Saturday, 27 June 2015

Hitler as a religious figure

I wrote a few weeks ago about Hitler as a religious figure, considering him as a Muhammad who failed, as Levi Strauss called Napoleon a Muhammad who failed. I just came across these words from the great historian of Nazi Germany, Fritz Stern.
God had been drafted into national politics before, but Hitler’s success in fusing racial dogma with a Germanic Christianity was an immensely powerful element in his electoral campaigns. Some people recognised the moral perils of mixing religion and politics, but many more were seduced by it. It was the pseudo-religious transfiguration of politics that largely ensured his success, notably in Protestant areas.

...At solemn moments, the National Socialists would shift from the pseudo-religious invocation of Providence to traditional Christian forms: In his first radio address to the German people, twenty-four hours after coming to power, Hitler declared, “The National Government will preserve and defend those basic principles on which our nation has been built up. They regard Christianity as the foundation of our national morality and the family as the basis of national life.”
Let me cite one example of the acknowledged appeal of unreason. Carl Friedrich von Weizsaecker, Nobel-laureate in physics and a philosopher, wrote to me in the mid-1980s saying that he had never believed in Nazi ideology but that he had been tempted by the movement, which seemed to him then like “the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.” On reflection, he thought that National Socialism had been part of a process that the National Socialists themselves hadn’t understood. He may well have been right: the Nazis didn’t realise that they were part of an historic process in which resentment against a disenchanted secular world found deliverance in the ecstatic escape of unreason. German elites proved susceptible to this mystical brew of pseudo- religion and disguised interest. The Christian churches most readily fell into line as well, though with some heroic exceptions.
Richard Steigmann-Gall argued that Nazism had strongly Christian roots. I have not read this book but this review explains his ideasThere was also an important occult element in Nazi thinking, but although Hitler said many things in public that suggest he believed in God his opinions expressed privately show a man who was not a theist, but one who believed in providence, which had certainly favoured him. He said 
The Russians were entitled to attack their priests, but they had no right to assail the idea of a supreme force. It's a fact that we're feeble creatures and that a creative force exists.
He was in private strongly anti-Christian and perhaps became more so as the war progressed. Goebbels wrote in 1941 that Hitler
hates Christianity, because it has crippled all that is noble in humanity.
He told Speer
You see, it's been our misfortune to have the wrong religion. Why didn't we have the religion of the Japanese, who regard sacrifice for the fatherland as the highest good? The Mohammedan religion too would have been much more compatible to us than Christianity. Why did it have to be Christianity with its meekness and flabbiness?
Hitler admired Islam, but not the Arabs (who were Semites after all). According to Speer
Hitler said that the conquering Arabs, because of their racial inferiority, would in the long run have been unable to contend with the harsher climate and conditions of the country. They could not have kept down the more vigorous natives, so that ultimately not Arabs but Islamised Germans could have stood at the head of this Mohammedan Empire.
In the Table Talk recorded by Martin Bormann he described Christianity as humbug founded on lies, 
with which I could never come personally to terms
and said
Taken to its logical extreme, Christianity would mean the systematic cultivation of the human failure.
Goebbels wrote in his diary on 29 December 1939
The Fuhrer is deeply religious, though completely anti-Christian. He views Christianity as a symptom of decay. Rightly so. It is a branch of the Jewish race. This can be seen in the similarity of their religious rites. Both (Judaism and Christianity) have no point of contact to the animal element, and thus, in the end they will be destroyed. 
In his diary Goebbels also said that Hitler believed Jesus had wanted to act against Jewish world domination and this is the reasons why the Jews had him crucified. Muslims believe that Jesus was a Muslim. Hindus consider Jesus one of their gods. The Left have claimed him as an early socialist. Some modern people imagine he would favour homosexual marriage. It seems that Hitler believed he was an anti-Semite.

Though some think the evidence is insufficient, many historians think Hitler's long-term aim was to eradicate Christianity in Germany. But, had he done so, with what would he have replaced it? 

Speer recorded that Hitler didn't like Himmler and Rosenberg's pagan mysticism any more than Christianity.

Hitler was a quasi-religious figure, a dark mystic, whatever the exact nature of his religious or irreligious opinions, which, like everyone's, change. He believed in social Darwinism, which he considered scientific truth. I remember a highly intelligent psychopath once told me that Darwinism is a religion. So it is, although it is also essentially psychopathy. It is, of course, diametrically opposed to Christianity. Add racism and a belief in Germans' destiny and you have Nazism, which was an inchoate godless religion.
Two years after the defeat of Germany, George Kennan was warning that Soviet Russia was ruled by a
mystical, Messianic movement.
Marxism-Leninism, we see clearly now, in the age of ISIS, is a religion. Marx can be compared to Muhammed. The more you think about political ideas in terms of ideologies and ideologies in terms of religion the more the history of our times makes sense. Not just the history of Europe's descent into barbarism between 1918 and 1945 (1989 in Eastern Europe) but the history of our own day and age. Are climate change fears essentially religious phenomena? What else are anti-racism and feminism?

Friday, 26 June 2015

In praise of me

On Tuesday evening I met the owner of a British company, who was thinking about building a sizeable factory in Romania, and several of his associates. This evening he wrote to the group of us and some others to say he has made the decision to invest here. 

This is very good news but that's not why I'm blogging. I cannot resist quoting what he said in his mail about me.

Paul Wood, as a seasoned traveller of the world I have the privilege of meeting many amazing people from interesting back grounds and with tales of joy, woe or general frustration. Generally the last person I want to meet abroad is an Englishman. If they are not moaning about the country they are in,  they are moaning about something they left behind, or they are covered in tattoo`s and wearing a stupid football shirt, which is normally at least two sizes too small covering a body that has never played football moaning about the English breakfast they ate in the afternoon.

Then we met Paul! An English gem, full of joy and an infectious positivity and zest for life, clearly very comfortable in his own skin and indeed even more comfortable in Bucharest. A joy to meet, a font of possibly useless knowledge along with some very useful knowledge in respect of recruitment in Romania. I urge you all to read his blog, if you read it with an open mind and accept it as opinion and  not fact it will make you chuckle and you will most certainly relate to many of the comparisons mentioned. It is excellent!

Finally comfortable in my own skin, huh? It's true but it took half a century.

The possibly useless information was about Rochester where he lives. I told him about the Prince of Transylvania  who’s buried in the cathedral but was an imposter. More here.

By the way I wrote that article, 25 Reasons why I Love Living in Romania, in about an hour and a half and it has gone viral. Every day another thousand clicks. It's reached 72,000 clicks and the rate never slows down. Here, providence is telling me, is the subject of my book. 

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Inequality in Romania

The Gini coefficient is a measure of the variation in incomes within a country. A value of 0 means absolute equality, a value of 100 absolute inequality, though I do not know what absolute inequality means. 

Romania scores 27.4, much the same as Bulgaria. Hungary scores 31.2. The average for rich countries is around 31.5. Russia by contrast scores 40.1 and the USA 40.8. The USA is the exception here, but the UK is more unequal than most rich countries at 36.0. Norway scores 25.8, Germany 28.3, Rwanda 50.8.

Romania has seen a clear rise in standards of living since I came here in 1998 but everyone complains about how expensive things are and many older people (over fifty) say things were better under Communism.

The very rich are very rich indeed in comparison to the average and spend their money ostentatiously, though they know very well the malice and envy riches provoke. This is why the rich often prefer to entertain in restaurants, not at home. The very rich first emerged soon after the 1989 revolution, but there were far fewer of them then. Before the revolution some people were rich, it's true, but they were very careful about not displaying the fact. 

One of the reasons for the revolution and the changes throughout the Soviet bloc was that leading apparatchiks had power and money but nothing to spend it on. The revolution, which began with an outbreak of fighting in Timisoara and spread to the crowds assembled by the Communists in the centre of Bucharest, triggered a coup plan that was already being organised by the KGB. The plotters wanted to replace Ceausescu with reformed communists well disposed to Gorbachev and the Soviet Union. At some point before or after Ceausescu was killed it suddenly became apparent to powerful people in the Communist power structure that the end of Communism would not be the end for them, but instead a liberation for them. So it proved. The revolution was in effect a management buy-out. 

But the oligarchs, many of whose names are unknown but who wield great economic and political power, are only part of the story. Former secret policemen and party officials grew rich and so did entrepreneurs who were not in the party. Some were crooks, some shysters, some hard working entrepreneurs who may have cut corners and given bribes but grew businesses that sold things people wanted. A few were even completely honest. The numbers of very rich grew enormously as the Romanian economy grew in the 00s. But the growing middle class of professionals and employees of international firms is also increasing inequality.

Income inequality is changing Romania, in good ways - a middle class is what she most needs - but noticeably in bad ways. Romania is becoming consumerist. Dark satanic malls sprout everywhere. They are depressing places and the amount of shopping that is being done depresses me too. What human activity, after all, is less life-enhancing?

Inequality has been widening almost everywhere for thirty years and in the former Communist countries the process is much more striking, although it's fair to say that the disparity in power and life-chances under Communism between a member of the secret police and someone with a 'bad [political] file' was wider than between rich and poor today. 

In Romania porters, ill paid old men whose function is to sleep in cubicles on the ground floors of blocks of flats, say 'Respect, respect, dom'l!' to the occupants and tug imaginary forelocks. Hierarchy is everything here, based on class, universities, culture and command of Romanian grammar, as well as money. I find I like this and I even more like the way Romania, like all ex-Communist countries, is strikingly egalitarian. The kind of people - even hot girls - who in England would expect fancy restaurants go to cheap dives and terraces with their friends. Waitresses are friends with television stars, multi-millionairesses with bank tellers. 

Economists keep arguing that inequality is bad for economies. An OECD report last month contrasted unequal Britain with much more equal France. I am not convinced that inequality does much harm. Certainly the French economy and polity seem in disastrous difficulties, while Britain is doing reasonably well. Nor do I think that inequality weakens social cohesion. 

Romania, from one point of view, lacks cohesion or any sense of a public space or public-spiritedness. Charities - it's purely my subjective impression -seem to get most of their support from foreigners. From another point of view, social cohesion seems to me the most remarkable fact about Romania - people take pride in their country and her history, identify Romania with Orthodox Christianity and have shared values that you only get in relatively poor countries, without much pluralism and with very few nonconformists. 

In fact, it's a bit like 1930s England, with a very small number of very rich people, a smallish middle class, a mass of poor people and only a tiny number of bohemians or free spirits. Under Communism, the pre-war upper class and bourgeoisie fled, were imprisoned or sidelined and a Communist bourgeoisie was created. Nevertheless Romania has many of the cohesive qualities 1930s England had: deference, homogeneity, a natural acceptance of hierarchy and very little crime. 

How to be happy

Aldous Huxley

Happiness is not achieved by the conscious pursuit of happiness it is generally the by-product of other activities.


Happiness is bloom upon the cheek of youth. 

Eleanor Roosevelt

Probably the happiest period in life most frequently is in middle age, when the eager passions of youth are cooled, and the infirmities of age not yet begun; as we see that the shadows, which are at morning and evening so large, almost entirely disappear at midday.

Baruch Spinoza

Happiness is a virtue, not its reward.

Eckhart Tolle

The greater part of human pain is unnecessary. It is self-created as long as the unobserved mind runs your life.

Benjamin Franklin

Behold the rain which descends from heaven upon our vineyards; there it enters the roots of the vines, to be changed into wine; a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy.

Bertrand Russell

To like many people spontaneously and without effort is perhaps the greatest of all sources of personal happiness.

(Thank God I do.)

Alfred Adler

Meanings are not determined by situations, but we determine ourselves by the meanings we give to situations.

Dryden, translating Horace. Book III, Ode 29.

Happy the man, and happy he alone,
He who can call today his own;
He who, secure within, can say,
'Tomorrow, do thy worst, for I have liv'd today.'


Hope is itself a species of happiness, and perhaps, the chief happiness which this world affords.

Arnold Bennett 

Pessimism is as much fun as optimism when you get used to it.


Oh, see the happy moron;
He doesn't give a damn.
I wish I were a moron.
My God, perhaps I am.

Dr. Johnson

Sir, that all who are happy, are equally happy, is not true. A peasant and a philosopher may be equally satisfied, but not equally happy. Happiness consists in the multiplicity of agreeable consciousness. A peasant has not the capacity for having equal happiness with a philosopher.

There is nothing which has yet been contrived by man, by which so much happiness is produced as by a good tavern or inn.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn

In the long history of mankind there have not been so very many democratic republics, yet people lived for centuries without them and were not always worse off. They even experienced that ‘happiness’ we are forever hearing about, which was sometimes called pastoral or patriarchal.

Marcel Proust

Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.

M. Scott Peck

Life is difficult. This is one of the greatest truths because once we truly get it- we transcend it. Once we accept this, then life is no longer difficult. Because once we accept it, the fact that it is difficult no longer matters.

Immanuel Kant

It is not God's will merely that we should be happy, but that we should make ourselves happy.


I don't know why we are here, but I'm pretty sure that it is not in order to enjoy ourselves.

Malcom Muggeridge

The pursuit of happiness, which American citizens are obliged to undertake, tends to involve them in trying to perpetuate the moods, tastes and aptitudes of youth.

Cardinal Newman

God has determined, unless I interfere with His plan, that I should reach that which will be my greatest happiness. He looks on me individually, He calls me by my name, He knows what I can do, what I can best be, what is my greatest happiness, and He means to give it me.

I am reading (very slowly because of severe internet addiction) War and Peace and am loving it. War and Peace teaches much about how to live a happy life. This article explains. Leo Tolstoy said 

If you want to be happy, be.

Three more thoughts

Life is not a science but an art. The art it most resembles is dancing.

Very young children are happy because they don't know what could go wrong. At school they find out. Nothing later is nearly as bad as school.

Political correctness, though originally Marxist, is now a secular progressive version of Calvinism.

Saturday, 20 June 2015

To say in ten sentences what others say in a whole book

It is my ambition to say in ten sentences what others say in a whole book, said Nietzsche. Here are ten sentences of mine.

Romania is the Orient dreaming that it is France.

The Balkans is not a geographical expression but a state of mind.

The Victorians liked sex. If they hadn't there wouldn't have been any Edwardians.
One tells oneself Guardian readers are people too but somehow that makes the offence worse.

The existence of women is the strongest proof of the existence of God.

Biology is very right-wing.

History, like poetry, art and jokes, exists to reveal a hidden order and meaning in the world.

Economics does not determine culture, as Marxists taught. Culture, of course, determines economics. Culture is determined most by religion, then by history and genetics.

When I was growing up I used to thank God every day that I wasn't American, but now I take it for granted. I am at ease in Zion.

Life is a helter-skelter. I am clinging to the sides.

Saturday, 13 June 2015

How well or badly were slaves treated in the American South?

I have stumbled on a reference to the Slave Narrativesthe cumulative result of two years of in depth interviews surveying over 2,000 former slaves by the Works Project Administration under Franklin D Roosevelt. The historian Robert Fogel said that between 60 to 80 percent of the interviewees had only positive things to say about their masters and their life during slave days. I'd like to know much more about the subject. 

I remember my surprise, studying US history in my first term at university in 1980 (sooo recently), expecting historians to write about slavery in something like the spirit of 'Gone With The Wind', and finding that, though 1930s US historians did so, (I read and learnt much from Ulrich Phillips) 1970s historians compared slavery to Auschwitz and blamed slavery for black criminality and broken families more than a century later. 

Historians always write about their own age when they try to understand the past.
There were strong zeitgeist reasons for emphasising the ugliness of slavery in the 1970s, as nowadays, and strong zeitgeist reasons in the 1930s for doing the opposite. Those who espouse the spirit of the age are eventually widowed, but for Americans (and not only them) the time when they can be dispassionate about race is a long way off.

I am reading War and Peace at the moment and seeing that Russian serfs were apt to be beaten and punished (although not sold) as much as American slaves. Over a third of Russians were serfs until Tsar Alexander II liberated them in 1861. Yet we hear little of the Russian serfs or other European serfs. We hear little of the serfs and gypsy slaves in what is now Romania or of the vast numbers of slaves in the Muslim world. Slavery in America and the European colonies are at the forefront of our attention because of the colour issue, which so concerns everyone in our age.

I wrote in this post about how the former Governor-General of Jamaica, Sir Howard Cooke, who died last year, a black man, was thankful that slavery rescued Jamaicans from

Africa's black night
and gave them the benefits of British civilisation. My post links to a very interesting interview with Sir Howard Cooke, who was a truer British patriot than many or most British people, including the BNP and the fascists.

Here are some quotations from the WPA interviews with (very elderly) former slaves:
“I liked being a slave, our white folks . . . were good to us. . . . I had rather be a slave. . . . . I wish I wuz still in slavery.” 
“When I was three or four years old my mother was whipped to death by the mistress with a cowhide whip.”
“I’s heard dat some white folks wuz mean to der niggers, but our Old Masta and Miss wasn’t.”
“Give me freedom, or give me death.”
“I seed slavery from all sides. I’se seed ’em git sick and die an’ buried. I’se seed ’em sole [sold] away from der loved ones. I’se seed ’em whipped by de overseers, an’ brung in by de patrol riders. I’se seed ’em cared fo’ well wid plenty ter eat an’ clo’se ter keep ’em warm, an’ wid good cabins ter live in.”
“My white folks was good to me. I had a heep better time when I growed up than folks does now. . . . Shucks I was a heep better off.”
“Our white folks wuz rich folks. Dey live in a big white house wid roun’ posts in front. Dey give us plenty to eat and wear but dey beat on us a plenty. . . . Den one day . . . dem Yankee mens tole us de guvment would give us some land and a mule or some hosses to work wid, but we never did git nothing from dem. We wuked hard for whut we got. We wuz mighty proud of our freedom – but times is a lot harder now dan it wuz in dem times. Now we can’t git ’nough to eat and dere’s nobody to look atter us, but de white folks whut takes pity on us, and heps us sometimes. Times is gittin’ harder it seems to me.”
“After the white folks eat in the dining room, all us cullud folks eat in the kitchen, allus a plenty, which is more than we has now. Times was good then, I members back to it sometimes now, when I is glad jes’ to get a piece of bread. . . . Oh the sweet taters we did have! . . . great big winter cabbages. . . . [and] so many sides an’ hams of meat.”
Asking how well or badly slaves were treated touches a raw nerve with modern Americans. Most Europeans were serfs in the middle ages and long after in many countries. But for Americans slavery is a very emotional issue.

This is because of the collective American nervous breakdown over race and Americans' collective need to see their country as a shining city on a hill. This Protestant sense of being a chosen people, which derives from 18th century English ideas about England, is tiresome but admirable and a great source of America's moral strength - along with religiosity, patriotism, lack of irony and the American inability to be embarrassed. Slavery and the elimination of the indigenous Americans is a problem for people who believe in America's divine mission to purify the world. (So is the invasion of Mexico and a few other things, come to that.)

I am not an apologist for slavery and am proud that Great Britain abolished it in 1833. I think Dr Johnson was the greatest Englishman after Shakespeare and I love him for saying, before the American rebellion,

How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?
Quite so. But slavery and things as bad as slavery unfortunately still exist.

What things do we accept for which our descendants will condemn us? 

Abortion? I hope so.

Falling birth-rates in European countries?

Child labour?

In the last fifty years blacks have largely stopped working in farms in the American South and Hispanic immigrants have taken their places. Children as young as twelve work legally and children as young as seven work illegally on farms, including the tobacco farms of North Carolina and Virginia, where they endanger their health picking tobacco that ends up in the factories of Philip Morris, British American Tobacco, Lorillard, Reynolds and other big producers.

Children work in tobacco farms in Malawi picking tobacco for wages of less than $10 a month. The more you look into things you find slavery and things fairly close to slavery are easily to be found, hidden in full sight.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Victor Ponta and the deep state

Yesterday the Romanian Chamber of Deputies, as expected, voted not to lift Prime Minister Victor Ponta's immunity from criminal prosecution. 

Mr. Ponta, leader of the Social Democrats (PSD) has a skin as thick as a lizard's, that quality politicians most need. His unexpected defeat by a large margin in the Romanian presidential election last November meant most people expected him not to last long as Prime Minister. But he's still there. Now Mr. Ponta intends to carry on, despite being charged with 17 offences by the Anti-Corruption Authority (DNA). He pointed out that corruption allegations have been made by the DNA against leading opposition politicians too.

Klaus Iohannis, Romania's ethnic German President, had demanded that the Prime Minister resign for the sake of the country but I wonder whether the President really wants Victor Ponta to go. Romanian 
presidents have to pretend to sever all party ties when they take office but none do and Mr. Iohannis wants his 'former' party the Liberals to come to power. If I were in the President's place, I think I should prefer Mr. Ponta to remain, with the accusations hanging over his head like a sword of Damocles. If Mr. Ponta is still Prime Minister when next year's Parliamentary elections take place I imagine he has small chances of leading his party to victory. 

There is, I suppose a chance that enough PSD legislators will switch sides to enable an early election, but the legislators have paid large amounts of money to their parties for their seats and are very reluctant to pay again sooner than is necessary. Politics is very 18th century here, though Romanian politicians have much less Latin and Greek than the Whigs and Tories of Georgian England. A lot of them aren't even much good at the fiendish complexities of Romanian grammar, which is as complicated as most things in Romania.

The PSD is not really a national party. It is a confederation of local county machines, each controlled by so-called 'barons', popularly believed to be thoroughly corrupt. The party leader is leader so long as he can offer the barons a chance of winning elections and the fruits of office, particularly in the form of contracts. The PSD's only purpose is to win elections but it seems pretty bad at doing so. 
Mr. Ponta cannot offer them much chance of winning the 2016 election. 

If President Iohannis truly wants Mr Ponta to go I presume he will agree with the grandees in the PSD to replace Mr Ponta with someone else from the governing coalition. This would be good for the country but also good for the PSD, who thereby would be rid of an electoral liability. On the other hand, if President Iohannis wants to help the Liberals then he would favour creating a coalition from the opposition parties or leaving Mr Ponta in place.

As the Guardian in London picked up today, after interviewing Mr. Ponta (you could be forgiven for missing it if you only read the Romanian press) Mr. Ponta's immunity from prosecution only covers him for prosecution for conflict of interest while in office, not for forgery, money-laundering and tax evasion back in 2007 and 2008, the bulk of the DNA's charges. He can still therefore be prosecuted.

Ion Cristoiu, the political commentator, argues that the money with which the Liberal party paid for the demonstrations against Victor Ponta (demonstrators are often paid to demonstrate in Romania) is money that came from bribes paid in the EADS and Microsoft scandals. In fact, bribery in Romanian politics has two aspects: bribery to enrich politicians and bribery to pay the costs of running political parties. The public does not understand this distinction and in most cases politicians who receive money in bribes give some to their party and rake off some for themselves, so the distinction is unclear.

I think the young prosecutors of the DNA are doing very well indeed the job for which they are paid and uncovering corruption. They are engaged in cleaning the Augean stables. The secret service, an organisation which had immense power under Communism and still does, is the source of the information which leads the DNA to bring its charges. The secret service is, naturally, very secretive, highly political (they report to the president not the Government, an enormous source of power for the former) and pragmatic, not idealistic. 

The anti-corruption revolution which has led to so many politicians of all parties being accused of corruption and in many cases being imprisoned thus has a dual aspect. It is a very welcome sweeping out of a corrupt political class. It is also an assault on some politicians by an institution which is part of, perhaps is the centre of, what is called in Romania 'the structure of power' - the deep state that rules the country from behind the scenes.

But anyone who doubts that the DNA is a force for good should look at the other big news. Ovidiu Tender, one of the richest and most powerful men in Romania, has been sent to prison for twelve years and seven months and ordered to pay back EUR 41 million to the state. An associate has received a longer sentence. Someone else has received a lengthy term for huge corruption in the rail sector. 

The Mayor of Bucharest's personal adviser was arrested on Thursday for corruption. And so it goes.

Monday, 8 June 2015

The principle of not harassing the country

'We come in on the principle of not harassing the country.' 
So said Disraeli after defeating the Liberals and forming a Conservative ministry in 1874. 

If only England had Tories like that now, not Tories that introduce single-sex marriage and change the rules of succession to the throne. 

Though, actually, those two profoundly anti-conservative changes to my country passed without many people seeming at all harassed. The English are only mildly conservative and have been taught and believe that social conservatism is wicked. It is, in fact, as Charles Moore recently said, 'borderline illegal'.

In 1874 political change was still considered exceptional and people, Liberals as much as Conservatives, thought that once a certain number of necessary reforms had been carried out there would be little need for further legislation. This is the greatest change in the world since 1874, that we now accept that we live in a permanent revolution, a concept invented by Karl Marx.

Far from reaching 'the end of history' history seems to be speeding up all the time. Lord Rees-Mogg, in the early 1990s, thought that this process of acceleration pointed to us reaching the end times in the medium-term future.

Saturday, 6 June 2015

What will Victor Ponta do next?

It seems timely, since he has been accused of seventeen counts of corruption, to republish the article on Victor Ponta that I wrote shortly after he lost the presidential election last November. Like the commentators in the press, I didn't expected Victor Ponta still to be in office seven months later, despite his party's parliamentary majority and despite the fact that there is no reason in principle why losing the presidency should means he loses the premiership. There is a strong reason in principle why plagiarising his doctoral thesis means he should have stood down, but he didn't, so I do not expect him to resign now unless, or rather until, forced to do so.

19th 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?

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.

Anti-corruption revolution in Romania may be about to overthrow the government

Laura Codruta Kovesi, the young prosecutor who heads Romania’s National Anti-Corruption Directorate (DNA), yesterday staged her most dramatic coup. She charged the Social Democrat Prime Minister, Victor Ponta, with seventeen offences including money laundering, forgery, embezzlement and tax evasion. Forgery is a much more serious matter than plagiarising ones doctoral thesis. If found guilty, the Prime Minister faces gaol and the DNA are painstaking people, whose allegations rarely fail to stick in court.

The study of Romanian politics since the 1989 revolution properly belongs not to historians or political scientists but to criminologists. Bribery, blackmail, spying and prostitution have been the pillars on which post-1989 Romanian politics rested. Romanians know that and, if some trusting people didn’t, the revelations of the last six months will have convinced them. 

Miss Kovesi is the Joan of Arc of Romania, doing battle with the, often very high-profile, corrupt politicians and officials whose stranglehold on public and business life in Romania everyone thought was impossible to break. Not entirely but largely due to her a remarkable revolution is taking place in Romania. A real revolution, comparable to the one in December 1989 that was stolen by the Communists. 

Four party leaders have been put in prison and very many other famous politicians and businessmen. Arrest follows arrest. So many of the country’s most famous and powerful men and a few women have been investigated, arrested, found guilty and sent to gaol that even people who follow the news avidly find they can’t remember who’s in gaol and who’s in Parliament. 

The Microsoft scandal, in which large numbers of politicians allegedly took sometimes huge kickbacks for contracts at hugely inflated prices, implicates so many people that it reads like a Who’s Who of Romania, a sort of arriviste-criminal-Romanian version of the Almanac de Gotha. 

In the second half of last year a great number of leading names were arrested. When I asked people why I was told it was because Laura Kovesi, who became head of the DNA in 2013 and electrified the organization, was rushing to finger as many people as she could while President Traian Basescu was still in office. Everyone expected that Victor Ponta of would replace him and would prevent the DNA continuing its work. Instead, unexpectedly, he lost to Klaus Iohannis. 

After that, the DNA went into overdrive, making one high-profile arrest after another. I ask well-informed Romanians in all walks of life why this is happening suddenly and everyone gives me the same answer: 
I don’t know.
Mr. Iohannis had become president pledging to clean up the political class but, without his doing anything, it seems like the political class is about to be swept away, swept in many richly-deserved cases into prison.

Victor Ponta’s party, the PSD, is home to more of the people incriminated by the DNA than the other parties. One reason is because it is the largest, one because it is notoriously corrupt, one might be because the other parties have more swing with the secret service that provides the DNA with evidence, but this, though possible, seems inherently unlikely. 

Whatever the reason, Mr. Ponta has up to yesterday given the DNA his support and ensured that the parliamentary immunity of most PSD members of parliament implicated in crimes has been lifted. In February he assured the Economist that those accused of corruption would not be permitted to enjoy parliamentary immunity. Now he is relying on parliamentary immunity himself. 

In the case of Elena Udrea, a political opponent of both the ruling party and the main opposition party, parliament met on Saturday to lift her immunity. She was taken off in handcuffs to a prison cell which, the press said, she shared with several others including a porno actress and a rat. Handcuffing well-known politicians, who are unlikely to run from the police to make a getaway, is one of the operatic things about Romanian politics. We shall see if Mr. Ponta is led off in handcuffs to a prison cell. His predecessor Adrian Nastase was, twice. 

Parliamentary immunity was lifted for most PSD politicians but not for two or three and not for Dan Sova, the Minister of Transport. The struggle to lift Mr. Sova’s immunity has been the big political story here for some time and thereby hangs our tale. 

Mr. Sova and Mr. Ponta, who are both lawyers, go back a long way, but Mr. Sova didn’t keep his immunity because Victor Ponta has a soft spot for his old confrere. Mr. Ponta does not have soft spots for people. He’s not that kind of man. It's true that both men come from Oltenia and regional loyalties are important in Romania's semi-tribal society (think Saddam Hussein trusting people from Tikrit). Still, that was not a reason. It was much more likely that Mr. Sova was protected because he knew things. 

Yesterday the DNA suggested what those things might be and accused him of making payments to Mr. Ponta back in 2008 against receipts, but without Mr. Ponta having done any work in return. Money-laundering, in other words. According to the DNA, in 2011 he and Mr. Sova then forged documents purporting to show that Mr. Ponta had done some work in exchange for the money. 

As soon as the DNA made its accusations and summoned Mr Ponta to answer questions, President  Iohannis asked Mr. Ponta to step down. The Prime Minister has refused. The President could suspend the Prime Minister from office (he cannot dismiss him) but has chosen not to do so. We’ll see how long this stand-off lasts. If Mr. Ponta resigns the President chooses his successor and the President  is from the opposition Liberal Party, so the Social Democrats are supporting the Prime Minister faute de mieux.

Mr. Ponta once compared the DNA to the Securitate, Nicolae Ceausescu's feared secret police. That was years before he lent the DNA his insincere support. Yesterday, he said that only Parliament could depose him. He was eerily reminiscent of Mr. Ceausescu saying at his trial, twenty-five years ago,
I do not answer, I will only answer questions before the Grand National Assembly. I do not recognise this court. The charges are incorrect.
History repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce, as Marx said of the French revolution of 1848. Victor Ponta will not die before a firing squad, like Mr. Ceausescu, but his political life is probably up. 

I said that after he lost the presidential election last November, but this time I am right. I think.