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Romania: Everybody Seems To Love To Hate Tudor, Almost

Prague, 14 March 1997 (RFE/RL) - Corneliu Vadim Tudor, the leader of the Greater Romania Party (PRM) is a man everybody likes to hate. Well, nearly everybody, for the chauvinist, anti-Semite leader heads a formation that managed to be re-elected to the Romanian Parliament in 1996. Futhermore, his views are known to be shared by members of other political formations, even if others may be more careful in formulating them.

The Party of Romanian National Unity (PUNR), for example, certainly shares Tudor's anti-Hungarian perspectives, and several members of the Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR) are known to be close to the PRM leader.

Nevertheless, back in 1996, it was the PDSR that initiated the lifting of Tudor's Parliamentary immunity. The move followed attacks on former President Ion Iliescu, with whom Tudor was competing in the presidential elections scheduled for November that year. Yet the PDSR (and the PUNR, which supported the move at that time), had been until recently allies in the government headed by former prime minister Nicolae Vacaroiu.

The main parties of the opposition, then represented in the legislature, supported the PDSR initiative. No wonder, since Tudor had been practically besmirching any political figure connected to the democratic political spectum. His immunity once lifted, opposition members against whom Tudor had been directing his diatribes were able to sue him as well. Several such libel suits were standing before the courts as he lost his immunity. One of these involved Tudor's publication in the PRM party weekly "Romania mare" of a so-called "List of Shame," making libelous allegation against practically all opposition leaders, intellectuals supporting them and former anti-Ceausescu dissidents.

But none of these libels came before a court of law, since in November 1996, Tudor was re-elected to the Senate, and thus won back his Parliamentary immunity. It was the new Government's turn to ask for the immunity to be lifted, and the "List of Shame" provided the tool.

Politics, some claim, is the second-oldest profession in the world, however. The PDSR, now in the opposition to the Government headed by Prime Minister Victor Ciorbea, and in search of allies, was once more courting its former ally-turned-enemy. It therefore announced that it would not support in the Senate the motion to lift his immunity. In ordered to be carried, according to house regulations, such a motion must be backed by a majority of two-thirds. And the ruling coalition (formed by the Democratic Convention of Romania, the Social Democratic Union or USD, and the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania) was clearly short of the required majority.

It therefore decided to bend the rules of the Senate. Nistor Badiceanu, a member of the main party of the Democratic Convention of Romania (the National Peasant Party Christian Democratic), submitted an amendment, according to which last year's decision to lift Tudor's immunity should be viewed as still in force. In turn, the Chairman of the Senate, USD leader Petre Roman, ruled that voting on Badiceanu's amendment required a simple majority, rather than the two-thirds majority. The PRM, the PDSR and the PUNR (that is to say, the entire spectrum of the opposition), walked out in protest and, in their absence, the amendment was passed with an overwhelming majority (74 to three).

Tudor immediately announced that he will appeal the decision before the Constitutional Court. And, indeed, the decision is controversial, to say the least.

Among the priorities of the new Government, entrenching the rule of law figures high. And one may well wonder whether this is the right way to go about it. Among other things, the rule of law means that not all means are legitimate to achieve legitimate goals.

The question is not whether Tudor deserves to be put on trial. There is no doubt that he belongs in the dock. One should, however, remember that Romania's post-Communist democracy began with a show-trial, that of former Communist leader Nicolae Ceausescu, and that this was a bad omen for respect of democratic procedure under the PDSR.

Again, no one doubted that Ceausescu deserved his fate. But the new governing coalition should remember that rules are to be respected by the powers-that-be, first and foremost.

It was only Stalin who thought that it was preferable to have nine innocent people sent to the firing squad than one person who is guilty escaping his or her fate. Democratic justice is otherwise persuaded, even if that means that characters like Tudor may be saved by what, at first glance, looks like unjustified manipulation of democratic rule by those who refuse to abide by its essence.