No politics, no society: the unbearable lightness in interpreting Romania

Anticommunism without Communists

Alongside anticorruption, anticommunism is the other key legitimizing discourse generally employed by Iohannis and by most of those in the anti-PSD camp. Preposterously and ominously, PSD is referred to as the “red plague” that has to be fought, defeated, expunged. Chants of “down with the Communists!” are often heard at protests against the PSD.

PSD might be the party with the most personnel and institutional continuities with Romania’s pre-1990 Communist Party. Nonetheless, this is a legacy that it largely tries to get rid of rather than a heritage worn as a badge of honour. Prominent members of the party, such as former Minister of Foreign Affairs Titus Corlățean, have themselves no reserves in accusing some political opponents of “Neo-Marxism”. In various contexts, the party has toyed with criticism of multinational companies, foreign banks and of the European Union, but whenever such criticism happens it looks more like a ridiculous attempt to flex non-existing muscles. After all, PSD is a social-democratic party in name that does not support progressive taxation in one of the countries with the highest income inequality in the European Union. No plans to establish common ownership of the means of production, no attempts to address the rampant social inequalities in Romania, no purporting to speak on behalf of the working class, no ideas of social revolution, no utopia, no effort to tax big capital, no Gulag: where is the communism?

The accusations of ‘communism’ so often directed against the PSD are both an example of political and intellectual cluelessness and a way of radically delegitimizing an opponent in the contest for power.

If one looks more closely at the content that fills in the Romanian “anti-Communist” discursive vessel, a vessel already visibly overflowing, one finds plenty of reasons for a more critical stance towards the never-ending post-Communist anticommunism in Romania. Contemporary Romanian anticommunism is distinctly entangled with ideas and representations that do not stand alongside a tireless quest for democracy, but are rather a repudiation of democratic ideals.

PSD does not in any way represent radical egalitarian left-wing politics, yet paradoxically the “anti-Communism” that comes together with anti-PSDism is informed by a rejection of the idea of social equality as a legitimate political desideratum and an attack on the welfare state; by the refusal of redistribution of wealth from the top to the bottom; by an understanding of freedom – especially on the economic level – that is incompatible with that of public good; by the conviction that the private sector has to replace the state in all matters, including education or health; by contempt for the poor; and by nostalgia for an idealized pre-Communist past. The ideological horizon that (past and present) Romanian anti-Communism stands for is closer to that of Orbán and Fidesz in Hungary, or Kaczyński and PiS in Poland than those excited by the pro-EU positions of the Romanian right allow themselves to admit. After all, one should not forget that Orbán and Fidesz in Hungary and Kaczyński and PiS in Poland are also the outcome of Eastern European anti-Communism, as annointed by and in the west.

Paired with anticorruption, anti-Communism underlies a concerted attack against the state and its functions, and pushes for dismantling whatever has still remained from the state. What ‘getting rid of communism’ means for the post-Communist anti-Communist warriors is deregulation, getting rid of a state educational system, getting rid of healthcare, privatizing the pensions system, reducing the role of the state to that of a mere facilitator for business and entrepreneurship and assuring law, order, and security. Education and healthcare are chronically under-financed, well below EU averages, illustrating the logics of anticorruption (the state is corrupt, so we need less state and less public spending) and anticommunism (too much state means communism, so we need less state and less public spending) combined. Nonetheless, things are different when it comes to nurturing a good relationship with the United States by means of spending public money on acquisitions of arms from American companies, and generally by an attitude of utmost servility and deference with respect to US interests and requests. The image of President Iohannis smiling under a cap entrusted with the message “Make Romania Great Again”, on the occasion of a visit he paid to his American counterpart, Donald Trump, truly says more than a thousand words.

Ideas of social protection, social equality and social welfare are seen as unwanted residues of state socialism, impediments on the way towards making Romania modern and ‘normal’. This has led in practice over recent decades to the adoption of a labour legislation heavily favouring employers and entrepreneurs. For example, for Cristian Păun, economics professor and adviser of current Liberal prime-minister Ludovic Orban, the idea of a Labour Code regulating the relationships between employers and employees is a Socialist one, which limits entrepreneurial activity, destroys the entrepreneurial spirit, and brings us all to poverty. Thus, for Orban, the “entrepreneurs” and the “capitalists” are those at the forefront of society, a position also shared by Klaus Iohannis:

“There is no capitalism without capitalists. […] The Romanian society needs a change of mentality, which will hopefully take place. […] The business success is very important and we should respect the successful businesspeople. Also, I think we need to instil in our children, young people, the courage to walk on unpaved roads, the courage to set up businesses, to succeed in the economic field.”

If anticorruption has replaced politics, anticommunism has replaced any potential project of living in common. The infamous Thatcherite quote, “there is no such thing as society”, is being fully realized in post-communist Romania, all in the name of Europeanism, normality, modernization, and entrepreneurship.

Conclusions

Rather than a quest for a moral compass, anticorruption and anticommunism in Romania are two sides of the same coin, two facets of the one and the same process lurching towards the right that has, nonetheless, a very ‘European’ face.

Anticorruption and anti-communism are fundamentally red herrings, always at hand to be used and abused, both discursively and legally. Problems in Romania are political and due to state involvement. Yet the state, particularly the one Iohannis and the right like to govern, retreats from supporting anything that has to do with the idea of living in common – education, health, culture, environment, social – whilst constantly expanding its repressive and military apparatus and looking for ways to satisfy investors and entrepreneurs.

Anticorruption, anticommunism, and the cult of entrepreneurship: this sounds eerily akin to Chile under Pinochet. That particular experiment, largely supported by western capital did not turn out very well when it came to it. The Romanian one won’t either.

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