Romania seems increasingly divided between the “bad teeth alliance”, pro-government and protesting against the president Iohannis, and a massive, more numerous, happily protesting dancing flash mob who won’t take “corruption is bullshit” for an answer. What irks me is that in the international media coverage, so much is lost in translation.
So much seems to have happened since I had my computer fixed. First and foremost, people have rediscovered protesting. Protesting in Romania has never really had a mass demonstrations sunset, it’s always been there, at the back of people’s minds. I suspect that even the few people who bother voting, do so thinking “this is so unsatisfying, I’d much rather be protesting”.
Let’s rehash a bit of theory, before looking into the actual events.
As previously reported, Romania’s anticorruption drive, already one of the most “successful” in Europe if not in the world, has intensified in the past few years. My personal feeling, which I got by summarily looking at some of the public documents (hence liable to be wrong), is that many of the convictions are based on flimsy evidence, are poorly instrumented and don’t always respect the presumption of innocence.
To my mind, it is irrelevant if someone is “really” guilty of something else, or that “they deserve” to be found guilty of a crime they did not really commit, or that “everybody knows” that they are corrupt. What should matter for a conviction is the evidence that the prosecution can muster in front of an impartial judge, and if the evidence does not support the accusation, that accused should be able to walk away free. That’s how justice is supposed to be working, but that’s not how it seems to work in Romania.
When mass-media reports on corruption in Romania, or that “Romania is one of the most corrupt”, what they mean to say is that Romania is perceived to be among the most corrupt. And that’s where it gets tricky, and it’s a point I keep making on this blog and elsewhere:
Most Romanians are angry at the “little corruption” they encounter in their daily lives, where they have to bribe teachers and educators so that their children get a good public education, either through direct payments or by after-school preparations (“meditatii”), gifts and money given to doctors to get healthcare that’s supposed to be free and a plethora of other issues that require an “extra little something” for them to happen or for them to happen fast.
Due to poverty and the communist past, Romania is saddled by the “little corruption” more so than richer, more developed European countries. It is this “mica coruptie” which affects people’s lives the most. I call it cur-rupt-ion (Romanian: ass-broken-John).
What Romania has been prosecuting, however, is the “high-level corruption”, that is people getting rich from their government positions, such as Adrian Nastase, the former prime-minister who served a prison sentence and attempted suicide and even Liviu Dragnea, the current “capo di tutti capi” in the same governing PSD. The latter is the perfect example, as he got rich enough to have a ginormous mansion, yet he was convicted of traffic of influence for hiring someone in a small job and for election fraud (because he supposedly told people to vote). Though he was likely guilty of far greater crimes, his convictions are for minor offences.
The most important question is, do such convictions change the “cur-rupt-ion” or “little corruption”? Do they really impact the lives of regular Romanians? Or is the “little corruption” better fought by enriching the poor, which is what PSD has been supposedly doing more so than other parties?
It is the perception of “caring for the little guy” that has gained PSD votes among the poor, who are willing to forgive the bosses corruptive trespasses, as the right (other parties) have only given them cuts and austerity. They see the rest of the world looking down on them and offering them nothing.
And now, let’s look at the events and how they’ve been reflected by the international media.
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