Saturday, 29 November 2014

Politics and philosophy are a means of self expression

Politics and philosophy are a means of self expression - as Nietzsche said, all philosophy is disguised psychology.

People without imagination should make money

People without imagination should pursue well paid careers. For them money supplies poetry.

Robert Graves was told by his publisher

There's no money in poetry

To which he replied 

There's no poetry in money. 

But in fact it depends on what poetry means to you. 

A. H. Clough's Spectator ab Extra expresses many people's philosophy, including that of quite a few nouveaux-riches I know in Bucharest (almost all the riche here are nouveaux)

They may talk as they please about what they call pelf, 

And how one ought never to think of one’s self, 

How pleasures of thought surpass eating and drinking— 

My pleasure of thought is the pleasure of thinking 

How pleasant it is to have money, heigh-ho! 

How pleasant it is to have money. 

Schopenhauer was characteristically bleaker:

"Money is happiness in abstracto; he, therefore, who is no longer capable of enjoying happiness in the concrete pursues money.

But Schopenhauer was wrong. Lots of people find great happiness in money. 

Do you remember the two in the poster?

If so, you are probably too old to wear jeans.

Kind hearts are more than coronets and simple faith than Norman blood

The name Howard means hog-herd. The Duke of Norfok's ancestor when surnames were given out was one.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

The man who mistook Westminster Cathedral for a mosque

Westminster Cathedral.

Somebody in the South Thanet constituency association of UKIP referred on Twitter to a photograph of Westminster Cathedral as a mosque. The Guardian and many others are taking this slip terribly seriously. How much UKIP is hated - the verb is exact - and feared. Our rulers are very insecure about their hegemony.

It is an understandable mistake - nothing looks less English than neo-Byzantine Westminster Cathedral and after the Hagia Sofia in Constantinople was turned into a mosque this great Byzantine church became the model for the design of mosques to the present day.

In fact Catholic churches can never be national monuments. We are an odd, subversive foreign institution in the eyes of our Protestant compatriots, not part of English life, though we created England. I like this, the feeling of being an outsider that we share with Communists (it's not the only thing).

Of course Pugin, the fanatically Catholic architect who designed the Houses of Parliament, thought Gothic was the only true Catholic architectural style but it is not accidental that the two most famous and most loved Catholic churches in London, the Brompton Oratory and Westminster Cathedral, are not English Gothic but Italian baroque and Italian Byzantine respectively.

I love Westminster Cathedral more than any church in England, even though it is not nearly the most beautiful. Even though someone aptly said the interior resembles the bathroom department in Harrod's.

I loved it since I went there aged three for the first time. Even though the Masses are mostly in English it does not feel like the modern low church Catholic Church. It is intensely, giddily spiritual, unlike the much more beautiful St. Paul's, which is as spiritual as a garden shed. The Abbey, like other medieval Anglican churches, has the faintest trace of spirituality, which is all that remains of its Catholic origins, buried by restraint, good taste, national monuments and moth-eaten flags. 

I go to Westminster Cathedral whenever I am in London, even on brief visits. Possibly its un-Englishness it part of what draws me. Perhaps it reminds me that the only genuinely religious emotion that the English ever experience is hatred of Catholicism.

I wonder which is hated more, Catholicism or UKIP.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Is Sibiu salami made of horse?

I was told by someone who loves Sibiu salami that it's made of horse. Is it? In any case, I read that it may be made an EU protected product.

The Little Black Boy

The best thing said on the subject of race, about which far, far too much is said these days. It goes through my head very often and contrasts very well with the cant written on this subject in our time. It was written by a very theologically liberal Protestant and profoundly religious man:

My mother bore me in the southern wild,
And I am black, but O! my soul is white;
White as an angel is the English child: 
But I am black as if bereav'd of light.

My mother taught me underneath a tree 
And sitting down before the heat of day,
She took me on her lap and kissed me,
And pointing to the east began to say. 

Look on the rising sun: there God does live 
And gives his light, and gives his heat away. 
And flowers and trees and beasts and men receive
Comfort in morning joy in the noonday.

And we are put on earth a little space,
That we may learn to bear the beams of love, 
And these black bodies and this sun-burnt face
Is but a cloud, and like a shady grove.

For when our souls have learn'd the heat to bear 
The cloud will vanish we shall hear his voice. 
Saying: come out from the grove my love & care,
And round my golden tent like lambs rejoice.

Thus did my mother say and kissed me, 
And thus I say to little English boy. 
When I from black and he from white cloud free,
And round the tent of God like lambs we joy: 

Ill shade him from the heat till he can bear, 
To lean in joy upon our fathers knee. 
And then I'll stand and stroke his silver hair,
And be like him and he will then love me.

I know little about and have not read very much of Blake who was so fashionable when I was up at university, as he had been since the 1960s. I am much more a lover of Pope and Cowper - or much better Chaucer. But speaking of Blake's religious views I know, from Bagehot's essay, that he startled Henry Crabb Robinson by telling him: 
'Jesus Christ is the only God. And so am I and so are you.'

Black Americans persecuting other black Americans

Black people in the American town of Ferguson, Missouri, are rioting because a policeman who shot dead an unarmed black man was released after the grand jury ruled he had no case to answer.

This man's death was very unfortunate, but while people protest about one white man killing a black man, in self-defence the jury evidently thought, why do they not talk about the very large numbers of people murdered by blacks? There are far fewer American blacks killed by whites than vice versa, despite the fact that blacks make up only 13% of the population of the USA. 

Nor are blacks killed more often by the police. Interestingly, almost twice as many whites are shot dead by the police than blacks. Between 1999 and 2011 the CDC figures show that 
2,151 whites died by being shot by police compared to 1,130 blacks.
The following figures date from 2008 but are telling. According to the US Department of Justice, 52.5% of homicides were committed by blacks. The offending rate for blacks was almost 8 times higher than whites and the victim rate 6 times higher. 84% of white homicide victims were murdered by whites and 93% of black victims murdered by blacks.

Many white liberal Americans prefer to blame whites than blacks because sub-consciously they see the latter as Rousseau's noble savages, innately good. This is not true. Savages are not noble and the rioters in Ferguson are not protesting against communism but are looting and destroying. Yet well-off clever people consider rioting romantic. This is the story of the Scarman Report after the Brixton race riots in London in 1981.

Having written this I find that the politician that I admire most in the world, Rudy Giuliani, agrees with me.

It is depressing how many educated, reasonably intelligent people feel they can criticise the jury's decision in the Ferguson trial. Clearly only people who attended the whole court hearing are justified in doing so. It is, in any case, much better an innocent man goes free than a guilty one goes down. Had the policeman not been arraigned, as has happened many times when the police killed unarmed people in the UK, that might indeed have been scandalous but the grand jury (I wish we had not abolished them in England) sat on the case and ruled against a trial. However, the Federal Government may still reopen the case.

An oldster from the American South posted this comment on somebody's Facebook wall yesterday, which is worth thinking about.
There's that lynching thing again. We don't need any self-hating whites any more. We have the true nature of the beast on display right here. It is and always has been a fact that if a black person has been victimized the best place to look is among the blacks. Even during the civil rights days the biggest offender was the black community. The media only showed the atrocities of the very few radical whites. I was there and we did not have black folk swinging from every other tree but it sure was worth your life to walk through the dark side of town being black or white yet a black man might get the looks but he could walk through the white side of town without any injury. 
What is the solution to all this? I do not think that there is one. The problems are not caused by lack of religious belief or lack of will on the part of the American state to impose, on the one hand, law and order and, on the other, racial equality. 

I think it partly comes down to the fact that it is usually difficult for different peoples to live side by side. The more different, the more difficult.

It puts me in mind of something Thomas Jefferson said, which is inscribed on the Jefferson Memorial.
Nothing is more certainly written in the book of fate than that these people shall be free; nor is it less certain that the two races, equally free, cannot live under the same government.
Actually, only the first half of this sentence is inscribed on the Memorial. 

The early 19th century progressives' solution, the idea of moving American freed slaves to Liberia, turned out to be a bad one. Overwhelmingly the  freed American slaves did not want to leave America and the few who settled Liberia did not intermarry with the natives but treated the indigenous inhabitants as coolies and regarded themselves as representatives of a higher civilisation, which, of course, they were.  I remember back in the 1970s people wrote about Liberia as the first free black African country, when it was in fact the last colony. The rule of the 'Americo-Liberians', the tiny elite made up of descendants of the black colonists, was only ended in 1980, by a military coup.

Monday, 24 November 2014

The mystery of the electoral tourists

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

Opinion polls are not be trusted. All but one poll prior to the second round of the election said Ponta would win and even the exit polls after the polls closed on Sunday suggested that he had a wafer-thin 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.

But we know that 1.2 million Romanians (according to Associated Press) voted on 'supplementary lists', because they were away from home. Some were bona fide but many or most, I should guess, were 'electoral tourists' taken out in PSD busses from place to place, often depopulated villages, to vote several times with the connivance of corrupt officials. When you vote, the polling officer puts a sticker on your ID card (you don't have to be a registered voter) but if you go and vote for a second or third time elsewhere, officials may turn a blind eye to the fact your ID card is already stamped. This happened mostly in the deep South: counties like Gorj, Dolj, Teleorman and Giurgiu.

On Sunday 100,000 people decided to go to the dreary country of Teleorman to vote. A friend of mine who comes from Teleorman tells me that even he, whose family are there, only goes there with a sinking heart and that it has no charms. I am absolutely certain that like every county in Romania it does have its charms but on a cold November Sunday, come on.

 An Anglo-Romanian friend of mine said to me on Friday that Mr Iohannis's victory is
the end of eighteenth century Romania.
By which, of course, my friend did not have in mind aristocratic dinner parties, Meissen porcelain, Chippendale chairs or Mozart operas but very corrupt British elections. 

Over a million votes cast fraudulently should be investigated and the culprits put behind bars for many years but the same things happened, I recall, in the 2004 election and nothing happened then, even though the PSD government lost office. Obviously postal votes are the answer to this problem and they would enable the diaspora to exercise their right to vote, but postal votes in Romania will lead to a lot of fraud, as  they have even in law-abiding England.

Sunday, 23 November 2014


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.
Admittedly, the Gladstonian liberals were internationalists, not isolationists, but it would be anachronistic to decide that this would therefore make Gladstone or his followers admirers of the EU, which seems to me to interfere with everything it can. Nor would John Stuart Mill have favoured mass immigration. He said 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

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 Electoral fraud which may have stolen up to 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

"The people's voice is odd./It is and it is not the voice of God." Alexander Pope
"Ponta meet karma - she's a bitch." Placard in Piata Universitatii.
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.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Vladimir Putin has defended the Nazi-Soviet pact - he has reasons

Vladimir Putin a couple of days ago said to an audience of Russian historians at the Museum of Modern Russian History: 

“The Soviet Union signed a non-aggression agreement with Germany. They say, ‘Oh, how bad.’ But what is so bad about it, if the Soviet Union did not want to fight? What is so bad?”

I understand his point very well. Stalin of course was as much an aggressor as Hitler and their partition of Poland very deplorable but from Russia's point of view the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact was a wise move, that brought back land lost in 1918 and was intended to deflect an attack by Germany.

Hitler and Stalin both wanted to recover territories their countries had lost twenty years previously. No doubt both were wicked but there we are.

The USSR did not give back the lands it took under the pact after the war but held them till 1991. They were lands that had belonged to Russia for 150 or 200 years until 1918. The partition of Poland in 1939, like the ones in the 18th century, was, no doubt, a crime but neither Communists nor Nazis considered international law had any validity and I imagine almost all Germans and Russians probably welcomed the end of Poland. 

Incidentally, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact did not provide for the Soviet annexation of the Romanian territories of Bessarabia (now most of the Republic of Moldova), the Northern Bucovina and the county of Herța. The Germans were displeased when Russia seized them.

It would probably have been equally wise for Britain and France not to have gone to war in 1939 over Poland, a country we guaranteed but had no intention or ability to defend, and left Germany and Russia to fight once they had a common border. Instead we fought against one of the aggressors in alliance with the other in  a war that left seventy million dead, led to the fall of France, the invasion of the British territories in Asia by Japan and broke the power of both the British and French empires. 

We saved half of Europe from the Germans but it was the half that Hitler probably had had no intention of attacking, had the Allies not declared war on Germany. The part he wanted ended up ruled by Stalin.

As A.J.P. Taylor once said
In 1938 Czechoslovakia was betrayed. In 1939 Poland was saved. Less than one hundred thousand Czechs died during the war. Six and a half million Poles were killed. Which was better – to be a betrayed Czech or a saved Pole?
Elsewhere I have read that Poland lost 9 million people. 

Failed diplomacy is the only constant in history. It was Halifax, British Foreign Secretary and arch-appeaser, who decided after the Germans took Prague in March 1939 that Hitler's ambitions were 'Napoleonic' and that Britain would have to go to war with Germany. He accordingly persuaded Chamberlain to guarantee Poland and - oddly - Romania. After the fall of France, it was Halifax who wanted to negotiate with Germany and he was wise to do so. Had Halifax succeeded Chamberlain as Prime Minister history would have been very different and he probably could have been Prime Minister had he really wanted to. Rightly or wrongly he thought Churchill would do a better job.

Chamberlain had a terrible hand to play but is much underrated and thank God he built fighter planes after Munich, not, as Churchill wanted, bombers.

The Berlin Wall was opened 25 years ago today

Embedded image permalink
Helmut Kohl at the Brandenburg Gate
On 9 November 1989 the German Democratic Republic told its citizens that they could visit West Germany and West Berlin. The Communist government did not mean they could cross the Berlin Wall (the "Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart") that evening but that's what East Germans understood. For soldiers to have stopped them could have led to violence so they were allowed to go. 

That evening seems very recent to me. WHERE DID 25 YEARS GO?

Many people do not know that Germany need not have been divided until 1989. Khrushchev offered the USA a united, neutral and demilitarised, but democratic Germany - and the offer was unforgivably rejected by the USA. Adenauer oddly was opposed to the idea too - as, of course, was the leader of the GDR, Walter Ulbricht, but his views didn't count with Russia. The same offer in respect of Austria was accepted.

Mr. Gorbachev, looking very ancient, is reported as saying yesterday at an event at the Brandenburg Gate that 

"The world is on the brink of a new Cold War. Some are even saying that it's already begun."

Interestingly, though an outspoken critic of Vladimir Putin, Mr Gorbachev blamed the West for this state of affairs and mentioned the expansion of NATO and NATO military intervention in Iraq, Kosovo and Syria. He has a point but I think the cold war aways continued in the background, certainly as far as military planning and the intelligence services were concerned and, under Vladimir Putin, the intelligence services and former members of those services are running Russia. 

There is no longer much of an ideological difference between Russia and America - but there is some difference, because democracy and human rights can be said to be the USA's ideology. This ideology has led the Americans to try to topple governments friendly to Russia in the former USSR and therefore is a direct threat to the Russian government. On the other hand Vladimir Putin pays lip service to much the same ideals, except when it comes to 'homosexual propaganda' aimed at minors, and does not have an alternative ideology to offer. But, in any case, great powers automatically attract enemies and the USA has done a lot to attract them and so we are in the classical situation where unfriendly powers are vying over influence, something that was not supposed to happen in the democratic era. 

It is depressing and worrying but anyone who remembers Mr. Brezhnev knows that this is not going to be a Cold War like the last one. I suspect though that, since  neither side intended to disturb the division of Europe into Communist and democratic blocs, the Cold War itself was based to a large extent on paranoia on both sides. So did George Kennan, whose famous Long Telegram formed the basis for the US policy of containment of the Soviet Union during the Cold War, but who did not think the Cold War was necessary. Yet the Cold War was a duplicitous, curiously insincere affair. When the Communist regimes fell the Poles and Hungarian anti-Communists got no help from the West. The KGB, not the CIA or MI6, helped bring about the changes in Czechoslovakia and East Germany. 

This is the kind of paradox which is the stuff of Cold War spy fiction and its doyen, John Le Carré. 

Britain and France did not want Germany to reunite and discussed after the Wall opened how it could be prevented but could not think of a way. Mrs. Thatcher and François Mitterand agreed with François Mauriac who once said: 
I love Germany so much I want there to be two of them.
George Kennan also opposed the extension of NATO into Eastern Europe 1998 saying it the beginning of a new cold war. I think the Russians will gradually react quite adversely and it will affect their policies. I think it is a tragic mistake. There was no reason for this whatsoever. No one was threatening anybody else. This expansion would make the Founding Fathers of this country turn over in their graves. We have signed up to protect a whole series of countries, even though we have neither the resources nor the intention to do so in any serious way. [NATO expansion] was simply a light-hearted action by a Senate that has no real interest in foreign affairs." ... 

I was particularly bothered by the references to Russia as a country dying to attack Western Europe. Don’t people understand? Our differences in the cold war were with the Soviet Communist regime. And now we are turning our backs on the very people who mounted the greatest bloodless revolution in history to remove that Soviet regime.

I am sure Kennan was right that Communist Russia was not a threat to Western Europe. He backed detente. He also thought Vietnam was not of strategic importance to the USA and opposed the Vietnamese War, though not the Korean war. He was angry with Eisenhower for letting down Britain and France over Suez and he thought mass immigration a grave danger for America and Europe. That's a lot of things to have been right about. 

Whether he was right to oppose NATO expansion in 1998 is harder to say. Would this have kept good relations with Russia? If not it would have made the Baltic States much more vulnerable than they already are to Russian aggression - although it would also have made NATO less exposed. I suspect that Kennan might have argued that they are not of strategic importance to the USA or Western Europe. 

Had he lived to see it he would, of course, have opposed NATO's later further expansion to include Romania. He makes deploys good arguments, but  NATO expanded into Eastern Europe because Eastern Europe desperately wanted to join NATO. Had NATO not expanded I am pretty certain that Vladimir Putin would still have annexed the Crimea and intervened in Ukraine.

Mark Steyn, who is always worth reading, commemorates the opening of the Wall here and gets in an amusing point about Mr. Obama's narcissism.
As he put it in his video address to the German people on the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall:
'Few would have foreseen on that day that a united Germany would be led by a woman from Brandenburg or that their American ally would be led by a man of African descent.'
Tear down that wall …so they can get a better look at me!!!