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Romania: the courage of facing history

Arthur SUCIU

This year we celebrate 20 years since the fall of communist regimes in Eastern Europe. An anniversary that deserves a look back. Have states in this part of the world become established democracies? Are they fully integrated in the European Union structure?

Unfortunately, both questions tend to have negative ans­wers. East-European coun­tri­es are among the most affected by the global crisis. The benefits of integration have quickly turned into major risks. The European construction itself is once again at the crossroads. Indeed, demo­cracy, which prevailed 20 years ago, sees its core principles challen­ged.
For a country like Romania, which survived the communist plight as a typical victim, and then lived the anxiety of the return to Europe as a me­diocre student, the dream of accession proved too much. Unprepared — for its own fault — Romania is now forced to pay billions of Euros as the price of a crisis that was not its doing, but that of the very teachers that taught it.
While the Soviet Union’s relation with its satellite-states was undeniably a forcible domination-subordination rap­port, the European Union’s relation with its eastern members tends to become neurotic. Themselves affected by the crisis, western states are star­ting to lose patience and to act arro­gantly. On the one hand, the solutions inflicted on the East in order to overcome the crisis are aimed at main­taining macro-economic stability in the region and at protecting Western com­panies in particular. On the other hand, under the accession treaties signed before the crisis, the Union must continue to support the new members with development funds (although Ro­mania, for instance, has only managed to access little of this amount). In turn, emerging Romania sees its economic rise ended because of the USA and Western Europe. It also finds that, far from being a partner on equal footing in the Union, it is regarded as a second-rate country, a problem country.
Romania is, indeed, a country with problems. Some of them are, of cour­se, rooted in the communist age, and are very hard to overcome. And some others are the doing of its leaders during the transition. Today, it is more evident than ever that for the past 20 years Romania has had weak, incom­pe­tent and corrupt leaders. So in spite of the economic growth of these past 10 years, in spite of the NATO and EU accession, Romania is yet to become an established demo­cracy. Furthe­r­more, the global economic crisis threatens, with its political and other con­sequences, to once again post­pone the country’s progress towards stability and wellbeing.
This year we will have a presi­den­tial election, in which Romanians are invited to choose a solution for the country’s leadership for the next five years. It is a critical moment, and the results will mostly depend on how the state of the country is perceived. We no longer have, as we had last year, a growing economy, a society integrated in stable Euro-Atlantic structures (the­se structures have lost some of their stability and solidarity in the meantime) and on its way to prosperity, determined to define a new identity for itself. In 2009, Romania is a vul­nerable country, taken by surprise by an unprecedented global economic crisis. Its economy is vulnerable becau­se the effects of the crisis have reached it very quickly and with a devastating impact, in spite of the reassuring rhetoric of policy-makers. It is vulnerable becau­se it doesn’t seem able to cope with the situation on its own, with its own econo­mists and funds, hence the need for an agreement with the IMF. It was also taken by surprise, caught on the wrong foot by the global crisis: a country that kept daydreaming, although black clou­ds were already looming large. When the government took the first measures to counter the crisis (and some people doubt that these measures have actually been taken), the crisis had already reached Romania for several months.
The agreement with the IMF may have been necessary, but it is by no means an achievement, with all the chan­ge in IMF policies and the favou­rable clauses negotiated by the gover­nment. The 20 billion Euros plus interest that the citizens of Romania will be paying over the next few years, instead of investing in better public services and spending, is not a “safety belt” in case the crisis deepens, but rather the bill for the incompetence of past and present leaders. Those who signed the IMF loan agre­ement have nothing to be proud of, but this doesn’t make them the only culprits.
The blame should actually be taken by those who ruled in the past, and by those who will try to take electoral advantage from the social impact of the crisis. Although deeper Euro-scepticism is expected to emerge, given the high cos­ts of the crisis, this is not the main threat. To a certain extent, Euro-scepticism is indeed necessary, making Romania’s position as to the European Union more realistic. The threat comes from within, and it may undermine Romanians’ will to change. As they notice — one too many times — that history foils all their plans, and their lea­ders are, as usual, short-sighted, Romanians risk going back to their age-old scepticism, to the philosophy of indiffe­rence and distrust. In this year’s presidential election, we run the risk of returning to the politics of the never-ending transition, in which rulers feign governing, and people feign civil parti­cipation.
In this year’s presidential campaign, Romanians must be given messages of confidence and courage. Confidence that the country is able to handle the economic crisis, and courage to pursue economic development and to create a new, Western-type cultural identity. The message of confidence will be parti­cularly credible if its senders prove their competence and responsibility, to offset the fundamental misgiving suggested by the closure of the IMF agreement. In contrast, the encouragement message depends on the credibility, perhaps indeed on the vocation of the one who transmits it. It is very hard to convince someone who fights for survival that there is a bright future ahead. While the confidence message may be conveyed by a strong team, the message of encouragement can only be sent by a personality, someone as idealistic as to dare urge the Romanians to fight for values, first and foremost, and only then for money.
Twenty years after the Revolution, Romania is facing its first capitalist crisis. The celebration of its victory against the communist dictatorship is shadowed by the doubts regarding the system that we have chosen. These doubts, which tormented us at a time when the West was more confident than ever, return with unexpected intensity. And still, we must move on. Unlike communism, capitalism is in the habit of overcoming crises. Let’s brace up and take the challenge.

By Arthur SUCIU
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