a cause that is more than obvious and undeniably worthy of complete and urgent elimination and eradication from the midst of the political class and the Romanian state would only be a much too costly redundancy, useless and extremely dangerous for Romania’s image in the world and for the return to a more than necessary domestic social balance.

In this situation, we can wonder whether President Iohannis is trying to transfer the political responsibility and possible failure on the shoulders of Romanians through this null and void referendum that is nevertheless placed and integrated as a presidential weapon directed toward the political opponent?

Because there are topics and motivations far more important and urgent for the state, which would directly and implicitly back the fight against corruption, for which President Iohannis could and should trigger an authentic, sovereign referendum – the amending of the Constitution –, not only a formal, consultative one.

However, to do that, the president would have to truly take on the role of mediator and centre of balance for the state and definitively abandon the attitude of vendetta or political show.

The presidential gestures of taking part in Government meetings suddenly and in a first, giving triumphant, trenchant and cynical speeches in Parliament, diving into crowds and reaffirming lines such as “Hands off the DNA!” are great and uplifting. But they all remain solely in the presidential PR field and are not at all outright, viable solutions really generating change in the current situation in which the state and its citizens find themselves.

And precisely because the president is a Loner without armies and without a country, facing an extremely well-organised and well-channelled force in all that the real, practical and immediate part of the state means, it’s imperatively necessary for the current Opposition to wake up from its self-induced, cataleptic and aboulic sleep, to urgently regroup and reform itself in order to be able to empower not only the prerogatives that the president has in creating a power counterweight, but especially in order to justify the votes with which Romanians credited this side of the political spectrum several months ago and, in the president’s case, several years ago.

Because no matter how wonderful and possible it would seem to be, the street cannot become the eternal fighting pit between the Power and the Opposition made up of the people, nor can it become the Government itself.

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