The European Parliament election held these days gave rise to appalling reactions, and somber political fights in Romania, revealing how divided, how torn and conflicted the Romanian society is nowadays. I have recently witnessed one of the saddest moments of hatred and disdain, directed against the most vulnerable categories of population – old, ill-educated, poverty-stricken people. Their sin is that they support, in their great majority, the Social Democratic Party.
PSD (The Social Democratic Party) which has been in power two thirds of the time after 1989, is viewed as the heir of the communist regime (its nickname is “The red plague”). The party inherited indeed a part of the ex-nomenklatura from communist times which helped maintain the everlasting confusion between the provenience of some of its staff, the party’s name, and their politics; which is as neoliberal as it can get, behind some vague, superficial social measures. But there is no real Left here, except for some timidly burgeoning tendencies; to say you’re leftist is equated with being a nostalgic for the former communist regime, and with being a PSD supporter.
PSD is also regarded as the party leading the way for the theft and destruction of the country after 1989. For most middle-class young and middle-aged voters, it’s the one and only enemy of democracy, of European integration, good living standards, and so on. While there are clearly a lot of problems with its governing, it shares them all with the other Romanian parties. Unfortunately, I can see no real better options at the moment. Blindly placing every misdeed from our recent past on one single party’s shoulders is not going to help us, neither to understand how we got here, nor to change things for the better. Moreover, going from addressing one party’s faults to hating its voters it’s particularly distressing.
A few days ago, PSD organized a manifestation of support in Iasi, (more or less forcibly) gathering there its supporters – mainly poor people from the country side. People in Iasi organized a counter-manifestation. They insulted the others, throwing them 1-leu banknotes and mockingly offering them buckets with oil bottles and flour (as PSD, as well as other parties, used to during election campaigns). “It’s the only language they understand” they contemptuously said. I’ve never seen such social fascism so light-heartedly exposed. The long-lasting demonisation and disdain for the poor continuously poured by our journalists and public intellectuals in the mainstream media has finally produced results. PSD voters are seen as a nuisance, a shameful burden preventing Romania grow into “the good direction”. A “PSD-ist” (a PSD supporter), is no more a descriptive term, but turned into a heavy insult.
But who are these people? Among them we can find the losers of the so-called “transition from communism to democracy” – a significant part of our elderly, barely surviving with their meager retirement wages, and most of the countryside and small towns inhabitants, most of them ill-educated, with no perspectives for a work place and future decent lives. This mass of impoverished people is profoundly despised by the educated, middle class young, and not so young, folks coming mostly from big cities. “Tinerii frumosi si liberi”, (“the beautiful and free young”, as they are called) have much contempt, when not hate, for the old, the poor, the illiterate, and are very vocal against those on “social assistance”. (Of course, when well-gaining categories such as IT employees or when big companies or banks are tax exempted, they see no problem with that, on the contrary.)
They think they have a heavenly duty to “enlighten” the elders who are stupid enough not to choose the “right” vote (the one against PSD, the one which, at least apparently, protects the interests of these young corporate voices). They treat with the same condescension their own relatives, if they happen to fall among the PSD-voting culprits. “Call home and convince them” is a popular banner circulating nowadays on Facebook; another is “Lock them in the house and take the key with you” (on 26th May, the date Romanians are called to vote on European Elections). Many have posted fragments of conversations with their elders, proudly showing how they enlightened them and convinced them to give “the right vote”, the one against PSD. The Facebook stream is full of posts urging everybody to vote (against PSD is always implied), stating the country’s future is at stake. In other circumstances, I’d find this hilarious. But the quasi-religious fervour, the conviction they are the one and only to hold the truth, and the aggressive contempt for those who do not agree with their “truth” are disheartening.
I am surprised nobody bothers to ask why these people continue to vote for this party that the others hate so much. Possibly, because these people are held hostages by their life conditions, by local power relations, because they have no real alternative? Maybe because they are simply abandoned, when not mocked by everybody else? Or because the other parties’ main political program consists primarily of being against PSD (“Muie PSD”, meaning literally “give PSD a blow-job”, having replaced any in-depth analysis and well thought measures?)
Why should they vote “for Europe” and for measures favouring only middle-class city inhabitants, when not directly corporations and big business? For these people, EU integration is an abstract idea that brought them nothing, they have only seen worsening their life conditions. They are being accused with much disdain by young corporate voices for “selling their votes” to a corrupted party for 100 Lei (about 20 Euros) in addition to their retirement wage, forgetting that such “populist” measure can make a small difference, when this one is only 520 Lei (109 Euro). That’s the minimum retirement wage, received by more than 1 million Romanians. The other parties didn’t do anything for them, not even adding those 20 Euros to their retirement wages (when they didn’t actually cut them). The medium retirement wage is right now no more than 1000 Lei (210 Euros a month). All this, in the country with the largest number of extremely expensive cars on (city) square meter in Europe.
Romania’s GDP has one of the fastest growth rates in Europe (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_European_Union_member_states_by_GDP_growth) but also the biggest share of poverty-stricken population in Europe – 49,7% in 2016. And the poorest 10% of the population is ten times poorer as their European counterpart. This means that more than 1,5 million people earn less than 3 Euros a day, or only 2% of the totality of revenues, the smallest proportion in the European Union.
Practically, the gap between the poor and the rich only widens. As does the split between “we” and “them”. Our lives are world apart. And we do nothing to close the gap, or at least try to understand what’s happening.
I totally agree that PSD should leave the political scene; the fastest, the better. But all other parties should go – they all share PSD’s irresponsible neoliberal politics, and the corruption scandals. I can see a certain difference only in PSD’s highly destructive measures concerning culture and education, and in their repeated choice of ignorant representatives in key political positions. Thus, they positioned themselves as openly devaluating culture and education, and despising their voters, too. It’s quite normal that young, educated, middle class folks virulently oppose it. What is less acceptable is the hate epidemics that surfaced, directed against the most vulnerable part of our population. And the conviction they hold that should PSD disappear from the political scene, everything will be fine. One of their mantras is the state must be reduced to a minimum, and corporations, banks, and investors will naturally thrive, which is obviously all one could wish for. Some of them recently went out in the street to protest various outrageous measures taken by PSD, among which…increased taxes on companies and banks. (*I will put this in context. A last year survey showed 31 out of 46 banks operating here didn’t pay taxes in the last 5 years; that’s 70%. While the business is extremely profitable; three of our main Romanian banks had a medium gain of more than 21% this year, a profitability over three time more than the European medium. The companies also almost tripled their profits from 2008 to 2017, but the state has an efficiency of taxing profits of 0,19%, the smallest in the region (for Bulgaria is 0,51 and for Ungaria 0,55%).
I can barely see how these changes will improve the lives of the millions of impoverished Romanians which now vote for PSD.
The only good I can see coming out of this situation is the deep rift in our society’s tissue and all this hate and contempt became visible, and now it can be discussed.
I profoundly doubt any foreign press will ever mention these events, which I find nevertheless very significant, signalling a very worrying evolution of Romanian society. Liviu Dragnea, the leader of Romania’s ruling Social Democratic party (PSD) (aka the corrupted businessman turned behind-the-scenes government ruler), seems a far better (and easy) target. Like in this recent article –
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/may/08/his-ideology-is-himself-the-shadowy-figure-calling-the-shots-in-romania-liviu-dragnea?CMP=share_btn_fbwhere I can only spot the same mantras as those mainstream in Romania. PSD is the only problem, fight the corruption and everything will be fine etc.
Some remarks, though – Laura Codruta Kovesi, painted here as an anticorruption hero, actually closed, while being the National Direction Anticorruption Chief Prosecutor, the files of ones of the biggest robberies in Romanian history, as the huge Microsoft, EADS, BAE Systems or Bechtel frauds. All these cases follow the same well-known pattern – the foreign company is never indicted, only their Romanian counterpart; after a while, in most cases, the file is simply closed.
Deputy Cristian Ghinea, which they quote, called two months ago for the interdiction of all “Communist organizations, symbols or propaganda”. It is not very clear what “Communism” means in his vision – from his posts, apparently more or less any real leftist measure. I wonder if this is really someone to quote in a serious newspaper, not to say a so-called Left one.
And a last correction – PSD is actually a centre-right party which draws on conservative social policies, belonging to the Left only with the name.
The results of EP election in Romania were PNL – 26,35%, PSD – 23,16%, USR – PLUS – 21,24%, Pro România – 6,77%, UDMR – 6,19%, PMP – 5,64%.
The fact that, for the first time, PSD lost, and the condemnation of Liviu Dragnea the very next day, for three-and-a-half years in prison for corruption brought a vague of enthusiasm in the whole country.
Personally, I do not see the reason for such a celebration. Dragnea should have been condemned a long time ago, for many other reasons. Between PSD and PNL, the party who won the elections, the differences are minimal. The third party on the list, USR – PLUS, seen by some as a big hope, is a pro-business party whose programme only addresses the interests of middle-class big city dwellers, besides being quite contradictory and chaotical.
A joke now circulating on the internet says – “PSD lost. The opposition also lost… its political programme”.
Maybe that could be a better reason to be joyful – the defeat of PSD should determine the opposition to articulate a real political program, as simply being “against PSD” becomes insufficient.