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Anna Horváth’s Case and What it Tells Us

Reading Time: 8 minutes

By Modeste Schwartz.

Romania – At the beginning of the 2000s, the socio-political situation of Romania, on the surface, was quite similar to the cliché which the mainstream Western press cherishes when it comes to “Eastern Europe”. The country – with the exception of one brief “right-wing” administration in the late 1990s – was ruled by former apparatchiks elected on the lists of a Social Democrat Party which, no matter how strongly it denied it, was at that time the political heir of the former single party. Corruption was omnipresent, and above all very visible, since it included a large section of “petty corruption” (involving small sums, especially at the municipal level); in spite of their becoming “Social-Democrats”, the ruling PSD partly preserved the legacy of Great Romanian state chauvinism that had characterized Nicolae Ceauşescu’s Romania, so that the Hungarian minority (the largest ethnic minority in the country and in the EU, represented politically by its ethnic party, the UDMR/RMDSZ) remained on the defensive, trying at most to improve its bargaining position by leveraging its arbitrage in parliamentary coalition-forming games. Spontaneously associating this state chauvinism (which in fact derives from a very long tradition prior to the last war) with the communist period, the Hungarian-speaking population showed a cautious but genuine sympathy for the “right-wing” Romanian opposition, which boasted of “European values”, and sometimes risked some timid conciliating gestures towards it. The Euro-Atlantic integration (Romania’s accession to NATO and the EU), which intervened in the meantime, was supposed to put an end to all the problems of Romania in general, and of its disgruntled minorities in particular.

And then, things went wrong. Coming to power in 2004, the Orange candidate Traian Băsescu appoints a former scholarship holder of George Soros’ Central Europe University, Monica Macovei, as Minister of Justice. Already a prosecutor under Ceauşescu, this Lady of recycled Iron then sets up a system that locks the Romanian state much more effectively than the post-2010 constitutional reforms in Hungary, for which Viktor Orbán’s FIDESZ is now so bitterly reproached – but in a much less democratic mode! Under a veneer of pluralism and parliamentarism, Romania became again what it had been from 1948 to 1989: a “securist state”, that is to say a state totally dominated by the various secret services, heirs of the Ceauşescu’s Securitate (with the SRI, Romania’s internal intelligence service in front). Since then, the budget and staffing of these services (which in absolute terms exceed those of countries like France!) have never ceased to grow, while their immense invisible power (based on their involvement in the economy) can, by definition, not be measured.

Serving as a cover for this recapture, a National Anti-Corruption Directorate (NAD) bypasses conventional judicial mechanisms through procedures inspired by the West’s “fight against terrorism” (in the least violent country of Europe, where terrorism simply does not exist!). Since then, practically, “the services” (as they are called here) can listen to anyone without a warrant, have access to all police files, notarial records etc., while the NAD makes such a widespread use of pre-judicial arrest that it has already been the subject of harsh criticism even in the West. In practice, it can be said without exaggeration that habeas corpus, after a short parenthesis of application during some fifteen years after 1990, is again abolished in Romania, almost as much as before 1989.

So far, this rather singular state of affairs has received little attention outside the country. On the one hand, because under the presidencies of Traian Băsescu, several of the few Western media outlets interested in the CEECs were discreetly funded and “guided” by the network of Romanian Cultural Institutes, which had become again, in the purest pre-1989 tradition, nests of political agents at the service of the regime. On the other hand, because until the last few months, the “binomial” (to use the name that the Romanian dissidence gives to the “services” + NAD tandem) had made a rather moderate and intelligent use of this discretionary power. Negotiation and blackmail having been, in Romania, well-oiled cultural mechanisms for a long time, the “binomial” was able, in most cases, to count on a kind of tacit complicity from its victims, aimed at but rarely fired upon, given that out of tens of thousands of indictments, only a tiny fraction ever leads to firm convictions (1138 in 2014, 713 in 2017 – while the number of indictments has never stopped increasing!). Another method of judicial blackmail well-known even before the creation of the NAD: suspects – when they are notoriously corrupt – are charged only for the most minor aspects of their criminal activity, which makes it possible to keep them under the gun without conviction if they “show themselves to be cooperative”, and to sentence them to light terms in the opposite case (so as to leave them “one last chance to be reasonable”).

As the election campaigns in this penniless country do not cost much less than elsewhere in Europe, it is quite obvious that unless he (like the members of the young USR party) can rely directly on “Western NGOs”, any Romanian deputy who manages to get elected is, by definition, at the mercy of the “binomial”. Under such conditions, what the Western press, with a false naivety, calls “the Romanian political debate” appears in reality, on the surface of the elective institutions, only in case of internal dissensions within “the services”. This has particularly been the case since the election of Donald Trump: the Visegrad alternative attracts more and more Romanians, in the general society (overwhelmingly hostile to Brussels’ cosmopolitan worldview and migration projects), in one part of “the services” and, above all, within the currently dominant fraction of the ruling Social Democrat Party (PSD), led by Liviu Dragnea, who sees in a possible Romania-Visegrad alliance, in terms of internal politics, the possibility of making the party more independent of the “binomial”, and, geopolitically, an opportunity to lighten the yoke of German political and economic subjection.

Hence the “anti-corruption” hysteria of Romanian Atlanticist circles (starting with the “Soros galaxy”), which is much less indicative of a recrudescence of corruption (which has actually receded, especially at the lower levels of power) than of the panic that the “binomial” might lose control of government policy.

Has this panic touched the nerves of some of the agents of the “binomial”, who end up taking seriously the ideology of “zero tolerance” that they have been pumping into the media for a decade (without ever in the least applying it)? This is what might be suggested by the case of the recent conviction of a former deputy mayor, mother of two, sentenced to a mandatory two years and eight months in jail for accepting 60 free festival tickets (!) for the volunteers of her team, proposed by a businessman who asked her only to accelerate (but not to influence) a (perfectly legal) authorization procedure for a real estate project. After all, on January 5, 2017, a Vice-Rector of the University (Doina Azoicăi) received a suspended three years prison sentence for accepting a tray and a saucer, while we reported here two months ago the case of a cardiologist (Cecilia Chirvăsuţă) sentenced to a mandatory 4 years for a bribe of less than 300 €.

Yes and no. Mesdames Azoicăi and Chirvăsuţă, who bear typical Romanian names (Moldavian, to be exact), may have been victims of the late zeal of a government somewhat panicked by the growing international echoes of the incredible disproportion between the number of indictments and that of firm convictions (easily explicable by the reasons set out above).

But the former deputy mayor who is the last case on this infamous list is called Anna Horváth (a typically Hungarian prename and name), and the city where she was deputy mayor on the lists of the UDMR/RMDSZ is Cluj (in Hungarian Kolozsvár). As a result, this conviction raises a wave of indignation in the ranks of this minority, which consider themselves targeted by a campaign of intimidation. Wrongly so? This is what one might think from the cases listed above.

In reality, their feeling is perfectly justified: for more than a year, the very selective “justice” of the “binomial” has been targeting more and more often members of the UDMR/RMDSZ, which can currently be described as the second preferred target by order of importance after Liviu Dragnea’s PSD. Stuck in their historical reflexes, the opinion makers of said minority tend to see a magyarophobic continuity of the Romanian state apparatus, forgetting a little too quickly the caresses administered to them, just ten years ago, by the political representatives of the “binomial” (like Traian Băsescu, who has since become an outstanding magyarophobic rhetorician). In fact, the targeting of the UDMR/RMDSZ represents a recent turn, whose reasons are not mysterious. It would be enough for the said minority leaders to follow a little bit of the press subservient to the “binomial” (like the Realitatea TV channel) to note that, for several months now, the UDMR/RMDSZ has been systematically presented as an “instrument of Viktor Orbán”, which, with “Russia’s green light”, would be ready to “reclaim Transylvania”. These incendiary absurdities, pronounced on television sets in the presence of Romanian academic luminaries and rectors of universities praised by the West, are broadcast in prime time. And the political reality magnified and distorted by this prism of war propaganda is the reality of a growing rapprochement, on the one hand between the UDMR/RMDSZ (which has changed its skin with the rise at its head of the young Hunor Kelemen) and Viktor Orbán’s FIDESZ, and between FIDESZ and the dominant fraction (Liviu Dragnea) of the ruling PSD in Bucharest.

The “Anna Horváth affair” can be explained on the one hand by the willingness of the “binomial” to show the UDMR/RMDSZ that it is ready to do virtually anything to keep them in step, but also by its quite visible intention to increase inter-ethnic tensions in Transylvania in the hope that the PSD, caught up by its chauvinistic past, will finally be obliged, for reasons of electoral demagogy, to renounce the Hungarian alliance, ergo the project of a Romania-Visegrad integration – and, therefore, any hint of independence vis-a-vis … said “binomial”. This interpretation is supported by other recent Romanian court decisions, such as that of the Constitutional Court (dated March 19) which sabotages the political compromise that Orbán and Dragnea had reached in the case of Târgu-Mureş / Marosvásárhely Catholic High School.

Finally, a procedural detail (quite embarrassing, by the way, for the integrity of the Romanian judicial system) deserves our attention here: the sentence against Anna Horváth became mandatory because she did not agree to admit culpability, which would have allowed her to benefit from the usual suspension. Not only do we discover in passing that the Romanian courts have “legal” means of intimidating suspects away from their right of appeal, but also and above all, that, this time, the UDMR/RMDSZ seems decided to draw a line in the sand – a hypothesis confirmed by the great vehemence of its official reaction: a video clip campaign on social networks, press articles generously quoting Anna Horváth’s phrase (that we also used above) describing Romania as a “securist state”, etc.

To explain this sudden combativeness of the UDMR/RMDSZ, we can certainly evoke the awkwardness of the “binomial”, which, in this case, has rather badly chosen its victim: a relatively young woman, appreciated by her community, mother of two, Anna Horváth is probably too young and too politically unimportant to have – even if she would have so desired – been involved in much corruption. On the other hand, we can assume that the generational renewal at the head of the UDMR/RMDSZ has increased the proportion of leaders on which the “binomial” has less means of pressure (blackmail) than on the previous generation (symbolically “relieved of its duties” last January at the well-attended funerals of Attila Verestóy, the Szekler “wood baron” who caricaturally embodied the “old guard”). Finally, it is reasonable to think that the prospect of a probable victory for FIDESZ in the Hungarian elections of April 8 confirms the UDMR/RMDSZ in the idea that it no longer stands – as in the 1990s and 2000s – with its back against the wall.

Yet, how is one to explain to Hungarian urban “elites” of Transylvania (mentally fossilized in their liberal and anti-communist idiosyncrasies) that, politically, their friends of yesterday are now their worst enemies, and that the way to ethnic peace passes by a Visegrad integration which itself implies – as Viktor Orbán knows quite well – a pragmatic collaboration with the PSD. Judging by the reactions on social networks, I fear that, again, generational renewal will prove more effective than pedagogy – quite ineffective against the cultural inertia of a minority used to investing all their hopes in the West – a West which is today the objective ally of the institutional chauvinism of the Romanian securist state.