Romanian politics bite Monday, Oct 22 2012 

Just wrote the “politics bite” for the Society for Romanian Studies upcoming newsletter. How can one summarize in under 200 words the political events of the past six months? This way:

Romania survives “black summer” ahead of new parliamentary elections

When several deputies and senators abandoned the Democrat Liberal Party in April a censure motion unseated the cabinet, pushing the Democrat Liberals in the opposition and allowing their rivals to form the government. After consolidating its position through the June local elections, the Social Liberal Union (USL, gathering the Social Democrats and the Liberals) suspended President Traian Basescu through a series of moves that blatantly disregarded democratic spirit and procedure. This further isolated the new Romanian government internationally, after Prime Minister Victor Ponta downplayed having plagiarized his doctoral thesis in law, and his government sought to curtail the powers of the Constitutional Court and asserted control over the judiciary. A popular referendum intended to unseat Basescu failed due to poor voter turnout. As such, Basescu was reinstated, but as a weak president unwanted by record numbers of Romanians. Despite its international isolation, the USL has retained its popularity by partly reversing the austerity measures enacted by the Democrat Liberals. It therefore expects to win the December parliamentary elections, especially because attempts to revamp the political right have proven unfruitful.

Central and Southeast European Politics since 1989 Monday, Mar 1 2010 

Cambridge University Press has recently published Central and Southeast European Politics since 1989, a volume which is edited by Sabrina P. Ramet and includes contributions by some of the most recognizable names in the field. An important survey of politics in Eastern European countries after the collapse of the communist regime, the volume is divided in two main sections: some chapters discuss different themes, while others examine different post-communist countries. In their introductory chapter, Sabrina P. Ramet and F. Peter Wagner propose post-communist “models of rule” as a general framework for understanding the themes and countries discussed in the volume. Chapters 3-6 and 22-24 discuss themes key for Central and Eastern Europe: the emergence of the nation-state, the post-communist party systems, the post-1989 economic reforms, and the Yugoslav secession wars, as well as regional security, the EU enlargement, and lessons and difficulties in the near future. The remainder of the volume includes chapters devoted to countries like Poland, the Czeck and Slovak Republics, Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Kosovo, Romania, Bulgaria, Albania, the Baltic states, and Moldova. Its breadth and depth recommend this volume as a textbook appropriate for classes on East European Politics. The timelines, biographical sketches, further recommended readings make chapters accessible to a wider audience.

This is how the CUP introduces the book: “The only textbook to provide a complete introduction to post-1989 Central and Eastern European politics, this dynamic volume provides a comprehensive account of the collapse of communism and the massive transformation that the region has witnessed. It brings together 23 leading specialists to trace the course of the dramatic changes accompanying democratization. The text provides country-by-country coverage, identifying common themes and enabling students to see which are shared throughout the area, giving them a sense of its unity and comparability whilst strengthening understanding around its many different trajectories. The dual thematic focus on democratisation and Europeanisation running through the text also helps to reinforce this learning process. Each chapter contains a factual overview to give the reader context concerning a region which they may have never previously studied, but are sure to find fascinating.”

Contents:

Part I. Introduction:
1. Introduction Sabrina P. Ramet;
2. Post-socialist models of rule in Central and Southeastern Europe Sabrina P. Ramet and F. Peter Wagner;

Part II. Issues:
3. The emergence of the nation-state in East-Central Europe and the Balkans in historical perspective Reneo Lukic;
4. Central and East European party systems since 1989 Elisabeth Bakke;
5. Economic reforms and the illusion of transition Karl Kaser;
6. The war of Yugoslav succession Marko Attila Hoare; Part III. Central Europe:
7. Poland since 1989: muddling through, wall to wall Konstanty Gebert;
8. Building democratic values in the Czech Republic since 1989 Carol Skalnik Leff;
9. Slovakia since 1989 Erika Harris;
10. Hungary since 1989 András Bozóki and Eszter Simon;

Part IV. Yugoslav Successor States:
11. Slovenia since 1989 Danica Fink-Hafner;
12. Politics in Croatia since 1990 Sabrina P. Ramet;
13. Serbia and Montenegro since 1989 Sabrina P. Ramet;
14. Bosnia and Herzegovina since 1990 Florian Bieber;
15. Macedonia since 1989 Zachary T. Irwin;
16. Kosova: resisting expulsion and striving for independence Frances Trix;

Part V. Southeastern Europe:
17. Romania: in the shadow of the past Lavinia Stan;
18. Bulgaria since 1989 Maria Spirova;
19. Albania since 1989: the Hoxhaist legacy Bernd Jürgen Fischer;

Part VI. Former Soviet Republics:
20. The Baltic states Hermann Smith-Sivertsen;
21. Moldova since 1989 Steven D. Roper;

Part VII. Present and Future Challenges:
22. Regional security and regional relations Rick Fawn;
23. The EU and democratization in Central and Southeastern Europe since 1989 Ulrich Sedelmeier;
24. Facing the twenty-first century: lessons, questions, and tendencies (a conclusion) Aurel Braun.

Sabrina P. Ramet, ed., Central and Southeast European Politics since 1989 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010).

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

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?