Monday, 24 November 2014

A mystery

What do you make of this, Holmes? 66% of Romanians say they voted for Klaus Iohannis but he won only 54% of the vote.

Opinion polls are not be trusted. All but one poll prior the election said Ponta would win and even the exit polls after the polls closed suggested he had a very slim lead, though I was told that Mr. Iliescu called him at 3 p.m. to tell him that he had lost. And we know that people often convince themselves that they voted for the winning party even when they voted the other way.

Still, it makes you think. I wonder if some votes were mislaid and if so how many. 

A political insider told me in 2004 

If Nastase loses by 3 or 4%, he won't lose.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

I crossed the Euphrates and didn't know it

The friend I stayed with in Iraq just told me that I crossed the Euphrates, the day we went to Lalish, the Yazidi shrine. Why didn't he tell me at the time? Because it was a dried up river bed where we crossed it, he said, but even so. I feel a slight sense of glory. 

I did know that I was on the plain of Nineveh though regrettably most of it was outside the Kurdish region and therefore slightly too dangerous.

I wrote about this journey here. Rereading it, I like the quotation from Bernard Lewis

The Roman Empire and the medieval Islamic Empire were not conquered by more civilized peoples, they were conquered by less civilized but more vigorous peoples. But in both cases what made the conquest, with the Barbarians in Rome and the Mongols in Iraq, what made it possible was things were going badly wrong within the society so that it was no longer able to offer effective resistance.

I should say, as a gloss on this, that I do not see the Islamists conquering the West in battle, though they are wreaking much damage in Kurdish Iraq. I think if Western civilisation ceases to exist it will be because Western women do not have enough children. But I am a bachelor, so I do not have locus standi in that debate.


Typing Iliescu my telephone wrote: I lied constantly. And yet some people don't believe God exists.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Liberalism redivivus: UKIP are liberals

The Liberal Democrats got 0.87% of the vote in the Rochester by-election in the UK - some 349 votes. But they are not liberals - UKIP, who won the seat, are. Real, classical liberals.

The Lib Dems scored a lower percentage than any major party in a British by-election since 1918. Lower than any Liberal in the 1950s or 60s. Anywhere in the UK. 
I have three times as many Facebook friends as there were Lib Dem voters in Rochester. Isn't that absolutely wonderful? It restores ones faith in human nature.

What are liberals? Sir William Harcourt in 1872 gave the best definition, forty years before the Liberal Party decided to embrace the state.
Liberty does not consist in making others do what you think right. The difference between a free Government and a Government which is not free is principally this—that a Government which is not free interferes with everything it can, and a free Government interferes with nothing except what it must. A despotic Government tries to make everybody do what it wishes, a Liberal Government tries, so far as the safety of society will permit, to allow everybody to do what he wishes. It has been the function of the Liberal Party consistently to maintain the doctrine of individual liberty. It is because they have done so that England is the country where people can do more what they please than in any country in the world.
And here is John Stuart Mill in his Essay on Representative Government:
Free institutions are next to impossible in a country made up of different nationalities. Among a people without fellow-feeling, especially if they read and speak different languages, the united public opinion, necessary to the working of representative government, cannot exist. The influences which form opinions and decide political acts are different in the different sections of the country. An altogether different set of leaders have the confidence of one part of the country and of another. The same books, newspapers, pamphlets, speeches, do not reach them. One section does not know what opinions, or what instigations, are circulating in another. The same incidents, the same acts, the same system of government, affect them in different ways; and each fears more injury to itself from the other nationalities than from the common arbiter, the state.
I am not a liberal but esteem liberals - true 19th century ones like UKIP - and there is very little difference nowadays between them and true conservatives. Single-sex marriage might have appealed to John Stuart Mill but not to the Protestant strain in liberalism exemplified by Gladstone and it does not to UKIP. But there are very few liberal or conservative politicians these days. Some people in England are still interested in freedom, the liberal idea, or tradition, the conservative idea - but very many of the English are not very interested in either. This is especially true in the universities, as the very estimable Brendan O'Neill, who is a Trotskyite, reports here. 

In place of freedom, more and more the British are concerned by money, the welfare state and avoiding discrimination. For many these things are not only more important than freedom but have taken the place of the sacred in British life. 

By the way, I have no idea why Emily Thornberry MP's tweet of a photograph of a white van in front of a house garlanded with St. George's flags should be a 'gaffe'. Her photograph was not mocking in any way. What a fool Ed Miliband is to have sacked her for it and to have said that he felt a sense of “respect” whenever he saw a white van. Mr. Miliband is a nerd and the press are bullies who see he is afraid of them. He is also an ass and too small a man to lead his party.

He managed to turn a news story about a Conservative defeat into a defeat for him. It all seems to have taken leave of reality and moved into an alternative time-space continuum. The writer Jeremy Duns tweeted:
I tried to explain Thornberry to my wife (Swedish-Finn). Got to point Ed said he respected white vans and she asked if it was a real story.

On this subject one last, elegaic point. I liked it when - twenty years ago - the English flag was only seen flying on the towers of country churches and was redolent of rural calm.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Victor Ponta and Traian Basescu were allies in the election

Romanian President Traian Basescu, who is on the centre-right, and his Social Democrat Prime Minister, Victor Ponta, appear to loathe each other and probably do so, but they do deals from time to time. I don’t know whether they met to discuss their strategy in the presidential elections but they were de facto allies against the main centre-right candidate, Klaus Iohannis, who on Sunday unexpectedly won a comfortable victory.

The reason for this unholy alliance was that, although in Romanian presidential elections only two candidates go forward into the second and final round of voting, held a fortnight after the first round, it is very important which candidate comes third. Traian Basescu as President is not permitted to have any party affiliation but he was represented in the election by his great protégée and favourite Elena Udrea. Mr. Basescu’s idea was that Mrs. Udrea would come third and take most of the voters who like Mr. Basescu with her. They come to over 15% of the electorate. In the 2016 elections the PSD would control the presidency, the parliament and the government and Mr. Basescu, as he imagined it, could be the opposition. But this idea was ruined when, to his great annoyance, Monica Macovei stood as an independent candidate. She is the former Minister of Justice who deserves the credit for making Romania’s previously infamously corrupt courts relatively clean. 

She has been a great admirer of President Basescu and would have made a very effective leader for Mr. Basescu’s constituency but Mr. Basescu is devoted to, even besotted with, Mrs. Udrea. In this way the Basescu vote was split. 

Elena Udrea

Everyone agreed, by the way, that neither woman stood a chance of being president because Romanians will not be ready for a woman president for a long time to come.

Meanwhile the PSD had done a deal with the former National Liberal Prime Minister Catalin Tariceanu, who now leads a splinter party. He is the man who sacked Mrs. Macovei as soon as Romania had safely entered the EU in 2007. He was drafted in by the PSD to stand for president in order to take votes from Klaus Iohannis.

It was important for the PSD that Mr. Tariceanu came third so that President Ponta could appoint him Prime Minister as a gesture of inclusivity intended to garner support from people who voted for the main centre right parties that backed Klaus Iohannis. Mrs. MacoveI threatened to wreck this plan too.

On the morning of the first round exit polls – these are published throughout election day here - showed her gathering an unexpectedly high 8% of the vote, not nearly enough to get into the second round but easily enough to take the prestigious third place. This for an independent candidate with no party organization or powerful backers would have been a very great achievement and made her a big force to be reckoned with for the next few years.

In the afternoon and evening something remarkable happened. The exit polls showed her support dropping off and falling to somewhat over 4%. 

This is remarkable because it is a given that left-wing voters vote early (the left is the rural party and in the countryside people wake early). Right-wing voters tend to lie in bed and vote later. Why did this not happen this time? Nobody knows, but the suspicion cannot be suppressed that the vote was tampered with to ensure Mr. Tariceanu took third place, as he did.

So far all went more or less to plan for the PSD though they had expected to win more votes in the first round. All was set for Victor Ponta to be President and to have a nominally liberal and centre right Prime Minister Catalin Tariceanu. This was the plan that was hatched a year ago but, as we know, it was not to be…

Most of Mr. Tariceanu’s voters ignored his advice to vote for Mr. Ponta and voted for Mr. Iohannis, who took the presidency by a comfortable margin of 10% of the votes. Mrs. Udrea told people to vote against Mr. Ponta but on Saturday it was reported that she was neutral. On Sunday she appeared unexpectedly in Paris of all places standing in the queue to vote at the embassy. The Hungarians voted for the German and so did a lot of previously undecided voters. Almost every one of the 400,000 members of the diaspora queuing outside consulates and embassies had several people in Romania they were close to and whom they may have urged to vote –  for 
Klaus Iohannis. Some Romanians abroad told their parents that they would not send any more money home unless they voted for him.

Mr. Ponta lost badly, but not he only. His party lost badly, of course, even though it is still the government. A lot of people who fear investigation by the anti-corruption prosecutors (DNA) know that they may lose very badly indeed. Mrs. Udrea lost fairly badly and will soon have to manage without presidential protection. She has already been interviewed by the DNA. Mr. Basescu, I suggest, lost and so did Mr. Melescanu who gave up running the secret service to be Foreign Minister and resigned five days later because of his failure to arrange enough stamps to allow the diaspora to vote. 

He said it was a resignation of honour but before Sunday's election he had said the law did not permit him to enable people to vote quickly. He will come back. He always does. He also stood for the presidency as a stalking horse to draw away centre-right votes but later the PSD decided Mr Tariceanu was a more useful feint.

Mrs. Macovei backed Klaus Iohannis and it will be interesting to see what the future has in store for her. She didn't lose, even if some of her votes were lost, and of course nor did the parties representing the 7% Hungarian minority, who voted for Mr. Iohannis. Whoever wins or loses the Hungarians always win. A German president is the nearest thing to a Hungarian president that they can hope for, so they may feel that they won big.

Almost everyone I talk to thinks that Romania has won, including some who are connected to the PSD by ties of consanguinity or interest. Romanians, who have a collective father complex, tend to look for a providential figure to rescue them and the President-elect looks providential. Cometh the hour, cometh the man, people are hoping. Let's see.

War in Aleppo takes toll on the legendary Hotel Baron

Here is a short, sad article on Aleppo's wonderful Baron Hotel, my favourite hotel in the world, in one of my favourite cities in the world. Sad though the war is, I am glad that no worse has so far befallen the grand old lady than a roof
 perforated by gunfire and no guests for four years.

Mr. Mazloumian, the owner, is an exceptionally nice man, feline and gentlemanly. Arabs are wonderfully hospitable and warm and when you are a paying guest they are even more so. In the article he is quoted as saying of the fighting in Aleppo,
"You think all this will stop? It will take years."
Unfortunately, he is of course right. 

I stayed in the presidential suite, the rooms where President Assad senior had stayed in 1972 for $70 but would have preferred to pay less and stay where Agatha Christie or Laurence of Arabia had stayed. I wrote about my journey here and a brief note about the Hotel Baron here.

I like to google to find the oldest hotel in a town I visit and hope it is run to seed at least a bit. Wikipedia provides a useful list of such hotels here. Among my favourites are the Hotel Imperial in Jerusalem, the Hotel Londonskaya in Odessa and the Hotel George in Lviv. There is also the Grand Cafe des Londres in Constantinople. The Pera Palace was once delightfully late nineteenth century, like a London club in Constantinople, though not shabby  - it was my favourite place in the whole city and the only place that felt old-fashioned - but it was ruined by renovation. Now it's a five star place with air conditioning designed for Americans.

When I went I wanted to go from Bucharest to Aleppo by train but the Taurus Express had been suspended for four weeks. Now it has been suspended indefinitely, of course. I have since remembered the first lines of 'Murder on the Orient Express' which makes me regret even more not taking that famous train.

It was five o’clock on a winter’s morning in Syria. Alongside the platform at Aleppo stood the train grandly designated in railway guides as the Taurus Express. It consisted of a kitchen and dining-car, a sleeping-car and two local coaches.
Here is a conversation I had with a friend I made in Damascus who now lives in Bucharest. His insight into the war is worth reading.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

What will Victor Ponta do next?

What will happen in Romania next, after the surprise election of Klaus Iohannis (his name is really Johannis) as President?

First we have to see if the Supreme Court rules in a case in which Mr. Iohannis is accused by the National Integrity Commission of having not declared a conflict of interest in a slightly arcane matter in his capacity as Mayor of Sibiu. The court could rule against Mr. Iohannis and rule that he is unfit to be president. I can’t see it happening. It is more likely that they will adjourn the case until he becomes president, when he will have immunity from prosecution. This is what they did with a case in which the current President Traian Basescu is accused of corruption in connection with selling off the Romanian navy.

What will happen to Victor Ponta, who lost the presidency to almost everyone’s surprise?
Nothing, for the time being. He will continue being Prime Minister, despite the change of president. It is the Government not the president that rules Romania. Like his mentor Adrian Nastase, who was the PSD candidate for the presidency ten years ago (and who is now out on parole), Victor Ponta never wanted to be president and wanted to continue as prime minister. So everything is peachy. Except it’s not.

Victor Ponta though a clever man is not leader of the Social Democrat party (PSD) or Prime Minister because of his own strength of personality or sheer stature. He is not what in British politics is called a big beast of the jungle. Only two Romanian politicians really qualify for that description: Ion Iliescu, who overthrew Ceausescu and had him shot, and Traian Basescu. Victor Ponta, by contrast, was chosen as a young (too young to have been a communist) and telegenic front man for the PSD.

For those who do not follow Romanian politics, I should explain that the PSD is not a political party in the sense understood in Western Europe. It is the continuation of the old Communist Party by other means and without the left-wing ideology. It is not monolithic or genuinely national but is a federation of parties organised in each Romanian county. Each country organisation is in effect a business, a conspiracy or, if we are to call spades spades, a criminal network. Mr. Ponta is leader as long as he can balance the competing interests of the leaders of the party in the countries (the so called ‘barons’) and offer them a chance of winning the 2016 parliamentary election.

Mr. Ponta said that any PSD candidate for the presidency would get 40% of the votes. It was up to him to get another 10%. The fact that Mr. Ponta won only 45% of the votes and therefore lost the presidency does not mean he cannot lead his party to victory in 2016. The way he lost Sunday’s election probably does. 

Victor Ponta fought a very old-fashioned campaign that seemed to be tailored to the unsophisticated, nationalistic Romanian electorate of the early 1990s, offering pension increases and public works. Playing the racial and religious cards against his German Protestant opponent is what everyone would expect him to do, though it seems to have been ineffective. No one was surprised by his shameless campaign to bribe electors with public money – this is how things are here.  Electoral fraud which may have stolen 900,000 votes has not made a big impact here, through it certainly should have done. But the sight of very long queues of Romanians outside embassies and consulates, queueing all day in the cold, in many cases never to be allowed to vote, were crucial for winning the election for Mr. Iohannis and will permanently tarnish Mr. Ponta’s image. And these things happened not only on Sunday but in the first round of the election two weeks before. They happened because the diaspora is overwhelmingly opposed to the PSD. Those people were not queueing all day to vote for Victor Ponta. Mr. Ponta defended the way in which voting took place abroad on television in his debates with Mr. Iohannis. The contempt for the viewing public was unmistakable.

Remember that Mr. Ponta was discovered to have plagiarised his doctoral thesis. Then there are lurid, melodramatic allegations on the net about his connection with a young prosecutor who committed suicide back in 2002, while investigating Adrian Nastase. If I held stocks in Mr. Ponta I should sell them. That is what the barons are thinking too.

Tony Blair was motivated by envy

My companion at lunch told me Lord Carrington told him that Tony Blair was motivated mainly by envy, of things he didn't have. This is why he loved destroying traditions. Lord Carrington is a wise old bird and might be right.

Psychopaths are motivated mainly by envy too, but I do not believe Mr. Blair is one.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Deutschland über alles - why Victor Ponta lost

People gathered  at Piata Universitatii, Bucharest, the scene of the 1989 Revolution. 

"The people's voice is odd./It is and it is not the voice of God." Alexander Pope
1.00 a.m.

Victor Ponta, the favourite to win the presidency - everyone assured me he would win - has conceded defeat and I am surprised how emotional I feel. Just like when Traian Basescu beat the favourite Adrian Nastase by a whisker in 2004 and the euphoria in the streets of Bucharest the next day was palpable. Where did ten years go? 

I always had a feeling that the German would win it - largely because he's German. Romanians trust Germans more than other Romanians. They usually trust foreigners more than other Romanians, so long as the foreigners are white.

Romania makes a habit of these cliff-hangers. The exit polls showed Basescu losing in 2009 but the diaspora saved him then. This time the diaspora won the election for Mr. Iohannis not because of their votes, which in the end were not crucial, but because of the pictures posted all over the social media of queues a mile long in Munich, London and everywhere else, queues of people who stood eight hours in the cold on a Sunday and in some cases were, even then, not allowed to cast their votes. This happened in the first round of voting two weeks ago and again in the second round, because Mr. Ponta's government had arranged insufficient polling booths. 

These pictures were the best advertising materials Mr. Iohannis could have had. You can't buy that kind of advertising. This was another revolution won on social media.

Viscount Whitelaw, Margaret Thatcher's long-serving deputy, said at one point in the sorry life of James Callaghan's administration, which preceded hers,
"We should certainly not gloat. This is no time to gloat. But I can tell you, I am gloating like hell."
So is half Romania tonight - roughly speaking, the better, more informed and idealistic half. 

Mr Ponta conceded defeat within an hour, while the exit polls showed the result too close to call. Presumably his own polling, much more reliable than any exit poll, showed him he had lost. Did he also fear violence in the street had he stayed? People say half a million votes were rigged by electoral tourism and other malpractice and the votes of the diaspora as always were certain the be strongly anti-PSD. But I wonder if he received calls from the State Department instructing him to concede defeat, as Adrian Nastase is said to have done in 2004.

Victor Ponta's campaign slogan - 'The President Who Unites' - proved almost true, but not in the way he wanted. He united (enough) Romanians against him. For a moment Romania - or Bucharest, anyway - is suffused by a glow of solidarity, as it was after the centre-right victories in 1996 and 2004. What a shame that it will not last long.

Victor Ponta is still Prime Minister, the job I am sure he wanted more than the presidency, and in theory there is no reason why he should lose it. Only his own party can get rid of him and if they do so their mortal foe, President Băsescu, will get to choose his successor. After Mr. Iohannis is sworn in next month it will be Mr. Iohannis who invites politicians to form a new government  - if a vacancy occurs. 

Yet, though Mr. Ponta got almost half the vote, I feel that he is probably a busted flush and not long for this political life. He always looked like a naughty schoolboy and now he has been thrashed, as naughty boys used to be in the days before corporal punishment was banned by the EU.

Note on Monday:

The final figures reveal that it wasn't even close - the figures look like 55% for Iohannis, 45% for Ponta. That's after the alleged malpractice and despite the people in the diaspora unable to vote. So there was never going to be any need for American pressure or social unrest.  

Why did the polls get it so wrong?

In Britain there is a well-known and marked tendency for Conservatives not to like admitting to pollsters that they will vote Conservative or, in the case of exit polls, that they have voted Conservative. In Romania no-one puts too much faith in polls but here too there seems to be a tendency for people not to admit that they are voting for the centre-right candidate. This may explain why the PSD candidate was expected to win the presidency in 2004 and 2014. In 2009 the exit polls said the PSD candidate Mircea Geoana had won.

Another part of the explanation is the influence of social media. Pro-PSD television channels showed Orwellian stories about Hungarian subversion yesterday, but mostly older people were watching. On Twitter and Facebook there was a relentless torrent of pictures and posts from Romanians abroad queueing in lines a mile long, camping out overnight to vote, being dispersed by French and Italian police with tear gas, because the government of Victor Ponta had not provided enough polling booths. And very emotional messages on the social media from the diaspora begging people in Romania to exercise their right to vote may have mobilised a lot of votes - and even changed many minds - as polling day wore on. The exit polls showed a big swing from Ponta to Johannis as the day progressed.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Hasn't Iohannis won?

Sunday 9.10 p.m.

I always thought Iohannis stood a chance. And it seems according to the exit polls that the Romanians voted about 50% - 50%. I'm only a foreigner but if it's extremely close it means the diaspora will swing it for Iohannis doesn't it? Plus huge amount of PSD fraud, electoral tourism etc. Surely the Americans will insist on a clean result like in 2004?

In any case, lots of rich but not very honest people are extremely worried indeed.

Friday, 14 November 2014


Since he first came on the scene I have been struck by a remarkable resemblance between Victor Ponta, favourite to win the Romanian presidency on Sunday, and Alfred E. Neuman, Mad magazine's eternal write-in candidate for president.

mad magazine the idiotical Alfred E. Neuman for President: Let Him Finish the Job Politics, Alfred E. Neuman, Alfred E. Neuman for President, Mark Fredrickson, MAD Posters


Osama bin Laden was murdered by the Americans

A former US Navy Seal, 'Rob' O'Neil, has said he killed Osama bin Laden. It is clear from the man's account, assuming it is true as I do, that he murdered Bin Ladin. The USA clearly did not want their great enemy to stand trial - in Pakistan or New York - and use the opportunity for making himself a hero in the eyes of Muslims.

This reminds me of Margaret Thatcher ordering the SAS to shoot IRA men trying to cause an outrage in Gibraltar many years ago. Mr O'Neill should be tried for murder. Why is no-one in the USA saying this?

Corruption in Romania - is the PSD more corrupt than the other parties?

A numbers man and an American long settled in Bucharest, Peter Frank has produced a very interesting statistical analysis of the party affiliations of men and women (it is mostly men) indicted for corruption in Romania. The data he has collected goes back over many years. He tells us that
What is clear, though, is that much of the country’s political foundation is being ruptured, leading some to allege it is a conspiracy against certain political parties while others plainly claim it is a much-needed cleansing of systemic corruption that is destroying this country.
While an analysis of the available data cannot support either side’s claim with any certainty, it is clear from an extensive review of public data that one political party consistently accounts for the preponderance of corruption cases: the PSD.
In fact, in the first 10 months of this year, 45 percent of individuals who could be identified with clear political affiliations and were named by the Direcţia Naţională Anticorupţie (DNA) as subjects of accusation, indictment, arrest or conviction were affiliated with the PSD. In all, through October, 106 of the 237 individuals in this category were associated with the PSD. And its representation among those suspected, accused or arrested is increasing as the cases grow in complexity and scope. The PDL and PNL represented 20 percent and 18 percent, respectively.

Interestingly, in 2013, the percentage of PSD people who were named in DNA press releases was 26% of the total, while 18% were PNL and 14% PDL. This year PSD accounted for 45%. largely because of a few large cases involving PSD figures, in particular the Microsoft bribery scandal - an investigation which originated in the USA and was therefore certainly not politically motivated. It should be added that the PSD is the largest party. 

Why did Romanian journalists not do this kind of statistical analysis?

There is pretty much no doubt that the people convicted of corruption are guilty and they include some of the most famous and powerful men in the land including former PSD Prime Minister Adrian Nastase. There is no doubt too that it is outgoing President Traian Băsescu who is responsible for this very great achievement. He inspired the setting up of the  DNA and appointed its three top officers, in particular its redoubtable young head, Laura Codruța Kövesi. There is no doubt that Romanian politics is still very corrupt but no doubt either that people in the political world are very afraid of the DNA.

What is disputed is whether, as the PSD allege, the DNA goes easy on the President's friends. Since they arrested his brother for influence peddling that argument carries less force, but it is still made. Certainly Prime Minister Victor Ponta and the PSD think so and have repeatedly said so. In December Victor Ponta's government tried to pass a series of laws granting immunity to elected officials, though these were ultimately blocked
. If Mr. 

I doubt it is true that the prosecutors working in the DNA are partisan but I think it is true that, despite the people in the centre-right parties who have been prosecuted, some powerful people in the centre-right parties are protected.  For example, gurile rele (bad mouths) mention a well-known female politician close to President Basescu. 

If Mr. Ponta is elected president tomorrow, as is expected, the torrent of arrests and convictions may slow to a trickle. Mrs. Kövesi said in her interview with the New York Times this week,
“It is important that the new president support the anticorruption fight....But there are reasons to worry if the president does not support our fight.”
She could hardly be clearer.

Most Romanian politicians go into politics partly or wholly to enrich themselves in some way. However the way in which the PSD, under other names, governed from 1990 until the end of 1996 and from 2000 to 2004 have indelibly associated the party in the minds of most informed people with corruption on a very large scale. I remember talking to a grande horizontale closely connected in the Adrian Nastase period to a number of leading PSD figures and saying that the PSD was an organised crime gang. She replied, with some truth,
No, you're wrong - they're very disorganised.
Even so, they were said to be much more organised about corruption than the centre-right politicians who had been in power from 1996 to 2000 and who were mostly amateurs at it.

Some of the old school PSD members, the ones close to former President Ion Iliescu, had genuine socialist principles and were less rapacious than the others, especially pro-Western modernisers who came to prominence after 2000, but the reason why the PSD is identified with corruption is because the PSD is the continuation of the Communist Party. The Communist Party constantly fought corruption and had Spartan ideals, yet was itself, by definition, corrupt, in that it monopolised all power and all money. 

Some say that Ceaușescu was killed because he would not let the servants steal, but that is not true or is a gross simplification. What happened after Ceaușescu was overthrown was what happened throughout Eastern Europe. It was a management buyout by well-placed Communist apparatchiks, who in 1989 and 1990 came to realise that the end of Communism would not be the end for them but an opportunity for advancement and enrichment.

The PSD exists to wins votes from and look after the interests of the poor and less well-educated, which is a lot of people, but it has very few or no ideas or ideals. The other parties do not have many either - right and left mean little here. But though Ideas do not mean very much they do mean something. They are the main reason why centre-right voters are mobilised. The important centre-right idea is anti-communism and its corollary, anti-corruption.

However, whatever ideals they may embrace, the so-called centre-right parties, PDL, PNL and all the other frequently changing acronyms, are also thoroughly corrupt. It is 25 years since the PNL was made up of old men who were emigres or former political prisoners. All of the parties have long been part of 'the structure of power' as it's called, the deep state which runs things here, linked to the former secret police. As the daughter of a leading political figure told me
Paul, you must realise that PSD, PDL and PNL are exactly, exactly the same thing.

An October day in the Maramures

Thursday, 13 November 2014

I am not sure this is true

Fashion exists for women with no taste, etiquette for people with no breeding. 
Queen Marie of Romania 

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Romania publishes as many books as all the Arab countries put together

An interesting piece of information from this site:

....the Arab world, with its population of over 362 million people in 2012 (according to the World Bank data), produces between 15,000 and 18,000 new titles per year, with print runs varying between 1,000 and 3,000 copies each ... Which is the number of books produced in countries like Romania (with a population of 21.3millions in 2012), and Ukraine (population 45.6millions in 2012), and which is roughly the number of titles published yearly by Penguin Random House.

Interestingly, Iran, with 78 million inhabitants, publishes more than the Arab world. 

The Arabs have produced six Nobel prize winners, of whom three were given the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts to bring peace to the Middle East and one for campaigning for human rights in Yemen. Romanians have won four. However, of the four Romanian winners two were ethnic Romanians and the other two, Herta Muller and Elie Wiesel, a German from the Banat and a Transylvanian Jew respectively, made their lives abroad and did not write in Romanian. By comparison 32 Nobel Prizes were awarded to graduates of Trinity College, Cambridge. I wish my headmaster had not dissuaded me from going there.