Monday, June 30, 2014

The man in the yellow van: Mircea Diaconu, the accidental MEP

by Dan Alexe

Romania (the country of origin of the founders of the Dadaist, pre-Surrealist movement) is famous for having sent, in the previous EU legislature, extremely exotic figures to the European Parliament, such as: the rabid caricature of a far-right ultranationalist politician (Corneliu Vadim Tudor); a dyslexic daughter of president Basescu, a former botoxed model (Elena B.); a millionaire, but inarticulate, shepherd, now in jail for fraud (Gigi Becali); or a corrupt, nominally Socialist, MEP who refused to resign from the European Parliament even when caught red-handed in a “cash-for-amendments” affair (Adrian Severin).

Now, Romania has, among its 32 MEPs, Mircea Diaconu, one of those Eastern European actors whose fame is based on an amorphous popular consensus incomprehensible for outsiders. But Diaconu’s status is uncertain, for it is contested by the anti-corruption bodies from his own country, who have asked the still-to-reunite EU Parliament to scrap his mandate, given that the well-known actor became an MEP while being declared incompatible.

Diaconu was a moderately popular second-rate actor in Communist times. At the time, his baby face was bringing something candid and naive to the roles he interpreted. He acted in small roles, cops, taxi drivers, until Nae Caranfil’s successful movie Filantropica, in 2002.

In Romania, hubris means that the public person afflicted by it thinks he or she is not concerned by common rules. So it happened that, while acting as head of the prestigious Nottara theatre in Bucharest, Diaconu was forced to resign after having hired his own wife as stage director, although she was merely an actress, with no directing experience. He himself headed the examining commission and awarded her the maximum mark of 10. He was then also a senator for the National Liberal Party, and, for a short while, culture minister. Of course, it didn’t bother him to be simultaneously senator and director of the very theatre Nottara that would come under his own jurisdiction as culture minister.

When forced to resign, he took this as a huge injustice and a personal affront. He then decided to run for the European Parliament, but when he was declared incompatible and stopped from running in the EU elections, he quickly set up a friendly network of signature-gatherers, mostly among pensioners, the elderly from the suburbs and the countryside. Pensioners are a redoubtable force in Romania. He gathered the necessary 100,000 signature in order to become an independent candidate, and in the elections he got 6,81% of the national vote, more than the party of the Hungarian minority (UDMR), or the right-oriented PMP party backed by outgoing president Basescu. In order to win over the compassion of the population, he criss-crossed the country in an old yellow minivan, talking personally to people. He played the victim as unconvincingly for outsider as he did on screen. But it worked: Romanian pensioners don’t make any distinction between life and cinema.

He insisted very much on his car being old and rundown, and promised that he would drive it all the way to Brussels, were he to win. “Poor Diaconu” was the catchword... “They don’t allow him to run.”

“They” in Romania, as in most post-Communist Eastern Europe, are maleficent, foreign-controlled entities, who manipulate from the shadows

For the time being, the National Agency for Integrity went to court in Bucharest in order to contest Diaconu’s European mandate. Meanwhile, he Joined the ALDE group of the European Liberals, while his former Romanian ALDE colleagues left the Liberal in order to join the EPP…

Surrealist Romanian politics is coming to town… in a yellow, ostensibly run-down van.

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