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December, 12th – The

I don’t know how many of you remember the story behind this phrase which has been so widely used, that it has become somewhat out of date for quite a while now, although it is sure to come back to life quite soon. But the story has its own significance, one may say, apart from the respective phrase. Reportedly, in the early history of Rome, when the city showed no signed yet that it would grow into a global empire in Antiquity, the city was conquered by the Celtic tribes of the Gauls. The conquerors asked for a huge amount of gold as ransom, and when the defeated city officials protested, saying there was no way they could produce so much gold, the Barbaric leader added the weight of his own gigantic sword to the amount to be paid. He thus offended Aeneas’ successors once more, with the aforesaid words: vae victis (“Woe to the vanquished”).

The message of the Roman story is as open as possible, and, in a certain interpretation, particularly adequate for what happened during and after the runoff in the presidential elections, when the PSD runner found himself in the position of having lost the battle before it started.

Campaign of the two poles

In this otherwise flat electoral campaign, which seemed unbearably normal for many, the presidential runoff was awaited like a big final match, a sort of Cup of Cups in the Romanian politics, a breathtaking meeting which once and for all was to shed light on the Romanian political arena. This is because, as we have stated too often already, in Romania there is an innate lack of confidence in organisations (party or trade union) and a huge confidence in the Man who leads the organisation, who as a rule becomes the leader of the country. And this confidence, as we have seen before and as we see now, is shared by everybody, from simple peasants to most of the high-ranked intellectuals in the country, only that their options were, at least in these elections, quite the opposite from what one would have expected. The two Romanias that Adrian Năstase was speaking about got polarised in the runoff, offering a sense of democratic normality, because the two candidates represented the two different poles.

Băsescu – Iliescu’s Freudian successor

As far as Traian Băsescu is concerned, his explosive personality, his extraordinary capacity to communicate and his unconventional ways enabled him to relate much better with society, with the urban one in particular, although he is not lacking in popularity in villages either. What turned Băsescu into a President were neither the programmes, nor the promises, but himself, which stands proof for a truth that many reached a long time ago, intuitively: he is much closer to Ion Iliescu’s style and pattern than his opponent, although the latter is the one backed by Romania’s former President. Whoever saw Băsescu and Iliescu together, cool and smiling, in their capacities as former and incumbent President, can understand how similar the two are, both in political and human terms. They are both the die-hard type, those who fought the political battles in the elections, in Parliament or in public offices, exclusively using their image and talent, without intellectual refinement.

Unlike Băsescu, and therefore unlike Iliescu, Adrian Năstase was the type of politician who permanently used the system, without bringing his image to light. He had not taken part in electoral races, except for the Parliamentary ones, where he was insured by the list voting. It was only as a Premier that he used his image, but in this case natural data and those required by his position worked together to distort his image and define him as the distant, therefor arrogant type, the expert Premier, but also the party president who has to reconcile, in terms of image, the corruption in the party with the alert and modern governance model. Therefore, the image of Adrian Năstase the Premier failed to overlap with the image of Adrian Năstase the candidate for Presidency. For this reason, an Adrian Năstase surrounded by other PSD senior officials conveyed the image of a stiff upper lip at a poor neighbourhood wedding, where people are having a good time and need no wet blankets. At such a wedding, Iliescu and Băsescu would feel quite comfortable, in different ways, of course, but age changes many things. Năstase on the other hand would only escape ridicule if he were the newly weds’ Godfather, because he only exists if appointed leader by someone else. Otherwise, he is just another dull guest to the wedding.

Băsescu, between hip-hop shows and Cotroceni

Năstase’s lack of popularity has been analysed, time and again, by various political analysts and, unfortunately, his campaign staff failed to pay attention to it, but on the contrary, they particularly emphasised the vigorous and handsome type – a type with no echoes in the collective archetype set. And, in particular, with no echo in the archetype set of the urban youth who came to polling stations for the first time, who listen to Paraziţii and have never heard of Wagner, who use dirty language and whose fathers look a lot more like a Băsescu than a Năstase. The type of ironical smoker, who can drink any time a beer or even a cheap brandy with the guys in the dirtiest pub around the corner, just as cool as he would be in an official reception, is what these young people like. The type who looks at the European Union not as a fearful bureaucrat who hasn’t done his homework, the type who lays emphasis on nationalism, but also on the special relationship with the USA (which appear to be quite the same thing at the moment) seems to be the favourite of the middle class, which is not quite sure whether the EU accession timing is the best. The strange, bald and sort of cross-eyed character who fights against everybody – an administrative Don Quixote – is preferred by block of flats managers in the country’s towns, who remember better the Governmental interference in the apartment heating issue, rather than the heating vouchers for pensioners. This is the popularity Adrian Năstase has never had and, I believe, has never searched for.

In a high rating TV show, Adrian Năstase’s image adviser stated impudently that he is advising the former PM because he is the only guarantee of a Romania free of Ion Iliescu, against whom himself (the image adviser) had been fighting in the previous electoral campaigns as well. Thus, although dozens of posters at least immoral (to say nothing about breaking Constitution provisions) in which Iliescu is depicted as symbolically handing over the Power to Năstase, Bogdan Teodorescu’s statement had a higher impact on the rural voters, Iliescu’s devoted electorate, who didn’t come rushing to polling stations in this runoff. And those who did show up in polling stations voted not particularly for the handsome Adrian Năstase, but for the former Premier who convinced them that he has done something for the rural communities. In other words, reason overcame the image.

Quite paradoxically, I think Năstase was voted for a lot more sensibly than Traian Băsescu, that is by the age groups he focused on in his programme – pensioners and those on the verge or retirement, by those groups of intellectuals who are more concerned with the teaching staff hierarchy rather than the teaching performance, by workers and lower rank clerks, and those income groups which rely heavily, or even exclusively, on State support. Băsescu was voted for, out of anger against a Năstase who defended Hildegard Puvak and Rodica Stănoiu all the way and back, who brought Micky the Bribe and Octav Cozmâncă into the Government. He did not have a systematically defined electorate, apart from the youth who see in him a father identical to the natural father in the urban environment. The narrow margin between the two was given not by the voters, but by non-voters, by the massive absenteeism of close to half of the citizens, which is said to be a sign of normality, although I see it as a sign of political recklessness.

Moreover, by pressing the society into accepting a coalition Government headed by PSD, after the general elections, Năstase further increased the frustration of those who have opposing the idea that the incoming Government will be made up of the same people, suspected of being the pillars of corruption. Băsescu’s promise not to accept such a Government strengthened the motivation of those who, directly or indirectly, did not vote for Năstase. And this is how, in one move, Adrian Năstase now loses it all, both in terms of politics, and in terms of image. He lost the party, which will not take back a leader who lost the elections, he lost the chance to slide into a Government, and therefore the possibility to play the top level political game, and he also lost the understanding of those who still believed in him after the pathetic performance in the runoff. This is the beginning of politics without Adrian Năstase.

Băsescu’s Romania

Taking over the Presidential office, Băsescu initiates a new political era, not necessarily different in terms of image – considering that Romanians voted for the smile, in all cases except 1996 – but different in how the political game is played. The unrestrained and ironical Băsescu will be accountable, from now on, for what he sees as the wisest formula to reassert the country’s status on the European and global map. He will be facing real democracy, in which his attributions will be limited – although he now appears to play an authoritarian role. Last, though not least, he is now forced to let the party and the Alliance out of his hands, signalling that the Romanian political arena is getting ready for a new political class.

Publicat în : English  de la numărul 21

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