Vladimir Mitev, The Bridge of Friendship, 14 January 2024
Iulian Mareș is an independent journalist and president of the Balkan Development Support Association, with a career of over 20 years in international relations, banking and public administration, currently a PhD student at the University of Bucharest.
The Friendship Bridge approached him in the context of its own editorial project dedicated to understanding Romanian society in the electoral year 2024. As part of this project, we will discuss with several interlocutors who have an understanding of political and social developments in Romania.
You had a President of German origin – Klaus Iohannis, and perhaps during Iohannis’ time the ties with Western Europe were strengthened more. Romania has a Europhile component as well as a Euro-Atlantic one. Europhiles are more Western European oriented.
Yes, yes, yes.
Who will be the candidate of this component of Romanian society?
It is very hard to say. If we enter the realm of speculation, it has always been said that the positions of president and prime minister in Romania were negotiated between Europe and America.
It’s hard for me to say at this point whether Iohannis, as president, played more the American card or the European card. I think he tried to play both. And who will come in his place? I don’t know, I was just reading a preliminary analysis the other day. And it says that the only presidential candidate is Mircea Geoană. The rest of them neither have the necessary training nor are perceived by the electorate as fit for the office of president. Even if at this moment few have announced their intention to run for president. Probably if it comes down to Mircea Geoană versus anyone else, the PSD (Social Democratic Party) will probably succeed through the voting apparatus in the territory to impose Geoană as president, because I don’t think anyone else will be able to attract enough votes.
There is also a legend that Ciolacu wanted to be president.
Unlikely. Very unlikely. If you remember, Ciolacu was reluctant to be prime minister.
Okay. If we look more generally on the map, at least maybe from my Bulgarian perspective, there is an assumption that Russia is getting stronger lately, including vis-à-vis Ukraine, it has started to have military advances and, for example, this pro-Ukrainian Bulgarian government seems not to have very strong support in Bulgarian society according to some polls. Are you expecting Russia to change any balances in the region in the coming year, for example to see the rise of Russophile political currents in the region? Or will it be more the other way around as the EU moves towards Moldova and Ukraine, for example?
I will answer as follows. First of all, it is indeed to be expected of Russia to try something like this. Because Russia has a tradition of political influence in our countries. It is interested in acting. The Russians are good at it. Next year is a time when they can intervene and I expect them to intervene. Now, whether they will succeed or not is another matter entirely. I can answer for Romania. In Romania the only exponent or the only political party that plays into Russia’s hands is AUR (Alliance for the Union of Romanians). If AUR will have a consistent electoral lead next year, yes, then we have a problem. If not, no.
But perhaps this is worth discussing – how Romanian society or Romanian elites have moved towards AUR, because it’s not just the people who are moving, it’s probably some of the elites who support AUR.
I don’t agree with what you say, because the only ones who have migrated to AUR have been opportunists.
But doesn’t the Romanian state support AUR to some extent?
It’s hard to say. Who is the Romanian state right now? It’s hard to say. My opinion is that the Romanian state is divided in terms of centres of power, formal centres and informal centres of power. If we were to admit, at least for the sake of hypothesis, that the Romanian state has some connection with the AUR, then I would say that yes, it is possible that the AUR was set up and supported to grow only to repeat the scenario with Vadim Tudor’s Partidul România Mare (PRM). It is a party that was supported by the Romanian state simply to have a scare and to scare the electorate into voting more for the PSD than they did for the PRM in the 2000s when it was Iliescu versus Vadim Tudor. And now it’s the same situation. PSD versus AUR. That’s why I say that the only danger that can be foreseen is that of an alliance between PSD and AUR. That would be the biggest, biggest, biggest problem.
But when you say that the Romanian state is divided, how do you define the internal fault.
Hard to say. It’s a multipolar world. It is the Presidential Administration, on the one hand, which is a pole of power in Romania. There is the Parliament, which is another pole of power in Romania. There is the Orthodox Church, which is another pole of power. There is the army, which is another pole of power and these are the ones that are in sight. Yes, then there are the others that are not in sight. Secret services, Freemasonry, underworld. And so on. The business world.
Okay, but is this rift more of a domestic thing or is it related to international rifts?
There are internal faults that are connected to international faults.
If in 2024 Romania is tested and will have to make elections, that means there can be a change for the better, right? Something new, an option, perhaps unexpected, may be chosen, or something unexpected may be tried? To what extent might an unexpected presidential candidate or a new political option emerge?
If you take a look at the history of elections in Romania over the last 30 years, there have been no major changes or dramatic shifts. My opinion is that the predictable option has always won. Whoever was most likely to realistically win won. And pretty much every time the will of the people, the will of the majority has been right. That is, the people chose wisely. When they had to choose between Iliescu and Vadim, one being an extremist, the Romanian people chose Iliescu. When they had to choose between Băsescu and Adrian Năstase, they chose Băsescu, because he promised change.
Between Geoană and Băsescu, was Băsescu still better?
Still Basescu was better and people perceived him as such. So always, as they say, the balance has been tipped towards the good.
I remember very well the 2014 elections, when there was an unprecedented mobilization both in Romania and in the diaspora, and Iohannis came out. This mobilisation meant something.
Who was the counter-candidate (Victor Ponta from PSD, editor’s note)?
Yes, but Iohannis is now very discredited, very low in approval ratings.
Right now? Definitely yes. Because it turned out that one was the hope of Iohannis and another was the reality of Iohannis.
How do you assess Iohannis’ contribution in these 10 years of his two terms?
A president who could have done a lot more than he did.
And why didn’t he?
Convenience. Because he hasn’t really taken on a mandate for the country. He assumed a mandate for himself. And for the forces that propelled him into office.
Yeah, that’s what I meant. Didn’t the people behind it, including internationally, simply have something more complex as an idea for Romania?
Maybe it was a pact. More like a deal. I mean, Romania has been given a president who is ok in appearance, speaks fluent English, relates well in meetings with other state leaders and so on. But as part of that deal, the agreement was not to interfere internally on certain issues. You know very well that, for example, corruption flourished during Iohannis’ two terms.
During Iohannis’ time, DNA was reduced in power and Laura Koveși was criminally charged.
DNA’s teeth have been taken out. Same thing at the Attorney General’s office, dead. DIICOT, dead. Corruption ceased to be a threat to national security because they removed it from strategic documents. So that’s what I’m saying, that it’s some kind of a cover-up. That was a cover-up.
Okay, so someone other than Iohannis will come out in the 2024 presidential election. What will be the change in relation to Iohannis?
There will be no change. At the moment, Romania is set on coordinates. The results are good, everyone is happy if you at least look at the surface. Yes, and then probably the option will be one of for continuity. I mean whoever comes after Iohannis, let’s say Geoană comes or let’s say someone else comes, will do exactly the same thing.
Photo: Klaus Iohannis (source: European People’s Party, Wikipedia)