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The strange campaign

When speaking about the first years of World War 2, historians and military analysts always mention in wonder what came to be known as the strange campaign, in September 1939 – May 1940, when German forces counted a number of large scale military wins owing, as it is the case particularly with the one in Poland, to the fact that French – British Allies lacked the courage – or the will – to attack them on German territory and thus push Hitler into defence. Although the Allies had declared war to National-Socialist Germany as far back as in 1939, they helplessly witnessed the fall of Poland,Denmark andNorway, followed by the entire French defence system collapse. Such a campaign appears to be unfolding on the Romanian political arena after the official launch of the electoral campaign.

Paradoxically enough, the period just before the campaign, although hardly defined by a political battle pattern itself, was nonetheless richer in events and statements than the campaign as such. After this summer parties launched reshuffling and reorganisation moves, in view of preparing the campaign, and repeated signals were given that the battle had already started, as each party laid out its rationale and launched the first attacks on their opponents, as soon as the official battle was launched, parties stepped back and left their leaders and image carriers, themselves quite tired, to take the forefront. There may be a host of explanations for such a strange policy, it may generate a lot of comments, yet if fails to generate what a true electoral campaign should generate: trust.

In fact, this is the greatest problem facing the whole electoral campaign at this stage, which in many ways comes as no surprise, given that it is the natural yield of the fifteen years of Romanian democracy. The pattern of parties or party alliances pushed by an image carrier has reached a stage where it is no longer able to generate trust, and for this reason it reached a dead end. And this is all the more terrible for the political class as they refuse to face it and tackle it, although everybody feels something needs to be done.

The dead end

In spite of an electoral campaign focusing, in the first ballot, on establishing a Parliament majority and a strong government, able to manage the enforcement of European Union integration criteria, for most of the parties the campaign discourse was channelled into strengthening the main image carrier, i.e. the candidate to Presidency – precisely the one who, save from a symbolic importance, has nothing to offer to society except fatherly advice and encouragement. Even parties whose main target is accession to Parliament, such as UDMR or PNŢ-cd, took over this campaign pattern, which appears to be quite successful, although for years now it has proved its post-electoral uselessness. Yet the desire to achieve success through an already tested method was greater than the courage to try something new, a method in which the party gets a higher score through its own platform and political performance. It is this desire which is today sanctioned by people’s unconcern, as the Romanian society seems a lot more interested in the USA elections or in Mutu’s tribulations and performances than in an electoral campaign which appears to bring nothing new and nothing interesting. And there was hardly any chance for it to appear interesting, because, if we look close enough, we find in the four main Presidential candidates the same old puppet show of the ’90s.

Many imagined that after Ion Iliescu’s second constitutional mandate, therefore after his withdrawal from presidential campaigns, the system would change, because, they said, Iliescu stands for a stage, a way of doing politics which relies on his personality and therefore is unique. But much to our surprise, Iliescu left the political arena a lot earlier, namely the moment people understood he could not be voted for again, that is this summer.

Again paradoxically, in the local elections parties advertised themselves, together with the individuals proposed for local offices, which is why they claimed to have contributed to candidates’ success. More often than not, this was not the case, as people voted for Radu Mazăre and not for PSD in Constanta, they voted for Ciuhandu in Timisoara, rather than for PNŢ-cd. This is when citizens became aware that only individuals speaking for themselves are important, both for themselves and for the parties, and that an independent Ion Iliescu running on the lists of a political party is as common as all the other candidates in the respective lists, therefore his candidacy does not raise the stakes in the political game. For this reason, parties and citizens fell in the same political trap liable to affect democracy as such, namely embracing paternalism as a political approach on elections, Parliamentary ones in particular.

Unfortunately, at least two of the main runners (the ones most likely to enter the runoff) have built a discourse and an image the goal of which is not overriding the Iliescu pattern, but reintegrating it in their own campaigns. Whereas for Năstase the pattern was quite familiar, as he voted for Iliescu twice already, it is the first time that Băsescu accepts it, although many may think he is rejecting it.

What does the Iliescu pattern stand for?

The Iliescu pattern is probably the only truly domestic political pattern, the only one fully rooted in a Romanian collective mindframe, a post-Ceauşescu mindframe rather than a post-Communist one. And we believe this distinction is in place, because the Romanian Communist system, through Nicolae Ceauşescu, took a radically more nationalist course than the one in other former Communist states, which generated in-depth social behaviour modifications with the Romanians, the poorest – then, and now – of the Warsaw Pact and CAER peoples, i.e. in Central and Eastern Europe-. Which is why the Romanian political and economic transition was quite different from that of other former Socialist states, and a key role in the process was played by Mr. Iliescu. Intentionally or not, he came up as a saviour, as the left-wing man in stark contrast from Ceauşescu, as a notable Communist dissident. All these elements were used by former party apparatchiks when proposing Iliescu as the long awaited leader after Ceauşescu’s Communist regime collapsed. For this reason, Iliescu’s became close to a divine name with various social categories, as his image was that of the man in the street who knows precisely what the people’s real problems are, and who tries to solve them by various means – giving back the land seized by Communists, keeping jobs in industry although not in the least profitable, allowing for earlier retirement, and so on.

In political terms, this is called populism, and this pattern was taken over by all Romanian political parties, whether allies of Ion Iliescu or not. And the more the pattern extended, the higher its brainfather’s symbolic and actual power, so that eventually the pattern could no longer be defeated by anything except an even higher populism- which is why there is no such thing as a Constantinescu pattern. But to be able to use such a powerful weapon, Iliescu had to employ an extremely strong party structure (initially recruited from among former Communist apparatchiks), which agreed to being used, but which in turn used Iliescu. This structure is the source of all those who run for the Presidential office today, except for Marko Bella, who represents a minority anyway, but who learned in Romania that one can use the system if one agrees to being used.

As for Băsescu, things are even simpler and more obvious than that: he learned from Iliescu not only the art of populism, but also the art of sacrificing the one who seemed to be your closest friend. While Iliescu sacrificed Petre Roman, in a tandem with whom he had won the elections in the `90, because the latter jeopardised Iliescu’s huge popularity, Băsescu sacrificed Stolojan for the cause of populist dynamism that the latter was embarrassed with.

As products of the Iliescu pattern, the main candidates hardly noticed that, reaching the second mandate, Iliescu went democratic and operated major changes on the pattern. And they failed to do so because, as we mentioned above, Iliescu was no longer important in himself, given that he is no longer a Presidential runner. On the other hand, the pattern continues to be efficient both in terms of symbol, and in terms of image, and all would-be presidents want to acquire this pattern as soon and as efficiently as possible. Only that times and circumstances have changed, and Romanians are waiting not for a post-Ceauşescu era, but for a post-Iliescu one.

mso-fareast-language:Placing their parties in the background of the electoral race, structuring their message on populism and negative vote, the two main Presidency candidates found themselves in a very awkward position, as they realised they have nothing to say actually. After having made quite similar promises – there are few things to promise, since people expect one thing alone – the two are now playing a rather pathetic game, acting out the hare and the bear in the forest. And eventually, of this pastoral image Romanian citizens will not hesitate to choose the hunter, although not always the politically correct thing to do.

Publicat în : English  de la numărul 21

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