Tuesday, May 5, 2009

"Read my lips, I'm lying" - electoral promises and harsh realities in Romania

Romania, until recently a beloved model country for "economists" and "experts" and "analysts" in Hungary, is getting nearer to social turmoil. Not that it is expected in the nearest future and as I was there recently there was no visible change compared to timexs of "normality", when the rapid growth generated by the supposedly very simple tax system - at least according to the above mentioned categories of human beings - made it one of the "threats" for Hungary's never existing frontrunner position.

But the crisis didn't let Romania unaffected and as the consuomtion is declining, the housing bubble is ended, the guest workers in the EU countries were laid off and try to live on unemployment "benefits" while the government, in order to control the budget deficit made cuts once again reducing consumption earlier fuelling the economy Romaina arrived into the next stage of the deathly spiral: more budget cuts are needed. The real problem - at least for the politicians at the moment governing the country - is that these cuts will affect some categories whose votes were almost literally bought at the last elections, first of all teachers, whom these parties not only promised 50% raise of their salries, but they even passed a law, against the will and objection of the incumbent minority government of the liberals and the Hungarian minority party. Now the country's president admited tht it was a "mistake", but he defended his earlier position and action with the argument that in last October, when the respective law were voted, he could not have foretell that the crisis will affect Romania and the state budget will be in so dire state as it is.

I wouldn't say that it is a refined position, especially the knew-nothing part, but maybe it will be somewhat effective in political and electoral terms. (Romania's parties are not only preparing themselves for the upcoming elections to the European parliament, the more important prize is the seat of the country's president,m up for grab this autumn.) Otherwise, if someone considers this statement, there is something more substantial behind it tha the usual "politicians are always lying, but they are rarely compelled to admit it" phenomenon. Romanian politicians were able to veil the sour reality relying on the refined nationalism of the "every ECE country is an individual case" approach for this aim. As Hungary was forced to apply for an IMF loan they could have pointed out the huge difference between that country - for a while treated as the sick man of ECE almost universally, that way reinforcing the attempts of the local politicians - and theirs, for a long period described as one of the new "miracles" in the region. As the Hungaians were portrayed as solely responsible for their own fate, denying any similarity - not to speak of structural sameness - to the situation of other ECE countries it was easy to fend off counterarguments warning of the dangers of such a move.

But the necesity to admit this political lie and the reaction of the teachers - a strike in order to impede pupils to write their baccalaureate - reveals something else as well. Many people in these countries - always unobjected by those influencing the public discourse - percieved the process of European integration and europeanization as a well deserved reward for their transition from a "communism" to "freedom" and identified it with a fast catch up in material terms as well. It was reinforced by the mass migration and travel, as a result of wich more and more people knew the difference of the standard of living in "Europe" and in their countries, perceived as "Europeans". The perception of being European was accompanied with the idea that being European means material well being as well. The visible and sensible tension between this consciousness and the lack of its material elements (or at least the feeling that those are insecure), this duality of officially being recognized as "Europeans" and having very limited possibility to live as "European" is another common phenomenon shared by many in ECE, that makes it easier to be manipulated by financial promises, but easily backlashing on politicians as it makes it harder to make budget austerity accepted by the population.

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