Valerian Stan
Credo ergo sum
"Mândria împiedică dragostea." 

Corruption in Romania - Romanian Grey (II)

Last week I tried to present a few thoughts about democracy in Romania. At this time, I will focus on a view about governance, especially about the transparency, the integrity and the efficiency of the government.

Corruption and Justice: An Eternal Peace

For more than ten years now, the problem of corruption has been the top concern of Romanians. And for about that long the majority of the Romanian population has been dissatisfied with the measures taken by the government in order to fight corruption. One of the most recent "indicators of public opinion" [1] that measured this aspect estimated that 77% of Romanians shared this dissatisfaction. The number becomes even more significant considering the fact that the population’s dissatisfaction with the government’s fight against corruption is almost constantly the biggest dissatisfaction of Romanians, even bigger than the dissatisfaction regarding the "standard of living", and this in a country having very serious problems at this chapter as well. At the end of 2003, a study by the World Bank [2] showed that 29% of the population in Romania lived under the poverty line, around 6.5 million people.

Various international institutions have essentially the same perception about this situation. I will give only two or three examples. The opinion of the European Commission has been the same for a number of years, corruption is widespread and it undermines the legitimacy and the efficiency of the state institutions. Regarding numbers, analyses by Transparency International indicate the same thing. The multi-annual average of the Perception of Corruption Index in Romania stays at under 3 points from 10 possible points. For example, in 2003 Romania was on place 83 from 133 countries, with 2.8 points, thus placed at the same level with countries like Malawi, Mozambique, Madagascar, Nicaragua, Yemen or Albania. I want to mention that, in the same multi-annual evaluations, the average for countries members of the European Union, which Romania is scheduled to join on January 1, 2007, was almost 8 points. In recent years, the governments and the politicians in Bucharest received open criticism from foreign officials, who sometimes were forced to break the rules for language-use set by their own statutes. "I know what happens in Romania and it is a shame for this country", declared the American Ambassador, Michael Guest, two years ago in Bucharest [3]. "Corruption devitalizes Romania:, was one of the repeated comments given by Quinton Quayle [4], the Ambassador of the United Kingdom in Bucharest. And one year ago, the reporter to the European Parliament for Romania at that time, Emma Nicholson, declared in Bucharest that "Romania was destroyed from inside by corruption" [5].

The devitalization of the banking system, the illegal privatizations, the ambiguous and incorrect distribution of billions of Euros in form of PHARE credits, the privileged business deals using public money, or the tax fraud continue to be the principal forms of corruption "at high level" in Romania. Despite the fact that there were hundreds of cases in which the press or non-governmental organizations noted serious breaks of the law, in none of these cases any high official had been held responsible. And this fact inevitably leads to one of the most important explanations regarding the severity of the corruption phenomenon in Romania - the lack of independence of the justice system and the corruption within.

During the past few months, a very heated controversy regarding the new form of property declarations took place at Parliament and Government level but also in the newspapers and on TV. When finally all was settled, the law voted on, and the new declarations published thereafter, it was possible to see that Prime-Minister Tariceanu had become richer by 400,000 Euros [6]. Despite all of this, absolutely nobody – not the competent authorities, not the press, not even the "civil society’ – were the least interested in clarifying how it was possible for the Prime-Minister to gain a fortune in only four months, a fortune that for a majority of Romanians would take one hundred years to accumulate, and this assuming they would save their entire present monthly incomes.

During the past few years, especially economists and journalists, tried to evaluate the damages caused in one form or another by the corruption phenomenon and by the administration that has no integrity and responsibility for the public interests. In view was kept, among many other aspects, the "devastation of banks", the "illegal traffic with oil, cigarettes, and alcohol", the "free-loading of large state companies", the "great financial scams", the "contributions of underground economies" etc. At an interval of eight months between them, the evaluations made by two of the most important daily newspapers [7] came to two very different numbers (25 billion Euros one, and 92 billion Euros the other) but to a conclusion that everybody agrees upon: in Romania, corruption made and continues to make calamities. The differences in absolute numbers, that I mentioned, can be solely explained by the fact that the authorities proved to be completely obstructionist when it came to giving out such information. And this situation is being encouraged by the serious gaps – at all accidental – of the Law regarding access to public information (nr. 544/2001). According to this law the public has no access to any information regarding the activity of state banks, state societies, and state companies.

After the three successive governments of Romania since 1989, diminishing corruption continues to remain a simple desire. Practically all analyses state that the population has progressively less confidence in the capacity and the will of the Government and of the politicians to make things work. In recent years the perception has been spreading that the political parties and their leaders are in complicity especially with respect to their attitude towards acts of corruption "at high level’. This perception exists even about the current administration (three of the four political parties making up the current parliamentary majority were in power between 1997-2000). Despite all declarations made by the President, Traian Basescu, to fight corruption, the President’s mission does not seem to be easy at all, since he himself is the accused in a very large file called "The Fleet" that is now on the docket of the highest court. The most recent and unexpected decision of the High Court to return the file to the Prosecutor’s Office (in order to "redo the investigation") brings up only more questions. But serious accusations about involvement in corruption acts were brought against the Prime-Minister, Mr. Tariceanu, and against a great number of other high ranking officials in the current administration, as well [8]. And in none of these cases appropriate measures were taken.

The Securitatea – Everywhere and above everything

One of the most truthful explanations regarding the present situation lies in the fact that the Securitate, the political police of the communist system, managed to maintain even after 1989 a very strong position in Romania. Although it was kept as the greatest secret after 1989, there were cases in which the identity of many Securitate agents and collaborators was exposed. If somebody were to try to put together all these cases, like a puzzle game, one would get a map showing Securitate members, occupying the highest positions in politics, in institutions, in information services, in diplomacy, in the financial and banking system, in the press, in the state’s political science institutes, and so on. Even in Masonic organizations, Securitate members are massively present and have a special influence [9].

No big corruption scandal in Romania was free of involvement by Securitate members. The big bank crashes, the driving into bankruptcy of some large state companies, the most fraudulent privatizations, absolutely all of these were dominated by Securitate members. The so called "investment funds" (in reality financial scams of billions of dollars), presented no exception to the rule. About the most famous "investment fund" – "FNI" of about 3 billion dollars, it is already known that the largest part of its structures was coordinated by Securitate officers and the fund administrator was himself a Securitate agent. After the crash of the fund (in May 2002), the last Securitate Chief, General Iulian Vlad [10] was identified as being a member of the fund’s leadership structure. Even some officials with important functions during the operation and the crash of the "FNI" provided information corroborating this. According to one of these officials, former advisor of President Emil Constantinescu, the director and the assistant director of the Romanian Information Service (SRI) approved for SRI officers to get implicated into the "FNI" affair [11].

Many people saw – or pretended to see – the revealing of the Securitate as a moral requirement or something that was supposed to provide "justice for history". But in reality the revealing and the dismantlement of this institution would have had very important consequences for the Romanian society. Even if referring only to corruption, the seriousness of this phenomenon and its consequences would have been much reduced if the Securitate agents would have been prevented from organizing themselves, as they did, with the accord of the political elite, into a true system of organized crime. The evil caused by the Securitate to the Romanian society after 1989 – especially through corruption and through the vicious obstruction of democratic processes – is already comparable to the evil done during the dark years of Communism. The Western politicians made a shameful mistake when they agreed to this state of things. Regardless wether they knew or not that the most important Romanian politicians, including those presently in power, had connections and involvements with this institution of communist terror. Regarding this, it must be mentioned that there is information which suggests that the "kidnapping" and the "liberation" of the three Romanian journalist in Iraq might have been an operation planned by the Romanian information services, in order to increase the popularity of the current political leaders [12].

The Civil Society

It became already evident for regular Romanians how helpful it would have been if the "civil society" had assumed the role it should have assumed by definition in the post-communist evolution of Romania. One of the greatest failures of the "civil society" having most serious consequences is its failure to reveal and dismantle the Securitate. Regardless of how many hurdles it would have had to overcome, the "civil society" and that part of the press that adheres to this desire should not have abandoned it. The Civil Alliance (Alianta Civica) and the Group for Social Dialog (Grupul pentru Dialog Social), for example, had one more duty in this respect especially because they contributed greatly to the nomination of the members of the State Archives College [13].

After 1990, I contributed to the organization of one of the most popular civic associations of post-communist Romania – the Civic Alliance. At a time when the corruption phenomenon (but not only it) started to show signs that it might become a problem for the Romanian society, the Civic Alliance managed to mobilize hundreds of thousands of people for manifestations. But slowly, although things were becoming increasingly worse, the mobilization of people became increasingly more difficult to do. This is how it came about that in the summer of 2003, after a call from the Civic Alliance and from other non-governmental organizations to a protest against the unprecedented worsening of the corruption phenomenon, only a few hundred protesters responded [14]. The inconsistency with its own principles, the ever stronger rise in partisanship and the lack of professionalism led to the severe decrease of credibility in the public’s eyes of a large part of non governmental organizations.

Most democratic intellectuals failed after December 1989 to uphold the role to which their own statues obliged them. During Ceausescu’s time they lacked the courage to stand up to Ceausescu’s Securitate, and after Ceausescu’s time, they lacked the courage to confront the temptations of material comfort and other various advantages. Today it is absolutely clear that the politicians were very inspired when they gave properties to the most vocal, combatant and credible of them either in form of a state publishing house, or a literary magazine, or the entire assets of some of the largest daily newspapers of the communist regime. For other intellectuals and their organizations the headquarters of public domain or governmental stipends in the amount of hundreds of thousands of dollars were enough to buy them over.

The confusion dominating the public space has been accentuated in recent years in a way that nobody could have predicted. Intellectuals with very respectable biographies and convictions cash in serious sums of money from newspapers and television stations from which they know perfectly well that they belong to Securitate members or are financed by the major lawbreakers of the "transition". And so that nobody understands anything at all anymore, they share like siblings the same television studios and the same pages of newspapers – and recently it seems the same principles, as well – with the communist misinformers of the press from that era.

But these are not all the problems that Romania has these days. Because of the ill-implemented reforms, because of bureaucracy and corruption, the economy is far from being competitive, far from being a "market economy". Romanian foreign policy suffers as well, due to incompetence or due to the fact that Romanian political leaders have the habit of saying one thing to the foreign leaders of the "London-Washington axis" and another thing to the foreign leaders in Berlin, Paris, and Moscow.

What direction?

A year ago, Professor Tom Gallagher from Bradford University, a man who is very attached to the history of Romanians and to the aspirations of present day Romanians published a new book about post-communist Romania. The title of the book "Theft of a Nation" is suggestive because of its conclusions – which seem to me to be very up-to-date even today, after PSDR left once more the palaces of power. Searching for solutions to the impasse we found ourselves in, Tom Gallagher makes two very important observations. First, (in Romania) there are forces engaged in the construction of a powerful and transparent democracy, but they are weak and we have no sign that these will increase their power and self-confidence in the next years." And then, "it will be an irony of fate if the most important result of the EU engagement towards Romania will ultimately be to help the actual consolidation of the elite in power, which has regrouped itself after the fall of communism in 1989. If this thing will happen, the EU will have consolidated the historical traditions and the methods that made Romania synonymous with the bad governing along the longest part of its history". Noting that, here I would have rather talked about "the West" and not only the "EU", I subscribe completely to the conclusions of the British professor. Will anyone deny that these conclusions don’t represent a solution? Anyone denying this is free to do so, but will have the obligation to propose another solution. (New York Magazin, June 29, 2005)

[1] The Foundation for an Open Society, "The Indicator of Public Opinion", October 2004
[2] The World Bank Report (nr 26169 –RO), Romania, the Evaluation of Poverty, October 2003
[3] "As opposed to the Romanian politicians, the US Ambassador speaks with clarity and precision about corruption", newspaper Adevarul, April 16, 2003
[4] Quinton Quayle: "Corruption devitalizes Romania", newspaper Evenimentul Zilei, June 17, 2004
[5] "The European Reporter Emma Nicholson, in exclusivity for Ziua about <the great sharks>: Romania was destroyed from the inside by corruption", newspaper Ziua, March 29, 2004
[6] "Tariceanu: 400.000 Euro richer, in only 4 monthsi", newspaper Jurnalul national, May 7, 2005
[7] "25 billion dollars lost in scams", newspaper Evenimentul Zilei, March 29, 2004; "How much was stolen in Romania: 92 billion dollars", newspaper Cotidianul, November 16, 2004
[8] Some examples: Vice Prime Minister Gheorghe Seculici (President Basescu’s relative), Defense Minister Teodor Atanasiu, Dan Voiculescu, the President of the Conservative Party, the Chief of the Office of the Vice-President, Aleodor Francu, delegate minister Cristian David, minister Codrut Seres and the secretary of state Dan Victor Alesandru from the Ministry of the Economy, the health minister Mircea Cinteza, Dorin Iacob, executive secretary of the Democratic Party, prefects, political leaders etc
[9] "A part of the data, in The Party and State Freemasonry", in the newspaper Evenimentul Zilei, May 17, 2004
[10] The minutes of the meeting of the Deputy Chamber from June 13, 2000 at; By the way, about the living chain, Ioana Maria Vlas was a Securitate agent, the magazine Academia Catavencu, April 8-14 2003
[11] In an interview given in exclusivity, Marius Oprea declares: Costin Georgescu and Mircea Gheordunescu allowed that the SRI officers to work for the FNI, newspaper Curentul, February 8, 2005.
[12] "The behind the scenes regarding the liberation of the journalists and the exchange of hostages", magazine Academia Catavencu, June 15-21, 2005
[13] Andrei Plesu and Horia-Roman Patapievici, members of GDS, wereintensly supported by this organization, and the Civic Alliance contributed to the assertion of the President of the College, Gheorghe Onisoru, so noxious through his entire contribution to this position (see also Liviu Antonesei, "The Actors of the Transition, Today the Little Man", New York Magazin, May 11, 2005).
[14] "From 200,000 people participants to the <White March> in 1990, to 300 protesters after 13 years, The great weary of", newspaper Ziua, June 25, 2003

Corruption in Romania - Romanian Grey (II), articol publicat in anul 2005