An uneven fight
Dec 5th 2012
IN Romania's strident political environment, dominated by ex-spooks, dodgy businessmen and their sons and daughters, Iulian Craciun (pictured above) is a refreshing exception. If elected on December 9th, the 34-year old IT expert would be the first disabled person ever to enter the Romanian Parliament.
Mr Craciun's first task would be to see that the marble staircase leading to the "House of the People", a monstrous building designed at the orders of the Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu in the 1980s and now housing the Romanian parliament, is fitted with wheelchair ramps. For now, the guards have instructed him to use the back door of the parliament where there is such a ramp.
Mr Craciun's bid reaches beyond rights for disabled persons. "I am sick and tired to see that the majority of young Romanians have no models in life, no will and no motivation to do something with their lives," he told our correspondent. After having run for two years a motivational project called StartEvo, which had famous artists, journalists and entrepreneurs tell their success stories and offer mentoring to young Romanians with a business idea or an unexploited talent, Mr Craciun hopes to replicate this effort at national scale. He joined the ranks of the Civic Force, an offshoot of the larger Democratic-Liberal Party (PDL) of President Traian Basescu, because it was "the least worse option". All political parties in Romania are guilty of something, he says. All have weird members. The new party, whose candidates are running on joint lists with the PDL, is "the newest political entity and there are a lot of fresh people".
The Senate race for Mr Craciun's Bucharest constituency is an uneven one, as his main opponent from the Social-Liberal bloc (USL) of Victor Ponta, the prime minister, is no other than Dan Voiculescu, one of the most influential media moguls and a former Securitate (secret police) operative. Mr Voiculescu, whose wealth is estimated at €650m ($850m), is on trial for corruption and money laundering and has used a trick to avoid sentencing: Earlier this year, he resigned from the Senate so that his file is sent to another court. If elected, the court would be changed again and meanwhile, his alleged deeds may hit statute of limitations.
"I started with almost zero chances. He is one of the wealthiest Romanians, I am a normal person. He has thousands of employees, I have thousands of friends. He owns 40% of all media in Romania, I have a Facebook page," Mr Craciun admits. But he is confident that Romanians will listen to his message of hope, of changing something in his country, first by starting with practical education and "resetting" the role models in society. His trump card is the fact that he has made it against all odds, that he graduated from university, got a job and started his own business despite his muscular atrophy and a society which offers few opportunities for disabled persons. "Yes, Mr Voiculescu's TV channels tried to diminished my presence. They say I am being used by others and I should stay home and take care of my health. Fortunately, I am totally different that any other candidates and I am un-attackable: I was not enrolled in the old Securitate, I did not work with the state, I did not steal."
Opinion polls this week show a strong lead for the USL, at over 60%, while Mr Craciun's party is rated at a meagre 17%. But the mere fact that Mr Craciun is running, against all odds, is a sign that perhaps not all hope is lost for the young generation in Romania.