Remember the second half of 2013? When the lunatic fringes of the British press (the Daily Mail and Daily Express in particular) were whipping up a panic over the imminent arrival of zillions of Romanians and Bulgarians on January 1st 2014?
It was all tosh of course (the numbers of those who arrived were minimal), but the panic was great enough to give a huge boost to UKIP, Britain’s far-right, racist anti-immigration party.
Yet since taking 27.5 per cent in European elections last year, UKIP’s support has predictably tanked. In last week’s general election just 12 per cent voted for the party, and its leader Nigel Farage suffered personal humiliation, taking just third place in his constituency. Voters sent just one UKIP MP to Westminster: Duncan Carswell, a former Tory elected more for his personal popularity than that of his party. Indeed, Carswell is now expected to go crawling back to the Tories with his tail between his legs as soon as he can politely get away with it. UKIP is now on its death bed, and the UK’s in/out EU referendum (to be held in 2017, probably) will kill it off for good.
Anyway, back when UKIP was a thing, we well remember Romanians claiming with great pride that they had no comparable anti-EU, anti-foreigner parties.
It is increasingly clear that they do have such a party, and that it has been running the country for some time: the PSD.
Indeed, the PSD is just one of a number of anti-EU, anti-foreigner, anti-enlightenment parties and NGOs in Romania: there are almost certainly as many anti-immigration loons here as there are in Britain. These organisations can be found on both the far-right and far-left of Romanian politics. They oppose the modern world, globalisation and general well-being on the grounds that such things are not ‘traditional’. The idea that Romania is an increasingly rich, modern and tolerant country which looks west and not east terrifies and deeply offends them. And while there is often Russian money behind these groups, many are daft enough to do Russia’s bidding for free. The world is as full today of useful idiots as ever it was.
The latest target of these groups is the president, Klaus Iohannis, very much seen by the PSD and by the traditionalists as a nasty foreigner who does not put Romania’s interests first.
The rather large stick that the nationalists have tried to beat ‘the German’ with is a wooden one: a tree trunk, in fact. They accuse the president – who last month sent a new logging law back to parliament for revision – of siding with an Austrian logging company instead of ‘saving Romania’s forests.’ To show how much they care about the environment the PSD – through various agencies – organised an anti-Iohannis protest on Sunday, poorly disguised as a march against the deforestation of Romania. Many well-meaning yet naive Romanians were taken in and took part: after all, saving Romania’s forests is a worthy cause. It’s certainly a cause we support.
There is a huge problem with illegal logging in Romania, and there has been ever since 1990. Much of this is driven by poverty: peasants with land not fit for agriculture and with no hope of gainful employment have often been forced to sell their forested land without asking too many questions as to what the buyer intends to do with it. Yet to suggest that Romania’s forests will best be served by adopting the PSD’s new logging law is ridiculous: the law has been written almost to order for the PSD’s clientele and would in all likeliness increase the amount of Romanian trees being chopped down each year. Iohannis was right in sending it back to parliament.
If you read Romanian, this article explains what’s going on very well. In brief, while the PSD is pointing the finger at Iohannis for taking the side of the Austrian logging company Schweighofer (there is no proof that Iohannis – who has no direct control over Romania’s forests – did), prime minister Victor Ponta’s father-in-law, Ilie Sarbu, is currently under investigation for his role in a multi-million euro fraud centred on… illegal logging. What’s more, one of Sarbu’s conspirators (and himself under investigation) is the boss of the state logging company Romsilva, Adam Craciunescu. Amazingly, Ponta – who likes us to think he cares about Romania’s forests – has not yet seen fit to remove Craciunescu (a member – shock! – of the PSD) from his post.
What’s more, in 2003 the Romanian government of convicted fraudster Adrian Nastase (also, quelle surprise, from the PSD) passed an emergency ordinance all but ordering Romsilva to sign long-term contracts with large international logging companies, including Schweighofer. It was also Nastase’s government which sold the Romanian state oil company Petrom (and its reserves) to the Austrian oil group OMV for a price often said to be way below the real market value.
Still, let’s blame everything on those nasty foreigners, eh?
If the Schweighofer case were a one-off it would not be so troubling. Yet it is not. Ponta’s war on supermarkets (owned by nasty foreigners, of course) is another troubling case. It is clear that the PSD and its agencies are increasingly trying to place the blame for all that goes wrong in Romania at the door of the EU and of us nasty foreigners, what with our commitment to market economics and enlightenment values.
Should we, as foreign immigrants, be worried? Probably not. The target is Iohannis. The PSD’s tactic is to portray him as a foreigner (easily done in the PSD heartlands of Northern Moldova and Muntenia, where Iohannis will always be viewed as suspicious, not least because he is not Orthodox) and then fall back on the last resort of desperate nationalists: blame foreign influence for Romania’s woes. Iohannis is immediately guilty by association. Foreign = Bad, Iohannis = Foreign, Iohannis = Bad.
And you thought such chauvinism was the preserve of UKIP? Think again: Romania is not immune.