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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The EU demanded austerity in Romania - now there are riots

This piece of mine appears in The Week/The First Post

Neil Clark:  Thousands are demonstrating across Romania – is this the start of a European Spring?

ONE YEAR AGO this week, President Ben Ali of Tunisia became the first casualty of the 2011 Arab Spring. Could we now be witnessing in Romania the first shoots of a European Spring?

Over the last few days, the republic in south-eastern Europe – a member of the EU for the past five years - has witnessed large-scale public protests against the government‘s harsh austerity programme.

You can read the whole article here.


Anonymous said...

All of the neoliberal models are real success stories. In Latvia, for example, you have people leaving the country in droves to find work and young people are giving up any hope to ever marry or have children because they cannot find work and even if they find work it is often not at a wage that can support a family.

When people feel like they have no future, there is no telling what they will do. Let us keep a note of what is happening now so that in the future, if we see a resurgence of fascism or some other nasty ideology, nobody can stand around and say "who could have known this would happen!"

brian said...

so how long before these demonstrators decided to raid a army barracks, kill the soldiers and start a proper we are told by the media happened in Libya?

or is that limited to states with independent govts?

Neil Clark said...

John-"All of the neoliberal models are real success stories"


The one country that hasn't followed neoliberalism in the region, Belarus, is under constant attack in the west,-and subject to sanctions-for not having the 'right' kind of economy- and for not having the 'right' international friends.(ie it's friendly with Iran, Venezuela and China). In Belarus there's been a labour shortage- unlike in other countries of the region eg neighbouring Poland where people have been leaving in droves. You can read my report on Belarus here
, the western 'liberals' at the ironically named 'Index on Censorship' didn't like a journalist daring to differ from the 'party line'!

brian: if Romanian protestors did do that they'd be harshly denounced by the self-appointed 'international community'. Unlike Belarus-where violent anti-govt protests have been applauded, Romania's government has the 'right' economic policy and 'right' foreign policy.

David Lindsay said...

Romania was not part of the Soviet Bloc. She had a ghastly regime, not least from the point of view of the valiant Byzantine Rite Catholics. But not a Soviet satellite one. In fact, that regime had particularly close ties to Britain. To our shame, but there we are. English and French, rather than Russian, were taught in schools. No Romanian troops participated in putting down the Prague Spring. More than once, the Soviet Union came to the brink of invading Romania. There was absolutely no question of giving back what is now the Romanian-speaking western part of the cut-and-shunt state of Moldova.

Which bring us to the National Salvation Front, overthrowers of Ceausescu, and originators of the present political class in Romania. Their objection to Ceausescu was not that he was pro-Soviet. It was that he was anti-Soviet. They emerged out of the Moscow-backing, because Moscow-backed, faction within the Communist Party. In 1989, the Soviet Union still had two years left to go, and few were those who thought that it would collapse entirely.

When a kangaroo court convicted and executed the Ceausescus for the "genocide" of 34 people and for daring to throw parties at their house on major holidays, it was not just the beginning of dodgy "genocide" convictions: of García Meza Tejada for fully eight people, of Pinochet for under a hundred, of Mengistu in absentia, of his opponents even including aid workers, and of Kambanda without trial, with Milosovic never actually convicted at all. It was also, as it turned out, the last great triumph of the Soviet Union, taking out a man who was vicious and brutal in himself (like García Meza, or Pinochet, or Mengistu), but who was nevertheless a dedicated opponent of Soviet power. Those who took him out have run Romania ever since.

Undergroundman said...

Have you been keeping note of developments in Hungary Neil ?

Orban is being demonised by the media in Hungary and elsewhere by the neoliberal left. There are absurd suggestions Orban is moving to dictatorship.

To his credit, Tibor Fischer wrote a magnificent defence of Orban that skewered many targets, including the ex-communist oligarchs who control much of the media from Budapest.

The IMF have refused to agree to loans unless Orban introduces the austerity cuts that of the sort have led to violence in Greece and Romania.

Orban has even toyed with turning to China for finance. Hungary is trapped once more in its history. The feeling here in Debrecen is one of futility and dark pessimism.

I would like to see you write a pice on it !

Undergroundman said...

Fischer also wrote this in the Telegraph

"One reason why the opposition is squawking so loudly about the end of democracy (ironic coming from former members of the Communist dictatorship) and slinging the mud so freely is that they have no other option open to them; not only do they have a negligible presence in parliament, they are making no inroads in to Orbán’s popularity. Despite nearly two years of harsh budgetary measures, Orbán and Fidesz are not only ahead in the opinion polls, they are way ahead. Orbán is the only politician in Hungary – no matter how much he is hated by his enemies – who has genuine popularity.
Certainly, Hungary has a wealth of problems, economic and social, but few are down to Orbán, who was elected in April 2010. What he has done, with characteristic vigour, is to push through an abundance of legislation without hugely caring what people think. He is openly at odds with the EU and the IMF on several, mostly financial, issues which is perhaps imprudent, but there’s nothing undemocratic about this position, nor can the EU seriously claim to have a unique genius in money matters".

Ian said...

Interesting you should bring up Belarus. It isn't exactly immune from scenes of protest and riots itself is it?
I see in the article for the New Statesman you state Lukashenko received 80% of the vote in the last election without really batting an eyelid.
It seems there were a few people in Belarus who had some problems with your statement and their protests were met with a much sterner reaction that what is happening in Romania, but hey like you say it is as bad as Burma!

Having spent a bit of time in Belarus I was able to make my own assessment of it. Whilst it wasn’t the fear inducing ‘last bastion of communism’ that many believe it to be, it certainly wasn’t the workers utopia you paint a picture of in your exceedingly rose tinted article.
From speaking to locals, there were many who were happy that Lukashenko had not allowed the country to be asset stripped like its neighbours. But they didn’t seem happy with the lack of development, and large scale restrictions on what could loosely be termed ‘human rights’.

Whilst some things there seem “wonderfully retro” to us visitors, there were genuine concerns about a lack of development and this was part of the reason that many of the young people I spoke to wanted to move away. Fortunately for yourself the difficulty of doing this in an authoritarian regime means they mostly have to stay put and you can say that people aren’t fleeing like they do in neighbouring EU member states.
(I’m not questioning your statements on people fleeing but do you have any data on that, honestly I am genuinely interested)

Basically all I’m asking is please don’t just lazily follow a ‘four legs good, two legs bad’ route when reporting on Central and Eastern Europe. It is just as tiresome as the positions you set out to rebuff.

David Lindsay said...

As Hungary reverts to the Arrow Cross, remember that, thanks to our continued membership of a military alliance which should have been wound up 20 years ago, we now run every risk of having to fight the wars of territorial expansion (including into much of Romania) desired by Fidesz and Jobbik, parties that, thanks to our membership of the European Union, are already legislating for us.

Czarny Kot said...

Hi Karl

In what way are Orban and Fidesz different from the Kaczynskis and PiS in Poland (apart from being more successful)?

Czarny Kot said...

RE: Belarus, it is strange to see a blogger and NUJ member speak so highly of a government which imposes such strict censorship on the internet (and much more besides)

Is the fact that Belarus has shunned neo-liberalism (fair enough) really sufficient reason to ignore or downplay the obvious lack of political freedom?

Neil Clark said...

thanks for all comments- will be back again later, but just want to respond quickly to Czarny Kot's last point:

Czarny: I'm sorry that you seem to have followed the misinformation, peddled by Mike Harris of the Index on Censorship among others- about Belarus' 'strict censorship of the Internet',,15648186,00.html

Ian said...

Can I just expand on Mr Clarke’s sterling defence there?

Czarny Kot your neo-liberal ideas look silly, I can’t believe you could suggest it is hypocritical of a journalist to publish a hideously rose tinted view of a country where fellow journalists face large scale censorship.
Didn’t you see that everyone in Belarus loves Lukashenko. How else could you possibly account for him getting 80% of the vote in the last election? And didn’t you see from Mr Clarke’s piece he only sent riot troops onto the street to beat protestors and arrested the opposition opponents, if that isn’t fair then I don’t know what is.

I know if you look at the press freedom index you will see Belarus languishing towards the bottom (154/178), but as Mr Clarke points out, it isn’t as bad as Burma (174)! And I know we would all strive to have press freedoms like the countries above Belarus in the list such as; Pakistan (151), DR Congo (148) or Afghanistan (147). Oh how I dream of the jubilant days when freedom achieves the same heady heights as it has in Kinshasa, but we can only dream.

I know obviously that the report is based on the work of those neo-con counter revolutionary agents Reporters without Borders (NUJ is a supporter isn’t it?), so should instantly be dismissed as propaganda anyway.

I guess that is the defence isn’t it?
Repression and censorship is fine as long as it is backed by employment figures in the 98-100% range, and election results in the 80-95% bracket!

March on to a brighter future.

Neil Clark said...

Karl- great to hear from you. hope all's well in lovely Debrecen. I'm not in Hungary at present so consider yourself appointed as this blog's official Hungarian correspondent!

It's interesting and revealing to compare the minimal coverage in the western media that the Romanian protests have received compared to the high-level coverage given to the Hungarian protests. The Hungarian protests were deemed to be a  major news story- and the protestors received a very favourable press. Why aren’t the Romanian protests receiving the same treatment? The answer of course is that while those who call the shots in the west- the EU, the IMF and the giants of international capital- are perfectly happy for Hungarians to protest against Orban, who hasn't done what the EU and IMF want in terms of imposing greater austerity, they are less happy that Romanians are protesting against their neo-liberal administration.

David: hope all's well. Thankfully, Hungary is not going back to the 'Arrow Cross', as I'm sure Karl will confirm.

Ian: thanks for comments, always happy to discuss Belarus with someone who has actually been there as opposed to an agenda driven ideologues whose only real interest is for 'regime change' and for the country to adopt a new foreign policy.

LOL- I enjoyed yr last post.

"Repression and censorship is fine as long as it is backed by employment figures in the 98-100% range, and election results in the 80-95% bracket!"

I've never said that repression and censorship is fine, and you're being a bit naughty to suggest I did.

"a hideously rose tinted view of a country"- my piece on Belarus was balanced, unlike the 'last dictatorship in Europe' 'Stalinist/Soviet gulag' claptrap we get from Nick Cohen and his chums at the Index for-oops sorry- On- Censorship.
I've conceded that Lukashenko's rule is authoritarian- as he himself has.

"How else could you possibly account for him getting 80% of the vote in the last election?"

er, how about providing full employment, social security and protecting his country from the economic ravages of neoliberalism?
And keeping prices of gas, electricity and basic foodstuffs cheap. Interesting, as Mark Almond has pointed out how western 'liberals' make a big fuss about Lukashenko's high vote-saying it can only have occured because of cheating- but stay silent when pro-western leaders in the region announce even higher percentages. I wonder why that is?

I never said that everyone in Belarus loves Lukashenko, but he clearly has large, majority support because of the economic and social policies which benefit the majority of ordinary Belarusians and not a small group of oligarchs.

Czarny Kot said...

Hello Mr. Clark,

Thanks for your link to the DW piece. It would seem that the Belarusian internet censorship has been blown out of all proportion.

This is not really surprising. I am aware that there are those keen to portray Belarus in as negative a light as possible. I also believe that the president does enjoy the support of the majority due to the relative economic stability of the country.

Be that as it may, there are still too many stories of political prisoners and arrested journalists (one reporter being tried in a closed court for 'libelling the president') coming out of Belarus.

A lot of these stories may be exaggerated but not all of them. Having the 'wrong kind of economy' may be behind some of the criticisms of Belarus but not all of them.

jack said...

In regards to Belarus it is important to point out that the US has initiated a number of laws to try and overthrow the government not just the standard of financing various NGO’s, media, human rights groups and youth movements but initiating US sanctions against Belarus in 2004 and last year I think a massive increase in the direct financing of opposition parties.

As for the high election result which the elections in Azerbaijan with a 95% support for the Azerbaijan president when he took power after his father died which was deemed fair and fair by western monitors it is probably because the opposition take a unpopular neo-liberal agenda.

Surprised about hearing about people wanting to leave Belarus as it has seen immigration into the country for a number of years.

I don’t know how oppressive Lukashenko is given the fact that they broke in and smashed up the parliament who for years US and EU have financed right wing Ukrainian and Polish groups in Belarus.

Ian said...

Thanks for the response Neil.

I must admit my tongue was firmly in my cheek whilst writing that so I was prone to exaggeration.

Though I did find it hard to write a better parody than the one you published yourself.

"the arrest of opposition candidates and hundreds of their supporters led to the reappearance of the old "last dictatorship in Europe" headlines"

Perhaps it is a case of semantics, but I couldn't think of many things more dictatorial than imprisoning your electoral opponents and then arresting people that called foul. It certainly doesn’t look like the actions of someone who was confident he could convince people he had 80% of the vote. Which for me really does raise questions about the levels of support he really has.

I only spoke to a small selection of people in my few days in the country so it obviously is impossible to get an accurate reading on support. He certainly wasn’t widely hated as many writers from outside would indicate. Though, one person did seem to be hinting at strong emotions in that way, but in a brief conversation I couldn’t judge the level of feeling. However to suggest that it was blanket support for him would be naive.

I really don’t believe he could receive 80% of votes, not because of western media reports, but because:
1) In any open race if someone receives 65% plus of the vote I think it would be worth looking into it more (It is not impossible, but certainly unlikely and is worthy of investigation).
2) It didn’t reflect what I saw in the country, if he had received 60 odd% and won the second round convincingly then I could accept that.
3) The level of protest was strong. I am guessing you spent some time in central Minsk on your visit, and no matter of your political persuasion the main squares are not somewhere you would really choose to join in as an opposition protestor in mid-winter. Architecturally they really are set up against you and you would have to feel pretty strongly to want to muster there. I’m sure there will be people telling me they were all CIA operatives like Havel and Michnik were etc etc, but I just don’t buy that, and think it is rather condescending to suggest that people are not able to feel any outrage without it being led by ‘western powers’.

You raise interesting questions about the hypocrisy of ‘liberals’ on screaming about Lukashenko, whilst ignoring others. My interest in Lukashenko is because he is on the periphery of the section of Europe I am interested in, so I focus on him. I am not aware of other cases, not because I don’t think they exist but just because I know little of the area. Jack mentions Azerbaijan, which I must admit to knowing little about, but is on future travel plans (after Serbia, Kosovo and Iran) so I now have something to investigate further before booking flights.