In the good old days of the Socialist Republic of Romania, president Nicolae Ceausescu would regularly feed his cult of personality by holding enormous, meticulously prepared rallies in football stadiums. Workers would be brought in from all over the country to cheer and applaud on cue, usually in exchange for extra rations.
Based on the Mass Games first seen in North Korea, Ceausescu’s rallies became grander and more impressive as the years went on (and, perversely, Romania’s living standards fell) until they unsurprisingly came to an abrupt halt in December 1989.
But fear not! Any Romanians nostalgic for such magnificent displays of affection for the country’s glorious, beloved leader will be pleased to know that prime minister Victor Ponta has decided to revive them.
On Saturday – his birthday – Ponta held a grotesque self-aggrandising party at Bucharest’s Arena Nationala to officially launch his candidacy for the Romanian presidency. The photos speak for themselves:
Unsurprisingly, Romanian civil society was appalled at the spectacle, and did not waste any time in making the comparison between Ponta and Ceausescu. In response to such criticism, Ponta bizarrely said yesterday that comparisons with the old dictator were unfounded, as ‘Ceausescu actually held his party congress at the Sala Palatului.’
So that’s alright then.
Anyway, as the full, appalling spectacle unfolded on Saturday we said that ‘today is the day Ponta loses the presidential election.’ A couple of days on and we think it was a good call. Ponta will not be Romanian president. No matter who faces Ponta in the second round (and the most likely candidate remains Mayor of Sibiu Klaus Iohannis) we simply can’t see the prime minister winning. We refuse to believe that – beyond the medieval PSD heartlands of Teleorman, Olt, Gorj, Dolj and Moldova – anyone will choose Ponta over Iohannis. (Not, we should add, because Iohannis is the ideal candidate: he is far from it).
Ponta’s campaign by the way has been firmly centered on the nationalist slogan Marea Unire, the name given to the unification of Transylvania with Moldova and Wallachia in 1918. Beyond the slogan’s nakedly obvious expansionism there is also another parallel with Nicolae Ceausescu to be drawn: the idea of ‘uniting all Romanians behind one leader’ is very much the same as the Party – Ceausescu – Romania narrative of the 1980s, which made the notions of Ceausescu and Romania inseparable. Ponta is Romania: that’s what we are being told to think. Fortunately, people are refusing to do so.
Finally, it is worth noting that the photos above all come from Ponta’s own Facebook page.
As well offering us a glimpse at the sheer size of Ponta’s ego, the page is well worth reading for the comments underneath each post. Most entertaining.
PS For a better idea of what Saturday was like, this excellent little film will give you a very good idea. Look out for the way Ponta is introduced: