Thursday, December 17, 2009

More media coverage of 1989

Obviously I could just list a bunch of articles here, but I've tried to handpick the most interesting ones

The BBC: "Eljen Laszlo Tokes - Szabadsag"
Radio Free Europe: "Ceausescu was sitting and I was looking at his testicles"
The Times: "The situation has worsened so much that many people have in their minds, in my view, a mistaken nostalgia for the Communist era"
BBC (video): "85 of the 100 richest people in Romania today are former top communists"
(That last one will soon be superseded by a much longer podcast in which John Simpson - a bit of a hero of mine - looks back to 1989 here and then to today, which will very soon appear here. I'm keeping my eye open)

And nothing to do with the 1989, but fascinating all the same, an article from Life magazine dated Jan 9, 1939. Interesting on many levels (not least for the dodgy politically incorrect style of writing). I particularly liked the picture of the "vice girl" in a headscarf, swimming costume and slippers, and the Romanian army oxen walking through Bucharest.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Climate, weather, and revolutions

Happy Anniversary
Today is December 16th, which means it's the 20th anniversary of the beginning of the revolution here, which began on this day, 1989 in Timisoara, before spreading to Bucharest and elsewhere. This is inevitably being covered by real journalists and media outlets, so I probably don't really need to go into it (and anyway, I wasn't here). Here are some of those news pieces:
I'm sure there will be more to come between today and December 25th, when Ceausescu was executed, ending the revolution (in the same sense of "end" as the war on Iraq "ended" when Bush appeared with a banner saying "Mission Accomplished" or when they pulled that statue down)

Hó Hó Hó
It's been snowing here for getting on for 36 hours now. It started sometime on Monday night (not really sure when, because you know I was all like asleep and that) and it's still going. It's not as deep as you might imagine after such an extended period, because it's not that kind of snow. I'm sure the Eskimos have a word for it, but in the less snow-based language of English I refer to it as that-light-powdery-snow-which-is-oddly-dry-given-that-it's-made-out-of-water-and-is-quite-difficult-to-make-into-snowballs-because-you-really-need-to-apply-a-huge-amount-of-pressure-to-it-to-compress-it-enough-to-stay-together-meaning-really-only-adults-or-older-teenagers-can-make-snowballs-from-it-which-exacerbates-the-already-slightly-unfair-military-strength-advantage-of-the-father-in-a-snowball-battle.

No hope
We're all going to die. Well, you knew that already I presume (if not, sorry to break it to you), but what I mean here is that as a species we might not be long for this world as we increasingly quickly destroy it. It seems likely that in the current talks in Copenhagen, virtually nothing is going to get done, with the developed world refusing to offer much help to the less developed bit (which is a little unfair, to say the least, as the less developed bit is the bit which is going to suffer the most from climate change, with some of it disappearing entirely, and it is also the bit which has contributed least to the problem), and the USA and China being particularly obstreperous in some kind of "we're determined to be the richest country when the world ends" fight-to-the-death.

Now in the grand scheme of things the amount of money that is being asked for to help out here is basically nothing. Currently on the table is an offer of $10bn a year, and there is debate over whether to try somehow to increase that to $100bn (which is very clearly the maximum it's ever going to be). Many rich countries are balking at this, and obviously it does sound like a lot of money. But let's compare it with the amount of money that has so far been thrown at or promised to the banking and financial services sector to bail them out in the wake of the credit crisis. Want to have a guess at how much that might be? Well, I'll tell you. You might need to sit down (you probably are already, but who knows in these days of iphones and the like). Oxfam estimates this figure to be...$8,424bn. Or, if you like, 84 times the absolute maximum that anyone is expecting to be promised at the current summit, and 840 times the amount that has been currently offered. As it stands the argument is whether they can come up with $40bn. 200 times less that what the banks got. (OK, the banks thing is supposed to be a one off and these are annual sums, but I think we're still looking at a massive disparity here).

So, as the sea levels rise, and the crops fail, and farmland turns to desert, and there is a massive global refugee crisis, and traumatic economic, physical, cultural, and environmental changes, at least you'll be able to go and make a deposit and know that the head of the bank will get a vast Christmas bonus. it's a comforting thought, isn't it? Isn't it?

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

The Romanian Elections - FAQs

Idly flicking through the news today around the net (does one "idly flick through" websites or do I need a new phrase here?) it is clear to me that the way the Romanian election and subsequent mess is being presented in the foriegn, English-language press is somewhat flawed. So I thought I'd provide a handy guide for anyone who wants to read some English language coverage of what is going on here, which is not stuck in the same old "PSD-leftist communists vs. Basescu-free market superman" thing.

In order to do that I have done what any self-respecting website does and made a list of Frequently Asked Questions. And like every other self-respecting website, these are not actually literally frequently asked questions, rather questions which I have made up which I feel like supplying an entirely subjective answer to.

Q: The PSD says the election was corrupt and fraudulent. Is this true?
A: Of course it was corrupt and fraudulent. Everything in Romania is corrupt and fraudulent. Especially politics.

Q: So does that mean that Basescu didn't really win?
A: Probably not. You see it is difficult to imagine that anyone could possibly be more corrupt and fraudulent than the PSD. Ergo, whatever vote buying, electoral tourism, ballot box stuffing, figure twisting went on, it is more likely to have benefitted Geoana than Basescu. So, while we will probably never know how much scamming went on, by whom, and for whom, it seems fairly likely that the overall result is just about correct.

Q: Electoral Tourism?
A: Ah yes, a great euphemism. It means driving a bunch of voters around in a bus from polling station to polling station so they can vote a few times each. A number of such buses were stopped and the people done for this, which suggests that a number of other such buses were probably not stopped

Q: But ultimately this is a good result for Romania, right?

A: We-ee-lll, maybe. The country has been in political deadlock for months now, with no government and no prospect of one. It is difficult to see how this has changed, and in fact as the presidential election was so close, and so disputed, it is likely to have got worse. When even the IMF are reluctant to let you have a loan, you know things are really rough

Q: But that Geoana is a Communist, so it's good he lost?
A: His party was one of the parties that emerged from the post Communist rubble, through the transitional FSN government. Pretty much everyone in the FSN was fairly well-to-do in the Communist party. The PSD are very much a party of ex-communists. However, the PD-L (Basescu's party) also emerged from the FSN. In the last presidential election he (Basescu) famously said of the battle between himself and then PSD rival Adrian Nastase: "You know what Romania's greatest curse is right now? It's that Romanians have to choose between two former Communist Party members." Things didn't change this time around.

The barking mad Wall Street Journal seems to think Geoana is a Communist because he sort-of-half-wants progressive taxation, which is hardly some incredibly left-wing thing - more or less everyone has progressive taxation, and Romania is weird and arguably hard-core right wing for having a flat-tax. (Of all the odd viewpoints of the elections that I've read, that one really takes the biscuit)

Q: I'm getting bored now, can you tell me any other interesting facts?

A: Not really, except that the votes from overseas made the difference in the end - the majority of the Romanian diaspora who voted did so for Basescu, and without those votes Geoana would have won (obviously that's assuming all the votes were fairly counted, which is obviously a slightly mad assumption). There is some controversy here as the exit polls which pronounced Geoana the winner were made public before some voting had finished (particularly in North America).

Q: So, what's next?
A: The PSD are challenging the results in the constitutional court. This is bound to fail (I imagine), and so Basescu is the president. He'll have to then name a prime minister who can garner enough votes to form a government. Klaus Johannis, mayor of Sibiu, who became a kind of focal point for the PSD campaign, and even managed to get the support of the Romanian nationalist party (bizarrely since he's German), has withdrawn from this possibility. Basically Basescu has to make up with the PNL, who hold the balance of power in parliament (since it's unlikely that we'll now see another PD-L/PSD coalition for a while). How he manages this is more difficult to imagine. I suspect we'll be floating along without a government until at least the new year. Possibly February.

Happy 20th anniversary of the revolution. Can we have another one please, and get rid of all of them this time?

Monday, December 07, 2009


So, last night the election results (as determined by exit polls) went to Geoana, but then I wake up this morning and it seems like Basescu has won. Though I presume we'll have a fair amount of recounts and challenges since it was very close. Not sure what the Romanian is for "hanging chad" but I suppose I'll find out soon.

No idea how to feel about this - I think Geoana is a slimy git who almost certainly has the vampiric figure of Iliescu hanging behind him, but then again the last few months of complete political paralysis with Basescu at the helm are now presumably going to continue.

Anyway, this was all lightened somewhat by the fact that in the BBC report this morning they captioned the picture of the loser (though they were still calling him the winner at this point) Mircea Geoana as "Mercia Geoana". Mercia is of course not someone's name, but is in fact a region of ancient Britain made famous in the line "What! In Mercia?", which you will find below:

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Jött a Mikulás

Dirty Tricks

Everyone got an anonymous card in the mail this morning here, with a quote from Basescu (in Hungarian) saying that there would never be autonomy for Székelyföld. Now, I cannot believe that there's a single person in Székelyföld - either Hungarian or Romanian) who doesn't know he said that, but still I suppose it serves to remind people ...on the day before the election. There was no indication on the card of what Geoana thinks about autonomy, but obviously that's not important here (even though it was quite obviously Geoana's people who are behind the card), though if anyone thinks that he (or indeed any Romanian politician) is ever going to support Székely autonomy, they'd have to be utterly stupid.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

An authentic must-read post

Spent the kind-of-semi-official-4-day-weekend* in Budapest, enjoying a weekend with Mrs H (and without children), and generally having a good time - drank hot wine in Vörösmarty tér at the Christmas market, had an afternoon in the opulent but faded Gellert baths, ate well, and saw various friends. All most agreeable.

(*It wasn't really a 4-day weekend, but as December 1st is a holiday here for Romania's national day, and as the government - not that there is a government at the moment- is forcing public sector workers to take 10 days unpaid holiday, most places used that lonely Monday as one of their 10 days, and gave it as a holiday too)

On the way back, we were in Ferihegy airport and there was a sign advertising the "authentic" Irish pub there in the terminal. Now, at what stage does the word authentic lose all of its meaning? And have we already reached that stage? This is an "authentic" Irish pub in an airport. In an airport in Hungary. Almost certainly with not a single Irish member of staff. That looked nothing like what I imagine a genuine Irish pub to look like (see below). Which didn't even sell Guinness. I mean honestly, there was nothing that could be called even vaguely authentic. It sold beer. I guess that's about it. I think I'm going to start carrying round a marker pen and use it to cross out/highlight any uses of the word authentic I see.

(Ken Wilson tells me that he once saw outside a shop in the US the following "Authentic Antiques - Direct from the Factory")

Here is a picture of absolutely appalling quality which I took of this authentic Irish boozer

After marvelling at this masterpiece of deception, I boarded the plane and became profoundly depressed reading the newspaper which contained news that Switzerland had adopted an openly racist measure following a referendum, that with the support of a few US fundamentalist christians, Uganda is about to introduce the death penalty for homosexuals, and the analysis of the upcoming climate change debate in Copenhagen which made it clear that it was almost certain that nothing will get solved there and that we will carrying on racing headlong towards the precipice. What kind of a fucked up world is this? Makes Romanian politics seems positively bright by comparison.