Originally I had another plan. A lot of news and events happen in Romania and these are not always accessible to people who can’t read Romanian or understand the cultural context. But unless I quit my jobs and dedicate myself to this full-time, there is just no way to explain the insanity in real time. There are just far too many WTF moments on an hourly basis to explain to the world.
Therefore, what follows is only a condensed summary of the lunacy that’s been going on in my country.
Note: For the sake of appearance (so there aren’t colors everywhere on the screen), I’m going to keep the links to a minimum.
The mysterious case of Codrut Marta
You might remember my piece back in March on the “little fish who ran” about the PDL politician Mihail Boldea who fled the country (legally) to avoid corruption charges, who was caught in Kenya and who eventually returned back to Romania to face the music.
Few people remember that back in May of this year, a man named Codrut Marta disappeared under similar circumstances. Originally he was reported as “missing” and some of his friends said he had been kidnapped. Later the police officially filed him as missing after determining that he had (legally) crossed the border and disappeared from all contact with his wife and family.
For years, Marta was the “chief of staff” or right-hand man of Sorin Blejnar, the director of ANAF, the national tax agency similar to America’s IRS or Britain’s Inland Revenue Service. Both men lost their jobs when the USL came to power in April as they were both allied with the PDL. Blejnar, indeed, has a number of nicknames including “Queenie” and is widely known as the PDL’s bag man.
Marta was on the verge of being arrested for a case involving embezzling tens of millions of Euros from the ANAF, funds that were supposed to be used for people and companies receiving refunds for VAT (TVA) payments. Strangely, just like Boldea before him, Codrut left his telephone behind in Romania, both men leaving it on the back seat of a car so that it, and presumably any trace on a location, would show it moving all over town. Both men also crossed the border at the same checkpoint. And both men, despite being investigated on corruption charges, left the country legally.
Back when Marta was still just “missing” and not yet officially determined to have fled the country, his old friend and former boss Sorin Blejnar as well as Elan Schwartzenberg filed official statements with the police, both men saying that they had no information about Marta’s location but that he was a good friend. Schwartzenberg is one of Romania’s “barons”, once having owned the Realitatea media group (it’s since been sold back to the Vantu family, the head of which is now in jail), and is a very wealthy businessman.
Months later, press reports stated that Marta’s wife was being investigated for running a luxury prostitute ring, throwing elaborate and expensive parties in Romania and in other countries where escorts were paid a lot of money to service celebrities and rich businessmen from Romania. Only a handful of names of the alleged clients paying thousands of Euros to party “Marta style” have been released but apparently videos were secretly filmed of Romania’s rich and powerful having their “fun”. Clearly someone knows who has been compromised and yet this entire story perpetually remains on the back burner, given barely any attention in the media.
And just to top off the insanity, last week the police in the Dominican Republic officially announced they had captured Marta and divulged that he was using a Lithuanian passport with a fake name. A couple of days later the DR police retracted their statement and said the man in custody was not Marta. What’s especially odd is that the name on the passport was not Lithuanian at all. Also strange is how the DR police would assume a man in their custody (why he was originally arrested was not disclosed) was a match for Marta when neither his passport nor any of his biometric data (fingerprints, etc) matched him.
Even more worrying than all of this is a report that was completely ignored, published a couple of months ago by a little known court called the “Court of Accounts” (Curtea de Conturi). Back when Romania was accepted into the European Union, the MCV was created to make sure that the Romanian justice system was brought up to EU standards. As part of this, the ANI (integrity agency) and the DNA (anti-corruption agency) were created, as well as the less well-known CC (court of accounts).
Back in June, the CC published a detailed report of their audit of the ANAF’s activities from 2007-2010, precisely when Marta and Blejnar were running the agency. It turns out there was widespread fraud, abuse and failure to collect monies due, etcetera. The entire thing can be read here in Romanian (large PDF file). Then in August it was reported that over 100 ANAF employees (mostly upper management) had corruption cases opened against them.
Clearly Romania has been badly hemorrhaging money from the ANAF at the least and that possibly hundreds of millions of Euros have been embezzled and stolen from the government at worst, all of it cemented by “special parties” thrown for the influential people who can paper all of this over.
Ioan Rus falls on his sword
The USL seized power back in April using parliamentary tricks to topple the MRU government. They then convinced President Basescu to nominate Victor Ponta as PM, which he become on May 7. Facing pressure from their thuggish allies, the USL sped up their agenda to remove Basescu, doing so on July 6.
A nationwide referendum was held on July 29 so that the population could decide whether they supported the USL’s move to remove Basescu or not. Despite a tremendous effort to boost numbers (including some downright fraudulent means) by the USL, the majority of the population voted by boycott, with less than 50% of the eligible voters showing up at the polls.
A few days later, the CCR (Romanian Constitutional Court) shocked the country by saying that it could neither validate nor invalidate the results of the referendum, saying they needed six more weeks to render the decision. Apparently the issue at hand was whether the official list and tally of eligible voters was accurate or not.
Knowing that if they could reduce the official tally of eligible voters, the referendum threshold of 50% + 1 would be met and Basescy permanently removed from office, the USL brought tremendous pressure to bear on Ioan Rus, the head of the Interior Ministry, the arm of the government responsible for handling the official voter list.
Despite being a lifelong, loyal member of the PSD, Rus apparently decided that there was no way for him to juke the stats in such a way that the USL would be happy. Citing pressure from both interim president Crin Antonescu (USL) and frozen in limbo president Basescu, Ioan Rus resigned as Interior Minister, saying it was a “honorable resignation”. Rus’s right-hand man Victor Paul Dobre also resigned.
A few hours later, Antonescu blasted back at Rus saying he was a “big liar” and many other USL members had similarly unflattering things to say about him. Then this past week the DNA (anti-corruption agency) dropped a bomb on the press, saying it had “intercepted” telephone conversations between Rus and Dobre about the eligible voter rolls. The most memorable line came from Rus, who said to Dobre, “I don’t want to spend my old age in prison” for illegally manipulating the voter rolls.
Later, USL leaders blasted Rus yet again, saying that he knew he was being recorded and thus was putting on an act and didn’t mean what he said. The USL also threatened to file a criminal case against Dobre for “disturbing the peace” and interrupting “the smooth functioning” of the Interior Ministry.
Once Rus (and Dobre) resigned, Ponta decided to take the opportunity to shake up his cabinet. He removed Andrei Marga as Foreign Minister, apparently unhappy about his performance. Originally Ponta said that Marga would become the Ambassador to Germany (an extremely important post) but then that was downgraded to Marga being a “scientific advisor” to the Romanian diplomatic delegation to Germany.
Marga, now exiled to Germany, told the press that Ponta “told him nothing” about the switch and his new job.
…and Justice for All
Titus Corlatean, the Justice Minister, was then tapped by Ponta to take over Marga’s job as the new Foreign Minister. This came just days after Corlatean made statements that the courts should examine whether the judges in the Nastase case had shown “political bias” and hinted that Nastase’s sentence should be overturned.
Originally Ponta had the bizarre notion of appointing a sitting judge of the high court, Mona Pivniceru, to be the new Justice Minister. This is especially weird because even I know (and Ponta was a lawyer and should know far better) that any sitting judge in Romania is barred from holding any other job (with the exception of being a university professor) precisely to avoid conflict of interest situations.
Pivniceru, not wanting to quit her post as a judge, was then ruled (by her own court brethren) as incompatible with office and her name had to be withdrawn. Ponta then nominated himself as the new Justice Minister, which was confirmed by his ally interim president Antonescu. Apparently this is all completely legal in Romania.
The complete letters of Manuel Barroso, vol. 1
Back in mid-July, EU Commission president Manuel Barroso (effectively the “prime minister” of the EU) summoned Ponta to Brussels to discuss the ongoing coup in Romania. Ponta was handed a letter with instructions about 11 subjects in which Ponta was to reply formally in writing by the next week.
Secretly, at this time Ponta and the USL leaders were meeting with Dogaru and signing a document to disband several key state institutions, including the CCR itself. But Ponta (after a delay), responded to Barroso in a extremely poorly written letter, telling several lies to Barroso, the most significant of which was a promise to uphold the CCR’s rulings on the July 29 referendum and how it was to be held.
Now this past week Barroso has sent yet another letter, this one even more sternly worded, demanding that the USL stop pressuring the CCR. Yet already the pressure has intensified after literally writing a fake verdict from the CCR (see below) and several USL leaders have declared that Barroso is “interfering” with Romania and his (Barroso’s) involvement, as well as other EU institutions, (particularly the Justice Commission), is not welcome.
How to officially become a gypsy in 1 easy step
Completely unrelated to politics, an intrepid reporter from Adevarul decided to see how difficult it was to officially become a gypsy (on paper).
It turns out that there are several NGOs very eager to help those “poor downtrodden” gypsies and that through the mail any Romanian can send papers and then get officially certified as a gypsy. Since several university spots are reserved exclusively for ethnic gypsies, the reporter then went on to get accepted as a student solely based on her new official “ethnicity”.
Since I write a lot about gypsies, especially with regard to formal education, I found this report to be extremely interesting. Clearly, at a bare minimum, it shows that even when it is incredibly easy to be certified as a gypsy, there are almost no (real) gypsies who are interested in pursuing a formal university degree.
CCR in chaos
The big shock at the beginning of the month (August 2) was when the CCR ruled that it could not determine the validity of the referendum and would not be able to make that determination until September 12. This date was later revised and the CCR could possibly meet on August 31 because that was the earliest available date.
Why was August 31 the earliest available date? Because members of the CCR are on vacation. Yes, even when the fate of the entire country is in the balance, when a president may or may not be removed from office, when an entire slew of actions and “emergency decrees” need to have their legality decided, taking a holiday comes first (real quote – one CCR judge said “we’re going on vacation in another country and it’s been planned for months”).
But not all 9 members of the CCR were on vacation. Five of them got together, determined that they had met their own quorum, and then released a number of letters bearing their “official decision” on what the CCR needed for their upcoming meeting about the referendum.
One of these “official” documents was sent to the Prime Minister, ordering him to “determine” the exact list of who had been eligible to vote for the July 29 referendum. Based on this order, the PM got the Interior Ministry working overtime to pare the list, formulating nine different categories of people which could be removed (including those who live overseas). It was the pressure to produce this new, smaller list that led to Rus’s resignation on August 6.
Except that it turns out that the CCR’s order to determine who had been eligible to vote was an actual hoax. Normally the president of the CCR (chief justice) signs these documents but he was out of town on vacation. Some reports say an alternate judge or perhaps a kind of paralegal clerk had been the one who signed this order (still other reports say it had no signature at all). It turns out the authentic CCR document said “provide the list that’s been determined of eligible voters” and not “determine the list of who the eligible voters are”, in other words, the exact opposite meaning.
Three of the vacationing judges said they learned about the whole thing from TV reports and said that without all 9 of them meeting, none of the verdicts or orders by the CCR are even valid to begin with.
The census that can or cannot be performed, depending on what day of the week it is
Nonetheless, the Monitorul Oficial, now controlled directly by the USL, published the hoax “order” and has still not rectified the official record with the authentic order. Once the hoax was discovered, Ponta went to the press and said he was ceasing the “mini-census” that had been underway (to determine who was eligible to vote).
And yet at the exact same time Ponta’s office sent a document to all local governments to go right on ahead and perform a “mini census” of who is (and isn’t) an eligible voter in their district.
Meanwhile in Barroso’s letter to Ponta of last week, Barroso told Ponta to rapidly produce a list of the eligible voter rolls to the CCR so that they (the CCR) could render their verdict as quickly as possible. After having previously said that a “mini-census” could be performed “in 3 minutes” (per person), Ponta has now officially told Barroso that he sure would like to get those official numbers assembled but gosh darn it, it’s a difficult business and they’ll need some more time.
On top of all of this is the bizarre fact that although a nationwide (and scheduled) census was performed last year, the official results have yet to be determined and published and it doesn’t seem likely that they will be any time soon. Why it would take more than a year to tabulate the results of a four-page form is beyond my power to understand.
Tabulating the list of eligible voters though is somewhat problematic because all adult citizens (unless a court determines otherwise) have the right to vote, even when the citizen lives in another country. Therefore millions of Romanian citizens have the right to vote but counting them and listing their names on the official register is a tricky task.
USL talks but the IMF walks
Besides claiming that Basescu had been acting “like a dictator”, the USL’s main complaint with his administration was that the austerity measures, including raising the VAT and slashing pensions and salaries was the wrong thing to do. Upon seizing control of the parliament in April, the USL has been making all sorts of promises to the public that salaries would be increased, the VAT lowered, etcetera.
And yet time and time again after meeting with the IMF (and World Bank, etc), nothing has changed. Literally not one salary has been increased, not one pension increased, no new government posts created and the VAT has not been lowered at all.
All propositions (allegedly) made to the IMF have been soundly rejected precisely because what the PDL and Basescu have been saying all along is true – Romania’s financial situation simply cannot afford to pay off its debts any other way than by implementing the austerity measures. The IMF et al are the ones calling the shots here and no political leaders can do anything about it and are completely powerless.
Therefore the main leg of the USL’s political aim, to reverse Basescu’s austerity measures, doesn’t even exist anymore and the only real issue in contention is whether or not someone likes Basescu’s method of governing the country. In other words, Romanians are left to choose whose personality is the most (or least) pleasing.
Hypocrisy in sports
I’ve already written extensively about the ugly, racist attitude that many Romanians have expressed whenever one of this country’s athletes is competing in the summer Olympics.
However, underlying this issue is a second level of utter hypocrisy. Throughout the year, occasionally there will be some sporting competition between a Romanian athlete (or team) and an athlete (or team) from another country, prompting an equally large wave of patriotic fervor. But the rest of the time, nobody cares whatsoever about the sport in question.
Earlier this year, an ethnic Romanian boxer, Lucian Bute, had a bout with a man from another country. Romanians everywhere professed their undying patriotic support for Bute, despite the fact that he is now a citizen of another country. But I’ve yet to hear of a single boxing match ever being held in Romania and I am completely unaware of any state support for training programs, etc, in the sport of boxing.
Likewise with other sports that Romanians are competing in for the Olympics, for the next four years they will be completely ignored, underfunded (or not funded at all) and will hold no matches or meets on Romanian soil. The hard work of these athletes is only useful to Romanians every once in a while to provide some kind of cheap boost in feeling good about one’s national identity.
Miss Popularity 2012
Despite failing to do anything constructive whatsoever except to temporarily suspend Basescu from office, the USL remains the most popular group of politicians in the country. The last survey I saw said that they still have a 66% favorable rating, far above their political competitors.
Not one other promised action has been realized, not increasing salaries, not lowering the VAT, not officially preventing RGMC from mining at Rosia Montana, not selling off state-owned industries to private investors, nothing. And yet they remain the most popular political group in the country.
Asleep at the wheel
Despite all of this and much more that I haven’t even touched upon, 99.9% of the Romanian people have done nothing. Less than half of them even voted in the referendum and barely more than half voted in the June 10 election. Very few petitions have been signed. Almost no street protests have been held and widespread apathy continues to prevail.
The national sport of complaining, for which Romania would sweep the medals if it were introduced into the Olympics, continues apace however. Every person you meet will be quite happy to complain but actually doing anything about it of course remains forbidden.