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August 3, 2021

Nastase’s lesson

Little known by the large public, elected following a rapid campaign of support from his fellow rectors, the incumbent Education Minister has rewarded his supporters. At the same time, he took revenge on those who did not support him. Namely on the large universities of tradition.

The experience of the almost 3 post-communist decades in the field of tertiary education has shown that the inflation of small universities with modest results represents not only a waste of resources. It means, at the same time, a nursery of mediocre leaders who pile titles on top of titles, with which they then try to legitimise offices of power that are far beyond their real intellectual qualities. And we are not talking solely about parliamentarians or ministers, but about a plethora of civil servants appointed based on political criteria, at various levels.

Their poor real training is a decisive point of vulnerability, which makes them most of the times politically and institutionally obedient. To simplify, we could say that the Romanian political elite consists, to a great extent, of engineers that have PhDs in national security. If only their technical studies were to materialise in significant public works. Or if only their security studies were more than a cover for a small group that has occult ties to the intelligence services. A good politician must not be a doctor in philosophy, but his intellectual training should include a bit more knowledge of the social realities. The real professionalisation of our political class is one of the main failures in the last quarter of a century. Appropriate studies are not sufficient, but they are necessary.

But the Education Minister’s case is not an isolated one. After all, if Viktor Orban has been glued to his Prime Minister’s chair for so long in Hungary, that is due also to the team he collaborates with. His close circle consists only of friends from his childhood and youth, a serious assurance of non-disavowed loyalty. Then, on other levels, there are people fully interested in not letting down the party that put them there. It is the lesson of Adrian Nastase (photo), who had politicised to a maximum extent, during his stint as Premier, the most diverse institutions. Liviu Dragnea’s true political mentor is precisely Nastase, because it does not matter how many people are against you in the street if you control the main institutions. The CCR case speaks volumes. Without favourable decisions for the ruling power – predictable given the membership of the Court –, many of the so-called reforms would have bogged down long ago. The same goes for the Ombudsman. This kind of control is Dragnea’s current goal, aware that it is his only chance to avoid being toppled by the party or by the elections.

A healthy democracy is one in which as many institutions as possible have a significant dose of autonomy, qualitatively evolving regardless of who is in power. But even the President of the Romanian Academy has an institutional role that makes them interesting for the ruling power.

And it is not by chance that the person who is set to chair the Academy from now on has demonstrated over the years positions that were close to the current ruling party. Even their nationalism alone can become useful in the ruling power’s attempts to ideologically react to the EU’s unwanted intrusions. Many other institutions, almost always far from the limelight, are led in the ruling party’s partisan interest. And at their helm there are persons whose training and careers do not recommend them for holding such a responsibility.

Institutional feathered nests are one of the chronic diseases of the Romanian political-administrative system. A more serious public debate would not hurt, a debate in which alternative solutions would be proposed and the political parties would include some of them in their electoral offers. What young politicians lack the most is redoubtable personality.

They lack a taste for initiative, being careful only to curry favour with some influential leader. Some of them, few, are trying to compensate through strident slickness – that was Victor Ponta’s case. Most, on the other hand, are patiently waiting for advantageous appointments. It is not by chance that even the previous premiers were so easy to replace.

Viktor Orban is still so popular because he has implemented a governance efficiency of a quasi-feudal type. If he wants to put something into practice, nothing stands in his way anymore. If there are no solid democracies, such an ‘illiberal’ alternative is more than tempting. Even more so in Romania – where, for the time being, the only thing missing is the leader to match.

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