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February 9, 2023

The moral revolution

In the first half of the 1990s, Emil Constantinescu was a great hope for all those exasperated with the reactionary nature of Ion Iliescu’s post-communist regime. An intellectual, a representative of the civism reborn after decades of dictatorship, but especially an apostle of purifying the state of the corruption that blossomed during an era of transition, of the generalised influence peddling or of the crass incompetence of the administration, Constantinescu ended up president by riding the anti-PSD wave – a party that changed its name several times but not its habits. He appointed Victor Ciorbea as premier, another great hope of “moral” politics. Of Transylvanian origin – a region whose image in what concerns human character is better than others’ –, having experience as magistrate, involved in trade unionism not affiliated to PSD, having recently been Bucharest Mayor, Ciorbea was also representing a party haloed by the communist political prisons or by staunch opposition to Iliescu. Varujan Vosganian, an award-winning writer, creator of various right-wing parties, allied to a new class of energetic entrepreneurs, also seemed a future reformer of local politics, in the name of a welcomed infusion of moral values. After 2004, Calin Popescu-Tariceanu ended up – through a game of circumstances – being premier instead of PSD, which had actually won the elections at first – a small partner’s betrayal changed everything. Since Traian Basescu had plans to completely take over the political scene – by dislodging the other political parties and by forging a large presidential party –, the resistance put up by the premier seemed really heroical, worthy of a knight fighting the dragon of a tendency toward autocracy. Today, all those mentioned – but also others of similar background – are mercenaries of the party they vehemently fought against. Of the party that they depicted as being the absolute evil, for years on end. In other words, not only did they fail to drive PSD away from the political scene, but they even ended up promoting its “values.”

Several months ago, hundreds of thousands of people protested, for days on end, against some of PSD’s ignoble plans. Opposition parties or various opinion leaders invoked the stringent need of moral fall-back, to avoid a fatal societal backsliding. The Good went out to fight the Evil. What if, several years from now, the protesters of those final days of winter will have the surprise of discovering that their “leaders” also ended up in PSD’s pay? What is the source of this astonishing vulnerability? The explanations are multiple. The aforementioned persons are struggling to survive politically, after the local scene was thrown in various confusions, so that they preferred to set aside the values of old in the name of an amoral pragmatism. At most, their case has to do with lack of character – to the extent in which we value loyalty toward certain ideals or at least toward certain ideological programmes. Unfortunately, the issue is not limited only to this. Because we are not talking solely about the moral involution of some. What’s worse is that too many are rhetorically expressing values they do not actually believe in. It’s nice and seducing to talk about public morality, but for most these are words backed by nothing. They themselves, in various social contexts, behave not very differently than those whom they challenge. How many of the anti-PSD journalists really evince moral behaviour. We are not talking about corruption. But a moral crusade against corruption does not invoke solely the honest-corrupt disjunction. This is a juridical disjunction: some observe the law, and others do not. However, to be moral entails more than the observance of legality. And the great anti-PSD discourses make excessive use of moral rhetoric, somewhat dividing the world into two: the honest and the wicked. The problem is that “the honest” maybe have other merits – they have read more, they are more skilled in their profession etc. –, but they are not necessarily more morally sensitive. Many pursue – just as unscrupulously – their own enrichment, many are not quite careful in what concerns their rapports with subordinates or employees, many are not interested in how the public space looks like, and some do not even give a second thought before promoting certain ideas, being preoccupied with their prestige but not with the influence – not always fortunate – that they have on others. “Do what the priest says, not what the priest does” – here’s a piece of wisdom that is not always suitable.

In order to dislodge the PSD “anthropology,” what is needed is not just moralising rhetoric but especially more moral people that would take seriously the values their discourse promotes. Let’s not harbour illusions. If PSD won the elections by a landslide – albeit with the decisive support of an army of absentees –, the ignorance of people who allegedly did not know what they were voting is not to blame. Many voted for PSD fully aware, because they are close, as human typology, to the life philosophy promoted by this party – which is only its exact political expression. But many of those who did not vote for PSD are looking like those who did. From the standpoint of moral values. And anti-PSD opinion makers are not at the antipode of those who are so much criticised either. For PSD to take refuge in history textbooks, there is the need for a moral revolution – and the political one should only follow it. When an ever-growing number of Romanians will behave – regardless of the social context or of who is in power – differently than the typical “PSD man,” we could hope that something will really change.

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