Politics & The World

          by Cristian Mihai Lazăr.

In the last year Romania has inarguably found itself in a most decisive period for its future as a state. The importance derives from the internal politics that are outlined especially after the last elections, the parliamentary elections on December 11. Roughly one year after the protests that followed the tragedy of the Colectiv club (which resulted in 64 deaths), the protests which swept down a political government and consequently led to the establishment of a technocratic government, both for the legislature and the executive, it was now imperative the regain the political and popular legitimacy. This could not have been achieved in any other way except through the prism of democratic elections.

The campaign for this year’s legislative election was dull, lifeless and did not generate any collective emotions. Of course, the candidates were mainly responsible for this situation, but also a new electoral law was among the reasons as well – a law that is very rigid regarding the operations and financial expenses that can be conducted during the campaign. In comparison, ‘on the other side of the coin’ are the campaigns that are conducted in the USA, which are characterized by huge campaign budgets and popular entertainment aspects. Besides the two traditional political parties PSD (Social Democratic Party) and PNL (National Liberal Party) in competition for the confidence of voters, not even the new political parties (most of them having old personalities) managed to attract a substantial number of Romanians to vote. Speaking about the categories of voters: on the 11th of December the young people, unlike in the presidential elections when there was a massive presence of the youth which made the difference in the final outcome, this time they remained indifferent and less willing to vote. With a lack of a collective emotion and surprises, the elections confirmed what was already outlined: a predictable victory for the left wing. Nevertheless, the proportions were surprising.

After the political left lost the power last year in consequence to the public revolt which swept down the social-democratic Prime Minister, the PSD and the left wing parties secured a crushing victory receiving 45.47% of the total votes. We can observe that the victory of the Romanian political left wing was in accordance with the trend that already had formed in the East and South of Romania (as well as in both the Republic of Moldavia and in Bulgaria the left wing parties have achieved victory in last month’s elections). We can speak about a remarkable comeback, after the consequences of last year’s protests when the confidence in the party has decreased incredibly and the former Prime Minister, Victor Ponta, became prosecuted for corruption (an accusation which he denied). Nonetheless, the withdrawal from the government a year ago and the appointment of a cabinet of technocrats were a political-saving solution. In this way, the PSD basically managed to be at the same time in opposition and in government, keeping the key positions in the state both at local and central levels. Permanently, the socialists showed themselves hostile to the technocratic government, blocking any measure or attempt to reform a politicized administration. The “triumphing march” of these elections was also assured by the demagogic voracity and populist irresponsibility seen in some parts of the promoted government program. In brief, if the PSD program becomes reality, Romania would witness salary and pension increases, the elimination of half of existing taxes, a gigantic hospital built in the capital of Romania, new regional hospitals and no less than five new highways (it was not said when will it happen though, we shall see).

Managing this election victory won´t be easy, especially because the problem of this party will be to nominate a Prime Minister who can carry out this political program. The first option seems to be the current leader of the party, Liviu Dragnea – who is now being sentenced to 2 years of suspended prison for electoral fraud. However, the Romanian law does not allow the appointment of a convicted person into the government. The most recent political movements are showing that Liviu Dragnea has succumbed to pressures of the law enforcement and Sevil Shhaideh will probably represent PSD`s nominee and thus the future Head of Romanian Government. About Sevil Shhaideh, it is known that she is one of the closes political friends of Liviu Dragnea. In any way, in confrontation between the popular will and the rule of law, Romania cannot afford another political crisis at this moment. In these outlined circumstances it remains to be seen how the political hegemony of the PSD will evolve.

At the opposite side of this triumph we can notice the great failure of the main opposition, the National Liberal Party. As a consequence to the election outcome, the president of the party resigned the day after the elections. The problems of the party were not acute, but rather chronic. The symptoms of the defeat were also visible at local elections, where the results were far below expectations. The failure was generated by a lack of vision, and the lack of vision was generated by a lack of leadership. It may even be said that the PNL has participated at these elections without leaders. The message they promoted lacked substance and was more focused on the possible damage of a PSD victory. However, there seemed to be a few positive signs as well as the party came up with new candidates, promoting many young people and a fresher elite in different policy areas. The reforming of the party is relevant not only for its own salvation as a political party but also to provide Romania with a powerful right-wing in its politics spectrum to assure a viable balance of the political powers. They need to get rid of the tired portraits and adopt a persuasive, combatant, and articulated speech. The National Liberal Party must become again liberal more than ever.

The astonishing item of the elections was the appointment in the Parliament of the USR (Save Romania Union) party with a redoubtable score of 8.87% of the votes for a party which is less than one year old. This party managed to win the confidence of Romanians that are unsatisfied with the “system” and with the current political class. Lacking experience and based on criticism so far, this young political party emerged as the third force in the new Parliament, despite limited resources and logistics. More than ever, they will need an offensive energy, strength, and most of all in order to assure their existence in politics, they must find an ideological identity.

The former president of Romania, Trăian Băsescu, has claimed himself to be the main opposition for the future left wing Cabinet along with the Popular Movement Party whose leader he is. This is a new party, participating in its first parliamentary elections and becoming part of the new legislature by passing the electoral threshold.  In order to ensure a sustainable coalition, PSD will also be supported by ALDE, a party which is led by the former liberal Prime Minister C. P. Tariceanu. The Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania, a party of minorities, is the other party that managed to be appointed in the Parliament and it has great chances to form too a coalition with PSD and be in government together. As a positive item, unlike in many European cases, fortunately the current nationalist-xenophobic voices did not win the confidence of voters and failed to be appointed into Parliament these elections.

In the 11th of December the voters have expressed themselves in a categorical way. As in any democracy, the majority speaks and the manifested option cannot be contested. Its implications will be major. During this mandate, in 2019, Romania will be one of the countries to hold the presidency of the EU Council. Thus, another reason why the votes of Romanians given on the 11th of December will weigh a lot more, influencing both the national and European political spectrum.

Image by Janrito Karamazov, taken from photopin

Politics & The World

It is well-known that Spanish politicians have been unable to reach an agreement after nine months of political uncertainty and instability. The Spanish political landscape which had been dominated by two parties was shaken up and party leaders were unable to produce a compromise which would allow to build a coalition government. It is worth looking at these developments quickly before coming to the central question: how do we, the youth, feel when seeing that the leaders, we are supposed to look up to, cannot reach consensus and resolve this chaotic situation?

Spain had its national elections on December 20, 2015. For the first time, not two, but four potentially governing parties were competing; it was not only about Conservatives (PP) and Socialists (PSOE) anymore, but also about two new parties: Podemos (left-wing and similar to Syriza) and Ciudadanos (liberal Citizens). Mariano Rajoy, the PP’s leader, came out with most votes, but without a majority big enough to govern. The actual result? Six months of confusion and no real agreement. Even though some parties held talks, none of them came close to creating a sufficiently large coalition.

Six months later, on June 26, 2016, Spaniards were called to vote again. Things did not change much; the two established parties had a bigger share of the votes, but it still was not enough to govern. However, this time they came at least a bit closer: Ciudadanos agreed to support PP in in exchange for the promise to pursue stricter laws to fight corruption. Socialist leader Pedro Sánchez in the meantime, kept repeating he would always say “no” to Mariano Rajoy, regardless of Rajoy heading the party with most votes.

Podemos, led by Pablo Iglesias, has not played an important role since the second elections. However, since neither the PP and Ciudadanos coalition nor the PSOE and Podemos coalition are able to reach a majority alone, the question could be if Socialists and Podemos will reach an agreement with the support of other leftists and nationalists parties (something similar to what happened in Portugal).

Now, what feeling does this political deadlock convey to the population and most importantly, the youth? There is a strong feeling of hopelessness and annoyance towards our political leaders. People ask: How can any of these parties pretend to be able to lead a whole country if they cannot even talk among themselves? Although this chaos has completely blocked the state institutions and slowed down foreign investment, some politicians prefer to look after personal interest and party considerations. Only one single agreement has been reached and credit shall be given for that: to change the date of the possible third national elections, in case they have to be invoked, since by following the amount of days stated in the Constitution the elections would happen on Christmas day and, of course, going on vacation is more important than having a government.

Meanwhile the population gets active in other ways: An online platform has gathered over 140,000 signatures demanding politicians to stop earning a public salary until they actually start working. Socialist Felipe Gonzales, Spain’s longest president (from 1982 to 1996) has also suggested that all parties must replace their leaders if Spain has to go to third elections.

In the end, Spain’s political scenario today looks quite absurd. Some of the parties that did not win are eager for power and apparently will not stop until they get it (a coalition of ‘losers’ sounds undemocratic to me). On the other side, the one who won is sank in dozens of corruption scandals that are coming to light every now and then, putting into question the quality of the Spanish system. All together, no political party seems to be taking the chaos seriously enough to actually talk, negotiate, and bring us a president. What remains is to protest against this incompetence at highest level and to hope that, at least, our generation does not repeat these failures. Hopefully one day they will feel pressured enough to put the national interest ahead of their personal one.

Politics & The World

The Olympic Games are over and somehow I cannot get rid of the feeling that I just watched the real life version of Suzanne Collin’s The Hunger Games. In short, the story takes place in the fictional universe of Panem that consists of one wealthy capitol ruling twelve deeply poor districts. Every year, the capitol organises an annual pageant called The Hunger Games. The participants of the games, called tributes, are one boy and one girl from each district, who are forced to fight each other to death in an arena until one participant is left – the nostalgic winner. In order to make the games as entertaining as possible, the capitol employs a game changer, who influences the games as he wishes. On the one hand, the purpose of the games is to entertain the capitol. On the other hand, and most importantly, the games are a reminder for the districts of the capitol’s authority and power.

Now, I discovered two frightful similarities between this fictional story and our real life version: first of all, this game’s arena was the host city Rio de Janeiro, also called cidade maravilhosa (the wonderful city). This arena changes from competition to competition, which is decided upon by the game changer: the International Olympic Committee (IOC). In this case, the game changer not only decides on the specific venues, but also who participates in the games and who does not, e.g. the Russian federation. It masks its questionable choices and the negative media coverage by raising awareness for global political concerns such as climate change and the refugee crisis. This leads to my second observation. The capitol is very much reminiscent of the global political community, which can let the districts compete against each other and burnish its image. Therefore, while the Olympic Games are meant to transcend political difficulties, the event as such very much accentuates these political problems. At the end of these Olympic Games, it became clear to me that this event is, and has always been, a mirror of the contemporary international relations and politics.

Let me just point out a few examples inspired from David Goldblatt’s remarkable book The Games: A Global History of the Olympics to underpin my statement: at the first modern Olympic games in Athens in 1896, all athletes were all male and all white, reflecting the conservatism of IOC founder Pierre de Coubertin. This conservatism in the IOC prevails until today. In 1936, during Hitler’s concerted Berlin Olympics, the torch carriers became blonder the closer they got to the stadium illustrating the links between success and nationalism. Other examples of nationalism-inspired Olympics followed soon with the Black Power Salute in Mexico City in 1968 and the massacre of Israeli athletes at Munich in 1972. Turning to today’s examples, in 2008, the Olympics in Beijing forced millions of people out of their homes for the sake of constructing the ‘arenas’. Last but not least, Russia has not been excluded from the 2016 Olympics despite the clear-cut evidence of systematic, state-sponsored doping among Moscow’s athletes.

All these examples are tolerated by the IOC and the international political community. Now, one can close one’s eyes on these socio-political complexities and watch the Olympics as an honourable competition between athletes. But let us not be surprised when news comes up that the IOC is involved in some sort of corruption scandal similar to its equally evil twin, the FIFA. Because the bid for the Olympic Games is nothing different than the bid for the FIFA World Cup. The candidate cities hand in their dossiers to the IOC. Thereafter, the committee chooses the eventual host city according to rather non-transparent criteria, guided by political and financial motives. Therefore, I believe that this selection procedure is the essential glue that holds the IOC and the international political community together.

The bottom line is that the power to select the Olympics’ host city is actually the only political leverage the IOC still has. In fact, without the power to choose the venue for the next Olympics, the IOC remains the governing body of world sports it is supposed to be. One concrete solution to erode this political leverage would be a permanent home for the Olympics. This is not a completely new idea. And it might only be a matter of time until this solution becomes reality with another financial crisis lingering ahead. The IOC has to face the fact that the days are gone when people were happily embracing the games as a unique opportunity for their countries. Western cities, such as Berlin, Hamburg, Boston, and Munich, particularly its citizens, refuse to host the games as they are doomed to end in an economic disaster. Soon, also the citizens in the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) do not want to see their global competitiveness being reduced due to the games. The blocked torch relay in Rio is just one example to illustrate this development. Now it is up to the international political community to take up this topic and find sustainable solutions – or let time simply do its job… I would suggest the proactive way.

Rio 2016 is over and the cariocas (citizens of Rio) may return to their daily lives but the IOC should not. For the IOC, Rio 2016 maybe fulfilled its contract despite the athlete’s complaints about the food in the Olympic village, the horrendous water conditions and some minor public transportation issues – just to name some. Nevertheless, the IOC as the global sport’s governing body should make progress as an institution and with the games. It is time to act in the spirit of to the Olympic values and end the end the political Hunger Games.


Goldblatt, D., (2016). The Games: A Globl History of the Olympics. W.W. Norton

image from:


Politics & The World


One year ago, I interviewed a recent Moldovan graduate from the College of Europe, Dinu Codreanu*, to talk about the trend of Moldovans applying for Romanian citizenship.

A 2013 study by the Soros Foundation Romania found that between 1991 and the end of 2012, 323,049 applications for Romanian citizenship from Moldova were granted. In 2011 and 2012, 100,845 and 87,015 applications were submitted respectively. The Brexit and the increasing internal polarisation of EU member states has not helped to reduce today’s EU criticism. However, taking an outsider perspective is helpful as it recalls the attractiveness of the European project

 Q: So far, more than 450,000 Moldovan citizens have applied for Romanian citizenship, How would you explain such a phenomenon?

This number can be explained by a series of reasons. First, it is how a part of Moldovans are seeing themselves ethnically. Indeed, an important part of the population considers itself as Romanian and sees Romanian citizenship as a rightful return to the “mother-nation” and historic country. The unofficial numbers of the last 2014 census in the Republic of Moldova (RM) confirm this trend: 23% of the RM‘s population considers itself Romanian. The second aspect is the practical interest of having a Romanian citizenship as it gives certain rights in Romania and, more importantly, in the EU.

Q: Could you describe in a few words what kind of benefits a Romanian passport would bring to you if you were to hold it?

If I was to have Romanian citizenship, I could benefit from the advantages conferred to the European citizens in the EU. In practical terms, it would be easier to find work, travel and live in EU member states. The administrative aspect is equally important as a lot of employers are reluctant to hire a person if they see the amount of bureaucratic work related to hiring a non-EU citizen. I wouldn’t have to apply for a residence permit to stay for longer periods of time in an EU member-state. Also, another very important point is the tuition fees for universities; as an EU citizen, they would be proportionate to my parents’ income, thus being considerably lower for me.

Q: Could you give me some personal examples of bureaucracy you faced with as a student?

While studying in France as a Moldovan student, I could see the difference between me and my friends having a Romanian citizenship. They were able to benefit from the social scholarship for students from the second year as EU citizens, a considerable financial help for this period.

Furthermore, they did not require the French “titre de séjour” (residence permit), a document I had to renew every year by bringing a long list of documents to the local prefecture.

I could travel freely in the Schengen area; however, the visa problem appeared when I tried to go to Ireland, a country outside Schengen. A simple tourist visa is extremely expensive and required an obnoxious amount of documents to bring to the embassy. A Romanian citizen does not even need a visa.

Q: A Bucharest-based prosecutor stated Moldovans were asking Romanian citizenship only because it gives the freedom to travel and work within the EU.  Beyond the Romanian affiliation, is it the freedom and rights of the EU that appeal to Moldovan citizens?

As mentioned before, being part of the EU is considered a crucial factor. Moldovan’s image of the EU is often as follows: an area of great prosperity and opportunity; a “civilized” area, where the rule of law and democracy have a real meaning in contrast to our dysfunctional government plagued by corruption. Of course, this image is to be nuanced: things are not so bright, however, this image persists. As the Moldovan process of European integration has a long and bumpy road ahead, lots of people are seeing Romanian citizenship as a way to individually integrate themselves in the EU.

Q: A few years ago, a dual citizenship controversy occurred in Moldova. Double citizenship was allowed and then banned; later on Moldova was condemned by the European Court of Human Rights forcing its reintroduction. How do Moldovan authorities react to this controversy?

Authorities have no problems with the trend of “Romanization” of the Moldovan population; indeed, it is considered as a right to come back to people’s ethnic roots and also a facilitation for many to find jobs abroad and send money back home.  However, the Romanization trend becomes more problematic when it concerns people who have high positions in the public sector and government. Indeed, it is sometimes seen by the pro-Russian or Moldovan nationalist parties as Romania interfering in our own internal affairs.

Q: A union with Romania is often debated. Does it threaten Moldova’s destiny as a nation state?

The question of uniting with Romania comes up in the public debate quite often and the majority of the population seems to be in favour. As for the idea of Moldova as a nation-state, this is a very new idea, which has never existed before our independence in 1991.

Furthermore, Moldova is often considered a state without a nation. The idea of a Moldovan nation and language is linked to the efforts to forge a new sense of belonging and solidarity between the inhabitants of Moldova but also to differentiate ourselves from Romania.

This rhetoric is for instance used by the pro-Russian political parties so to answer your question, I would say the idea of unification with Romania is present but not seen as a priority because of the bad shape of the economy and corruption. As for the threat aspect, it is perceived as a menace by the part of the population which does not see itself as Romanian.

Q: By signing the association agreement with the EU, Moldovan authorities conveyed a political message to its citizens: “Moldova’s future is in the EU” ; isn’t it again an evidence of EU soft power in Moldova?

In my opinion, it could be considered soft power by the EU. I would even go so far and call it a “model power” as it is attracting without having this objective clearly stated.

Indeed, only the perspective of being a “European state” is a considerable argument in the internal politics of Moldova.  The EU is maybe not capitalizing enough on its attractiveness because of the unclear objectives of the European Neighborhood Policy (ENP). The Eastern Partnership was created to tackle the EU’s internal enlargement fatigue. The latter is not an integration policy but at the same time, its methodology is founded on the enlargement procedure. This is a big cause of ambiguity regarding the integration question. Will the Eastern Partnership countries further integrate with the EU in the future? This absence of a clear integration objective is making the EU power more diffuse and its policy less consistent.

*Dinu is a Moldovan graduate from the College of Europe who finished the Master of Arts in European Union’s (EU) International Relations and Diplomacy. He holds a Bachelor in Social and Economic Administration and a Master in International Relations from Paris I University, France.


Adrian Mogos and Vitalie Calugarenau, “How to buy EU citizenship”, “https://euobserver.com/justice/117551“, accessed 15 August 2016

Romanian National News Agency, “http://www.agerpres.ro/english/2013/04/03/over-323-000-application-files-for-romanian-citizenship-solved-in-1991-2012-soros-foundation–19-45-19“, accessed on 12 August 2016

cover image from: http://www.pes.ro/blog/wp-content/uploads/2008/02/moldova-01.jpg

Campus Europe Goes BalkansPolitics & The World

by Ivan Šuklev

July 25th, 2015. Five thousand refugees are desperately trying to enter the city of Gevgelija, a city that lies on the border of Greece and Macedonia. Their goal is to continue their long journey from the hells of Syria to their final destination, the paradise of Germany and Western Europe. On their way stands more than 2000 km of road, police brutality, negligence, President Orban’s well known stance and… corrupted Balkan politicians.

In the news nowadays, people can hear a lot about the Syrian refugee crisis that has hit Europe. How they escaped in order to live, how General Assad is killing his own people with his politics, how some of them may be terrorists in disguise sent from ISIL, how precarious their journey is (hint: remember the boy that drowned?) and how their arrival to Germany is a dream come true. But let me tell you a story that you won’t find in any of the news stations. Let me tell you a story in which you will understand just how this crisis has helped some of the politicians in the Balkans get rich, and not a single one of the Western European news agencies reports about this. After all, everyone knows that it’s all about the money, right?

As a guy who was born in the city of Gevgelija, I am well familiar with the ways of public transport. A bus ticket to Skopje (70 km from the Serbian border) is about 7 €. A train ticket costs even less, 3 €. This is because of the fact that Macedonia is a country that has a very, very low living standard (minimal pay check: 180 €/month) and ergo, the prices for public transport are very, very cheap. Except for refugees.

Several days ago, reports have surfaced which said that Macedonian police has acted upon the refugees stationed in the camp of Gevgelija with brutality. As a guy who is highly sceptical of every news agency, I decided to talk with some people who live closely to the railway station in Gevgelija (the refugee camp in Gevgelija is about 1-2 km from the railway station) and also to some local taxi drivers. What I found out was absolutely stunning.

The taxi drivers expressed their disgust towards the police and the local authorities in Gevgelija because the police was stopping them to transfer refugees from Gevgelija to the border with Serbia. This statement seemed pretty absurd to me, because after all, in the news reports every Balkan politician has said that they want to help the refugees to get to Germany. So, why did the local taxi drivers  come up with this frankly ludicrous accusation?

And yet again, the answer was – very simple. Money. Unknown to me or to the rest of Western Europe apparently, the prices for public transport are different if you are a refugee. Bus ticket to Skopje? 30 €. Train ticket? 25 €. Maximum capacity of a bus – 50 to 70 people, depends on the type of the bus. An actual bus filled with refugees – 100 people! Maximum capacity of a train with wagons – 400 to 500 people. An actual train filled with refugees – 800 people! And the local taxi drivers have also said that they witnessed how the police has boarded the refugees on the trains using police brutality and force. I insisted on seeing these busses with my own eyes. When I arrived at the railway station, I saw at least 20 busses parked, from 20 different firms, and not a single one was a public transport company. Not a single one has ever before showed up at the bus station and not a single one has ever made a transport from Gevgelija to Skopje. Then it all added up.

The Macedonian politicians from the government (a government widely known to be an authoritarian and in some instances even totalitarian) had sent these busses and trains because they saw an opportunity of a tax-free material gain. According to the local taxi drivers, at least 4 trains part from Gevgelija every day filled with refugees. That’s about 3200 refugees. A ticket costs 25 €. Daily, that’s about 80.000 euros. No receipts are being issued for the tickets, so these numbers are just speculative. They could be much, much higher. Daily, about 5-6 busses part from Gevgelija to the Serbian border. Roughly about 500-600 refugees. Around 15.000 to 18.000 euros per day.

And this continues on a daily basis. The local taxi drivers are stopped of doing what they are supposed to do (some were even beaten by the police for trying to stand up to them) and their hopes of getting actually paid to do what they are supposed to do – shattered. A taxi driver that looked resignedly at his fate told me in his final sentence: ‘That is just the way things happen around here. Not much we can do about it.’

So next time when you hear a report in the news in which it is stated that many refugees entered Germany or any other country in the EU, think about the fact that around 90% of them passed through Macedonia. Think about the money that went into the pockets of the corrupted Macedonian and Balkan politicians (Serbian and Croat politicians are accused of using a similar transporting scheme). Think about the horrors that the refugees had to endure. Think about the fact that in the Balkans, they had to survive a hell not much different from the one they escaped from.


Image by Fotomovimiento, taken from flickr