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Review of Tom Gallagher's Romania and the European Union

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Review of Tom Gallagher's Romania and the European Union

How the weak conquered the strong

Manchester University Press 2009

Christopher Lawson

What are the key events in Romania over the last 20 years? This is a much abbreviated version. For 10 of those years, the former minor functionary and Ceausescu lieutenant Ion Iliescu held power. Communism was superficially transformed. Several political parties emerged even if elections were tainted, there was a free press which criticized those in power, travel abroad was permitted, and foreigners were allowed to reside in the country. But, in general, democratic institutions failed to take root and economic growth was minimal. Romania only gained the title of market economy in the early 2004. Iliescu's blood-stained hands are all over the June 1990 mineriada, the third of five, in which rampaging miners wreaked death and destruction in the capital. Official figures say that there were a thousand injured and six or seven dead, but some NGOs and other sources claim that many more protesters and bystanders were killed.

At the beginning of the Basescu government in December 2004, the crusading Monica Macovei was appointed Minister of Justice, only to be dismissed early in 2007 by Prime Minister Tariceanu as soon as EU membership was ensured. Shortly afterwards there was a failed attempt to overthrow the democratically elected President Basescu, whose chief historical legacy may well be the somewhat controversial Commission on Communism, which reported to Parliament in December 2006. Some adjustments to the Commission's condemnation of Communism were made in January 2007.

And what impression of the country might a tourist take away in 2010?

Western sales engineers descend from planes and gather for breakfast in Romania's international hotels. Shiny high-rise buildings rise in city centres. Well-fed Romanian businessmen attend backslapping Rotary meetings and travel from the provinces by train to the capital in comfortable sleeping compartments, or in sleek new cars which clog the overcrowded roads.

The wares on sale in the supermarkets compare with those they are used to in the West. Fresh fish from the Atlantic and the Mediterranean is delivered daily to the French hypermarket chain Carrefour. Young people clad in the latest fashions patronize chic restaurants and cafes, leaving in glossy cars or on Kawasaki motorbikes. Top names come to give concerts in the capital. The nouveaux riches flock to the stadiums and concert halls. Ambitious students seeking their fortunes opt for business or law, and graduate with a good knowledge of English and the Internet. A ruthless win-lose attitude prevails in business.

Meanwhile tens of thousands of peasants live in grinding poverty, with no electricity or running water, while employees of the State, notably teachers and doctors, struggle from month to month. The same kleptocrats, generally Securitate officers who once informed on their fellow-citizens, inheritors of the Stalinist system which once prevailed, sabotage numerous projects to improve the villages. I live on the university hill in Romania's second city. Nearly every time I visit my rubbish dump, I meet poorer residents picking through plastic bottles and discarded clothes. Corruption holds sway, especially in justice, education, medicine and tenders for road construction.

Whatever a "normal" post-Communist country may be, Romania does not count as one, despite appearances to the contrary. Tom Gallagher tells us why.

His new book analyzes those 20 years, especially the more recent ones. Meticulously researched, written with the pace of a thriller, and in the final analysis endlessly depressing, Romania and the European Union confirms Gallagher's position in the front rank of historians of, and commentators on, post-Communist Romania.

The book, Gallagher's third on Romania, and his sixth with the Balkans as Schwerpunkt, documents how old-guard, predatory kleptocrats have continued to enrich themselves, trousering millions, much of it cash from EU funds, while consistently blocking substantial reforms in key ministries. Meanwhile EU officials at all levels, alternatively complacent, deluded, indecisive or just plain feckless and lacking willpower, have, with a few praiseworthy exceptions, allowed Romania into the world's most successful economic and political grouping without having made these vitally necessary reforms. Brussels was deceived.

So-called European Social Democrat leaders share the blame. Many praised Romanian leaders whose corrupt behaviour shrieked to the skies. In particular, it is clear that the acceptance of the PSD, the former Communists, into the international centre-left family of the Socialist International was a catastrophic error.

The Romanian ex-Communist elite deployed the full panoply of Balkan wiles to outwit the European negotiators. They bestowed honorary doctorates on visiting or resident Eurocrats. Following ancient Phanariot tradition, they even provided bedmates for high-level EU representatives. They prevaricated, protected their own and pretended to implement reforms while preventing them from biting.

From the pages heroes, heroines and villains arise. The villains, all of whom are well-known, outnumber the heroes and heroines. Not a single corrupt politician has been successfully prosecuted or served a full custodial sentence. The EU's wish to have a number of heads on a plate, dripping with blood, has not been granted. Experts say the real progress in the fight against corruption and organized crime is measured not by the number of arrests, but by simple indicators: convictions by a court in a fair trial, the amount of dirty money confiscated, or the number of illegally acquired properties taken away. And such efforts have not yet been seen. (1)

I have three comments. While the Orthodox Church and religion do not feature in the book at all, there are 13 references to the powerful intelligence services. I would like future editions to add to, check and expand these references to form an additional chapter with an in-depth analysis of Romania's intelligence services, which Gallagher describes as sprawling and bloated. In the Appendix, Jonathan Scheele cannot have made the speech at Cuza University, Iasi, as transcribed, because the text is in Romanian English. The speech does not appear in the Romanian translation of the book, which

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