Central Europe Review: politics, society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 1, No 10, 30 August 1999

Catherine Lovatt M I O R I T A:
The Failure of Pure Democracy

Catherine Lovatt

The Romanian political party system is diverse and complex. Liberalism, socialism, nationalism and fascism all influence the decision-making process, and all have their role in politics. In 1989, the death of Ceausescu and the collapse of Communism released new political ideas, and absolutely everybody wanted to speak at once.

Almost ten years on, diversity remains, battles are fought and coalitions forged. Stability is minimal, and this is even more so with general elections scheduled for next year. Concepts of political right and left are still important in Romanian politics, and the current uncertainty raises the question of the future role of extreme left- and right-wing parties in Romania.

Political diversity is represented in the present ruling coalition itself. The Democratic Convention of Romania (CDR) was brought to power in 1996, replacing Ion Iliescu's nationalist government with a liberal-based coalition. Remarkably, the relative calm within the coalition has been considerable despite diverse political opinions. This was hardly the case with the previous coalition.

Between 1991 and 1992, the CDR was an alliance of 19 reform-minded parties and non-party organisations, including the Christian Democrat National Farmers' Party (PNTCD), the National Liberal Party (PNL), the National Liberal Democratic Convention (PNL-CD), the Romanian Ecological Party, the Romanian Ecological Federation (FER) and the Romanian Alternative Party (PAR).

By 1995, internal bickering had become more apparent, and several parties left this political alliance after the failure of a Co-operation Agreement. If the failed Agreement had been signed, it would have meant that the Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania (DAHR) would have had to give up their ambition of autonomy for Hungarians in Romania, and the PNTCD would have had to relinquish their desire for the restoration of the monarchy. The failure of the Agreement resulted in the departure of the PDSR, presently headed by Ion Iliescu, and the PNL who feared domination by the PNTCD.

In 1998, PAR left the alliance; the PNTCD is now the dominant party in the CDR.

Flirting with the extremes

Ironically, many of the former CDR parties now cater for the more extreme elements of society. The PAR, previously called the Union of Rightist Forces, represents nationalist segments of society and has moved deliberately towards the right end of the political spectrum, though support for the PAR has diminished since it left the CDR. Its alliances are now with the Liberal Democratic Party and the Democratic Republican Party, which are not represented in Parliament.

In Romania, nationalism is not the exclusive political territory of the right; leftist nationalist groups have greater support than right-wing nationalists. No party better represents this than the Romanian Social Democratic Party (PDSR), one of Romania's leading political parties. Although they define themselves as social democrats, the party retains strong nationalist elements of the Communist and Popular Front Movement, and those elements were certainly part of its original appeal. Following the collapse of Communism in 1989, the PDSR obtained power under the leadership of Iliescu and reigned for seven years.

Four extremist parties remain close to the PDSR: the Democratic Agrarian Party, the Socialist Labour Party, the Greater Romania Party and the Party of Romanian National Unity. The Greater Romania Party (PRM) and the Party of Romanian National Unity (PUNR) display radical nationalist tendencies. The PRM is ultra-nationalistic, anti-Hungarian and combines Communist and Fascist principles. In the run up to the 1996 elections they openly called for two years of authoritarian rule. The PUNR appears to be more moderate but has a radical relationship with the periodical Vatra Romaneasca (Romanian Hearth). The Socialist Labour Party (PSM) represents the extreme left with principles based upon Marxist ideology.

Too diverse

The complex diversity of Romanian society is well represented in political life, as the electoral threshold to enter Parliament is set at the relatively low level of about four percent. With so many political parties having seats, coalition is the guaranteed result, and the general idea of left, right and centre helps to form clearer ideas of likely coalitions. The existence of so many parties positioned along familiar lines in Romanian politics indicates that the concept of a traditional political spectrum is still strong.

But Romania seems to have erred in accepting the extremes of that spectrum as normal. People have voted to keep parties such as the PRM in Parliament just as they voted to keep the "former" Communist, Iliescu, in power after 1989. There are so many parties in Parliament and the political spectrum is so wide that people seem to have drawn the conclusion that "anything goes" in politics and that anything is acceptable.

The acceptance of left, right and centre groups as a whole, and the political diversity of the ruling coalition are in accordance with democracy. But to what extent should democracy extend in politics? Can a political party be called democratic if it openly calls for a period of authoritarian rule?

If Romania wishes to transform itself into a democracy, it must first define what it means democracy to be. At present, the country is basing its development on the experience of other nations, and this has largely resulted in confusion. The diverse multiparty system that has developed in the last ten years is certainly something to be proud of; however, the extremism of certain groups is threatening the human rights of others.

This may be some kind of "purest form" of democracy, but democracy cannot exist in its purest form; there is a necessary trade-off between democratic values and a rule of law. Romania has not yet found this balance.

Catherine Lovatt, 25 August 1999




Left and Right

Too Wide a Spectrum

Czech Republic:
No Spectrum at All

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