Monday, February 17, 2014

A not-so exemplar president: the latest feats of Traian Basescu
by Dula Bardha

It is universally accepted that a president of a republic symbolises the unity of a nation. Whether president of a presidential or parliamentary republic, he or she is the president of all citizens of his country.

It is also universally accepted that the president of a republic represents the official state policy and whatever he or she says is official!

Therefore, it goes without saying that the president’s “wrong” actions can provoke severe criticism from offended parties, both national and foreign.

The president of Romania does not seem to care about this.

Over the past few weeks, Traian Basescu has “scored” not one but two foul shots! One was national and the other international.

At home, Basescu offended Romanian citizens who are of Roma descent with some rather sniffy and calumnious declarations. Abroad, he reinforced pro-Russian propaganda of the Gagauz leadership in the latest (and illegally declared) referendum for independence in Gagauzia, Moldova.

Even though the first instance occurred several years ago, a Romanian court has only now rendered a ruling - finding Basescu guilty of insulting Roma.

As reported in the local media last week, the Romanian Commission for Combating Discrimination (CNCD) fined Basescu 600 lei (about €130) for his statement that “there are very few nomad Roma wanting to work; many of them traditionally live on what they pilfer”. He had made the controversial statement at a press conference in Slovenia in 2010.

His statement enraged his Roma citizens - the citizens of the country he, as the president, represents.

Back home Basescu tried to avoid any further action under his country’s anti-discrimination law. His lawyers argued that he could not be punished for statements made abroad! At first, the CNCD had refused to hear the case against Basescu on the grounds that it was outside its jurisdiction. A ruling by the Bucharest Court of Appeal and a decision of the Supreme Court of Romania, however, forced the CNCD to rule on merits.

Roma activists welcomed the CNCD’s decision to fine the president. “This is an important and symbolic act of justice. We hope that this decision will cause other people to stop the discrimination against Roma,” Marian Mandache of Amnesty Romani Crisis was quoted as saying by the local media.

Anyhow, the president has never liked Roma. It was not the first time he insulted them. In May 2007, he called a reporter who tried to photograph him and his wife while shopping a “stinking Gypsy”.

Official statistics put the number of Roma living in Romania at about 620,000, but the actual number is believed to be at least twice as high.

Last year, Romanian citizens of Roma descent were the target of discriminatory actions in France and in other European Union countries. In the far-right terminology, any and every Romanian is considered a Roma. Since January when Romanian and Bulgarian citizens secured the right of free movement in the EU, many racists and xenophobes have been quick to equate Romanians with Roma.

Statements like the one made by Basescu in Slovenia are nothing but arrows in the quiver of xenophobes and, in this case, anti-Romanian philology.

Meanwhile, Basescu has made an even more dangerous statement that can have tremendous international consequences.

On the eve of an ambiguous referendum organised by local authorities in the autonomous region of Gagauzia in Moldova where voters were asked to decide on their right for independence (something that is backed by Russia), Basescu scored his second foul shot.

The Gagauz leadership said that Moldova’s rapprochement to the EU could put the country at risk of being swallowed up by Romania. The Gagauz, a people of Turkic origin, feel strange among the Romanian-speaking Moldovan nationals. From their point of view, the Moldovan government has done little to ease this concern and to defend the integrity of Moldovan territory now and in the future.

Only Moscow-backed media and politicians insist on the legitimacy of the Gagauz’ leadership concerns. But it wasn’t only them. Basescu has also declared on several occasions that Moldova is a target in Romanian politics.

On November 27, for instance, Basescu said: “I am convinced that if there will be a unionist movement in Moldova, Romania will say ‘yes’ without hesitation”.

On New Year’s Eve, he said: “The year 2014 must be the one to say honestly and openly that Moldova is Romanian land”.

And finally, on January 7, Basescu made headlines with yet another statement. Speaking on Romanian television, he said: “In Romania, there has to start an internal debate about whether Romanians agree or not with the union with the Republic of Moldova, a debate that doesn’t have to concern the politicians in Moldova. Why? In the event a turn of Moldova towards the Eurasian Union is predictable, Romania has the obligation to offer Moldova the possibility to continue its European course through a union with Romania (…) Romania has to offer this alternative”.

Is Basescu obsessed with Moldova? Probably. On another occasion, for instance, he had said that when he retires from office he will dedicate the rest of his life to Romania-Moldova unity!

Are these kind, noble and patriotic views? Probably not. Most likely they are a danger for the stability in the region.

Basescu’s statements should mobilise an EU reaction. His statements are a threat to the integrity of a state which believes in and trusts the EU and its future course within EU institutions.

Basescu’s statements are also an insult to all European citizens. It is a shame that a president of a European country uses such scornful and defamatory terms against some of these citizens.

No comments: