Central Europe Review: politics,
society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 2, No 2
17 January 2000

Catherine Lovatt M I O R I T A:
Regional Politics and Instability

Catherine Lovatt

The political process in Romania is compounded by the complexities of transition. The large number of political parties often renders the democratic workings of government immobile. A certain instability has thus become the hallmark of the government, shown not least by the recent collapse of Prime Minister Radu Vasile. However, political instability goes beyond bureaucracy. One alternative explanation can be found in the regional and national make-up of the country.

The way Romanian democracy has developed has led to the establishment of numerous political parties. The party system enables many small parties, sometimes holding only one seat, a place in parliament. Many of these parties represent regional or ethnic groups and disperse the vote among the electorate, so very few parties are able to hold power individually. The result is coalition government with no single political party having overall power. Instead an amalgamation of parties with different policies and view points unite in order to to rule the country. In an ideal world this mght be regarded as a positive thing - a ruling government representing the wide and varied opinions of the people. However, the system also has its pitfalls.

A coalition government usually has one party with greater public support but not enough to gain the total balance of power. The coalition partners therefore have to be relied upon to aid the passing of policies and laws within parliament. This relationship between coalition partners can be rather tentative: disagreements and lack of compromise can delay or prevent essential legislation being passed. As a result, the workings of government are delayed.

In recent months Romanian politics has fit this pattern closely. Disagreements within the ruling coalition have resulted in the dismissal of two Premiers - Victor Ciorbea at the close of 1998 and Radu Vasile in the Christmas of 1999. The dismissals not only show a lack of confidence amongst the individual coalition members but also the level of instability within the government itself, and this in turn returns a negative response to the electorate.

Political instability, however, is not purely the domain of inefficient politicians and systems. The regional composition of Romanian society can also have a detrimental effect on the workings of a national government. For instance, ethnic groups tend to locate in a similar region, such as the many Hungarians living in Transylvania; the majority of these ethnic Hungarians are represented in parliament by the Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania (DAHR). As a result, local or ethnic identity supersedes any sense of a Romanian national identity. This, combined with complexities within the party system itself, leads to the dispersion of the vote amongst small regionalised or ethnic based parties. Ultimately, instability will ensue as regional considerations are confused with national considerations.

The origins of the regionalisation of Romania can be found in history. Present day Romania is a country that has been pieced together throughout the 1900s from parts of the empires that preceded it. As a result, Romania is composed of numerous regionalised ethnic groups with vastly differing histories. As a nation, Romania itself is relatively new and so the collective myth of a Romanian national identity is still linked with the separate ethnic identities previously held.

This distinction is noticeable if one compares Romania with Germany. In Germany a regional identity is maintained but it is found under the auspices of a national identity which is represented in the political system. The history of the Saxon people in Germany stretches back in time, allowing the development of collective experience and national sentiment, whereas in Romania this sentiment is not always present.

The Romanian transition from Communism will inevitably lead to periods of instability and this is a necessary process in the development of a distinct Romanian system. Regionalism is one area that adds to the internal pressures in the party system. However, all areas of Romanian life must undergo a transformation before political, economic and social stability can be achieved.

The recent dismissal of Radu Vasile from the post of Prime Minister underlines the despondency of Romanian society over the present political system. Many opinions are represented in Parliament but the large number of parties diminish the possibilities of effective government. The vote is spread too thinly and decisions become delayed by disagreement and bureaucratic wrangling. In this respect, the Romanian party system could be considered too "democratic". The relatively short history of the Romanian nation has brought together various ethnic groups and regions within one national boundary, yet regionalised voting adds to the plethora of parties and can undermine national considerations. Local identity has yet to yield to a national identity that encompasses all the ethnic groups making up Romania today. However, transition is a long, arduous process necessitating the development of all areas of Romanian society and will inevitably lead to periods of instability before a unique Romanian system can be advanced.

Catherine Lovatt, 13 January 2000

Archive of Catherine Lovatt's articles on Romania and Moldova



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