Since 1990 we Romanians have had a deep political cleavage displayed right before our eyes, each side pleading for our support, promising salvation and pointing the accusatory finger at the ill-intended others. As it died down, a new conflict arose with new – or sometimes old – actors dueling for our votes yet again (1). However, the year 2012 – with the fall of the Ungureanu government and USL’s rise – brought forth a new kind of division, enhanced by the involvement (borderlining with 20th century hate-oriented propaganda) of the media that has yet to be concluded.
Such a division mainly rearranged its camps along the traditional lines (2) of urban – rural, educated – uneducated, high income – low income, but also around age groups. It became a truism that older voters would ceremoniously place their ballots on the altar of the centralized and despotically-ruled PSD no matter what its representatives did or said, while PDL and PNL (now together) always had to face a more dynamic and hard to persuade electorate.
How has PSD, the main governing party that has little to show for except unsustainable populist raises for public workers and retirees, maintained a confidence percentage from voters of 37 points (even if declining) (3)? Furthermore, how can we relate this to an INSCOP survey (4) which revealed that almost 54% of Romanians believe their life has only gotten harsher in the last 3 years? My hypothesis is that PSD has electorally imprisoned a segment of the population that has all over Europe been the target of social democratic parties: public workers and retirees, thus the complete opposite of students, private sector employees and intellectuals. (5)
The difference in choices is thus our point of focus. The usual explanation of enhanced availability of information for the young no longer suffices, as the media offers a plethora of means of obtaining information without even turning to the internet. Given, each TV station may be more or less biased to a certain political orientation (some disgustingly so), but as Madison teaches us, the plurality of factions is exactly the means of their undoing. Gone is the day when the monolithic TVRL (6) (now bankrupt) drowned the people of provincial Romania in ignorance because of its monopoly.
However, when a consistent segment of voters consciously and repeatedly choose the side of only one of the parts involved, completely denying the other, you have a duality of methods, behavior and consciousness that are politically irreconcilable. That is, when the younger ones do not give in to the “they’re all the same” clichéd fatalism. A further answer pertains to the usual perpetrator of all that is wrong with Romania, namely communism and its legacy. Predating the outside induced and then top-down continued Romanian communism, what we seek is confined in the ideology and vision of Lenin. If Marx thought that one’s beliefs are shaped solely by the social class to which he belongs and had to be forced out of this state of “false consciousness” created by the bourgeois propaganda, Lenin went further. He acted as if even the mass of proletarians was too ignorant to understand its role and had to either be educated through a slow process or led by an action-oriented minority and kept in place with simplistic slogans and militarist behavior. The rational vision of communism for society had no patience for the irrationalities of the blind masses and the time its education required.
Thus, while Lenin convinced himself that the journey to the communist utopia needed a hobbesian paternalist government that would finally give the masses what they craved above all – not justice, equality, liberty or education, but security above all (7). Going back further to a harsher Aristotle, one could argue that the mass man, different from the expanding and conquering mass man of Ortega y Gassett (8), is inherently a slave. Once in a newfound state of freedom, the mass man would quickly search for new chains and a new master, unable to survive in the face of sheer possibilities offered and responsibility demanded even in Ancient times, much less in the complex modern times.
In the case of Romania, let us not forget the Soviet and later the national-communist influence over education, a powerful tool in the shaping of identity. Let us not forget the historical mutations performed by Mihai Roller (9) or other historians subservient to the regime that each time changed history in order to fit the needs of the powerful. Some of the mythology created then still resides in the public mentality, such as the image of Vlad Tepes, a cruel but fair ruler that reigned with an iron fist over an utopia where no man stole. Its familiarity is immediately explained in relation to the image Ceausescu – who fancied himself a continuator of Decebal – had of himself, further opposed to the unfair and thieving capitalist world. As such, older generations cannot give up communist paternalism for social capitalism, much less its laissez-faire form. Nationalist remnants of the 70s and 80s still reside within them, buttons for the propaganda to push.
You were born without knowing them or the world that created them and this is why your informed and mature political opinion can rarely meet theirs. 2012 parliamentary elections, however, were an electoral smoke screen as the ideological abomination USL encouraged and profited from the extreme hatred voters (especially public workers and retirees) had toward president Basescu and his party. Thus PMs were voted to their seats in order, following USL thinking, to get rid of the president, which makes no legal sense whatsoever. This people’s blind mandate, given in a moment of irrational electoral behavior in 2012, had no result except legitimizing some 14 ministers that were accused of various illegal deeds. (10) Electorates, not unlike the two parties, met and expanded for all the wrong reasons, USL subsequently splitting.
A Romanian Myth of the Cave
In the analysis of an older voter, a less prudent observer could argue that after 1989 they found themselves in the state of the slave forced into freedom that reacted exactly as the slave in Aristotle’s example, searching for new chains. Turning to Plato, they are the ones that, once pushed out of the torch-lit cave (communism), fought back to reach its secure darkness once again, unable to bear the merciless sunlight (liberal democracy and market economy). But the cave was no more and the guards (apparatchiks) that once kept them in place with whips became priests of the sun (democratic politicians). They rose huts (state economy) for the former slaves, promising to shield them from the feared sun as long as they gave them power, chaining themselves again. Meanwhile, those few that were at ease basking in the sun were shunned, condemned as heretics and corrupt outcasts. Time passed and the state of the huts deteriorated, unattended by the slaves who were by now used to be given everything by the guards turned priests. Their children, born in ignorance of the cave, crawled out of the dark huts and looked back in wonder, unable to understand why their parents hid from light. Some joined them, voluntarily renouncing the light of the sun to be with their loved ones. Others joined the outcasts, pleading to their parents that remained in the dark to join them. All while the guards turned priests stood at the entrance of the huts, jewelries and riches hanging from their degenerated bodies, promising the former (and current) slaves that standing in the sunlight was pure torment.
What do you do when the freed slaves construct their own prison and authorize the guards to pull you inside for safety?
(1) The divide between FSN-PDSR and CDR, respectively between PNL and PD (together or separated) and PSD
(2) Described by authors like Lipset and Rokkan
(5) Sheri Berman – Understanding Social Democracy
(6) Televiziunea Romana Libera – became TVR in February 1990
(7) Isaiah Berlin – Cinci eseuri despre libertate si alte scrieri, Humanitas
(8) Ortega y Gassett – Revolt of the Masses (1930)
(9) Mihai Roller – Istoria RPR.
Roller presented Romanian history the lens of Marxist stages of history: primitive communism, slavery, feudalism, capitalism and socialism, advancing all the while through class struggle