In a discussion at the Carnegie Endowment on December 13, Vladimir Tismaneanu, Thomas Carothers and Anders Åslund spoke on the recent elections in Romania and the salient political and economic trends in Romania today. 

Professor Vladimir Tismaneanu, University of Maryland, titled his presentation: "Democracy, Reforms and Populism: From Iliescu to Iliescu." He emphasized, throughout his presentation, that dictatorship had not won in Romania. He alluded to Zbignew Brzezinski's tripartite categorization of democracy--functional democracy, dysfunctional democracy and fictitious democracy--and suggested that Romania did at least fall somewhere between the first and second categories. The driving forces in the recent elections were emotion, despair, cynicism, but not ideology; this was neither a vote for nor against democracy. Yet Tismaneanu diagnosed deep problems with Romanian democracy: politics is deeply fractured; there is a lack of institutionalized parties; the political center has collapsed and is now very weakly represented in the parliament; and even the left/ right division seems to make less sense, as the electorate looks to personalities and to such issues as anti-corruption. Increasingly, the "politics of salvation" has entered the Romanian scene; President Constantinescu introduced it--he even brought monks in to "exorcise" some institutions--and Iliescu has emphasized it.

According to Tismaneanu, Constantinescu led an electoral revolution in 1996, yet ultimately failed. The Constantinescu regime failed structurally: Constantinescu exaggerated his mandate; his political party collapsed (it's not even represented in the parliament now); the coalition had fundamental problems--conflicts of ego, no guiding ideology, emphasis on the "ruling algorithm" (which party got which cabinet seats) and 3 Prime Ministers. And Constantinescu failed to achieve 3 basic goals he had promised the electorate in 1996: radical economic and institutional reforms; the reduction of corruption (Constantinescu was obsessed with anti-corruption efforts against others, but corruption afflicted his own government); and the restructuring of the secret police services. Tismaneanu admits the difficulty that Constantinescu faced and points to his several achievements: the construction of a state of law; the prosecution of individuals involved in 1989 massacres; consistent pro-Western foreign policies (his endorsement of NATO's Kosovo campaign lost him substantial popular support amongst a nation that largely believes the West has abandoned it); the transcendence of ethnic boundaries, by including Hungarians in the government. Yet, when polls put Constantinescu at 23% support, he decided not to run, a decision that Tismaneanu found quite unfathomable. And with no political party to fall back on, a political return for Constantinescu looks very difficult.

Tismaneanu also analyzed president-elect Ion Iliescu, and emphasized that he is neither Venezuela's Chavez nor Belarus's Lukshenko. But, he is not Poland's Kwasniewski either. Iliescu is an anachronism--and tensions exist in Iliescu's party between the reformist and anachronistic wings. Even so, according to Tismaneanu, Iliescu has truly learned. He accepted the democratic outcome in 1996 and played the role of loyal opposition very seriously for the following 4 years: he attended parliamentary sessions earnestly and he continued to develop his party's organizational structure and electoral base. Iliescu has made a legitimate return to power. Finally, Tismaneanu examined Corneliu Vadim Tudor. Vadim Tudor's party, the Greater Romanian Party, is not the "loyal opposition" of a consolidated democracy. And yet Vadim Tudor and his party are not serious fascists; they are no Iron Guard. They exhibit an interesting combination of systemic and anti-systemic politics. Tismaneanu suggested that Tudor is also something of a buffoon and compared him to Zhirinovsky. Vadim Tudor might also be Timinski phenomenon--in Poland, Balcerowicz led an economic recovery and Timinski's relevance vanished.

Thomas Carothers, Vice President for Studies, Carnegie Endowment, posed three questions. First, he asked, why did the last 4 years go so badly? Carothers pointed out that observations he made after the 1996 elections seemed to apply equally well to the 2000 elections: that the challenger did not win, but the incumbent lost; that in voting for challenger, the electorate was voting for change rather than the particular person; and that the poor economic situation and corruption were key factors in the defeat of the incumbent. Carothers argued that the 3 C's--commitment, competence, cohesion--were the central problem of the Constantinescu regime. In terms of commitment, there was a lack of understanding of the need for far-reaching reform. The government put off deep-reaching reforms until crisis, but the subsequent reforms were too late for Constantinescu to benefit from them. In terms of competence, some open corruption in the government; strikingly bad public relations work; failure to work with the business community. And in terms of cohesion, the coalition was constantly fighting.

Second, Carothers asked, why did the last 10 years go so badly? He suggested that post-Ceaucescu Romania suffered atomization, but that it also inherited weak, brittle and poorly working institutions (very different from Hungary and Poland); and that Romania has been ill-served by 2 groups, postcommunists who were much less reformist than elsewhere, and an opposition that was not born out of the liberal anticommunist struggle and that set up historical parties and resumed historical quarrel. But Carothers contended that, as Iliescu shares the basic goals of Romania's integration into the EU and NATO, there is no cause for panic. Finally, he asked, what should we be worried about? He pointed to 4 dangers: Iliescu's PDSR will not reverse change, but it may use the current good economic news to return to slower reforms; Tudor and his ultranationalism; the difficulty the center/ center-right faces in reconstructing itself as a national political party this late in the postcommunist era; and the serious demoralization of the well-educated and talented members of the population.

Anders Åslund, Senior Associate, Carnegie Endowment, highlighted 4 economic peculiarities of Romania coming out of communism. First, Romania had an awful year in the last year of communism--GDP fell by at least 8%. Second, Romania had relatively little trade with Russia and much more with the West. Third, Romania suffered huge domestic structural distortions and was very much over-industrialized. And fourth, it had no initial foreign debt. Åslund emphasized the irony that Romania's more favorable conditions have proved harmful, for they have blocked real economic discipline. Romanians were relatively content with their economy, and so the old economy was preserved and even continued to grow because of protectionism--but this obscured underlying structural problems. Even the resultant economic crisis in 1996/1997 was not sufficiently severe to generate the necessary reforms. Bulgaria, which had substantial debt, and which had a devastating economic crisis, introduced genuine economic reforms, and the population there accepted it. The unusual economic characteristics of Romania have actually retarded reform. And by trying to minimize suffering the short run, Romania has maximized suffering in the long run.

Nonetheless, Åslund noted, the Romanian economy is not in bad shape. It is being mismanaged right now: for instance, the deficit is only 4% of GDP and public expenditure, most of which is wasteful, consumes 38% of GDP; the effect is an inflation rate of 40-50%. A small change, say 2%, in the deficit would cut inflation substantially. In general, the economic fundamentals are good, the condition of private enterprise, legal protections and privatization is good, and foreign debt is still too small for concern. Further, economic growth is up 2% and exports are up 25% and they are labor-intensive goods, like textiles and furniture, that Romania should be producing. So, Åslund concluded, with the necessary structural changes--above all reducing the budget deficit--the Romanian economy has much promise.

In the subsequent discussion, a member of the audience argued that that Iliescu government would fulfill the 3 C's: there will be more cohesion, because it is a one-party government and the prime minister will have real political power; there will be greater competence because of superior experience; and Iliescu and his party have a serious commitment to reform.

Another suggested Constantinescu had betrayed civil society and that ironically, contrary to expectations, it was Constantinescu who had become the anachronism. The center-right has collapsed entirely--even the presidential candidates from the center-right were basically leftists in disguise.

Another audience member declared that Iliescu's rhetoric had legitimated fascism and that he was guilty of race-baiting and belonging to the old boys' club of Milosevic, Tudjman and Meciar. In opposition, Iliescu had been overtly anti-West. The audience member also suggested that Romania will only be of interest to the West if it becomes a rotten apple.

Another argued that the demise of the center-right CDR in these last elections was a positive development because it was a uniquely and problematically postcommunist party and claimed to monopolize the democratic opposition. He also pointed out some of the other achievements of the last government: the fact that Romania is so much as a candidate for the EU; good foreign policy; local government reform; a committee to examine the secret police files; and reform of the health care system. Finally, he noted that Vadim Tudor's political support appears to come from the young people, and that Vadim Tudor's emphasis on dignity was resonating with them.

Another pointed out that the EU was very engaged with Romania right now and reviewed it every 6 months, because of Romania's EU candidacy.

Finally, Tismaneanu noted that the youth and the poor in the richer parts of the country, in the west, voted for Vadim Tudor, just as Mussolini had drawn his support in the wealthiest parts of Italy, with the best developed civil society.