Permanent Putsch in Romania

Vladimir Tismaneanu is professor of politics at the University of Maryland (College Park) and author most recently of "The Devil in History: Communism, Fascism, and Some Lessons of the Twentieth Century" (University of California Press, 2012).


romLeon Trotsky glorified the permanent revolution. The main expertise of the ruling coalition in Romania is the permanent putsch. More precisely, it wages an insidiously perverse onslaught on the country’s democracy. On December 10, the Parliament, controlled by the Left, voted to essentially modify the Penal Code. Parliamentarians and other officials will enjoy what can be called super-immunity, i. e., impunity. In other words, they will be able steal as much as they want with no fear of legal retribution.

The embassies of the European Union (Romania joined it in 2007) are flabbergasted. Civil society organizations have issued staunch condemnations. One journalist called that day “Black Tuesday.” Democratic forces are in shock. It was a day of shame for the Romanian Parliament. Romania runs the risk of becoming the pariah state of the European Union.

In July 2012, the socialist-liberal coalition unleashed a coup against the country’s pro-Western, pro-NATO, staunchly pro-US president, Traian Basescu. Putin’s loudspeaker, the radio station “Russia’s  Voice,” acclaimed the pseudo-constitutional putsch.

Western pressures, including staunch reactions from Germany and US officials, forced the putschists to step back. A referendum followed, and the beleaguered Basescu returned to the presidential palace in Bucharest. The real stake was not just the president’s personal fate, but rather the interruption and radical reversal of his reforms. Among those were the new Penal Code, extremely severe with corruption, and the creation of dynamic anti-corruption agencies.

The socialist party (it calls itself social democratic), whose honorary leader is the former communist apparatchik Ion Iliescu (Nicolae Ceausescu’s successor and the main usurper of the bloody December 1989 revolution) resents the rule of law, accountability, and transparency. The octogenarian Iliescu remains attached to the Bolshevik passion of his Stalinist youth.

Together with the liberals and a mini-party run by a former secret police collaborator turned into a post-communist tycoon, the socialists want to perpetuate (if possible, forever) an authoritarian kleptocratic regime with strong pro-Moscow and pro-Beijing inclinations. The party’s leader, a 40-year-old lawyer named Victor Ponta, was exposed as a plagiarist in the pages of the highly-respected “Nature” magazine. Large sections of his PhD dissertation were literally copied from books written by other authors. In Germany, a Defense Minister resigned following a similar scandal. In Romania, Victor Ponta has thrived, in spite of protests issued by his own alma mater, the University of Bucharest. Add to this Ponta’s unabashed admiration for Che Guevara and Mao and you get the image of a histrionic prevaricator in love with Leninist murderous fanatics.

The Social-Liberal Union won the parliamentary elections in December 2012 and has enjoyed a comfortable majority that has allowed it to foster its grip on economic resources. It bombarded the country with emergency decrees. Any criticism of the ruling team is immediately vilified as “anti-patriotic.” Both Ponta and his main ally, the leader of the Liberal Party and chair of the Senate, the higher chamber of the Romanian Parliament, Crin Antonescu, have decisively contributed to what I identify as an alarming de-democratization process. The opposition is, unfortunately, divided and demoralized. President Basescu’s second term comes to an end in December 2014. One can foresee a very turbulent electoral year.

It is hard to predict when and whether Romanians will take to the streets massively like their Bulgarian and Ukrainian neighbors. It is, however, clear that, sooner rather than later,  this state of affairs will result in an explosion of outrage. The left coalition is widely perceived as an alliance of crooks, thieves, and political gangsters. Super-immunity means, in this case, super-lawlessness.

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  • UCSPanther

    I reckon there is still a lot of bad blood left over from Nicolae Ceasescu’s reign of terror.

    I doubt a lot of Romanians will be too keen to go back to those days…

  • Hass

    I bet that Muslime POTUS wishes he could’ve done the same, but thankfully he’s too scared of the American people (JJ).

    • DontMessWithAmerica

      You beat me by four hours. I had the very same thought.

  • monostor

    Professor, if my memory doesn’t fail me, the so-called “palace revolt” happened a year ago, in 2012…

  • Arsene

    Professor,

    if my memory is good you was part of the communist regime, isn’t it?

    II am not sure that you are the right person to judge the Romanian situation!
    we need someone objective . You have been pushed out from the cultural institute by the actual Romanian government and lost a lot of advantages so …

  • Jakareh

    I wish Romania well, but this is yet more evidence of how absurd the European Union is.

  • Max

    When Ciausescu’s palace was stormed, a ton of child pornography was uncovered. Is anyone surprised? These filthy commies never know self-restraint. The laws are for the peasants. They are above the law, always living a privileged life free of everyday worries.

  • volodea

    What a pack of self-serving lies! Tismaneanu is a former party activist who published a whole book with ion Iliescu, whom he now accuses of being a Stalinist.

    Also, in the summer of 2012, 8 million Romanians voted against Basescu, that is 90% of those who voted. Basescu returned to power because he is Merkel’s and the US’s lapdog.