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"They plan to change the time! At night, like thieves!" The leader of Romania's governing Social Democrats (PSD) Liviu Dragnea published this message on his Facebook page on Saturday, before the daylight saving time change and in a latest sign of defiance at the weeks of anti-government, anti-corruption protests that shook Romania earlier this year. His message, itself stolen from another Facebook page, mockingly added the hashtags previously used by protesters. The PSD leader retained this laid back attitude later during the weekend when he pictured himself with Prime Minister Grindeanu fishing in the Danube Delta, with the clear aim at to depict him as a humble disciple. Meanwhile, his partner in government, Senate Speaker Calin Popescu Tariceanu of ALDE, was discharging a key member of his party whom he accused of deviationism. But the really bad news is: the apocalypse comes smiling, inexorably. Dragnea took us all prisoners in his holey boat.
For three months, since Dragnea and Tariceanu came to power on the backs of political puppets, the already fragile pillars of Romanian democracy have been cracking under the PSD and ALDE sledgehammer. All eyes have been focused on the Justice system, but the threats far exceed the fight against corruption. The very model of liberal democracy is under siege.
Prior to last year's general elections, HotNews.ro published a map of the region in which Romania appeared as an island of stability surrounded by countries fallen under Russian influence. Today, the island is sinking fast in the grey waters of a government which is hostile not only to justice, but - I insist - to the model of liberal democracy.
As Romanian leaders themselves do the dirty work from the inside, Russia only has to wait. Domestic propaganda willingly spreads all the poison Moscow goes to great lengths to spread through its trolls across the rest of the world. Why would Russia rack its brains more than needed with a country which is already in the process of self-destruction? And still, Russia does not just sit and wait, considering the unprecedentedly intense diplomatic and public communications activity of Ambassador Kuzmin.
Consciously or not, Dragnea and his PSD are now working for Romania's foes and against the interests of its citizens.
The list of key institutions falling under the infernal pressure of the state-party gets longer by the day: the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Council of Magistrates, TV channels who seemed balanced yesterday have given in. More recently, the High Court appears ready to decide acquittals in a major case involving Dragnea himself. In the media, the silence following a HotNews.ro investigation into Dragnea family's pig breeding business was deafening. I'm afraid we are fast approaching the end of the fight against corruption and returing to the captive state.
Should we stick to this path, Russia's Putin will receive on a plate a country of his liking, led by corrupted, vulnerable and weak politicians, with silenced key institutions, with a judiciary brought under control, with a demonized civil society accused of acting at the orders of George Soros, with a perfectly controlled media speaking against the West, foreigners and multinational companies in an Orthodox, traditionalist manner.
Bucharest Mayor Gabriela Firea, considering a future candidacy, is pouring heaps of money into the Orthodox Church accounts and talks of how she prays the rosary early in the morning. Soon, we will most probably hold a PSD-supported referendum on redefining traditional family in the Constitution.
All this rusty chatter has become common in the media and society. Add that the opposition is almost non-existent, and we can see more clearly how close we already are to bankruptcy. Should we stick to the path shown by Dragnea&Co, a predictable outcome is awaiting. We slip two decades back in time, we return to the renowned local model which, for those who don't remember, is called fake democracy, Eastern Balkans-style despotism with all its avatars: corruption everywhere, hysterical, nationalistic propaganda, brazen populism and a state-party abusing power. We already lived through all this in the 90's, when Romania stood mired outside of the EU and NATO.
Romanian scholar Vladimir Tismaneanu reminded us all several days ago that it stands in the PSD gene to show horror about the state of law. But, once again, it amounts to more than that! They have overcome the phase of fighting justice, they've reached the new level of fighting the very model of liberal democracy and the values of Western world, even though they have yet to spell it out clearly like Hungary's Viktor Orban. Romania looks more and more like Hungary from this point of view and it would not be a surprise if Dragnea actually copied the Orban model.
Dragnea has become undesirable in Brussels and Washington, just like Orban. Nobody relevant from abroad would meet Dragnea these days. Not even the European Socialists, his political family, would not welcome him no matter how much his party fixers try to introduce him to the PES leadership. From what I hear, Timmermans' message was clear: no Dragnea. But that does not prevent him from pushing a still more aggressive lobby against the National Anticorruption Department (DNA) and the judiciary not only at home, but more so abroad. The latest hearing in the European Parliament, where Justice minister Tudorel Toader defended the emergency ordinance that sparked the recent massive protests across the country, is the making of the PSD>
Rightly rejected by the West, treated as a corrupt, stay-away-from-him politician, the PSD leader becomes more dangerous every day. His isolation in the West changes him into a still more determined adversary of the West. It happened with Orban. And the Hungarian prime minister now appears like one of Vladimir Putin's Trojan horses in the EU, whom the Russian leader meets ostentatiously.
When Dragnea mocks at the idea of authentic, legitimate protest, the most authentic manifestation in a liberal democracy, he speaks against democracy: protesters are paid, multinational companies sent them to protest, they did the workings of hostile foreigners. As the PSD leader despises justice, he couldn't cherish those who support it. The same says Putin's regime in Russia about the demonstrations against Kremlin corruption that took place in Moscow. In both cases, the aim is discrediting a challenging movement and de-legitimating liberal democracy as the only viable alternative to nationalistic despotism.
Taking the wheel of the boat off Dragnea's hands is not enough to prevent disaster. If the pillars of the state of law - judiciary, opposition, press, civil society - fail to strengthen back fast, the whole edifice would inevitably fall. The island cannot resist the siege anymore, we are sailing to the rocks at full speed. And I cannot see other solutions than the street. The hashtag #Rezist [Romanian for "resist"] has become a duty to our children, no matter how angry Dragnea&Co would get hearing this.