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Bucharest
March 6, 2021
EDITORIAL

Party, looking for leader and direction

Lately, most of the press and television debates have dealt with the actions and feats of the new political party that came to power, the Social Democrats’ party, the virtual space and the mental space of civil society being occupied with and preponderantly oriented toward only one side of the political spectrum.

It is self-explanatory that, in most cases and most of the time, people are preoccupied with what seems to be the only source of the shortcomings we face, as individuals and as a country, and with what is called, in official terms, the state’s active political power, meaning that political party that won the elections and established its dominance in Parliament, forming a Government that is more or less of the same political stripe.

However, beyond the governing policy aspects, which indeed concern us all, and the way in which the stakes are laid down within the ruling party, we must recall, as an imperious necessity, that the country, the state and its citizens are not led by a ruling single-stripe and univocal monolith that is completely bereft of and isolated from that political counterweight that generates the multi-party system and defines the traits of any democratic state of the world.

Because, isn’t it so, any democratic regime is represented by a political axis with two equidistant power ends engaged not in a continuous conflict in the struggle for power but in searching for and finding a balance that would ensure national stability and prosperity and the observance of rule of law principles, elements that define modern democracies – the Ruling Power and the Opposition.

In post-1989 Romania, politics fragmented and was always divided (or the attempt was made) into a doctrinaire and chromatic palette that gave the start to a veritable marathon toward it, generating powerful sprints among the competing parties.

After more than half a century of single-party dictatorship and almost two hundred years since the first moments Romania entered the ranks of politically emancipated countries, taking the first step in this sense through the official establishment of the National Liberal Party (1875) as an expression of alignment with the views and trends of a modern Europe, in the Romania of the 1990s one of the biggest and most overwhelming difficulties we all ran up against – and from then ever since – was and remains that of defining ourselves as mentality and national political and citizenship traits in what concerns adhesion to and individual and national inclusion within the doctrines that have become symbols and national representation forces in the new Romania.

One of the many parties that were born in the dawn of our current democracy was the National Liberal Party.

Normally, anyone who talks about liberalism in Romania, regardless of the period and historical and political context in which it was active and present, has the tendency to stress the rebirth of this political party and not its birth, considering the historical longevity of the Romanian liberal doctrine and the obsessive persuasion carried out during the 27 years of liberal reaffirmation and adjudication of this glorious historical past.

However, in my view, post-1989 liberalism and traditional Romanian liberalism – the liberalism of Mazar Pasa and the Bratianu family – have as a common point of view only that historical element, invokable and decorative, which cannot blend the two and lift the current PNL to the status of a political party with solid traditions and arguments.

Throughout its 27 years of comeback, PNL remained a party whose importance, direction and coherence did not have too much to do with the real ideology and doctrine that defines fundamental liberalism in any modern and democratic state of the world.

After all, an ideology, no matter how good it may be, is null as long as it isn’t implemented and adapted to the times in which the party that represents it exists.

In a brief overview, the current PNL had and continues to have an extremely sinuous path. Far too uncertain from the standpoint of the way in which the leaders that alternated at the helm of this party in the last twenty-something years made the liberal doctrine an internal battleground for power and the liberal historical tradition a currency on whose basis they uninterruptedly and completely unscrupulously or inelegantly negotiated the liberal presence at the winners’ table. Regardless of the party that gained power and held the reins of the state and the dominant position at any point throughout the 27 years.

For the post-1989 Liberals, the prevailing elements in choosing their timing and position in the great political picture were not ideology or the interests of the Romanian electorate or at least of its liberal part, but the need for caste and the continuous invoking of a historical tradition that has become outdated and useless in a country that has a civil society disabused of the true doctrinaire meanings and motivations of any party engaged in the power game, even more so of the liberal one permanently located in a political blindside.

Thus, during all these years of free and democratic elections, PNL never managed, regardless of the political combinations and schemes it saw fit to use, to gain power by itself and to form a purely liberal majority.

Moreover, during all these years, the unsubstantial and self-styled exclusivist liberal caste was subjected to and resorted to all kinds of alliances, misalliances, political cohabitations and mergers that can be ranked as being completely against nature and the traditional liberal views. Only out of the desperate, visible and completely destabilising – for Romanians who declared themselves the supporters of this political line – desire to still exist in the world and at the table of power. Regardless of the long-term costs and effects.

However, a political party that has no perfectly- and well-defined identity and fundamental doctrine that would become the corner stone and personal rule for living, thinking and acting, primarily for that party’s leaders, and, consequently, for any follower of that party, cannot survive the steamroll of history and cannot create credibility, stability, force and support among its sympathisers in the long run.

Thus, throughout time, PNL found itself facing political bankruptcy on several occasions. Being miraculously saved, at the last moment, by a kind-hearted gesture on the part of the leaders of the ruling party, who, for various reasons, some more than obvious – such as attaining the parliamentary majority threshold –, others apparently hidden yet extremely transparent when it came to the liberal leaders’ positions in various government cabinets, kept PNL alive in a manner entirely artificial and always prone to the threat of making the ruin final.

An effect that was not late in coming when the sixth president of PNL, Crin Antonescu, suddenly and mysteriously left the Romanian politics scene, an exit that created a lethal vacuum inside the frail and subsistent liberalism. A void that trigger the unravelling and actual ruining of what PNL was and claimed to be in the last decades.

In fact, I would note an unfortunate similarity between today’s PNL and the PNL of one hundred years ago. The old PNL died with Ionel I. C. Bratianu, after which the Liberals busied themselves casting people in the role of PNL president. Today, PNL died with Crin Antonescu.

For four years now, PNL has entered the final stretch of the exit from Romanian political history, through an obvious and alarming dismantling which started right at the heart of the liberal party which reached that point of critical mass in which the party’s leadership has taken caricatural forms and meanings, embarrassing and completely devoid of that force and credibility that a leadership brings to the support of any party’s social and political capital.

While the Romanian Social Democrats can be characterised as a brotherhood in which the game of power often administers blows to its very heart – the leader who is officially at the helm of the party –, disseminating it and creating veritable battle phalanxes that fight and clash within the party but maintain the outward appearance of unity of direction and vision before the voter and political opponent, in the Liberals’ case the blows administered to the party’s foundations, to its political stability within the political class and to the image projected toward the voter stem from a continued weakening of the party’s power consistency, generated by the Liberal leaders themselves through the way they saw and see fit to shift the party’s centre of gravity and stability based on the personal interests of each of them.

And the most suggestive example in this sense is that of the latest parliamentary elections. The one held in the winter of last year. When PNL – despite being on the verge of collapse, in an obvious crisis of the leadership’s image and a crisis of the credible and sustainable message for the electorate and for just barely saving itself from the final disaster that was obviously threatening the whole Romanian right wing, with the Liberals at its forefront – saw fit to dissipate and waste its last forces and its last electoral resource and credit by projecting its entire campaign on an embarrassing and deleterious, ambiguous and volatile adjudication – alongside USR – of technocrat Prime Minister Dacian Ciolos.

But, one way or another, the Liberals managed, this time around too, to find a comfortable spot in the current parliamentary legislature.

Theoretically speaking, the Liberals are today part of the quasi-inexistent parliamentary Opposition.

Basically, the Liberals (as many as they are left and under any political emblem or stripe they might be now) are not only unable to regroup and create at least a minuscule point of support for what is left of the current Romanian right wing, but they seem to continue to opt for the oddest and the most disastrous solutions. Such as the one that Raluca Turcan, PNL’s new interim president, announced, namely the merger with USR.

Something that, in my opinion, would lead to the definitive dying out of liberal credibility and of the liberal option for the Romanian electorate.

And they, the Liberals, also managed, through typical skilfulness – extremely well cultivated and maintained throughout time – and a typical move, to once again tag along the ruling power’s cart, through the chameleon-like and long-lived Calin Popescu Tariceanu, transformed in a few months into the leader of another gimmick from the old yet efficient ad-hoc Liberal cookbook – ALDE.

But ALDE, just like Calin Popescu Tariceanu, apparently and temporarily no longer has any kind of link or shared interests with the traditional historical liberal Cinderella – PNL –, which has remained overshadowed in the anaemic and invisible parliamentary Opposition.

The current PNL is looking for a leader.

And until it finds one that would offer the magical touch of resurrection and re-launch into a true form of right-wing political party that has the capacity to restructure and redefine by itself this side of the Romanian political spectrum, Romanian liberalism remains one of the biggest modern post-1989 political deceptions and uncertainties.

 

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