Romania 101: In its second Century – challenges ahead

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By Corneliu PIVARIU
Corneliu PIVARIU is highly decorated two star general of the Romanian army (ret.).Corneliu PIVARIU is highly decorated two star general of the Romanian army (ret.).

The Great Union of December 1st, 1919 was a ”stellar moment” for Romania, which was achieved by Romanian visionary and patriotic politicians with international support yet above all with the blood sacrifice of hundreds of thousands of Romanian soldiers, anonymous in their sacrifice yet eminent by sacrificing their lives on the sanctuary of immortality as akin. It was a strictly national objective, not directed against any one of the world’s family of nations.

In fact, Romania paid in blood, probably more than other nations, its achievements of unity and independence and the strategic mistakes of the political class during different historical periods of the last 101 years as well.

War to the fore

After 1918, two essential moments marked in a dramatic way Romania’s contemporary history: The Second World War (where Romania lost around 800 thousand people, military and civilian) while the end of this universal scourge marked the fall into the then USSR arch of influence (with the acceptance – it should be said and reiterated – of the other Moscow’s allies during the war) – and the socialist (communist) political orientation. The second moment is represented by the events of December 1989 when on the background of Nicolae Ceaușescu’s and the Communist Party’s removal from power, the orientation towards a democratic society and free market has been resumed going into a transition period which even the dead’s spirits and the aspirations of those who remained to achieve it has wanted to be a very short one yet proved to be longer than we wished. The greatest achievements of the almost 30 years of post-December 1989 period are Romania’s joining NATO (29th of March, 2004) and the European Union (1st of January, 2007).

During the almost 50 years of communist dictatorship, some hundreds of thousands more Romanians perished (the exact figure is difficult to quantify), great part of the intellectual elite, generals, valuable politicians who could not survive a terror regime instituted in 44 penitentiaries, 72 forced labour camps, 63 deportation centers, compulsory domiciles, 10 psychiatric hospices with political real cause. We can ask ourselves if Soljenitsin’s gulag was more terrifying than the gulags set up during communism in a space called Romania.

After The Second World War, Romania could not come back to its territorial configuration consecrated by the Great Union and, moreover, the Kremlin leadership took care that through arbitrary drawing up of the frontiers (and in 1952 by imposing the establishment of the Hungarian Autonomous Region, which changed its name in Mureș Autonomous Region in 1960, afterwards abolished in 1968 only by the administrative-territorial division into counties) and that left several possibilities for the neighbours’ and minorities’ possible discontents and aspirations – especially of the Hungarian one – for achieving its political designs in Romania and in the area.

During the socialist period we notice two important moments: the withdrawal of the Soviet troops (June-July, 1958), while they remained in the other socialist countries until 1990; the 1968 moment – the invasion of Czechoslovakia, when Romania was the only socialist country that did not take part in, followed by an independent policy from Moscow, by the development of relations with democratic Western countries and by a pervasive economic development (with great sacrifices and hardships for the population) promoted by Nicolae Ceaușescu.

After December 1989 events, when some outside forces sought Romania’s dismemberment as well – something that succeeded later on in cases of former Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia – we went through the Târgu Mureș events of March 1990, another plot of tearing Transylvania away and of manipulating, through part of international media the reality of those events. In fact, a feature of the almost last 30 years is represented by the action of our Hungarian co-nationals to gain territorial autonomy on ethnic criteria, backed almost continuously by Budapest although, according to Brussels’ assessments, the rights the Hungarian minority enjoys in Romania exceed those applied in the European states and, even more, the ethnical Romanian citizens in the areas with Hungarian prevailing population are subject to numerous discriminations.

When Hungary further acts and prepares actions for condemning the Treaty of Trianon (among others Budapest will organize on 11-13 of June 2020 a conference on the issue) a treacherous declaration in favor of the Transylvanian Hungarians’ ”cultural and territorial autonomy” was signed on 12th of October, 2018 in Cluj Napoca and the actions aimed at Romania’s dismemberment, especially by creating an independent Transylvania, will go on, as the separatist options gain ground in the European Union and Brussels proves unable to articulate a real management of the Union.

(Post-) December 1989 residual heat

The evolution of the Romanian political class after 1989 was greatly influenced by the socialist past and, thereafter, by the political evolutions in Europe and the USA. It would be mistaken not to mention the influence Moscow still exerts in Romania with persuasion in many fields of the political, economic and social life.

Unfortunately, most of the valuable Romanian intellectuals refrained and further avoid to be directly involved in political life. That resulted in a political class which, in general, is not able to meet the population’s expectations and the desired evolutions. As my dear colleague prof. Anis H. Bajrektarevic often repeats: „Eastern Europe is probably the least influential region of the world – one of the very few underachievers. Obediently submissive, therefore rigid in dynamic environment of the promising 21st century, Eastern Europeans are among the last remaining passive downloaders and slow-receivers on the otherwise blossoming stage of the world’s creativity, politics and economy.”

The most illustrative example is represented by the four presidents who could not stand above times, each of them due to different reasons: the first – as a result of the socialist-communist education he received especially in Moscow; the second – an university professor (lecturer) who declared himself being defeated by the former Securitate; the third – conditional on his training as long-haul commercial navy officer – yet with a political instinct that kept him in power for two mandates and who knew how to maneuver abroad for gaining support; the fourth – a mayor of a provincial town unexperienced in great politics who nevertheless gained in November 2019 a second mandate although in his first one, he shone internationally through obedience – and that played the most important role in his recent victory. The 66% of the votes he got in the second round (and more than 90% of the votes of the Romanians living abroad) signals a widespread popular appreciation. The direct involvement of the SPP (Protection and Security Service) has no relevance yet it proves Romania’s original democracy, never met in any other of the EU’s countries.

In Romania indeed, a semi-presidential state, the president has no decision-making competences of first importance, especially in the economic field, as he cannot either fire the prime minister or dissolve the parliament (except under very particular conditions), precisely for avoiding the emergence of a new dictatorship. Yet that does not mean the president cannot be a factor for crystallizing the people’s aspirations and to create, within the political class, a consensus for Romania’s future durable development. It is exactly this kind of project which is nowhere to be found now. Besides, since around 15 years, Romania hasn’t had any important country project and that proves the weak leadership capabilities of the entire political class and especially the presidency’s, who are required to crystallize all the nation’s forces to that purpose.

The separation of powers is affected by the struggle of the four powers although there are numerous cases when the magistrates’ powers (judges and prosecutors – the latter being included amongst the magistrates according to a model which is not to be found in other European Union’s countries) is used by forces and interests which are not beneficial to the Romanian state in achieving its specific objectives, sometimes under the pretext of fighting corruption (predominantly the domestic one, without touching any of the great corporations).

Several thousands of judges and prosecutors enjoy a special status in the society as a result of the importance of their work and dispose of a power they believe that many do not realize yet they have. In 2018 only a law on the magistrate’s accountability was issued at a time when judgments of the European Court of Human Rights against Romania placed the latter on the first place as number of condemnations per capita or on the third place after Turkey and Russia (which have much bigger populations).

However, the governing political forces, the president included, call for abolishing the Department for Investigating the Criminal Offences Accountability in Justice in spite of the fact that the High Court of Cassation and Justice opposed the abolishment, securing thus a privileged position for the said social category. The much-touted Mechanism for Cooperation and Verification on justice set up by the EU was and is still used more as a Brussels’ political instrument (or by some countries) against Romania especially on economic grounds and not for the initially declared purpose.

Romania’s accession to Schengen Area is further postponed although the country met the technical requirements since more than five years and that entails yearly economic losses of around 2 bill. Euro. The reasons behind are the particular interests of certain EU members and especially the president’s lack of action who, although represents us in the European fora, has never presented a report on his activity at the EU.

The citizen still does not get the needed respect and the state, instead of being the citizen’s servant, has still the mentality of being above him.

The current situation in Romania is due first of all to us: some of us remained with a prejudicial obstinacy in the Byzantine reflex of ”complaining to the Sublime (High) Porte” which was later replaced by obsequious low-bow to Moscow’s, Brussels’, Washington’s Portes or to other great European capitals. The forest could have not been cut if the axe had not the handle carved from the very wood of the forest, a proverb says, and we still have enough traitors, some of them in rather important positions, including abroad, of whom the magistrates have not yet the courage of dealing with.

Fit for defeat?

After 1990, unhappy with the general situation in the country and seeking a better life, more than 4 million Romanians left the country for the EU, USA, Canada, and other countries and in their greatest majority, they are physicians, professors, engineers, researchers, technicians, and highly qualified workers. It is the biggest contemporary population exodus from a country after the one provoked by the civil war in Syria. The danger of this situation was not correctly interpreted by the political class either. Let alone taking effective measures to prevent the weakening of the people’s national being!

The situation of education is more than alarming. We had 26 ministers of Education during the last 29 years, most of them concerned about changing the law of education. According to public data, 42% of the pupils under 15 are functional (workable) illiterates. The relatively recent step of granting 6% of the GDP to education must be followed by decisive measures so that education become a top national priority. The latest 2019 budgetary adjustments cut 2 billion lei (around 500 mil. euro) from the budget of the education.

Romania – a country able to easily secure food for a population of 90 million people – continues to import in 2019 much more food products than it produces.

The situation of the development of infrastructure, roads, railways, energy is deplorable. During the almost 30 years since the fall of communism, we were not able to build a highway crossing the Carpathians and our country is the laggard in Central and Eastern Europe with 783 km of highways. Romania has the same number of kilometers of railroads – approximately 11,000 km – as it had 100 years ago (in 1989 we had 24,000 km), and the average circulation speed for the passenger trains is 45km/h. In exchange, we are well placed in what the Internet speed is concerned, in the fifth place worldwide.

The post-1989 period is characterized economically by the foreign capital’s taking over the subsoil resources, the public utilities, and banks, as the Romanian capital was not supported for dealing with the situation. In a special report, a Ernst&Young research is quoted whereby the takeovers (mergers and acquisitions) in the economies of the former socialist countries are analysed and classified in three categories, takeovers by foreign capital, takeovers where the buyer and the seller are indigenous and takeovers from abroad which finds out that Romania is on the first place in what takeovers by the foreign capital are concerned, 67% of them, and by far on the last place in what takeovers abroad are concerned, with 3% only. No country in the region witnessed such a discrepancy, of more than 22 times, between what the indigenous capital ceded to foreign capital on its own markets and what it managed to take over from the foreign capital on the latter markets. The foreign capital externalizes yearly to their origin countries pre-tax profits of at least 35-40 billion euros.

A crime is perpetrated since many years against Romania’s forests and implicitly against its citizens. In 2019 only, 39 mil. cubic meters of timber are disforested (of which 18 – 20 mil. cubic meters unlawfully). The president and the government are notorious for their non-involvement and their absolute lack of a position for addressing this situation and preventing unlawful deforestation to be followed by steady steps of reforestation.

So that’s Romania’s real end-result in brief at the anniversary of 101 years since the Great Union. We could be proud of the achievements of the past yet at the same time we must be aware of the current problems and think of the future with solutions adapted to both the actual situation and to the perspective.

The current international situation is a complex one and important changes are taking place in the international order at a time when Romania, consumed with petty domestic disputes, is quite inexistent. No one but us will act for our sake except strictly within specific interests. Romania may have the future it deserves if it wants to act in this regard. Another 30-40 years will be probably needed for that.

About the author:

Corneliu PIVARIU is highly decorated two-star general of the Romanian army (ret.).

For the past two decades, he successfully led one of the most influential magazines on geopolitics and international relations in Eastern Europe – bilingual journal ‚Geostrategic Pulse’.

An early version of this text appeared as the lead editorial in The Geostrategic Pulse (No. 268/20.11.2018), a special issue dedicated to the Centennial anniversary., pub-6336011652228911, DIRECT, f08c47fec0942fa0