Friday, 27 July 2012

The news from Damascus

Much to do before I go on holiday but for sure I found time to drink a coffee with a Syrian Christian friend newly arrived in Bucharest from Damascus. We had dinner a couple of times in Damascus in 2006 and since then we have both grown older and he has married and had three children.

My friend tells me 90% of Christians and Muslims in Damascus want the regime to go and so do 50% of Alawis. He thinks it might happen very soon. He suspects the fighting in Homs is ethnic cleansing possibly to create an Alawi mini-state. 

He is a Syrian Christian who has now fled the country, as have many, and said no-one is targetting Christians - although I have read that they have been in Homs. He says the regime have given Alawis arms and want to arm the Christians who have declined the offer. I mentioned Christians leaving Egypt. He says many of his friends are Muslims and a Muslim Brotherhood government need not be a bad thing. We both agreed the regime must go. He suspects the Sunni general who defected recently is just theatre and he may return to head a new regime much like the old one. He now expects a rapid change in pace leading to regime change or a major war.

He thinks regime change is needed and so now do I, although previously I had thought the regime might be the less evil - I think it is inevitable too though not necessarily nearly as quickly or easily as my friend hopes.

He came to Bucharest for what he hopes will be a month's holiday because of the situation in Damascus, which is no longer safe for someone with young children. He is glad he came last week not this week after the recent killings. He says in a month  there may well have  have been a climacteric, regime change. 

Neither he nor anyone knows though I assume the Americans and British are using their influence to get rid of Mr. Assad and replace him by the second tier of the regime which can make peace and call elections. Who knows what the Iranians and Russians and Saudis are doing or Al Qaeda.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Top ten places to take visiting friends in Bucharest.

Princess  Eleonore af Schaumburg-Lippe lists her ten places to take visiting friends in Bucharest.

My ten place to show friends in Bucharest would be:

The Stavropoleos church

The Patriarchal Cathedral

The Village Museum

The Antim monastery


Mogoşoaia Palace

The Dacian treasures in the basement of the National History Museum

Caru cu Bere

Cernica monastery

The Royal Palace (National Art Museum)

TicTac restaurant near Cismigiu would once have been my first choice but it is only a shrunken thing. Sarpile Rosu is no more. The Old Town has been spoilt. I would take them to a good, simple terrace - perhaps Blanduziei, No. 2, Str. Academiei, close to the entrance to the National Bank. The food is mediocre but the terrace is so charming and the feeling genuine, unlike the nearby new Old Town. The waiter told me Mihai Eminescu used to eat there, though I am not sure if I believe everything waiters tell me. Maybe to some music hall - Miss Piranda. Gypsy music is definitely de rigueur. Casa Doina. The Theodor Aman museum. Somewhere on the waterside at Lake Herestrau - perhaps to Casa di David. Pasarea Monastery. Athenee Palace Hilton is a must of course but now we have far more than ten.

I am trying to think of odd cheap places and can only think of TicTac which was pure 1980s - and Blanduziei likewise perhaps. Why I do not know strange bars full of gypsies? I must get out more. 

Thinking about it, walking through decrepit fin de (last) siecle streets is, actually, by far the best thing to do with visitors. They are Bucharest's great charm.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012


"If humanism were right in declaring that man is born to be happy, he would not be born to die. Since his body is doomed to die, his task on earth evidently must be of a more spiritual nature. It cannot unrestrained enjoyment of everyday life."
~ Alexander Solzhenitsyn

"Love is not the answer, but the question, the thing that sets us searching for meaning in a world from which meaning has retreated" 
~ Roger Scruton

Thursday, 19 July 2012

'In or around 1955 the British discovered sex and instantly made it ridiculous.'

'In or around 1955 the British discovered sex and instantly made it ridiculous.' Sir Oswald Mosley

Calea Victoriei

'E bizantină şi apuseană, trândavă şi vioaie, zâmbitoare şi posomorită, dornică de schimbări şi înfiptă în trecut.' 

Gheorghe Cretzescu despre Calea Victoriei.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Conspiracies and coups in the Balkans

Ronnie Smith believes a conspiracy involving the Pentagon and Mr. George Soros is behind the suspension of Mr. Traian Basescu. This is exactly the sort of thing many Russians apparently believe, but then quite a few of them believe September 11th was a plot organised by George Bush. (Absurd - had he organised it would have gone wrong.)

Ronnie is an old-fashioned 1970s anti-American Leftist who believes in conspiracies, especially ones involving the USA, but he should offer us evidence, if only circumstantial. Mr. Băsescu has been pretty loyal to the US and the US surely wants stability in Romania. The US Ambassador made it pretty clear he disapproved of the 'putsch'. But because people who discuss Romanian politics tend to become paranoid conspiracy theorists does not mean that there are no conspiracies. There are any number.

The sudden measures to change the presidents of the two chambers and suspend the president all by emergency ordinance sounded to foreigners like the story of an old fashioned Latin American coup. Why did it happen so quickly? I am told it was to prevent the President persuading deputies (unconstitutionally, of course) to defect from the governing coalition. 

Why did the PSD-PNL coalition take power this summer rather than wait till the November elections? There is more than one theory. The Government wanted to stop the PDL raising money for their campaign, by unethical means. And perhaps to raise some money themselves, who knows. And they wanted to  hold the PSD-PNL coalition together by allowing them to distribute the fruits of office.

Why impeach the president?  Perhaps to stop the President, who controls the very powerful secret services,  organising a series of bombshells from now to the November Parliamentary elections, like the revelation that Mr. Ponta had plagiarised his doctoral thesis. Whether Mr. Băsescu is behind it or not, Ponta and Crin certainly think he is - in fact almost everyone thinks he is since he made so much play with Mr. Ponta's doctorate in law speaking a week before the Nature article. But I am not clear why these things cannot continue whether or not  Mr. Băsescu is President.  Mr. Băsescu must have a lot of information to use and his links with the Secret Services will not come to an end if he ceases to be President.

Still it might be that the plagiarism scandal led Mr. Ponta to decide that it was impossible to cohabit with the President until the November elections. The discovery that the prime minister plagiarised his doctoral thesis probably did not greatly surprise the clever people here who know that very many doctoral theses are plagiarised just as it is fairly normal to cheat in exams.  But to the man in the street, who probably did not go to university, it looks bad. It is, in any case, something that humiliates Victor Ponta and which he may find  in the long term hard to ride out.The way in which he moved rapidly to change the composition of the body that rules on plagiarism an hour before it could pronounce against him looks terrible, in Romania and abroad.

The Constitutional Court, which people think is very friendly to the President who appointed many of its judges, ruled that it was not legal to remove by emergency ordinance the rule whereby 50% + 1 of the registered electors must vote for a vote to unseat the President. There is an argument for saying the change in the rules by emergency ordinance (used frequently here by all administrations), to return the rules to how they were before the PDL changed them after the last impeachment, was perfectly legal. On the other hand many lawyers say this could only be done by normal legislation. I am too ignorant to be able to venture an informed opinion but the Court's decision must be respected and Mr. Ponta has, grudgingly, under pressure from the EU, agreed that it will. 

What is certain is that it was always very likely indeed that the court would rule as it has and that the talk of emergency ordinances would sound like hell in the chanceries of Europe, coming immediately on the heels of the plagiarism scandal. Either Mr. Ponta did not care or he was in too much of a hurry to get the president out of the way before the president could retaliate.

People in Bucharest argue fiercely for and against the President, though there is enormous hatred for Mr. Băsescu among a lot of the voters. He is blamed for the austerity measures which the previous Governments took and accused of presiding over a system in which vast sums disappeared from public budgets while he purported to organise anti-corruption campaigns in which his opponents seemed to figure prominently. The austerity measures were severe but demanded by the IMF. I hear many rumours from well-informed business people about corruption in the President's camp  but I have no means of knowing exactly what really went on. 

I do remember enough from the last time there was a PSD government to expect them to plunder the country if they win in November, as it is assumed they will. Before November they scan be expected to be discreet, though if the parliamentary coup is their idea of being discreet we political anoraks will have much fun. The PSD are the de facto successors to the Communist Party and are not liked by most white collar workers in Bucharest and so hot discussions are taking place all over hot Bucharest during these dog days of July. All the factions in this fight are corrupt and it is very hard for foreigners to take sides but many Romanians seem to find it relatively easy, though some throw up their hands in despair. 

Both Mr. Băsescu and Mr. Ponta have stretched to breaking point and, yes, abused the constitution, as clever politicians are apt to do in a new democracy where conventions are fluid and the courts are considered partial and in some cases corrupt. But it is Mr. Ponta who has drawn international attention to himself and condemnation even from other Centre-Left parties abroad.  In the old days the courts did what the PSD told them to do discreetly but now things are much more complicated. Judges are less corrupt and they are split in their political sympathies between the parties. 

The recent events in Romania are a game in which ideals and principles do not play much of a part except that both sides really think the others are crooks and both of course are right. The most important aspect of the story is that it will lead some people to call for more powers for the European Union to intervene in the internal affairs of member states. These calls should be resisted at all costs, by Romanians and by all Europeans. 

European powers have tried to understand Balkan politics without much success from the Greek War of independence to the war in Kosovo and onwards to the present day and only succeeded in projecting onto the Balkans ideas which make sense in other parts of Europe. The Balkans said Bismarck, are not worth the bones of a single Pomeranian grenadier. Opaque Balkan intrigues should not be an excuse for further diminution of the national sovereignty of E.U. member states. In any case the Romanian voters - who can envy them their task? - will have the chance to record their verdicts in this month's referendum and in the Parliamentary elections in November.

Monday, 16 July 2012

A Shocking Accident

For me this is the funniest story ever. Greene wrote few short stories but they were possibly his best work. I was pleased when he died that other people said this too. I thought it was only I who thought this.

Here he outdoes Saki. 

I loved translating it into Romanian.

'Nimeni nu l-impuscat, Jerome. Un porc a cazut pe el.'

Facebook shows us that we are all parallel straight lines

Facebook conversations remind me of these lines from Aldous Huxley's masterpiece Crome Yellow (Brave New World is rubbish): 

Parallel straight lines, Denis reflected, meet only at infinity.
He might talk for ever of care-charmer sleep and she of
meteorology till the end of time. Did one ever establish contact
with anyone? We are all parallel straight lines. Jenny was only
a little more parallel than most.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

What a way to run a putsch

As I was perfectly sure would happen, Mr. Ponta has at last said he will obey the Constitutional Court which ruled that the emergency decree cannot change the rules on referendums. The referendum will need 50% plus one of the electorate to eject the President. Ion Iliescu the Romanian Egon Krenz who ordered the shooting of Ceausescu and dominated Romanian politics until 2004- I am no admirer of his - at least knew how to organise a coup d'etat. he also knew how to make the courts to do what he wanted without drawing the attention of the chanceries of Europe.

The electoral rolls are based on the census of ten years ago and are a terrible mess full of people from the republic of Moldova who claimed fictitious addresses to get Romanian and European citizenship, full of hundred of thousands of people who live abroad and I suspect that  Mr.Basescu will win either by taking part or by calling a boycott of the poll. The trouble with referendums is that the electorate often gives the wrong answer - in politics you should never ask a question unless you are sure you know the answer. This one may be a copy paste of the last one.

So what was the point?

Mihail Manoilescu, a pre-war politician and economist, killed by the Communists in 1950, said in 1927:

“I think that if Romania came one day by a miracle to get rid of all its sins and the faults of its leading political class and if, as if by magic, it gave up its selfishness, intrigue, corruption, incompetence and its scorn for the masses, still, even in that situation, this country could not make good progress if our political personalities did not get rid of their lack of seriousness.”

This is the perfect moment to restore King Michael

This is the perfect moment to restore King Michael to the Romanian throne and Crin and the Liberal party should suggest this if they want to be worthy of their nineteenth century forbears. 

I long suspected Romania was not a real country but now I realise - they plagiarised Anthony Hope. If only they would bring back King Michael to make it more Ruritanian. 

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

What's it all about in Romania?

It is much more important to know what questions to ask than how to answer them. Here are some questions about the revolution in Romania.

Why did the USL coalition take power at all in Romania this summer rather than wait till the parliamentary elections in November which they seemed (and seem) certain to win? To keep the alliance together is one suggestion I heard from a well-informed foreign observer- to enable Victor Ponta and the PSD to keep their PNL allies happy with what Trollope called  'the soothing waters of office.' A better informed Romanian banker thinks it has a much simpler explanation. The PSD and PNL want to make money to finance their campaign or at least stop the PDL making money to finance theirs from deals with state-owned companies like Hidroelectrica. 

Perhaps this is why they suspended  President Băsescu  too, to prevent the PDL raising money. But is their any link between the secret services, controlled by the president personally and therefore source of enormous power to him, and the plagiarism scandal broken by 'Nature'? This question is not so important but I wonder if the impeachment is all part of a plan when the USL took power or a response to the plagiarism allegations (they are more than allegations - they are proven).

Like so many things in Romanian  politics the impeachment and the dramatic actions which led up to it (decried abroad as a coup) do not look like a cunning plan to me but as usual with Romanian politicians a badly thought out mess. The Constitutional Court as was almost inevitable has ruled that the government does not have the power to change the law to allow a mere simple majority of the voters to decide if President Băsescu is impeached. 50% plus one of the registered electors need to turn out and vote and a majority of them need to vote to impeach him. This makes it very much harder to impeach him. People do not like him but they do not much like this impeachment process either and it is very hot and they have better things to do on a weekend in the dog days of a Romanian July when the heat is unbearable than to go and vote against him and for their new government. Quite a few will be away from home on holiday or away for the weekend keeping cool in the mountains.

The Financial Times reported yesterday evening that the Government had said it would respect the court's ruling. Some of today's papers say Victor Ponta will not respect the ruling, others are unclear. All is confusion. In theory we could have Mr. Băsescu losing the referendum with a turnout of below 50%, he and the Constitutional Court claiming he is president and Crin claiming he is acting president - a situation like the Anti-Popes who waged war on one another in the Middle Ages or the three false Dimitris who bedevilled Polish history or the various people who claimed to be Louis XVII. 

It could become an opera like Boris Gudonov. As I said last week (the idea is Alison Mutler's) so much of what happens in Romania is operatic. Who would play Elena Udrea? Maybe the singer in 'Anna Nicole Smith: The Opera'. This opera however will not end tragically. It is going to be a comic opera though very badly written and sung. 

If the government accepts the court's ruling it will be a game changer and  Mr. Băsescu could urge his voters to boycott the polls to increase his chances hugely. He may be too combative for this course but if he took it he would have a very good chance indeed of remaining President in August. And then the USL would look foolish, if they do not already. Romanian politics tends to be like this - emotionally charged, Machiavellian, dramatic but badly thought out and often slightly pointless, like many things in this country that I love so much.

if the government refuses to accept the court's ruling then we are in coup or putsch territory - oh my fur and whiskers!

One thing is certainly proven - the value of the monarchy. No one suspects that the King would use the secret services to frame his political opponents or to embezzle money and kings cannot be impeached. I would respect Crin and the Liberals if at this moment they would come out for restoring the monarchy.

Mrs. Monica Macovei is a former Minister of Justice who actually did achieve some good things in reducing corruption among Romanian judges with President Băsescu's support (there is still far to go). She  is one of the very few heroes in Romanian politics. She belongs to President Băsescu's PDL and has her own political reasons for decrying the coup in the European Parliament and by so doing is doing great harm to the  Romanian government, to the fury of the USL.  The leader of the PSD MEPs, one Catalin Ivan, has hilariously called on the President of the European Parliament to move to expel her for damaging the Parliament's reputation by her comments. It would make a dog laugh. Such politicians Romania has and such parliamentarians the European Union has. I suppose a quarter of a century ago he would have called her a right-wing deviationist.

This week's quotations

Joseph Conrad

We live as we dream...alone

Emile Cioran

Write books only if you are going to say in them the things you would never dare confide
to anyone. 
Carlos Castaneda

The basic difference between an ordinary man and a warrior is that a warrior takes everything as a challenge while an ordinary man takes everything as either a blessing or a curse.

M. Scott Peck

Life is difficult. This is one of the greatest truths because once we truly get it- we transcend it. Once we accept this, then life is no longer difficult. Because once we accept it, the fact that it is difficult no longer matters.

Tony Hawks
Things can be done. The people in life who get them done are the ones who know that, and the ones who don't are the rest.

Malcom Muggeridge

Every happening, great and small, is a parable whereby God speaks to us, and the art of life is to get the message

The most terrible thing about materialism, even more terrible than its proneness to violence, is its boredom, from which sex, alcohol, drugs, all devices for putting out the accusing light of reason and suppressing the unrealizable aspirations of love, offer a prospect of deliverance.”

Sex is the mysticism of materialism and the only possible religion in a materialistic society.

I can say that I never knew what joy was like until I gave up pursuing happiness, or cared to live until I chose to die. For these two discoveries I am beholden to Jesus.
The pursuit of happiness, which American citizens are obliged to undertake, tends to involve them in trying to perpetuate the moods, tastes and aptitudes of youth.

Travel, of course, narrows the mind.

Charles Baudelaire

Sexuality is the lyricism of the masses.

JD Salinger

All we do our whole, lives long is to go from one pice of holy ground to another.

Scott Fitzgerald

It is in the thirties that we want friends. In the forties we know that they won’t save us any more than love did.

Mark Twain

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream.

Gerard Manley Hopkins

The world is charged with the grandeur of God

Thomas Carlyle

The past is attractive because it is drained of fear.

Robin Skynner
An intense preoccupation with politics is usually a means of putting painful personal conflicts outside ourselves, disowning them.

Alexandre Dumas fils

It is only rarely that one can see in a litle boy the promise of a man, but one can almost always see in a little girl the threat of a woman.

Peter Drucker
Brilliant men are often strikingly ineffectual; they fail to realize that the brilliant insight is not by itself achievement. They never have learned that insights become effectiveness only through hard systematic work.

The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn't said.

St Ignatius

A thick and shapeless tree-trunk would never believe that it could become a statue, admired as a miracle of sculpture, and would never submit itself to the chisel of the sculptor, who sees by his genius what he can make of it.

There are very few people who realise what God would make of them if they abandoned themselves into his hands and let themselves be formed by his grace.

Eckhart Tolle
The greater part of human pain is unnecessary. It is self-created as long as the unobserved mind runs your life.

Christopher Booker

The state of someone who has failed to overcome his fantasy self, and find his central unity, is that of someone who still cannot, at the deepest level of his being, take anything seriously except his own ego.

Aldous Huxley

An intellectual is someone who has found something more interesting than sex.

WH Auden

To the man in the street who, I’m sorry to say,
Is a keen observer of life
The word intellectual merely denotes
A man who cheats on his wife.


The secret of being a bore is to tell everything.

Alfred Adler

A clumsy right hand cannot be trained into a skillful right hand by taking thought, by wishing it were less clumsy, or even by avoiding clumsiness. It can become skillful only by exercise in practical achievements, and the incentive to the achievement must be more deeply felt than the discouragement at the hitherto existent clumsiness.

There is no such thing as talent. There is pressure.

More important than innate disposition, objective experience, and environment is the subjective evaluation of these. Furthermore, this evaluation stands in a certain, often strange, relation to reality.

Meanings are not determined by situations, but we determine ourselves by the meanings we give to situations.

Every individual acts and suffers in accordance with his peculiar teleology, which has all the inevitability of fate, so long as he does not understand it.

Behind everyone who behaves as if he were superior to others, we can suspect a feeling of inferiority which calls for very special efforts of concealment. It is as if a man feared that he was too small and walked on his toes to make himself seem taller.

The self-bound individual always forgets that his self would be safeguarded better and automatically the more he prepares himself for the welfare of mankind, and that in this respect no limits are set for him.

The chief danger in life is that you may take too many precautions.

Lawrence Durrell

You have two birth-places you have the place where you were born and then you have a place of predilection when really you wake up to reality....

Before my love has a chance to crystalise, it turns into a deep, a devouring friendship.

A woman's best love letters are always written to the man she is betraying.

Jonathan Ames

I'm reminded of this line from the movie The Red Shoes: "Life rushes by, time rushes by, but the Red Shoes go on dancing forever." All of that applies to me, except for the red shoes part. Everything seems to be rushing by, and I'm floating above it all, reaching my hand out to life, but not quite grasping it, like waving your hand for a taxi that is clearly occupied.

David Aaronovitch

In his book about British Second World War traitors Sean Murphy, the author, recounts the words of a convicted Waffen SS volunteer, Benson Railton Freeman. Sentenced to ten years’ jail for treachery, Freeman told his lawyer: “This just shows how rotten this democracy is. The Germans would have had the honesty to shoot me.”
I love his disappointment.

Holbrook Jackson

Happiness is a form of courage.  
Eleanor Roosevelt:

If, as I can't help suspecting, the dead also feel the pains of separation (and this may be one of their purgatorial sufferings), then for both lovers, and for all pairs of lovers without exception, bereavement is a universal and integral part of our experience of love.

Probably the happiest period in life most frequently is in middle age, when the eager passions of youth are cooled, and the infirmities of age not yet begun; as we see that the shadows, which are at morning and evening so large, almost entirely disappear at midday.

We gain strength, and courage, and confidence by each experience in which we really stop to look fear in the face... we must do that which we think we cannot.

Wilhelm Stekel:
Anxiety is fear of one's self.

Fervid atheism is usually a screen for repressed religion.


Art washes from the soul the dust of everyday life


All philosophy is disguised psychology

Isaiah Berlin

As you know, I never read a book

Rt. Rev Paul Richardson

We are going to have to invent a new civil religion. Already the process has begun with the observance of Holocaust Day and increasing focus on Human Rights as providing a shared basis for morality. (Daily Telegraph 27 Jun 2009)

Milton Friedman
...the preserves of discrimination in any society are the areas that are most monopolistic in character, whereas discrimination against groups of particular color or religion is least in those areas where there is the greatest freedom of competition.

Ludwig von Mises

If one rejects laissez faire on account of man’s fallibility and moral weakness, one must for the same reason also reject every kind of government action.

Claude Cockburn
Failure, so despicable in others, in oneself the only dignified thing.

(Red?) Indian proverb
Women conquer men by their stillness 


Taking part in a riot can be an ecstatic, spiritual experience says bishop

A rather sweetly foggy Anglican clergyman is in trouble in the conservative press for saying rioting can be an ecstatic  spiritual experience

 One knows what he means. Ex stasis. Like the Dionysian mysteries.

Tins of sardines have changed but, even after 50 years, Anglican clergymen still resemble Alan Benett's parson who said, 

' Life, you know, is rather like opening a tin of sardines. We are all of us looking for the key. '
I would not have the patience to be a taxi driver in Bucharest. I think most taxi drivers do not have it either.


Blanduziei in Academiei, Mihai Eminescu's and my favourite terrace. Last night I felt as if I were drinking cold beer in a Turkish bath, to the sound of Lili Marlene played by the gypsy band. Sydney Smith imagined heaven as eating fois gras to the sound of trumpets but he never visited Bucharest.

Monday, 9 July 2012


This looks like the wonderful Jal beach in Albania where I camped (for the first and last time in my life) two years ago. Or was it 3? I wrote about it here. Anyway shall go back this year I hope.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Bla bla

Making finger quote marks is the most irritating habit  according to a survey of 2,000 'Britons' - Britons is such a silly 18th century word which always makes me think of druids. 

Indicating “blah blah blah” and pretending to yawn were among the other most irksome and non-obscene gestures named by 2,000 Britons for the study, as was pretending to type on a keyboard to signal “email me”.“The 'speech marks’ gesture is often used to emphasise sarcasm, which is arguably a big part of the British sense of humour, but it’s clearly an action that irritates more than it amuses,” said a spokesman for Goggle Eyes, a software developer that commissioned the study.

I only knew one man who used this habit - in 1998 in my first job in Bucharest - and I liked it. Bla bla was universal in Romania in the late 90s and very useful for avoiding the need for unnecessary words. I LOVE 'bla bla'. Now I think of it I have not heard it much recently.

(I also thought drinking beer from the bottle was purely Eastern European until told - hat tip Dr. Andrew Taylor - that they do it in England too. I possibly don't get out enough back in England. I also learnt yesterday, skimming the headlines, that the word fashionista is an English word as well as a word in Romanian. Who'd have known?)

Lifeguard fired -- for saving life of swimmer in trouble

A lifeguard was sacked for saving a man's life. His employers feared he could have left them liable for a negligence suit.

Mr Lopez said has no regrets. Helping the man, who remains in intensive care, "was the moral thing to do". he said.Several colleagues agree. Seven have already resigned.As outrage mounted last night, the firm issued a second statement, saying: "If we did something inappropriate, we will make it right." 

The lesson to draw, once again, is that anyone who uses the word inappropriate tells you he is an enemy of civilisation.

Andy Murray

I take no interest in sports and did not know Wimbledon was on until someone tweeted yesterday:

"Last man to lose to a British player in #Wimbledon semi final killed in the Battle of Stalingrad."

I had to post this picture which makes me wish I had watched the match. It wasnt shown on the net and I forgot I have a television set.


A great journalist, whom I usually admire, has posted on her Facebook wall today:

I don't want Andy Murray to win. The thought of the resulting national self-congratulation which would inevitably follow, while this country is in such a state, makes me feel quite sick. It would be the Jubilee all over again.

I also am unmoved and not interested by sports victories but still this remark I think says something about the feelings British opinion formers, have for their country. 
Though she does add:

I consider myself a patriot, and I LOVE to have fun. This summer is the first I've ever felt like a Brit-loathing curmudgeon. It's because they're TELLING US to celebrate. And that is an anaphrodiasiac of the first order.

Thursday, 5 July 2012


Liberalism and humour

Liberalism and humour rarely go together though they do in Garrison Keiler. 

I should probably watch Tina Fey too.

Ponta is not M.A. (Catania)

The President of the University of Catania, Italy, Antonino Recca, has said that Victor Ponta was never awarded a Master's degree from the university, as the Prime Minister  claimed

Oh dear, oh dear.


'History repeats itself first as tragedy, then as farce', Marx said of the French Revolution of 1848. I am not sure if the impeachment of Nixon that never happened was a tragedy but that of Clinton was a farce. Basescu's impeachment is not even amusing. The last one was rather a bore, in fact, Mr. Văcăroiu reading the secret service files day and night for a month and then Mr. Basescu's return to office. At least this was my first thought. But if it results in Mr. Basescu again winning or not losing the vote on retaining his services then it too will be farcical.

I do not like the PSD at all but I also do not want the EU telling the Romanian government what is constitutional. The EU got rid of Berlusconi and Papandreou -  next will it be Ponta? I would like him to go (for plagiarism and for cheeking the courts) but not by EU diktat.

Why did Ponta suddenly spring this coup - was it all long planned or is it a diversion from the plagiarism scandal which dropped on him unexpectedly, or from something else, or what? Please can someone enlighten me?

Meanwhile, Belloc never fails one:

The world's a stage. The trifling entrance fee
Is paid (by proxy) to the registrar. 
The Orchestra is very loud and free
But plays no music in particular.
They do not print a programme, that I know.
The cast is large. There isn't any plot.
The acting of the piece is far below 
The very worst of modernistic rot.

The only part about it I enjoy
Is what was called in English the Foyay.
There will I stand apart awhile and toy
With thought, and set my cigarette alight;
And then -- without returning to the play --
On with my coat and out into the night.

The EU got rid of Berlusconi and Papandreou - next Ponta?

The EU got rid of Berlusconi and Papandreou  - next Ponta? 

I am torn - but I think I would rather Ponta and Parliament than the EU decide who governs Romania.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

4th July, gunpowder, treason and plot

Let's spare a thought on 4th July for all the people killed in needless revolutions and rebellions.

Treason doth never prosper.

What's the reason?

If it doth prosper

None dare call it treason.

Let us be, in the words of my father's missal, subservient to our inferiors and condescending to our inferiors. 

Thoughts on today's coup in Romania

One of my rules in life is that analogies with the Nazis are always false and misleading. Still, last night's and today's 'coup d'etat' in Romania, aimed at removing the President and the speaker of the Senate and packing the Constitutional Court, did involuntarily put even me in mind of how easily and smoothly the Nazis took power in Germany after Hitler was appointed Chancellor by President Hindenburg. This is something I have recently been reading about in Sebastian Hafner's absolutely wonderful memoir called Defying Hitler, an eyewitness account which was not published until about ten years ago and which deserves to be a classic.

Photo: HEIL!
10 ONG-uri incearca sa-i opreasca, totusi. Gasiti mai jos scrisoarea catre Barroso si Comisia Europeana. Asteptati zilele urmatoare reactia.

Nor is the analogy lost on Hitler's countrymen who wrote an opinion piece in today's Deutsche Welle  which mentions the Enabling Act by which Hitler was constitutionally granted dictatorial powers. A moment's reflection is enough to see that this analogy is very superficial and in bad taste (nothing wrong with bad taste in politics, though). No-one is going to deprive the Romanian electorate of its right to a free vote in November.  But the leaders of the governing USL coalition, Victor Ponta and Crin Antonescu, are making a huge mistake in terms of Romania's image abroad by behaving in a way which begs Deutsche Welle's comparisons with contemporary Belarus, the Third Reich and Stalin.  Romania's poor image abroad is something which matters absolutely enormously to the Romanian electorate, even though they are very used to it. It is foolish of the USL to  make a proud people even more ashamed than usual of their leaders. 

Actually, another analogy that comers to my mind is the coup that overthrew Gorbachev in 1991 for three days, made by drunken Soviet Generals. That collapsed very quickly though not before being welcomed by Francois Mitterand and George Marchais. This coup will not collapse so quickly, but we shall see what we shall see come the November elections. I have a feeling that, though Ponta's rise has so far been meteoric, he may fall like Lucifer. Certainly, like George W. Bush, he is a bold but clumsy politician. We shall now see whether he is lucky, which he certainly needs to be.

No-one is going to deprive the Romanian electorate of a free vote in November, no, but free votes are not enough to make a system democratic. There must also real exist alternatives, that are sufficiently different to make a choice real and sufficiently similar for stability and cohesion. Some say that the best system of government is a two party system where the two parties agree on all the important issues. Unfortunately this is not very democratic, but it is how democracies usually work. In democracies, people argue over trivia like taxes and public spending but no-one ever argues about, for example, ending the welfare state or ending immigration - it is simply not permitted to be discuss important issues. In Europe, many of them have even been completely removed from discussion by international law. When parties do sharply disagree with each other, as in the USA in Ronald Reagan's time and the UK in Margaret Thatcher's, or in Greece now, this can be exciting and creative but very divisive. 

In Romania's case, the parties fight between themselves, but not on real issues. It would be very hard to say what the real issues are. The Liberals are not really right nor are the Social Democrats really leftists and, even if they were, free market economics and social democracy have little relevance to the problems of Romania. Instead, as the daughter of a very senior person in the 'power structure' once told me, "All the parties, PSD, PDL, PNL, are all exactly, exactly, the same thing." Meaning well-connected shysters (mostly, but not entirely, ex-Communists and their children) fighting over patronage and jobs. It is rather, in that respect, like Whig and Tory politicians in eighteenth century England, except that they had better manners and more Latin and Greek. None of the Romanian parties knows how to eradicate the systemic problems of Romania. How can the political class seek to abolish itself or create an educated, high-minded elite?

I don't use Twitter except in political crises like this one and am not completely at home with it. Last night I read this tweet: 

Romania has renounced its treaties with Britain & sent "important ambassadors" to Germany: "Reich is now the dominant power of Europe." 

For a moment I thought it was part of the coup d'etat or something to do with Mrs. Viviane Reding, but it was a headline from 1940. 

But it provoked this thought - for how much longer will sovereign states be judges of their own constitutions? Perhaps the greater threat to democracy is not from demagogues and wide boys like Mr. Ponta and Mr. Antonescu but from the European Union and the very well meaning people at Deutsche Welle

According to the net, Winston Churchill wrote that, 'The new fascism will be anti-fascism.' I hope he did say it. It is true.

Political prisoners

Jurnalul National is owned by Dan Voiculescu, controversial businessman and owner of a pocket-sized political party and Antena 1 and 3 television channels. In the secret police before the Revolution his code-name was Felix. This front page, which lists Adrian Nastase, recently gaoled for corruption, alongside Romanian Prime Ministers who were imprisoned under the Communists, does seem worthy of a prize for bad taste but good taste is still a rare commodity in Romanian public life.

I note with macabre satisfaction that Andrei Nastase referred a couple of days ago to his father as a political prisoner. When his father was starting his career as an academic lawyer, writing about Marxism and human rights, there really were political prisoners in Romania, as opposed to people caught with their hands in the till. Mr. Ion Iliescu, the honorary President of the P.S.D., Mr. Nastase's party, began his career as leader of the student Communist association and distinguishing himself by denouncing some of his professors as enemies of the people. They were sent to prison or to dig the Black Sea Canal, where many of them died.

Excellent news from Lichtenstein

Voters in Liechtenstein rejected a proposal to abolish the ruling prince’s right to veto the results of popular referendums on Sunday.

The referendum was proposed by pro-democracy campaigners after Crown Prince Alois von und zu Liechtenstein said last year he would block the legalization of abortion if citizens approved it in a referendum. In the end, citizens rejected it anyway.

Official figures showed 76.1 per cent of voters, or 11,629 people, rejected the proposal on Sunday. Turnout was 82.9 per cent.

The crown prince and his father Prince Hans Adam II were greeted with loud cheers and applause when they appeared in Vaduz to thank voters for their support.

It would gladden the heart of the late Michael Wharton's 'Feudal and Reactionary Times' and it gladdens mine - but I do not quite understand why a referendum on the issue was permitted.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Romania's governing coalition launches "coup d'etat" -

This link to HotNews two hours ago says it all.

Romania's governing alliance of Liberals and Social Democrats (USL) launched a massive series of moves on state institutions and key people in the Parliament, the Constitutional Court and the People's Lawyer (Ombudsman) on Tuesday. The moves fall in line with the phases of an action plan by USL - first presented by in its Romanian version - to suspend President Traian Basescu, who the USL leaders see as the main obstacle in their taking over effective power in the country. Opposition leaders decried on Tuesday what they called a "coup d'etat" and a major attack on the Constitution and the state of law.

Thanks to Sarah Jay for drawing my attention to this explanation by journalist Dan Tapalaga of the plans the government has announced: 

Ponta and Antonescu are removing the Ombudsman [People's Lawyer], the judges from the Constitutional Court, the Presidents of the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies. Vasile Blaga's replacement is a crucial move, because he is the second man in the state, and should the President of the country be suspended, the President of the Senate would become the interim at Cotroceni Presidential Palace. Very probably, Crin Antonescu will take Blaga's place....

This blitzkrieg attack on the democratic institutions, crushing the rules of the games looks more like a South American coup d'état than a democratic game in an EU member country. The Mexicanization of Romania, the country that has just ardently voted a character that has the reputation of being a major corrupt individual, starts today. The crooks' revolution is starting, the revolution of the petty thieves who steal other people's work, the revolution of the disciples of the corruption masters, of those supporting criminals in jail, of the servants of proven [Securitate] informers, of lawmakers who ask for the release of jail prisoners.

It seems Tom Gallagher was wrong in his article yesterday where he guessed that the grandees of the PSD were not vocal in supporting Mr. Ponta over the plagiarism scandal and that his position might become insecure. Today's moves are not the behaviour of someone who feels insecure, not is Crin Antonescu's the behaviour of an ally who is thinking of withdrawing his support.

Viviane Reding, the  European Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship (these words fill me with terror and disgust) has protested, very rightly, at the full-frontal attack on the independence of the judiciary. Romania does not have an independent judiciary, her judges do what politicians tell them and sometimes sell themselves for money, but still this noble principle is being openly attacked without a fig leaf of justification. 

Miss Reding came to prominence by an intemperate attack on a perfectly legal attempt by France to repatriate Romanian gypsies who were not working or looking for work. Plain-spoken French officials committed the sin, in her eyes, of referring to gypsies as such and she compared the French to - how unexpectedly - the Nazis. She was later forced very reluctantly to apologise. I am sure Miss Reding's and my ideas of justice and fundamental rights are more often very opposed than consistent and I suspect she is an interfering busybody of the worst type (a very distinctively female, hectoring type) who should be fired. Nevertheless..

I hate to realise I have to take her side this time but I do. I know how Barbara Amiel felt when she said she couldn't forgive the Ayatollah Khomeini for making her defend Salman Rushdie (I felt the same way then too).  I cannot see in principle that Romania's constitutional law should be any concern of the E.U. but I suppose the Romanian government has much less  practical independence of action than when it was a Communist dictatorship before 1989. On the other hand a protectorate of Western Europe is a good thing on the whole to be for a country like Romania, despite all the very many bad things, from rules on killing pigs and driving horse-drawn carts to caning children and paternity leave.  Colonialism, even liberal feminist colonialism, does a deal of good for developing countries. How sad that Romanians look to foreigners to step in providentially to rectify the mistakes of their politicians, but they have little choice.

Reuters said this evening:

BUCHAREST - Romania's Constitutional Court on Tuesday accused Prime Minister Victor Ponta and his party of trying to dismantle the court and said it has notified European authorities of threats to its independence.Ponta, who is facing calls to resign over plagiarism charges, ignored a court ruling last week that his opponent President Traian Basescu was entitled to represent Romania at a European Council meeting and traveled to Brussels regardless.Ponta said he was following a ruling in parliament, where he has a comfortable majority, questioned the court's independence and said it was controlled by Basescu. His leftist Social-Liberal Union (USL) party threatened to replace some judges.

Mr. Ponta is going to be seen abroad as the next Viktor Orban, though he does not have any of  Mr. Orban's strong points. 

Romania has only produced two instinctive politicians, Ion Iliescu and Traian Basescu. I wonder what Ion Iliescu thinks of it all. I bet that master strategist is contemptuous. He got the courts to do whatever he wanted in a completely discreet way. I wonder how quickly Mr. Basescu can turn this to his and Mr. Ungureanu's advantage.