The statue or democracy adrift

by Alexandru FLORIAN

In 1933, in the chaos of the Weimar republic, of a democracy without authority, in the context of a widespread nationalism and of the desire to take revenge on Europe, Hitler came to power through elections in Germany, without erecting statues to the Jews. What happened afterwards and how that affected Europe, democracy and Jews in particular is known by everyone.

For 14 years now, Romania has been transiting towards democracy. During this period, it managed to cut the number of the representative political parties (perhaps the only achievement worthy of the institutional dynamics of democracy) and it succeeded in alternating the parties in power (in 1996 and 2000). However, it has not managed to block the rise of the right-wing extremism, of the xenophobic and anti-Semitic nationalism.

In the name of the democratic values, of the freedom of speech and of association, PRM (The “Great Romania” Party) followed an ascending trajectory. The results it obtained at the elections in 2000, as well as the ratings it got in the opinion polls conducted between 2001 and 2003, indicate that PRM has the resources to repeat its electoral performances of 2000 and even to improve them. This risk is real. Chances are this will happen because the social crisis in Romania has not reached a halt, the poverty has not diminished, and, despite the statistical data, people’s life is not getting any easier, social polarization is a fact, corruption goes hand in hand with malfunctioning and poorly administered public services.

Until now, we have seen all the parties of our political array at work. All except for PRM, which either was in the opposition or stood in the shade of the party in power for the last 14 years. The State’s authority is weak. There is a political clientele, resulted of an unhealthy relationship between the political world and the business world, too intertwined together. Young people and old people alike have lost direction and feel abandoned by a society that seems to go on a continually swerving path. PRM’s extremism seems to recruit supporters from among the silent people, while the political society and the civil society, which claim to have an understanding of the world, make no attempt to stop the rise of a party and of a leader to whom anti-democracy and all the other extreme attributes of politics serve as a doctrine and an ideology. The madman is not mad, and society did not have the courage to challenge him. On the contrary, there were cases when it supported him. In an interview taken not long ago, Radu Ioanid claimed that the Weimar republic is not far. I believe that, during the last month, we dived deep into it, at least from the point of view of the overall atmosphere.

Today, after C. V. Tudor (the head of PRM) unveiled the bust of Y. Rabin in Brasov, it appears to me that the Romanian society is still asleep. The topics of the current debates are rather colloquial: whether this was a political gesture, whether we need this statue or not, whether Senator C. V. Tudor is an anti-Semite or a philo-Semite (and other topics that can be seen as collateral).
I believe that, if Romania is to militate against extremism and to take clear steps, the real issues that should be considered are of a different nature.

  • The central and local authorities should have abandoned their passiveness a long time ago and should not have allowed the unveiling in a public place of a monument that had not got the proper legal authorizations.

  • The central and local authorities should have mobilized themselves and should not have granted such authorizations to an extremist party which tries to capitalize on the memory of an Israeli political personality that has become a symbol of the fight for peace. There are limits to demagogy and populism, even in a democracy.

  • The civil society has the duty to express its repulsion towards PRM’s extremism in a direct way and in a militant spirit. The fight against anti-Semitism, against racism, against any form of discrimination and against intolerance is a reaction that transcends the political affiliation of anyone of us. Did we forget so soon the lesson of the Second World War, when Hitlerism had to be opposed by alliances of political forces that, before being so different, were ant-fascist?

  • Can a statue symbolizing the personality of Y. Rabin be displayed in a public place against the will of the Rabin family? This is no rhetorical question and the answer is no! Using a symbol that is not yours is an act of usurpation. Moreover, how can someone who put Ion Antonescu on a pedestal erect a statue to Y. Rabin?

  • There are no morals in politics, but there has to be some solidarity for the sake of the democratic values. There are moments in the evolution of any democratic system when this solidarity calls for political action instead of political speeches. I believe that this is one of those rare moments when the institutions of democracy have to pass an exam in an extreme situation…

  • Justice, that is supposed to be beyond any political biases, has been failing for years in imposing restrictions on C. V. Tudor’s extremist manifestations (his anti-Semitic, anti-democratic, anti-Hungarian or anti-Roma speeches, his erecting statues to Ion Antonescu, his denial of the Romanian Holocaust and of the responsibility of the Romanian government in power in that period).

    I believe that we should think about all these issues in the following days, to find an answer and to respond civically and politically.