Prime Minister Victor Ponta stresses that the Government of Romania cannot “endlessly tolerate the unacceptable slippages” of the Hungarian Ambassador in Bucharest.
“I don’t want to fall into the trap of provocations from Budapest, but the Romanian Government cannot endlessly tolerate the unacceptable slippages of the Hungarian Ambassador in Bucharest, or of other Hungarian officials who visit our country! The stance expressed by the Romanian Foreign Ministry was extremely balanced and consistent with European regulations and standards,” the Prime Minister wrote on Tuesday on Facebook.
Ponta adds that he respects the Hungarian people, but he doesn’t wait for “Budapest’s approval” to voice his opinions about his own country.
“And yet another necessary clarification – I respect Hungary and the Hungarian people, but I don’t need to get Budapest’s approval to voice my legitimate opinions about my country – I am not under pressure from EPP leaders (as unfortunately some of my Romanian fellow politicians are) to close my eyes and obediently swallow such slippages from the diplomatic regulations and customary respect between two countries,” Ponta wrote.
Romanian Ambassador in Budapest Victor Micula had on August 11 an audience with Secretary of State with the Hungarian Foreign Ministry Levente Magyar, at his own request.
“We hereby specify that the audience held today, August 11, at the premises of the Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where Mr. Ambassador Micula was received by State Secretary Levente Magyar, took place at the request of the Romanian side, which was referred to the Hungarian Foreign Ministry yesterday, August 10, and not following a summons by the Hungarian Foreign Ministry.
The Hungarian Foreign Ministry answered the request of the Romanian Embassy on August 11, fixing the audience for the same day,” read the clarifications sent to Agerpres by the Romanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
According to the cited source, the audience was requested following instructions given by the Romanian Foreign Ministry, that the stance of the Romanian side on the interview the Hungarian Ambassador in Bucharest gave Romania libera daily to be directly conveyed to the Hungarian officials.
“The Romanian Ambassador in Budapest conveyed the same messages as those the representative of the Romanian Foreign Ministry communicated yesterday, August 10, to the Charge d’Affaires of the Embassy of Hungary in Bucharest,” the same source added.
The Hungarian state-owned news agency MTI announced on Tuesday that the Hungarian Foreign Ministry had summoned the Romanian Ambassador in Budapest Victor Micula, in connection with statements made on Monday evening by Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta on the all-news channel Romania TV, according to which Hungary is trying “to provoke” Romania.
Adrian Sârbu, main shareholder in Mediafax Group, was detained on Monday evening for 24 hours by the Prosecutor’s Office under the jurisdiction of the High Court of Justice. He is accused of money laundering, embezzlement and tax fraud.
Sârbu told the journalists the sole purpose of this file is to destroy the media institutions that he has built over the past 25 years.
“The Mediafax- Adrian Sârbu file, fabricated at the order of Ponta-Ghita and their acolytes is meant to destroy Mediafax, Gandul, Ziarul Financiar, the media institutions I have built over the past 25 years which I have maintained politically independent,” he said in an official statement published by Mediafax newswire.
According to the Prosecutor’s Office, quoted by Paginademedia.ro, “in a decision issued on April 23, 2013, Mediafax Group was granted permission to pay its taxes amounting to RON 3,949,358 over a period of 24 months. The mentioned company, its representatives as well as people from law firms involved in attesting the legality of the documents of this company set up a scheme to avoid the payment of taxes, which included creating dummy companies on the name of people who lacked financial means, profiting from their situation, and these companies were dragged into this commercial circuit.”
In this way, Mediafax Group was protected and the responsibility for paying the taxes was transferred to these other companies. Against these companies, measures were taken to block their accounts for not paying the taxes, but these procedures were useless because they did not own any assets that could be seized to pay the taxes, said prosecutors.
“This scenario that prosecutors, the inspectors of the General Direction Against Fiscal Fraud (DGAF), the National Agency for Fiscal Administration (ANAF) and the police are following is meant to prosecute people from the management of my companies under unproven charges, to arrest and force them under blackmail to denounce me as Romania’s great instigator to fiscal evasion and money laundering, as Ponta indicated during his public speeches one year ago,” said Sarbu.
He also said this is a “typical state terrorism act against media institutions which will be forced to close down or sell towards groups with various political interests, a case which is presented to the public as a glorious action against tax evasion and money laundering.”
Sârbu said that at the moment his main preoccupation is to maintain Mediafax active and ensure “decent working conditions for the people who are under an unjust financial and psychological pressure in this repressive campaign.”
Viktor Orbán is a perfect populist who exploits the chameleon nature of populism like no other, from radical liberalism to his new ‘illiberal state’.
Worryingly his bravado is becoming a source of inspiration for many other European politicians. But what is he after?
There are not so many European politicians who have gone through such an ideological serpentine as Viktor Orbán and his Fidesz party did in the last 25 years.
Orbán started his career as a radical liberal at the time of the transition, to become a socially conservative centre-right PM between 1998 and 2002.
After losing power in 2002, he started to advocate for statist-populist positions, and is now shifting toward autoritarianism after his return to the premiership in 2010.
In sum, Orbán is a perfect populist politician who exploits the chameleonic nature of populism as described by Paul Taggart, with an ability to adapt to changing social and political circumstances and to new popular demands very quickly.
In his latest speech at Baile Tusnád, Orbán invoked a concept often used by eastern European populists to challenge democratic instutions: the myth of the stolen transition, according to which only a handful of people benefited from the transition while the majority is worse off.
Orbán has been successfully exploiting the discontent with the shift to democracy and capitalism for a long time. According to a 2009 poll by the Pew Research Center, while discontent about the transition has been growing in the last 20 years almost everywhere in the region,
Hungary clearly leads the list, with 72 percent of Hungarians believing that life was better under communism. This disillusionment can partially explain why Orbán, the unquestionably important liberal player of the transition, famous for his harsh anti-Soviet rhetoric, became an advocate of illiberalism and Russian interests.
Fuelling discontent with the transition process is a game everybody liked to play in the post-1989 Hungarian elite.
The exploitation of negative feelings toward democracy and capitalism was used by Orbán to achieve his political aims. He now wants to change dominant views in the Hungarian public opinion to achieve his long-term goals.
Orbán is turning Hungary against the EU – an institution that is still quite popular in Hungarian public opinion – and wants to orient a country that has wanted to belong to the west eastwards.
There is a widespread assumption that Orbán’s national, illiberal, radical shift in recent years is only the consequence of an electoral strategy to win the hearts of radical right voters for Jobbik. But this temptingly simple explanation is false for at least three reasons.
First, Orbán himself did a lot to radicalize a part of the electorate. Second, Orbán knows he benefits from the political presence of Jobbik, and he does not seem to be willing to rid himself of that party.
Orbán knows he needs Jobbik as a scout to explore new solutions and push the terms of the political debate to increase his own room for manoeuvre – in foreign policy, for example, Jobbik was the first proponent of the ‘Eastern Opening’.
Third, Orbán’s ideology and politics are intertwined in serving his long-term strategic goal of establishing a consolidated system – they are not just reactive steps to counter Jobbik’s rise. Orban does not need a radical nationalist ideology to challenge Jobbik, but rather to justify the illiberal system he is slowly creating.
Orbán exerts fascination on international commentators because he is an Anakin Skywalker-like figure who walked from the light side (democratic, liberal, anti-communist) to the dark side (illiberal and pro-Russian). But this response suggests that Orbán’s story is unique, which is unfortunately not true.
Orbán is not the only opportunist populist politician who lost his enthusiasm for western-type democracies. The newly elected Turkish president, Erdogan for example – who began his career as a religious hardliner – surprised many at the beginning of his political career with his moderate, reformist line of governance.
Erdogan established good relations with the US, the EU, and even Israel, and made steps to calm relations with Greece. But he gradually shifted away from this political line and became a populist, nationalist conservative leader, turning against western values and allies, who now wants Turkey to walk its own way instead of belonging to a western alliance.
It is symbolic that Erdogan, formerly a good ally of Israel, has just returned the award he received from the Jewish World Congress a decade ago.
This should be a wake-up call for the west: the political attractiveness of the western model is eroding, and populist politicians who have made many efforts to gain the support of the west one or two decades ago are now abandoning the western path. Orbán has openly talked about the “sunset of the west” several times, including in his last infamous Tusnádfürdő speech:
“Societies founded upon the principle of the liberal way to organize a state will not be able to sustain their world-competitiveness in the next years, and more likely they will suffer a setback, unless they are able to substantially reform themselves”.
Orbán’s story is not only a Hungarian story. For Orbán, ideology was always just an instrument, a justification for crude political and material interests, to cement himself into power and build up a ‘national bourgeoise’.
The myth of the stolen transition is alive and well everywhere in the region. Beforehand, it was the asset of the radical right, but it is becoming more and more mainstream. Populist politicians in Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia and Poland already use it to challenge some democratic fundamentals.
And they’ll be relying on it even more in the future if they see that Orbán’s experiment is politically successful. Robert Fico, the incumbent PM in Slovakia and Jaroslaw Kaczinsky, the ex-, and possible next PM in Poland, regard Orbán as a role model, and can easily adapt some of his policies (for example, his regular attacks against the private economy).
In Romania, Victor Ponta, at the beginning of his premiership, also seemed to rely on these Hungarian experiments. Hungary’s story could thus easily become eastern Europe’s story.
The post-communist democracies are still young and fragile, and they will be further tested in the years to come by politicians who see no negative consequences in weakening democratic institutions and going against key European values.
To challenge this trend, the EU should take its political role as a supranational entity seriously and impact not only on the behaviour of wannabe member states, but on those of member states as well.
While the EU has strict political criteria for accession (stable institutions responsible for democracy, rule of law, human rights and the protection of minorities), it does not systemically examine the implementation of the Copenhagen
Criteria among its own fully fledged member states. A regular monitoring and enforcing mechanism is needed here as well.
But more fundamentally, the EU needs leaders who have the courage to confront national politicians that seem to have abandoned its key values. The Tusnádfürdő speech, a programmatic attack against the key values of the EU, didn’t generate any appreciable response from a single leading European politician.
The ongoing leadership change in the EU is of course an explanation, but it is definitely no excuse.
Traian Basescu is ending his presidency amid a corruption scandal
THERE is no shortage of drama and intrigue in Romanian politics. Traian Basescu, a former sea captain, was elected in December 2004 after an anti-corruption campaign that deliberately echoed Ukraine’s Orange revolution at the same time.
On June 19th, in tears, he said: “Between the need to ensure an independent justice system and the natural reflex of protecting your brother, I choose justice.” His younger brother, Mircea, had been put in preventive custody after being accused of taking a €250,000 ($340,000) bribe from a convicted criminal, Sandu Anghel, who hoped that a president’s brother might help to get him out of an eight-year prison sentence for stabbing his nephew.
Mircea Basescu claims that he is the victim of blackmail and that he never approached the president about the case. The president blames his brother for mingling with the “wrong people” and insists he did not take any money and never intervened in favour of anyone with legal problems.
Mircea Basescu, who owns a meat-import business in the port of Constanta at the Black Sea, in 2010 became the godfather of one of Mr Anghel’s granddaughters. He claims that this was a “purely Christian thing to do”. Mr Anghel is an illiterate local gangster from Constanta who made his fortune selling scrap metal from stolen railway tracks and other installations left in decay after the fall of communism.
The scandal comes just five months before presidential elections in which Mr Basescu cannot run again. It is a final blow to a scattered centre-right and a boon to the Social Democratic prime minister,Victor Ponta, who now hopes to become president himself. Mr Ponta and his allies have called on Mr Basescu to step down early in order to preserve the independence of the judiciary.
“I think that not only Traian Basescu, but any president in a European country, faced with such a situation, should resign immediately in order to dispel any doubts that from his position he can influence the probe,” he said.
Yet at least for now, Mr Basescu refuses to quit, since there is no evidence of his intervening in the Anghel case. His election in 2004 was based not just on his popular stand against corruption, but also on hopes that he would help to shepherd Romania into the European Union, which it joined three years later. His nemesis and predecessor, Adrian Nastase, was put behind bars for corruption, along with many other ministers, MPs and judges caught red-handed.
Yet his rivals and opponents have always accused Mr Basescu of going only after political enemies, turning a blind eye to corruption in his own party ranks. Laura Stefan from Expert Forum, a Bucharest-based think-tank, says the Anghel case shows that justice is finally working independently, since even the president’s brother is being put behind bars. “Surely this is no pleasant situation. Many politicians would choose differently and rather back their friends and relatives,” she says. She is sceptical that the case will be a big issue in the presidential election.
“The Social Democrats are riding high in opinion polls, they don’t need this agenda. Mr Ponta basically has no counter-candidate,” says Ms Stefan. Opinion polls put Mr Ponta at over 45-51% in voters’ preference. The economy is improving, as is the country’s ability to absorb EU funds. The recent arrest of a media-owning businessman has stirred concerns over freedom of the press, but to many voters it (like the arrest of Mircea Basescu) is a welcome sign of an improving judicial system.
An attempt to reunite parts of the centre-right, with the Liberal Democrats joining forces with the Liberals, formerly allies of Mr Ponta’s, may be the only real threat. This group wants to put Klaus Johannis, an ethnic German who is mayor of the Transylvanian city of Sibiu, forward against Mr Ponta. Mr Johannis has done some controversial property deals, but he is the country’s second-most popular politician. Even so, at around 23-26%, he is far behind Mr Ponta, who looks almost certain to succeed the sea captain in the winter.
Gabriel Resources spent 14 years waiting for approval
* Critics say mine development could damage environment
* Project says aims to create jobs in poor area
Romania’s lower house of parliament rejected revisions to general mining legislation on Tuesday that could have enabled Canada’s Gabriel Resources to proceed with plans to build Europe’s largest open cast gold mine.
Gabriel has been waiting for more than 14 years for approval to use cyanide to mine about 314 tonnes of gold and 1,500 tonnes of silver in the small Carpathian town of Rosia Montana. The state holds a minority stake in the mine.
Hundreds of protesters gathered before the vote outside parliament as well as in the northwestern city of Cluj, chanting “Save Rosia Montana” and asking lawmakers to vote against the mining changes.
Earlier this year, the government of leftist Prime Minister Victor Ponta approved a law designed specifically for the project, which triggered countrywide protests and led parliament to struck down the bill.
The assembly then revised legislation for the mining sector, including provisions that would have applied to the gold mine. Gabriel said it hoped parliament would pass them quickly, allowing it to begin work next year.
But the changes were not approved on Tuesday in the lower house, which had the final say, as the required quorum was not met.
The government could choose to approve a new bill for the gold mine, or parliament could draft new legislation at a later date, but for now the proposed gold mine is on hold.
Gabriel Resources did not immediately comment. It has estimated Romania would get $5.2 billion in taxes, royalties, services and jobs, or roughly three quarters of overall benefits from the project, an estimate challenged by protesters and NGOs who oppose the project.
A protester holds a ‘Stop Chevron’ flag at a makeshift camp near the village of Pungesti, Romania, where the US firm wants to drill for shale gas. Photograph: Daniel Mihailescu/AFP/Getty Images
US energy company Chevron has resumed its search for shale gas at a controversial site in north-east Romania after hundreds of riot police forcefully removed protesters from the village of Pungesti.
For more than two months, the village, which is believed to be sitting on large reserves of the valuable natural resource, has been the site of largely peaceful protests. Villagers, many of whom are elderly farmers, have set up camp next to the fields targeted for drilling, spending their nights in makeshift tents and cooking on open fires.
Even as the weather turned and temperatures dropped below zero, they looked set to stick the winter out. “We want the mayor to leave and Chevron to leave. We need courageous men, not to use force, just to show them we are united and we are not afraid,” said Alexandru Focșa, 45, a farmer who has been camping since October.
At 4am on Monday the Romanian gendarmerie [paramilitary police force] moved in to secure the way for Chevron’s trucks. In a scene that resembled a military operation, they occupied the village, blocking all access points with riot police vans and preventing anyone from leaving or entering for over 24 hours. Several villagers were detained and fined for the criminal offence of blocking a public road. Villagers say that anyone leaving their homes was stopped for questioning.
With no journalists allowed entry at the time, details are vague. But local newspapers claim that between 30 and 40 people had been beaten by police. Many villagers complained of brutality and injustice. Costică Spiridon, 56, a former village mayor, said: “They came on Tuesday morning with their clubs, they shoved me, I fractured a rib.”
By the time the police started to move out and the roads were opened up, Chevron had built a new access road, erected a metal fence around the drilling site and deployed their own private security team.
Prime minister, Victor Ponta, has responded to anti-fracking protests around the country by saying that “the actions of the gendarmes were 100% according to the law and I congratulate them for this.”
But others are demanding investigation. Maria-Nicoleta Andreescu, executive director of the Helsinki Committee Association for the defence of human rights in Romania, said: “There are important signs that indicate that the gendarmes’ actions were at least abusive if not illegal. It is very clear is that by restricting the access of the press in the area the authorities did not allow the public to be informed.”
In response to questions from the Guardian, Chevron said: “The company is committed to building constructive and positive relationships with the communities where we operate and we will continue our dialogue with the public, local communities and authorities on our projects.” Explaning this week’s events, a spokesperson said they are “committed to working with local communities to explain the benefits of natural gas.”