France 24 debate moderated by Mark Owen, Romania: Living with Ceausescu’s Ghost Tuesday, Dec 29 2009 

For those of you interested in the televised debate in which I participated, it is available at:

http://www.france24.com/en/20091221-the-france-24-debate-romania-ceausescu-execution-revolution-anniversary

Are reconciliation and ‘truth’ compatible? Wednesday, Dec 23 2009 

An article by Adrian Humphreys, published in National Post, 39 May 2008, available at: http://www.nationalpost.com/most-popular/reconciliation+truth+compatible/552834/story.html. Canada is one of the few consolidated democracies to establish a truth commission. Here are some excerpts:

On Monday morning, when the three commissioners gather for the first time in an Ottawa office to begin their monumental five-year task of leading the Truth and Reconciliation Commission into aboriginal abuse in the residential school system, Canada will take its historical place alongside such tarnished regimes as South Africa, Chile, El Salvador and Sierra Leone. As the first democratic, Western government to host such an emotionally laden and politically charged forum — a name and a process that is as acclaimed for its positive therapeutic value as it is criticized for assuaging guilt without punishment — there is much hope for constructive change and fear of colossal disappointment. There are questions of appropriateness and outcome; of scope and purpose; of who is getting the truth and who will be reconciled. As the commission begins its work, critics are already asking victims to boycott it, calling it a “sham” and a “whitewash.” Questions also come from the man named to lead the commission, Justice Harry LaForme, an Ontario judge who was the first aboriginal person to sit on any appellate court in Canada.

Colin Woodard’s Global Post Article on the Romanian Revolution Saturday, Dec 19 2009 

Award-winning journalist and author of Ocean’s End, The Lobster Coast, and The Republic of Pirates, Colin Woodard published today a longer piece on the Romanian Revolution in the prestigious Global Post.

On his blog, Colin writes: “Twenty years ago this morning, I was being interrogated by Vienna airport security, along with just about everyone else intending to fly to New York with TWA. I was grilled by a hawk eyed Austrian agent with a cold demeanor and a Mitteleuropean’s clipboard. My answers seemed to annoy him. Where are you traveling from? (Hungary.) How long were you there? (Four months.) Where else did you go? (the Romanian Socialist Republic, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, twice to the Polish People’s Republic, Yugoslavia three times.) What were you doing there? (Exchange student, Karl Marx University of Economics.) You entered Austria yesterday, where did you spend the night? (Sleeping on an airport ticket counter.) Why? (I can’t afford your hotels.) Are you carrying any weapons? (No.) Are you sure? (Yes.) And so on. Vienna had been the site of a horrific terrorist attack four years earlier engineered by Abu Nidal, that decade’s stand in for Osmama bin Laden. They weren’t taking any chances.” You can read the remained of his entry at http://colinwoodard.blogspot.com/2009/12/1989-2009-romanias-revolution-lifts-off.html.

His Global Post piece is titled Probing Romania’s Cryptic Revolution. As he writes, “Among Warsaw Bloc countries, Romania’s revolution was uniquely brutal. Twenty years later, scholars still debate whether the worst bloodshed was caused by revolutionaries fighting each other by mistake. While their neighbors tossed aside hard-line regimes with little or no bloodshed, 1,104 Romanians were killed and 3,352 injured in clashes between various combinations of protestors, soldiers, secret police, and groups of shadowy figures described as “terrorists” whose identity and existence has been debated ever since. Eastern Europe’s other communist leaders had either led their country’s revolutions or had been eased into retirement; Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife Elena were executed in the courtyard of a rural military garrison. And while the Romanian Revolution put an end to Europe’s last Stalinist dictatorship – complete with acute food shortages, omnipotent secret police, and a cult of personality – it replaced it with a group of men who had been a part of the regime and were not eager to see its inner workings exposed to the public, scholars, or the courts.” The full article is available at: http://www.globalpost.com/passport/foreign-desk/091218/probing-romanias-cryptic-revolution.

How the latest Romanian presidential poll turned into a parliamentary election Friday, Dec 18 2009 

The dust has not yet settled on the ballots Romanian voters used on December 6 to elect their new President – mostly because the Constitutional Court ordered their recount – and the new talk in town was no longer the validation of President Traian Basescu for a second five-year term, but his Democrat-Liberal Party’s chances to form the new government. This development is surprising, since the election was presidential, not parliamentary. One might reply that the development was in fact expected, since Romania needs a new cabinet, after the team of Democrat-Liberal Prime Minister Emil Boc lost the confidence of Parliament only weeks before the vote. I’d suggest instead that it was not the ousting of the government that conditioned the presidential vote, but the presidential poll that cut short Boc’s premiership. This was an unforseen consequence of the electoral reforms effected during the last odd five years, which set the parliamentary and presidential polls apart by lengthening the President’s mandate to five years, instead of four. Ironically, the lengthening of the presidential office was hailed as one way to better the Romanian political system and fight the voters’ increased apathy toward a political process from which they have been increasingly marginalized by a voracious and self-interested political class. The 2009 elections might give Romanian reformers pause.

Given the Romanians’ fascination with electing a man to the Presidency, and the great attention political parties have given to this exercise throughout post-communism, it’s no wonder that the national political machinery has come to a virtual standstill during the years when presidential elections were organized. This happened to a certain degree in 1996, 2000, 2004, and again in 2009, not to mention the early 1990s. In addition, let’s not forget that Romanian cabinets have found it difficult to go about their business of running the country in a rational, cost-efficient and dispassionate manner in the years when parliamentary elections were scheduled. Instead, left-wing and right-wing governments alike have used the twelve months preceeding general polls to engage in populist policies meant to ingratiate them with different electoral segments, and to viciously smear their political rivals (regardless of whether those belonged to the opposition or were their government partners). One should only remember the great initiatives promoted by the cabinet of Social Democrat Nicolae Vacaroiu in 1996, Christian-Democrat Mugur Isarescu in 2000, Social Democrat Adrian Nastase in 2004, or Democrat-Liberal Emil Boc in 2009. Trouble identifying them? Rightly so, because there were none.

Most probably, the 2009 presidential poll will not be the only one turned into a parliamentary one, as the trend might continue in the future, further fuelling cabinet instability in a country ruled by no less than nine different premiers since 1989. There have been many more cabinet reshuffles that saw ministers come and go at a dizzing rate often due to the most trivial reasons (Ciorbea effected one in 1997, as did Popescu-Tariceanu a decade later). If presidential and parliamentary elections were held concomitantly (as they were in the 1990-2004 period), cabinet lethargy would affect years 2012, 2016, 2020, 2024, and 2028, to look only at the next two decades. But assuming I’m correct, and presidential elections will turn into parliamentary elections with respect to their main purpose, electing a President as a means to facilitating cabinet formation, then to the years already mentioned one should also add 2014, 2019, 2024, and 2029. Thus, during the next twenty years, Romania might find itself in a perpetual electoral campaign, calling its citizens to vote repeatedly, sometimes for the President, other times for its deputies and senators. This political mess comes with a price tag almost double the size of the concomitant elections. Isn’t it time to rethink the system, and elect the head of state at the same time when members of Parliament are?

Romanian recount shows limited mandate for President Basescu’s second term Tuesday, Dec 15 2009 

Monday, December 14, 2009

Romanian recount shows limited mandate for President Basescu’s second term
7:52 PM ET

Lavinia Stan [Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, St. Francis Xavier University]: “On 14 December, the Central Electoral Bureau reinstated 2,000 of the 138,000 invalid votes registered in the second round of the presidential elections that took place a week before. The recounting was ordered by the Romanian Constitutional Court at the request of the Social Democrat Party candidate Mircea Geoana, who lost the poll to incumbent Traian Basescu, representing the Democrat-Liberal Party. With that announcement, Geoana’s hopes of seeing the final score reversed vanished into thin air, as most of the newly validated votes went to his rival.

The recount was the final scene of the first presidential poll organized after Romania was reluctantly and belatedly accepted into the European Union in 2007. This was also the first time when presidential elections were held separately from parliamentary elections, as the President’s mandate was extended to five years, as opposed to four years for members of Parliament. For the first time in the history of this post-communist country, which remains a laggard in Europe and the European Union with respect to democratic consolidation, more electors voted in the second, as opposed to the first, round (54% as opposed to 58%). Finally, this was the first time when the winner was decided by a mere 70,000 votes, most of them believed to be those of the increasingly large Romanian diapora. The country has a total population of some 21 million.

For Basescu and his Democrat-Liberals, this is an important victory. First, because they feared that a victorious Geoana might adopt a practice instituted by Basescu since 2004: that of refusing to accept cabinet formulas excluding his party. The practice, which Basescu hails as a prerogative of the Player-President he wants to be, runs counter to Article 84 of the Constitution, which calls on the President to be above party politics and represent all Romanians, regardless of their ideological or policy preferences. While the Democrat-Liberals and the Social Democrats have formed the government in 2008-2009, their relations sharply deteriorated in the wake of the presidential poll. Thus, it was unlikely that President Geoana would have allowed the Democrat-Liberals to participate in the new government. Second, the victory allows Basescu to reform the political system and move the country closer to presidentialism (and away from French-style semi-presidentialism), a proposal surprisingly embraced by some of the country’s intellectuals. While capitalizing on Parliament’s dismal public trust and justifying presidentialism as key to unblocking the anticorruption campaign and reducing the political influence of the oligarchs, supporters of Basescu’s constitutional amendments have downplayed the pitfalls of a system with which Romania historically had no experience and which displays uncanny similarities to Ceausescu’s strong-man rule. Indeed, if these proposals had originated from the Social Democrat camp, intellectuals would have quickly dismissed them, and rightly so. In a country with feable civic spirit and limited democratic past, granting the President such wide prerogatives might spell the end of democratization.

Basescu’s victory is bitter-sweet because for the first time his ideological and policy inconsistencies might prevent the Democrat-Liberals to form the government. To the dismay of Western observers, after its acceptance into the European Union the country descended into political haos, rather than gloriously converging with the democratic older member states. During his first mandate, President Basescu single-mindedly sought to ensure parliamentary majority to his Democrat-Liberals at the risk of alienating all other political formations, and endangering the reform agenda. In 2005 and again in 2009 the governments he appointed enjoyed a significant parliamentary majority, but Basescu pursued an office-seeking, rather than a policy-seeking agenda. Since the October 2009 fall of the Democrat-Liberal and Social Democrat government, Romania has remained ungoverned, and Basescu’s chances to form anything other than a minority cabinet are very slim, as his Democrat-Liberals remain isolated. It is unlikely that President Basescu will be able to strengthen the rule of law, launch the anti-corruption campaign, deblock de-communization, and boost Romania’s international credibility during his second mandate.”

Also available at: http://jurist.law.pitt.edu/hotline/2009/12/romanian-recount-shows-limited-mandate.php

Player-President or Toy-President? The Romanian Presidential Elections of 2009 Sunday, Dec 13 2009 

On 6 December, the incumbent Romanian President Traian Basescu, representing the Democrat-Liberal Party, won the second round of presidential elections against Mircea Geoana, leader of the Social Democrat Party. For the first time in the history of post-communist Romania, which remains a laggard in Europe and the European Union with respect to effecting democratic and market reforms, more Romanians voted in the second, as opposed to the first, round. This was also the first time when presidential elections were organized apart from parliamentary elections, as the President’s mandate was extended to five years, and the first time Romanians had to elect their President after the country was reluctantly and belatedly accepted into the European Union in 2007. Also for the first time the difference between the two candidates was so small (70,000 votes) that only the most daring or self-deceiving political analysts (the country’s most abundant supply) could claim that they accurately predicted the outcome. The final result was so unexpected that for close to 12 hours each candidate claimed victory, without being able to prove his own claim and disprove his rival’s. But the power of conviction was greater for Geoana than Basescu, as the elated optimism of the former contrasted with the defeatist glance of the latter. Busy counting and recounting the ballots, the Central Electoral Bureau maintained a creepy silence during the night of 6/7 December, offering no real information beyond voter turnout. While the Bureau kept stubbornly silent with regard to the results of the vote, different opinion poll companies and the two political formations behind the candidates competed in proposing exit polls as definitive results. Each party supported its candidate’s claim to the Presidential office. Of four major exit pollers, three declared Geoana the winner, and only one sided with Basescu. Given the close count (50.33% for Basescu and 49.66% for Geoana), it’s no wonder that a majority of Romanian pollers bet on what turned out to be the loser.

The truth is that most Romanians were dissatisfied with both candidates, and over 100,000 of voters chose to invalidate their ballots. The final result, and consequently Basescu’s victory, reflects not so much his more persuasive arguments, concrete proposals, untainted reputation, rejection of nepotism, or willingness to address the country’s most urgent problems, but rather the fact that many voters considered him the best of two (burdensome) evils and many more took the trouble to wake up in the morning and do what they never did during the last decade – vote. The result could have been completely different if, instead of the 150,000 Romanian emigrants spread across the globe who impatiently assaulted Romanian embassies and consulates, peasants living in rural Moldova or Oltenia had put their knives and alambic down on that fatidical Sunday and chose to postpone their traditional early winter occupations: slaughtering the family pig, and brewing the all-present plum brandy. Indeed, the mood that followed the announcement of Basescu’s victory was far from festive, with many of his own declared supporters acknowledging that Basescu is no “usa de biserica” (pure at heart, morally vertical) and wondering what benefits the victory will really bring to the ordinary Romanian. More worrisome was the fact that even Basescu seemed to be taken by surprise by his victory.

The 2009 presidential elections were less European and more Latin American in nature and format. They were less about valor, honor and concrete proposals and more about populist programs, fabricated evidence, false charges, personal attacks, and unfeasible proposals. After the usual skirmishes that characterize everything political in Bucharest, in the first round the three top candidates – the Liberal Crin Antonescu, Basescu and Geoana – participated into a televised debate, whereas just before the second round the remaining contenders Basescu and Geoana locked horns again to show the nation their worth. But the real battle was taking place in the streets, where Basescu’s supporters beat up Antonescu’s men; in the chat-rooms and on the internet, where special teams took over internet sites, newspaper pages, blog entries, and any thread of decent discussion to blacken the rival and promote their favored candidate; in the politically-co-opted and investigative-feable Romanian mass-media outlets, where accusations and counter-accusations were launched; among the country’s pittiful “moguls” and “oligarchs” who openly or discreetly tried to decide the outcome of the poll; and among the country’s intellectuals, who supported the candidates under the guise of political neutrality.

The debate acquired surreal connotations when the Social Democrats unearthed an older video recording allegedly showing Basescu as a child molester. True, Basescu is known as a person whose vulgarity can reach unfathomable hights, a misanthropic racist who unhesitanly called a female journalist a “stinking Gypsy,” but this coarse political pirate has shown real moments of tenderness toward his wife and children. In short, it is very unlikely that he knowingly hit a child, even somebody else’s. But the pro-Basescu camp descended into ridicule when respected intellectual and political analyst-cum-physicist Horia Roman Patapievici declared that the incumbent President was an honest and well-meaning politician because he refused to take advantage of and disseminate during the electoral battle a video tape showing Geoana receiving oral sex. It’s unclear why such a recording could have damaged the Social Democrat’s leader reputation. All American things being coveted in Bucharest, an act that would have brought Geoana, Romania’s former Ambassador to Washington, DC, closer to the cocky Bill Clinton of the famed Lewinsky era might have helped him score a victory. Rather, the assertion suggests a misplaced and unnecessarily puritanical preoccupation with the bedroom, twenty years after the country moved away from a political dictatorship obsessed with sexuality and reproduction.

By voting Basescu, Romanians might have narrowly averted the complete control over the Presidential office of the oligarchs, which, in the mind of the pro-Basescu camp, populate only the self-interested world of Antonescu and Geoana. This is important because after 2000 Romanian politics has approximated a zero-sum game in which the winner takes all. During the 1990s the President appointed governments including the political formation that won a plurality of the vote. But during the last decade the rule was no longer followed, partly because the 2003 constitutional amendments allowed it. As such, the latest presidential elections are less a victory for Basescu, and more a victory for his Democrat-Liberals, who now know that they will be part of any government formula accepted by the President. Or will they? Isolated and distrusted by other political parties, which might be completely co-opted by the oligarchs but still represent a substantial percentage of the Romanian electorate, the Democrat-Liberals have burnt bridges and proven unable to propose a viable cabinet to date. While quick to criticize the Liberals, and rightly so, for appointing incompetent, interested and obscure figures as ministers, and to demonize the Social Democrats for their close ties to the moguls and unwillingness to promote anti-corruption and de-communization, the Democrat Liberals were silent when appointing the blonde bomb-shell Elena Udrea as Minister of Tourism, a domain in which her family has important business interests, or when agreeing to form a government with the Social Democrats in 2008. These ideological and policy pirouettes have bought Basescu time and the 2009 presidential victory, but have almost completely delegitimized transitional justice and governmental performance. It remains to be seen if the new old Player-President, who wants to turn the country into a fully presidential republic, will be able to accomplish in the next five years what he was unable to do in his first mandate.

EUROFEST 2009 – Montreal Monday, Dec 7 2009 

http://www.eurofest.ca
EUROfEST 2009 – 20 de ani dupa caderea zidului/ Festivalului Filmului Românesc la Montréal 3 – 6 dec. 2009

ONF -Oficiul National de Film din Canada (1564, strada St. Denis, Metroul Berri-UQAM)
http://www.onf-nfb.gc.ca/fra/cinerobotheque/detail-horaire.php?id=1865
INVITATI DIN ROMANIA: Stere GULEA (regizor), Medeea MARINESCU (actrita), Irina-Margareta NISTOR (jurnalist si critic de film)

Sâmbătă, 5 decembrie, de la 14h30 la 17h00, UQAM, Salle des Boiseries, J-2805

Masa rotunda : MEMORIE SI TRAUMA IN PRODUCTIILE SCRIITORILOR SI CINEASTILOR
DIN EUROPA DE EST POST(COMUNISTA)

PARTICIPANTI DIN ROMANIA : Stere GULEA (regizor), Medeea MARINESCU (actrita), Irina-Margareta NISTOR (jurnalist si critic de film)
Prezinta : Prof. Dr. Livia MONNET (Université de Montréal), Prof. Dr. Mirela SAIM (McGill University), Prof. Dr. Lucian TURCESCU (Concordia University), Prof. Dr. Lavinia STAN (St. Francis Xavier University, Nova Scotia), Prof. Dr. Gina STOICIU (Université du Québec à Montréal), Felicia MIHALI, scriitoare, jurnalista, Flavia COSMA poeta, producator/ regizor si scenarist de film documentar, Laura TUSA ILEA (McGill University), Katherine BAR (Université de Montréal)
ORGANIZATORI :
EUROfEST
Departamentul de literatura comparata, Université de Montréal
GERACII – Grupul de studii si cercetari axate pe comunicare internationala si interculturala, UQAM
Salle des Boiseries, UQÀM –Université du Québec à Montréal (J-2805), etajul II, Pavilion Judith-Jasmin
1455, strada Saint-Denis, (intersectie cu strada Sainte-Catherine Est), Métro Berri-UQÀM
Informatii si rezervari : 514 884-6530 ; reception.eurofest@gmail.com

Again on 1989 Tuesday, Dec 1 2009 

On 19-20 March, the University of Toronto, together with the Heinrich Boell Foundation, the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, the Gerda Henkel Foundation and the German Academic Exchange Service, organized an excellent conference on “Twenty Years After: Dealing with the Heritage of Communism” in which I also participated. Organized by Thomas Grossbolting, the visiting DAAD professor at the University of Toronto, the conference was very well attended. Among the other participants were Marianne Birthler, the Federal Commissioner of the Stasi Files, Goran Lindbland, member of the Swedish Riksdag and the Council of Europe, James McAdams, the William M. Scholl Professor of International Affairs and Director of the Nanovic Institute for European Studies at the University of Notre Dame, Pavel Zacek, director of the Office for the Documentation and the Investigation of the Crimes of the Communist Police of the Czech Republic, Carlos Fuentes and Cath Collins of Universidad Diego Portales, Chile, and Charles Villa-Vicenzio, the former Director of Research of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa.