Romania redivivus


Once the badlands of neoliberal Europe, Romania has become its bustling frontier. A post-communist mafia state that was cast to the bottom of the European heap by opinion-makers sixteen years ago is now billed as the success story of eu expansion. [1] Its growth rate at nearly 6 per cent is the highest on the continent, albeit boosted by fiscal largesse. [2] In Bucharest more politicians have been put in jail for corruption over the past decade than have been convicted in the rest of Eastern Europe put together. Romania causes Brussels and Berlin almost none of the headaches inflicted by the Visegrád Group—Czechia, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia—which in 1993 declined to accept Romania as a peer and collectively entered the European Union three years before it. Romanians consistently rank among the most Europhile people in the Union. [3] An anti-eu party has never appeared on a Romanian ballot, much less in the parliament. Scattered political appeals to unsavoury interwar traditions—Legionnairism, Greater Romanianism—attract fewer voters than do far-right movements across most of Western Europe. The two million Magyars of Transylvania, one of Europe’s largest minorities, have become a model for inter-ethnic relations after a time when the park benches of Cluj were gilded in the Romanian tricolore to remind everyone where they were. Indeed, perhaps the aptest symbol of Romania’s place in Europe today is the man who sits in the Presidential Palace of Cotroceni in Bucharest. Klaus Iohannis—a former physics teacher at a high school in Sibiu, once Hermannstadt—is an ethnic German heading a state that, a generation ago, was shipping hundreds of thousands of its ‘Saxons’ ‘back’ to Bonn at 4,000–10,000 Deutschmarks a head.

Yet this year has seen the largest public protests in Romania since Christmas 1989. A citizenry which for decades offered minimal resistance to Ceau?escu now marches en masse, in cities across the country, against the successors to his machinery of rule. The immediate spur was not corruption per se, but parliamentary attempts to void judicial crackdown on it. A February 2017 bill proposing to decriminalize bribes amounting to £38,865 or less—the exact figure involved in an ongoing investigation of Liviu Dragnea, president of the Partidul Social Democrat (psd), the largest party in Romania and linear heir to the Communist Party—drove, in a few hours, thousands of Romanians onto the streets. In Bucharest they marched to Parliament, hoisting up effigies of psd politicians in striped jumpsuits and proclaiming: ‘You rats!’, ‘May the National Anticorruption Directorate take you next!’, ‘Down with this regime of thieves!’ Three million Romanians have left their country in the last decade, the greatest internal flow within the eu. [4] The protesters, some of whom continue to gather on Sunday evenings in the major cities, are the young who stayed behind, part of a swelling middle class that no longer believes it must leave Romania in order to have a European future. Most work in a private sector that emerged largely unscathed from the economic crisis, whereas one in five public-sector jobs cut in Europe in 2010 were slashed from Romania. [5] They vacation abroad, speak several languages and have often spent time at a Western university. Multi-ethnic harmony, prospering economy, vibrant civil society: what more could Brussels ask? Romania is so well regarded that Juncker has chosen it for the historic first post-Brexit summit of the eu, to be held in Sibiu on 30 May 2019—the day after Britain’s formal departure—for a grand upward look at the future of a united Europe.

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