Magazine article The Spectator

Whoever Wins, Romania Loses

Magazine article The Spectator

Whoever Wins, Romania Loses

Article excerpt

LAST week I was horse-dealing at a fair in Homorod, eastern Transylvania, and acquired two Lipizzaners. Leaving them at their winter quarters, I drove on south towards Bucharest. At a crossroads at Tancabesti, I came across what appeared to be a funeral procession. Cars and marchers were blocking the road and police cars were in attendance with lights flashing. About 100 men and women were gathered around a 12ft cross, decorated with flags and ribbons, with a large portrait pinned to its centre. I asked a young policemen what was happening. `This is the anniversary of Corneliu Codreanu's murder in 1938,' he told me, pointing to a forest track. `He was shot in the woods there.'

Codreanu - who headed the mystic, violent, anti-Semitic `Iron Guard' faction that contributed to the demise of Romanian democracy in the late 1930s - appears to have regained a hold on the popular imagination, for the crowd continued to occupy the road for the rest of the day. The atmosphere was simultaneously convivial, ceremonial and sinister - similar, I supposed, to the atmosphere at a gathering of the Klan. But what gave the occasion a chilling significance was that it came in the middle of Romania's current presidential and parliamentary elections, which seem certain to see the end of moderate government.

In the first round of these elections, held on 26 November, Romanians were faced with 12 candidates. The former prime minister and ex-governor of the National Bank, Mugur Isarescu, pro-EU and proWest, was the favourite of the middle classes, while the 70-year-old Ion Iliescu was the preferred choice of state factory workers and impoverished farmers. When the results were announced, Isarescu fell out of the frame, leaving Iliescu to contest a run-off against the leader of the Greater Romania party, Corneliu Vadim Tudor, whose popularity had rocketed in the closing weeks of the campaign, enabling him to close the gap with a 10 per cent margin.

On 10 December, the Romanian electorate will be choosing between two abhorrent candidates. Iliescu is far better known to the West. At one point he was Ceausescu's ideology chief, but he was suspected of disloyalty and was demoted to party secretary of the Iasi region in the early 1980s. He played a prominent role in the coup against Ceausescu, seizing control of the television studios after the dictator fled. Under circumstances which remain mysterious, he then became acting president of the self-appointed National Salvation Front. An apparatchik trained in his youth in the USSR, he is an inveterate plotter and still reeks of the old Comintern school of international communism. This year, during the last two days of parliament, abandoning all pretence of economic reform, he engineered a freeze on privatisation and promised to block the closure of the decaying state-owned lorry, tractor and steel factories. His first interview after the announcement of the first-round election results was in fluent Russian, addressed to a Russian television network.

Tudor, in contrast, derives his appeal from Ceausescu's narrow brand of national communism. Absurdly described by Western commentators as 'a poet', he indeed has a way with words but would more accurately be described as a pamphleteer. He is a crony of Ceausescu's pet poet, Adrian Paunescu, and appears frequently on Paunescu's programme on Tele 7-ABC a nightly rant from nine p. …

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