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“Romania`s big problem is indecision”

Published at: 06-10-2017

Posted on: October 6th, 2017 by RaduC No Comments

This is the  interview posted a week ago with Professor Dan Dungaciu, Director of the Political Sciences and International Relations Institute of the Romanian Academy continued.

RC: In the last few weeks the army seemed to be publicly facing three major problems of financial nature: the obscenely high pensions of some officers which adversely impacted the reputation of the army command in the public eye, the retirement of a large number of military professionals due to permissive legislation and the threat of a failure to pay wages on time. An unfortunate coincidence?

DD: Hardly, bearing in mind where it happens. But the troubles you mentioned, their succession and effects seem to meet all the more serious and disturbing as I doubt that any outsider would have had the imagination and effectiveness to carry them out. The plan is too well thought out to be a conspiracy! Should anybody from the outside have the ability to make events happen in the order you presented, it would mean that we are in the middle of an unprecedented crisis. It means that the calculations have been so accurate, that they had insider information in such an accurate detail, that Romania would be in a deep crisis. This is what we are talking about. To have so many people leave the system due to generous hand-outs, poses a huge problem. And if anybody calculated all this in advance, it means that Romania is in deep trouble. I am more likely to believe, however, that this is not a conspiracy: the incompetence within the system and the amateurish measures taken without any impact study, is all that is needed.

RC: If we have difficulty in managing the army financially in times of peace, what are we going to do if war breaks out?

DD: If we look at how many people left and from where, the last thing on our minds right now should be war. Having so many people leave an institution of power is something we have not seen before. These are not institutions that work on shocks, but on gradual chances. You cannot undo such a shock overnight. Steps need to be made, ranks to be moved up in, experience to be gained.

And when such a blow is delivered, some things remain suspended. Mutatis mutandis, we are in Turkey`s situation bar the coup. One of Turkey`s issues is how to fast replace what it has beheaded. What if disaster strikes while you are busy mending things? This is not a problem you just fix on paper. It has to do with the deep workings of systems which unfortunately, were affected in terms of reputation and probably also in terms of their intrinsic functioning.

RC: I believe that, sadly, in the last 10 – 15 years we proved that we are incapable of coordinating our internal resources on “battle fields” abroad. I`m referring here to the Republic of Moldova. Bringing Moldova in Europe and closer to Romania is a lost battle, isn`t it?

DD: In 1916, for instance, nobody thought that the unification would happen in two-year time. And in 1912, when we marked the 100th year of losing Bessarabia, Romanian politicians were in such a state that the king himself preferred to not stay in Bucharest or Iassy, but take a cruise down the Danube so as not to have to say anything on the matter. Nothing was officially remembered. It was all done at an academic level, within the civil society.

Romania had to deal with Russia`s lavish celebration of the 100th year of taking Bessarabia. Romania kept quite then as everybody was convinced that the battle had been lost. There were a few historians led by the great Nicolae Iorga who claimed that on the contrary, that was not a lost battle and that Romania had to take responsibility for that project even though at that time it seemed unfeasible. The idea that everything is now lost is unacceptable from all points of view.

What you are saying is that, unfortunately, Romania does not have the experience of the “empire” and that shows. Take that in terms of our ability to act abroad. It does not know how. I saw that in 2009 when the pro-Europeans took over in Chisinau. It took Romania almost one year to send an ambassador. The UK sent two financial experts in two weeks to assess the government and understand what was going on there…

RC: Others are more versed in acting as an empire. Won`t we be forever disadvantaged in the geopolitical stand-off?

DD: If we look, for example, at our neighbors – not Hungary because it has never been an empire although it always behaved as one, hence its somehow ridiculous actions – neighbors such as Poland. Poland was not an empire, but took control over its own fate with such an intensity, that its security strategy now says that Polish companies need to be set up every 500 km… Poland has big players, regional champions, assertive and an almost…kingly ego.

Russia is an empire. So is Turkey. They both have the memory of past empires, which is dangerous because you never know which side of their memory is turned on at some point. The geopolitical memory never dies. Romania, however, does not have that experience.

This is why the pile of failed projects in Bessarabia is enormous. The responsibilities here are huge and serious. Whether institutional or personal, it no longer matters. It is a failure that Romania has to live with. The lack of Romania`s presence in the Republic of Moldova, so as to become an essential party in any discussion, is Romania`s failure.

Romania was not able to gain a strong foothold in the Republic of Moldova, neither through its media, not through investments, it did not manage to link the Republic of Moldova to the Romanian Moldova and then to Transilvania and the West.

RC: There is however, an important difference between the current situation and that before the Great Union that you mentioned. Right now, the Trans-Dniester region is a guarantee of non-integration. Under these circumstances, why does Moldova continue to hold onto the Trans-Dniester region?

DD: Because it is also a guarantee of statehood…  The main “enemy” inside the Republic of Moldova to the rapprochement between Romania and Moldova and to Romania gaining a foothold there is not just the Russian Federation. There are actually three players on the ground: Romania, Russia, but also the pro-Moldovan movement, extremely determined. The latter put obstacles between Romania and Moldova on many occasions. Sadly. It is very effective in its relations with Romania, very obedient to Russia and equally passive as far as the EU is concerned.

But this very determined pro-Moldovan movement knows that tragically only the Trans-Dniester region which it does not own is the guarantee of Moldova`s statehood. The region is like a suitcase without handles.  You cannot move it, but as you set to leave somebody will pat you on the shoulder and remind you that you have forgotten something. „But I can`t take it along!” „Then stay with it”.

And the Republic of Moldova, lest it`s forced to leave, would rather stick with the suitcase, in a pervert twist of things as it does not care much for the owner of the case. But it is not fond of the alternative, either, which is the unification with Romania. There is no other alternative, anyway.

RC: It`s a standstill!

DD: The absolute standstill! Vieru, the great poet, which proved to be an amazing realist, was the first to say that Trans-Dniester must be abandoned and that the Republic of Moldova should unite with Romania. Something that was on nobody`s lips at the time. Constantin Tanase, the greatest journalist in Bessarabia, said the same thing. Again Mihai Ghimpu, after he was acting President:  keep the administrative border on the Dniester, do not give up territories, but since we do not control them either, we will carry on with the European integration and even with the unification with Romania. All that has been said! But the pro-Moldovan political consciousness is there, and it understands that if you let Trans-Dniester go, then you have to join Romania. It is the only thing that makes sense.

I am not involved in pro-union propaganda, but very pragmatically speaking, if Moldova does not unite with Romania it will take at least one more generation for it to join the EU. That at least is clear! So the only option is the unification with Romania. That is clear too. As I see it, most Moldovan politicians do not want that. Then let`s see each other as two separate states and be practical which is the preferred adage of people in Chisinau. It`s just that Chisinau behaves towards Bucharest like a friend, but claims that Bucharest should act as a “brother”. It is dishonest and unfair and at the end of the day, ridiculous.

Chisinau will plunge from bad to worse unless what I called the „unification of minds” changes the story. „The unification of minds” is not the „unification of hearts”, but a very down-to-earth approach which looks at what the pensioners get in Moldova and what they get here, at what they can do as Romanian citizens or as Moldovan citizens, what the prospects for their children and grandchildren are in either country and so on.

According to the STASI data, 75% of East Germany wanted to unite with Western Germany for economic reasons. In conclusion the „unification of minds” could be the main driver of unification as everybody in Chisinau realizes that there is nowhere else to go. The main problem for Chisinau is not the crisis, but the lack of alternatives as all political models took turns at power.

RC: Finally, what do you think that the main three challenges facing the country are? And will the Council presidency be a blessing or a curse under the circumstances?

DD: The EU presidency will be a blessing or a curse depending on the political decisions which are being or have been made. Romania`s problem right now is taking decisions. The elections in Germany ended as they did. In a big challenge for Germany and probably in…

RC: Is it actually hard to say whether it was a victory or a defeat for Ms. Merkel. Is the glass half full or half empty?

DD: It is a victory for Ms Merkel in the short term. But, if you listen carefully, you can already hear the cracks. It is not so dramatic when a far-right party gets 13% in France, in Denmark, in Holland. But when the same happens in Germany, a red line has been crossed, an essential consensus reached after World War II. The “right of the far-right” has risen that horrified so many Germans. The emergence of a far-right party ended the German consensus. We cannot yet tell what the psychological impact of this rise will be and how it will increase other crises in Germany: retirement crisis, army, security crises, etc.

Add to that the fact that Angela Merkel is preparing for her exit. We do not know the amount of infighting there is going to be within the CDU, we do not know whether the winning leader within the CDU will come up with a more centrist or more extreme platform. All this is set to raise some worries as far as Germany is concerned. In the short term, however, I see the glass half full. Ms Merkel won. Where does Romania stand?

Romania`s major problem is indecision and a belief that it can endlessly avoid the fundamental questions. But Romania through its behavior has to provide answers. Romania needs to convey a strong and coherent political message as to where it is headed. Towards the hard core group? Great! It sounds good, but what is the “substance” of this project? It cannot be a negation, such as: Romania is not a Visegrad Four state which it could not be anyway. Economically we are little compatible, socially Romanians are different from the Hungarian and the Polish people, politically our leaders look different from the Hungarians and the Poles. There is no place for us there.

In order to be believable you need to take some decisions that is taking on board what the hard core means: in terms of the economy, security, be involved in the European security policy. I believe that by contributing to security alongside the hard core countries we could offset other shortcomings.

Without strong messages from all directions, I do not think that a country like Germany with whom by the way we have not concluded a strategic partnership, is convinced that we are truly willing to be part of the hard core and that we won`t flash left to turn right.

As long as this palpable suspicion lingers… And I will give one example. It has been 50 years this year since Romania opened an embassy in Bonn. The first socialist country to do that. Germany has yet to hold a serious public debate on this topic. Nothing…

This goes to show something. If you want to be hard core, it cannot be done outside a strategic partnership with Germany. Whether you like it or not, you need to take this political decision and follow it through, no matter where it leads: security or joining the euro zone. Security will be part of the package, of course, sourcing included, and if we fail to grasp that the hard core of Europe will focus on security as well, we will have understood nothing. And if we believe that we can trick them all, we will be despised by all.

If you take this clear decision about what you want to do and how to position yourself, then 2019 and the Presidency look clearer, too.

The president will not be able to overturn mountains, but being the President of the EU does not mean waiting tables during an event. But before being able to issue political messages you must first be clear on those political messages. And our position is absolutely murky. We think that there is virtue in this ambivalence.

RC: Because we do not step on anybody`s toes…

DD: We hope that in this way we won`t upset anybody, but in the end we might upset everybody. We could be seen as two-faced. That is the crux of the matter! And it impedes our ability to produce a full political project.

RC: So the three challenges would be?

DD: 1) Taking responsibility for a strategic political decision related to the foreign policy agenda without any ostentation, but also without any ambiguities of the „we are on everybody`s side” type, so as to be able to take it on and communicate it in all honesty.

2) In the geopolitics of interconnectedness, Romania fares really badly and that must be fixed urgently. All major roads bypass us. The infrastructure networks bypass us. And this is not about the kind of relations you entertain with Russia or Europe. We find that we do not exist in the geopolitics of interconnectedness. That could spell disaster. If Romania is removed from the network map, we will be completely marginalized.

3) The internal fabric, the community matrix, that something that connects us, the values which go beyond the daily hustle and bustle, whatever defines us as “Us”. All these wars in which Romania has been entangled for at least 10 years, ruthless wars in which the rhetoric of violence does not seem to stop, they will instill sense a mistrust in the community, a lack of confidence that something can be done.

The split cultivated by many between the thriving Ardeal and the remaining poor country are the signs of this divide within Romania and that needs to stop. All these intestine struggles will put pressure on a Romania which is unfortunately beginning to break along ethnic lines, or confine its many political conflicts to regions. We are starting to look at conflicts with the region in mind. And this is a very serious thing. In this context the centenary next year can be and must have a healing side.

RC: Thank you, professor.

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