EUGEN OVIDIU CHIROVICI
Past Grand Master, National Grand Lodge of Romania
Honorary Director, MASONIC FORUM Magazine
Imagine that you are reading „The Times“ and you find the following fragment from a piece by their man in Bucharest: „The politicians and the press subjected to party interests are the first to blame for compromising the parliamentary system and the country’s slipping toward totalitarianism. In the Chamber of Deputies and in the Senate, the members of parliament did nothing except curse each other’s names (…). The preoccupation of the press was to proclaim in a loud voice the suspicion of corruption in the case of ministers, senators and deputies. Parliament and the press have managed to create this false impression about the succeeding governments by exaggerating the faults of a couple of people who, though far from being irreproachable, had nevertheless managed to do some good for the country“.
The article above was not written yesterday or even last year. It was written in the year 1942 by Archie Gibson and I have found it mentioned in „Studies about Romanian History“ (Dennis Deletant, Editura Enciclopedică, 1991). But it astounds because of its timeliness.
After the accomplishment of the Great Union, pursuant to the Versailles treaties, two parties dominated the political scene in Bucharest: the National Liberal Party and the newer National Peasants’ Party, the result of the fusion, in the year 1926, of the National Party led by Iuliu Maniu (which was looking for legitimacy beyond the borders of Transylvania) and the Peasants’ Party led by Ion Mihalache.
Alongside these, already in the beginning of the IInd decade of the century, the extremist movements started to appear: the extreme right, represented above all by the Legionnaires (the first political assassinations did not fail to materialize) and the communist „fifth column“, funded and supported logistically very consistently by the Comintern.
The two movements have, strangely enough, many things in common, but one thing united them above all: attacks on the traditional, historical parties. Far from being a consolidated democracy, Romania was at that moment much more vulnerable than it was commonly believed to this kind of political „viruses“.
Already in the time of Prince Cuza, then later during the reign of King Carol I, the image of the Romanian politician was ambiguous, depreciated and viewed with suspicion by the public at large, seen through the lens of the press and that of the national intelligentsia.
Names like Eminescu and Caragiale worked hard to paint the picture of a corrupt politician, a caricature of a man, a stranger to the national interest and exclusively preoccupied with his own welfare.
The portrait was, broadly speaking, accurate.
In fact, those politicians, exotic by comparison with their Western counterparts, who were practicing politics in countries with parliamentary traditions for hundreds of years, nevertheless managed to modernize a Romanian state that was semi-feudal, they managed to make the right decisions in the Russian-Turkish war of 1877-1878, which finally brought our nation independence, and finally, they made the right decision when it came to the WW I, at the outcome of which, the country emerged as Great Romania.
Were the critics of those times correct, after all?
In individual instances, yes. But viewed from a larger perspective, the chance of a democracy, albeit a fragile one, in the period 1860-1938, seven decades, was crucial for the destiny of the nation, despite all the personal derelictions of various political figures.
The Great Depression, the world crisis that started in 1929 and lasted until the mid thirties, radicalized both the public and the press and thus helped the extremists, especially the right wing extremism.
The atheist communism did not gain a large audience in a profoundly Orthodox Christian country. Meanwhile, the legionnaire mysticism and their apparent good intentions regarding the eradication of corruption increased tremendously the audience of a movement that had previously not managed to attract a massive electorate.
The installation of the dictatorship of Carol II in 1938 and then the political alliance between Marshal Ion Antonescu and the Legion led by Horia Sima, then the Antonescu regime and the entry into the Axis Powers, this all was a dangerous adventure that almost destroyed everything which the young Romanian state had accumulated with Parliamentarism and democracy.
Perhaps we would not have escaped from the bolshevik communist plague. But things would perhaps have been more nuanced. The grim reality is that, in 1939, Romania had no reliable ally, whereas three neighboring countries were waiting to take a part of the spoil that shape on the horizon.
Promptly, parts of Bassarabia and Bucovina were lost and an important part of Transylvania, all against the background of a severe diplomatic isolation and a complete failure of the rulers to do something. A parliamentarian regime would not have accepted such territorial amputations without a political reaction in such moments.
A handful of people comprising the so-called camarilla of a simulacrum for a „strong hand regime“ was easily pushed around by the pressures coming from the chanceries of greater powers.
As in a kind of historical nightmare, we see the skeletons coming out of the closet of our recent history. We see how all the ingredients that then combined to cook up a national disaster are starting to align. The reputation of the Parliament is in tatters, as is, in fact, the image of almost all of the fundamental institutions under the rule of law.
The mass-media, excessively critical, gnaw at the foundations of these institutions, always in the name of the ideas of fairness and justice, just as they did back then. The conviction that ALL the dignitaries are corrupt is already so deeply rooted now, after twenty years since the fall of the Communism, that if the government and/or the parliament were to be undone, few voices would protest.
The economic crisis, which descents into misery a part of the middle class that had barely started to take form in the period 1990-2008, radicalizes to hysteria a significant part of the nation.
The enthusiasm of joining NATO and the EU has dimmed, due to the lack of obvious changes (except greater facility to abandon the country). And let us not forget that extremist movements, then as now, are gaining influence across the world, even in Europe’s consolidated democracies.
What is the solution? We must come to a more realistic and a more accurate calibration of our expectations from our political class, irrespective of the personages in comprises (all these personages are elected). On the other hand, the politicians, beyond the party or doctrine to which they hearken, must make sure not to further strain a cord that is already ready to snap.
Back then, in the Interwar Years, there were no victors and no defeated. The juggernaut of history trampled over all of them: the Legion, Marshal Antonescu, the Royal House, the political parties, finally even the communists lost power.This is because when once such a mechanism is set in motion, no one can stop the reverse countdown. Not even belonging to the space of the EU and to NATO.