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Analysis: Romanians Respond To U.S. Election

  • Michael Shafir

http://gdb.rferl.org/F4EFD2D3-426D-4D4D-B05F-E6CEFA4F8FCA_w203.jpg --> http://gdb.rferl.org/F4EFD2D3-426D-4D4D-B05F-E6CEFA4F8FCA_mw800_mh600.jpg On 3 November, the morning after the presidential election, all eyes were on the United States. Romanians (just like the Russians, the Chinese, the Iraqis, or the French) began asking themselves: "what will the results mean for us?" The question is all the more relevant as, on 28 November, Romanians go to the polls themselves to select a new president and to elect a new legislature. Many op-eds or editorials in the Romanian press on 4 November asked whether a win for the incumbent, U.S. President George W. Bush would influence the outcome of the Romanian ballot and, if yes, in what way.

"Romania's Future Depends On Romanians Alone" is the title of an editorial by Bogdan Ficeac in the daily "Romania libera" on 4 November. Reacting to a statement made the previous day by outgoing President Ion Iliescu (who said a Bush victory and a victory of the ruling Social Democratic Party [PSD] would mean "continuity"), Ficeac attributed the statement to "artisans of manipulation already engaged in spreading rumors." He wrote that both the United States and the EU would respect the outcome of Romania's ballot regardless of who the winner is. Cooperation with them, however, is likely to improve if, instead of "lobbying" in the West, as now, the country is led by new politicians who pursue genuine reform and end corruption. This, Ficeac wrote, would also help attract much-needed foreign investments.

In the same spirit, the daily "Evenimentul zilei" ran an interview with Mark Percival, director general of the Bucharest-based Romania Think Tank. Percival said that the U.S. electoral outcome would not influence in any way the Romanian outcome. While Bush was the president that brought Romania into NATO, he said, he did so because it so happened he was the occupant of the Oval Office when the time came. A change in the White House would not have changed relations. On the other hand, "it is important for U.S. policies to focus on Romania's grave problems, such as corruption, [the weakness of the] state based on the rule of law, or freedom of the press." If Romania is to be a powerful and reliable NATO ally, "it should become a democracy entrenched in legality and in a functional market economy. And Romania is still far from that," he concluded.

In the same daily, journalist Traian Ungureanu (currently a freelancer for RFE/RL's Romania-Moldova Service) wrote that the impact on Romania and other countries of the world should be summed up as: "Listen to America's voice!" Bush's victory, Ungureanu wrote, is "the triumph of classic America." In 2000, he wrote, Bush narrowly won the election in peaceful times. Now he has won at a time of war, albeit narrowly. Between the two elections, Bush was portrayed at home by liberals as stupid and "the whole world, led by an arrogant Western Europe, laughed at Bush and commiserated with the Americans." Europe, Ungureanu said, found in Bush an instrument to forge its own unity based on a perception of America as an " obtuse empire led by a religious fanatic--an uneducated and brutal country in the hands of a mendacious president."

In just one day, 2 November, the citizens of the United States replied to "years of insult and denial." Still, even now, many people around the world are likely to conclude that the United States is "a large and lonely tribe, a colony of extra-terrestrials who count money, steal oil, and keep silent if the chat switches from Coca-Cola to Gioconda." But it was not in order to respond to insult and injury that the American electorate lined up for long hours to vote. "They did something else. They said they won't change leaders in times of war. They sent the word around that what must be corrected after 11 September [2001] would be corrected," Ungureanu wrote. "The Americans demonstrated that they have not yet lost their instinct for autonomy and the cult of clear-cut values. This is what built the oldest modern democracy and there is no reason, they said, to cast it off. If these values are no longer fashionable in other countries, they could not care less. America's message is powerful and unusual. The Voice of America must not be jammed, but listened to attentively. It paid to do so in the past, and it still does today."

In an editorial published in the daily "Adevarul," journalist Bogdan Chirieac says Bush's victory is the more impressive as U.S. voters have also strengthened the Republicans' majority in Congress. The U.S. policy toward Romania would not have changed in the event of a victory for Senator John Kerry. But Romania cannot forget that "the NATO flag" was brought to Bucharest by Bush, who pulled Romania out of Europe's "gray zone." It is sufficient to imagine what would have happened in the recent conflict with Ukraine over the Danube River delta and the Black Sea Serpents' island were Romania still to be outside NATO, he wrote. "In the next four years...the president will do what he considers to be necessary and good for America." With Bush in the saddle, the Romanians "know what they can expect."

In the daily "Ziua," editorial writer Victor Roncea, who is known for his ultratraditionalist positions, wrote that the three factors that influenced most the outcome of the U.S. elections were the army, the church, and the media. These are also the three institutions Romanians trust most. The "detractors of a Christian Europe and a Christian America" were taught a lesson. While the "left-dominated" media in the United States has been generally supportive of Bush's presidential rival, it is well known that Romanian media cannot match the professionalism and responsibility of the U.S. media, he wrote. The U.S. electorate has rejected the "spineless" no-attitude position displayed by Kerry on issues such as abortion and the rights of homosexuals. In Romania, people should remember that "he who ignores the church loses the elections." As for matters of security, the war in Iraq has paradoxically strengthened Bush's position, while Kerry's hesitation worked against him.

According to Roncea, the U.S. voters "did not much care about the 100,000 Iraqi civilians, most of them women and children, killed in Iraq since the invasion of the liberating troops," neither did they give much thought to the rights of prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay. One should consequently expect the "Bush militaristic administration" to "push the world into a new bloody whirl, taking into account that the 'hawks' in the Pentagon plan to lay their hands on the Middle East once Iran and Syria are destroyed." These plans might not bode well for Romania, for they would compel Bush to strengthen ties with the Kremlin, he wrote. When he visited Bucharest in November 2002, Bush said that "God smiles on Romania," Roncea reminded his readers. "The smile risks turning into a rictus."
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