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August 12, 2022

The Champagne Socialism

Not even mafia members or criminals have withstood the temptation of apparently benign Facebook postings. So that they involuntarily gave clues that subsequently led to their capture.

Sometimes, politicians are the imprudent ones, thus giving the public details about them that they would otherwise have preferred to keep hidden from those outside their intimate circles. That is what happened several days ago to Liviu Dragnea, who posted a selfie in traffic, showing his paid vigniette. An Opposition parliamentarian noticed the car’s vehicle identification number, thus identifying it as a generation of BMW newer than the one listed in the House Speaker’s wealth statement.

The conclusion was that Liviu Dragnea is using a car that is worth 130,000 euro. Whatever the origin of the car – it was, in fact, purchased by the politician’s son, on behalf of a company whose majority shareholder he is –, the surprise is not that we were dealing with a rich political leader (and a rich family). Nor the correlation with the question that the DNA is trying to answer: does the PSD President have anything to do with Tel Drum or not? In other words: are the sources of this wealth illicit to a smaller or greater extent? Let us leave this issue to the judiciary and note the contradiction between a remarkable wealth and the left-wing political credo.

Of course, the category dubbed “champagne socialism” has been identified as such for a long time. And the proletariat gradually becoming the bourgeoisie in recent decades has almost legitimised a phenomenon that was initially limited and implicitly more strident. Nevertheless, some dilemmas persist in the new context too, where new forms of social exclusion, even more worrisome, have appeared. How could Dominique Strauss-Kahn have been an important left-wing politician? Especially since he was far from being a philanthropist. Not that the Left belongs to the poor and the Right to the rich, but the former has nevertheless maintained an egalitarianist impetus that should exclude such significant social differences. On the other hand, some claim that what matters for a left-wing leader is to implement generous social policies, not to limit his own income. But that entails a certain hypocrisy, because an egalitarian society and a far too rich elite are contradictory not only psychologically – because of a difficult management, in the long term, of the envy of the masses –, but also structurally. Let us take the Romanian case. Is the Romania governed by the Left an egalitarian society? Not at all, because the discriminations are far more significant than the relative levelling of incomes. For instance, it does not matter that all employees who pay their health insurance contributions have, theoretically, equal chances to get some medical tests done. To benefit from health insurance coverage, you must have the luck of finding a laboratory that has funds. Laboratories receive the said funds monthly, but, nevertheless, most patients are unable to schedule their tests. Usually, the patient shows up for several days in a row, called up with the promise of a scheduling. Until the day he/she is nonchalantly told that the funds came but already ran out. In a few hours at most. The image is similar to that of old harbours where an employer was tossing an object in the midst of the aspiring sailors and only the strongest of them managed to get hold of it and, implicitly, got the job. In these conditions, how could we talk about equality? Meanwhile, very rich politicians comfortably go to the most sophisticated laboratories and are charged. They can afford it, because their incomes are disproportionately high. In fact, there are already parties in Europe that promote a certain austerity of politicians, such as the Five Star Movement, which has just become the top party in Italy and which militates, among other things, for the income of parliamentarians to be cut, after it gave its own example during the years it spent in the Opposition.

But even so, in a country like Romania the incomes of politicians are high, potentially, also because of galloping corruption. And so, the circle closes. If the current coalition changes the criminal legislation on corruption, the conclusion is but one: it is protecting its twice-privileged status. All this backsliding of the Left is due, however, also to a surprising intellectual weakness. There is only a pale new generation of Romanian left-wing theoreticians. And even those who affirm themselves as such, seem to be some thrill-seekers impenitently attached to Marx and nostalgia for the communist era rather than responsible intellectuals who learned the lessons of history.

When he was at the helm of the PSD, Adrian Nastase tried, among other political modernisation strategies, to promote the institute for social democratic studies. But, like most of these initiatives, everything remained on the surface, significantly secondary to a governance based on anything but a more real egalitarianism. The party’s intellectuals specialised rather on “security studies,” a gimmick in order to collaborate, at intellectual level, with the intelligence services.

At any rate, without an intellectual rebirth of the Left – the democratic Left, not the anarchic or extremist one –, the PSD will continue to unashamedly leech off a system of values still influential in other European countries, despite various populist backsliding. What Romania lacks most, at political level, is precisely a veritable Left.

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