Csíkszereda Musings

My life in and around Csíkszereda, also known as Miercurea Ciuc.

Archive for the ‘politics’ Category

Racism returns to the European mainstream

Posted by Andy Hockley on 11 July, 2008

What the hell is going on in Italy? Berlusconi is using his first weeks in power not only to evade prosecution in all the corruption trials he’s up against, but he and his government seem hell-bent on returning the country to the days of Mussolini.

Recently, for example,

Italy’s highest appeal court ruled that it was acceptable to discriminate against Roma on the grounds that “all Gypsies were thieves”

(taken from this article)

I mean…christ on a bike, this is fucking appalling (I hope you’ll excuse the language, but when talking about acts as repulsive and racist as those which the Italian government is currently engaged in and engaged in supporting, strong language is unavoidable)

When an angry mob went on the rampage and burnt down a Rroma slum, the government’s response was… to praise them.

This is a country in Western Europe. In the G8. in 2008. And it is being run by a bunch of vile extremist throwback bigots and no-one is saying or doing a thing about it. It’s appalling.

The EU prides itself (with no little justification) on helping to rebuild a Europe shattered by war and fascism, and to ensuring that the conflicts of the past could never happen again. Yet it sits idly by while one of its core members returns to the 1930s.

Posted in EU, politics, rants | 1 Comment »

Electile Dysfunction

Posted by Andy Hockley on 26 June, 2008

So, the election came and went while I was away last time, and basically the UDMR (or RMDSZ as they’re known in Hungarian) cleaned up round these parts. I heard that all the MPP had to show for their efforts was one mayorship (mayoralty? mayordom?). I’m told they made a number of tactical errors – one of which was to tie themselves fairly closely to the Hungarian (ie from Hungary) Fidesz party. This included having a Fidesz speaker at all their rallies and so on, and clear links on all their literature. This might have seemed like a good idea at the time – many Erdelyi Hungarians have some sympathies towards Fidesz as they are seen as more in favour of the non-Hungary Hungarians than the Hungarian government, plus the Szekely, at least, are pretty conservative and therefore pre-disposed towards that end of the political spectrum – but people here also think (not without reason) that a party in Hungary has no real idea of what the issues and problems facing people in Transylvania/Romania are, and so this link backfired. In addition, an anonymous letter appeared in every mailbox in Csikszereda setting out the alleged sexual indiscretions of the mayor. This had the effect (as far as I can tell) of ensuring that people who would not normally have voted did so for the mayor as a protest at dirty tactics. (There are also strong rumours, which I have no evidence for, and which could be -and sound like- rubbish, that the leader of the MPP, Szász Jenő , was encouraged to set up the party by Basescu in a meeting a couple of years ago.) Szász , who I’m told was a terrible mayor of Udvarhely, bombed completely in his bid to be Hargita County Council President.

What this means for the next national elections, due up in the autumn, is unclear. Will MPP fold and throw in their lot with the UDMR? Or will they continue to go out and possibly split the vorte sufficiently to exclude any Hungarian party from parliament? At the moment things are unclear, but it seems that enought bad blood has built up to make it unlikely that the MPP will willingly subsume themselves into the UDMR.

Posted in politics | 1 Comment »

Getting an Election

Posted by Andy Hockley on 23 May, 2008

The local elections are coming up in Romania and everyone is agog with excitement. Ok, not very agog, or even agogish in any way, but there are elections and there is a bit of half-arsed mild interest. Anyone who relied on the TV to give them an insight into the upcoming elections would conclude that the only race happening was the one for mayor of Bucharest, since nothing else even gets a mention. (Though to be fair, the impression I got of the recent local elections in the UK suffered from the same capital-centric media coverage)

I am told that I am even allowed to have a vote in these elections, which surprised me, because I thought as a non-citizen it was only Eruopean elections that I could vote in, but apparently EU laws allow legally resident non-citizens to vote in local (but not national) elections. So that’s exciting. Or at least it would be were I not in Central Asia on June 1st when the elections take place. So my vote will have to be held back.

The focus here is all about the new Hungarian party which is competing this time out and which looks set to split the Hungarian vote. I wrote some time ago about how I felt the UDMR’s monopoly of the Hungarian vote was undemocratic and ultimately not that helpful, but a number of people have told me since that they disagree and that without the UDMR, however flawed they may be, Hungarians would have nothing, and the (actually very good) minority law would not exist. [I’m not sure I believe this entirely, but a lot of people do, and that’s what matters]

The new party (well, they’ve been around since 2001) is called the MPP or “Hungarian Civic Party” and they’re a more nationalist party than the UDMR. The leader, Szász Jenõ, mayor of Udvarhely (Odorheiu Secuiesc), is a bit of a prick (in my considered political opinion) and he looks like a village idiot on all the posters (not that looks count for anything, but I couldn’t help but noticing). This raises all sorts of issues – I’ve heard some Hungarians say they won’t vote at all, in protest at having to choose (which is an interesting spin on traditional democracy) – what they mean is that they don’t want the vote split and their abstention is a protest against the lack of unity. I haven’t heard of anyone who says they will vote for the MPP, but (a) Csikszereda really isn’t the party’s heartland; and (b) people in Romania are very wary – to the point of cultural taboo- about saying who they are going to vote for anyway.

Here in Harghita county, the question is just by what split the vote goes between the UDMR and MPP, since the vast majority of it will go to one of those parties, and it’s not like the split will “let in the Romanians” as the fear runs. In places like Targu Mures and Oradea where there is a very significant Hungarian minority though, presumably the split vote will make a significant difference. Everyone I’ve heard hopes that the MPP lose badly so they throw their lot in with the UDMR at the next general election – otherwise the Hungarian community might fail to get any representation at all in the next parliament. (And the anecdotal evidence of my email inbox suggests that Romanian nationalism is on the rise, a bit)

As for me – well, neither of the two Hungarian parties really represent my political views. The UDMR is soft right and in the European parliament is in the same block as the UK tory party. While the MPP is, I believe, aligned with the Hungarian Fidesz party who always seem like a complete bunch of right-wing tossers. So the new deomcracy for Hungarian Romanians is to choose between a right wing Hungarian party or a right wing slightly more nationalist Hungarian party. Woohoo – what choice! The mainstream Romanian parties don’t really appeal either, with the so-called left wing one being the corrupt old gits at the PSD. So, to break down a cultural taboo, I don’t know if the Romanian Green party is putting up a candidate in Csikszereda, but if they were, and if I were able to vote, I’d give it to them.

Posted in politics | 2 Comments »

What is going on in Italy?

Posted by Andy Hockley on 1 May, 2008

Firstly the electorate returns corrupt hard-right crook Silvio Berlusconi to power, then the city of Rome elects a neo-fascist mayor (first right wing mayor since 1943, and I don’t think you need to look at Wikipedia to recall what kind of political climate there was in Italy in 1943).

From the outside it is really really hard to imagine how anyone could vote for Berlusconi since he’s seems so utterly unfit for public office as he’s so bent. But someone’s whose views I trust absolutely tells me that many people actually vote for him because he’s such a crook and yet he’s managed to beat the system so often (read: got himself elected so that he can change the system and thus not get convicted by it). And here I think Romania has corruption problems.

(There is of course a Romanian angle to this whole story, since there are half a million Romanians living in Italy and they will of course suffer greatly in such an extremist political climate)

Mind you, this is not just Italy, since it seems completely possible that today London, a city which prides itself on its multicultural character, looks set to elect a racist mayor. Boris Johnson, a man whose main claim to fame is that he behaves like a buffoon on a regular basis (but then uses that cretinous exterior to hide the fact that he’s a really hard line right wing wanker, who uses words like “piccaninny” like he’s a slave owner). As a friend memorably described him (and you should look away now if bad language offends) he is a cunt in twat’s clothing.

The world’s going to hell in a handbasket.

Posted in politics | 1 Comment »

What does Kosovo mean for Székelyföld ?

Posted by Andy Hockley on 25 February, 2008

Obviously I have a few travelogues to file at some point on this blog, but since I arrived back here on Friday night one issue has dominated the Romanian and local news. That is the issue of Kosovo’s independence and what it means for Székelyföld autonomy.

Romania is (it seems) looking askance at this development with the eyes of a country who would rather this can of worms were not opened. This is partly down to good neighbourliness, but partly to do with worries about Székely demands for more autonomy. So, do they have a reason to worry? Are there any points of commonality between the two?

In some regards there are distinct similarities between the two places. Both Yugoslavia and modern day Romania emerged from the post WW-I shake up of Europe. Until last weekend both Kosovo and Székelyföld were regions in which a national minority were in the local majority. In both cases the simplistic nationalist line that you hear from the Serbian or Romanian far-right is along the lines of “If they don’t like it here, they should piss off to their own countries” (which of course leaves aside the significant point that Hungary/Albania isn’t “their own country”).

But that’s about it, to be honest. There is no danger of Székelyföld declaring itself independent. The responsibility for the existence of Kosovo as an independent nation lies almost entirely with Milosevic. Without his murderous policies of ethnic cleansing in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo there is absolutely no chance that this unilateral declaration would garner any attention, let alone recognition. Post-Ceausescu Romania, for all its faults, is not brutalising and oppressing the Székelys. It has not attempted to drive them out of the country. It might not be a completely level playing field, but it’s completely uncomparable with Kosovo. Indeed (and paradoxically) the only way that Székelyföld would ever stand the slightest chance of becoming some kind of independent nation (and to be totally honest, I don’t actually know anyone who wants such a thing anyway), would be the election of some vile extremist PRM/PNG coalition government from hell, which then set about attempting to turn Transylvania into the new Bosnia. Such a thing is (thank fuck) not likely to ever come about, so in turn, there is no chance of an independent Székelyföld. What is up for debate, though, is a level of autonomy.

The words have been flying. Hungarian politicians have been on talking about the opportunity provided by Kosovo to get the issue of autonomy back on the table (I disagree, by the way, and think this is a bad time to raise it because the EU will be looking to keep a lid on all this talk despite the precedent they have set). Funar, bigot-xenophobe-wanker ex-mayor of Cluj has come out with a proposal to ban Hungarian medium education, stop Hungarians talking to each other and generally attempt to suppress dissent and oppress a significant minority of Transylvanians (I’m told that Funar is actually quite an intelligent bloke, but this strikes me as being the most stupid thing anyone could have said – if there’s one thing that’s likely to give Transylvanian Hungarians a chance of being heard beyond Bucharest and Budapest it’s proposals like this one). Meanwhile Basescu has repeated his insistence that Székelyföld will have no more nor less autonomy than anywhere else. This is not a position with which I disagree in principle, but since he trotted it out two years ago and has done absoultely nothing towards decentralisation in Romania since, it is clear that what he means by “Covasna will have the same amount of autonomy as Calarasi and Constanta” is, in fact, “absolutely none”. I know he’s fully locked into the Bucharest political scene, being ex-mayor of that city, but I suspect he needs to get out a bit more.

It will be an interesting few weeks. And all this while the final of the Romanian Ice Hockey championship is being fought out between TWO teams from Csikszereda.

Posted in politics, Szekely Autonomy | 6 Comments »

Murder in Samarkand

Posted by Andy Hockley on 6 December, 2007

Some months ago, I read “Murder in Samarkand” which is former British Ambassador Craig Murray’s account of his time in Uzbekistan, his fights against the appalling human rights of the country, and as the book progresses of his fights with the British government who were desperate to get rid of him as he was upsetting Washington’s cozy relationship with the Uzbek regime. I was gripped by the first half (or two thirds ) of the book which melds travelogue, expose of the appalling Karimov regime, and insights into the internal workings of the foreign and commonwealth office, but found myself less enthused by the last third which was mostly about the efforts to get him fired by the Blair government, and was not so much my cup of tea (not that I disbelieved it, obviously Blair and Straw et al are as corrupt and useless as any government Britain has ever had). But on my return from Tashkent, I’ve re-read it with the benefit of a deal more context (I actually wanted to take it with me and read it there, but I feared it would be found at customs and cause difficulties), and now find the whole book riveting (though not what one would call enjoyable, as the content is so distressing).

I think the reason for my initial reaction was that I felt the Karimov regime with its torture, murder, rape and general brutality was much more deserving of attention than what amounted to internal FCO machinations to sack someone they didn’t like. But now, I feel both stories are worth telling and I’m glad he does. Murray is pretty blunt and honest about his own failings as well as everything else, and while at times he doesn’t come across as an especially likeable bloke, he doesn’t try to hide any of that and his book is much more powerful as a result. The weight of the evidence presented in the book and on his website, certainly makes it clear that the UK government acted appallingly and pathetically, while the documentation of some of the hideous crimes of the Uzbekistan government is really important. Anyway, I recommend anyone read it who wants to get a sense of what Uzbekistan is all about, what kind of system it labours under, and what the wider geopolitical implications of the “war on terror” are.

Apparently, the relationship between Karimov and the US has cooled somewhat since the book, mostly it seems because the US dared to make vague criticisms of the government after they massacred hundreds of people during a protest in Andijan. These days, outside interests seem to be mainly Turkish and Russian, though I was supposed to be going there in April and my visa was denied – clearance “coincidentally” only coming through in a week when the EU (at the instigation of Germany, who seem to love Karimov) had relaxed some of its post Andijan sanctions.

Anyway, buy the book. If for no other reason than Murray deserves some form of income after the way he has been fucked over by his employer, the British government.

Posted in politics, travel | Leave a Comment »

Election news

Posted by Andy Hockley on 27 November, 2007

Excellent news in Sunday’s European parliament elections, with both Vadim Tudor’s bunch of far right extremists and Gigi Becali’s even nuttier bunch failing to get enough votes to get into Strasbourg. Turnout was pretty low, except amongst Hungarians it seems, who turned out in enough numbers to support both the UDMR list and “reformed bishop” Tőkés László (standing as an indepedent) in enough numbers to get them both representation. In Csikszereda, the figures showed that Tőkés actually did slightly better than the UDMR in the towns, but was outvoted in the outlying villages, which might have some significance (Tőkés tends to be somewhat more nationalist in his rhetoric than the UDMR).

Anyway, it was a good result all round really. Vadim Tudor has even quit the leadership of the PRM, but he has done before, so I suspect his slimy loathesome presence has not entirely vanished from the Romanian political scene.

Posted in politics, romania | 1 Comment »

1.4 Million

Posted by Andy Hockley on 20 June, 2007

There are, it seems, 1.4 million expendable people living in Gaza. 1.4 million people who have for decades lived in unimaginable hardship and overcrowding, constantly in fear for their lives, invaded and attacked regularly by the often brutal IDF. 1.4 million people who have for the most part borne their suffering with stoicism and occasional flashes of hope. 1.4 million people who have, mostly, remained united in suffering and in common cause against the vile occupation which has held them in this state of ghetto-like purgatory, and who have remained mostly unviolent against its perpetrators (though obviously not all of them). 1.4 million people who since the Palestinian elections have found themselves attacked by the West (through sanctions) for daring to elect the wrong people. 1.4 million people who no longer only have to fear Israeli bullets and cluster bombs, but now have to fear starvation and disease, just for participating in a democracy (which is what we say we want them to do all the time). 1.4 million people who, if all of that weren’t enough now find themselves in the midst of a civil war, as finally the pressure builds up enough to shatter the unity. 1.4 million people who, as a result of that civil war, look likely to find themselves living in some kind of fundamentalist Islamic statelet. 1.4 million people who because of that are now threatened with being cut off even more, and left to fend for themselves in what increasingly looks like an utter hell hole – no food, little water, no money, no fuel, before long no electricity.

What have these 1.4 million people done to deserve this?

(Though, oddly, it now seems – if Condoleeza Rice’s speech the other day is to be believed – that in fact we can find a way to deliver aid and supplies to the ordinary people of Gaza through the UNRWA while bypassing Hamas. Now if we can do that when Hamas are in total control, why the fuck couldn’t we do it before? Is it maybe, because we were hoping to provoke this war and make this happen? Is there any politician anywhere in the Western world who gives even the slightest shit about the lives of innocent Arab civilians?)

Meanwhile, a better expressed article than I could muster from Jonathan Freedland in today’s Guardian and another good one in Ha’aretz.

Posted in politics, rants | Leave a Comment »

The price of abstention

Posted by Andy Hockley on 21 May, 2007

As you may be aware, on Saturday there was a referendum in Romania as to whether to impeach President Basescu. This measure was supported by pretty much every political party bar his own, and it failed spectacularly. Basescu got 75% of the vote (or technically the answer “no” to the question “do you want to impeach him?” got 75%, which is not exactly the same thing)

This huge defeat to the sponsors of the referendum was, however, not as conclusive as it might have been (though to my mind it is pretty damned conclusive) because the turnout was only 43% of the electorate. Harghita County (i.e. here) registered the lowest turnout of any county in the country. Now, those who lost in this election are coming out and assigning a reason as to why so many people didn’t vote. It shows that they don’t care enough about Basescu to vote for him, was one thing I heard, for example.

This is why not voting is a mistake. It allows people to assign you a position. Those 57% who didn’t vote? “They tacitly supported us, and that’s why they didn’t show up”. There are of course numerous reasons why people don’t vote, many of them very valid. Here are some.

  • I couldn’t be bothered to get off my lardy arse.
  • I think Basescu is as corrupt as the rest of them and see no reason to support one or other side in this ridiculous charade
  • I don’t support him, but I can’t bring myself to vote for a measure sponsored by Iliescu/Vadim Tudor/Marko Bela/Tariceanu (delete as appropriate)
  • I don’t support him, but I can’t bring myself to vote for a measure sponsored by the PSD/PRM/UDMR (delete as appropriate)
  • I do support him, but I can’t go against my party’s line, so I’d rather not vote at all*
  • This whole argument between Basescu and Tariceanu is a complete waste of time. I’m not going to dignify it
  • I have much more important things to do with my Saturday than voting (this was almost certainly true in many rural areas since this is a very busy time of the year agriculturally and polling booths were only open in daylight hours. It seemed counties containing big cities had higher turnout than those that don’t)

[*This reason by the way is the one that it is suggested to me which is the reason why Harghita and Covasna had the lowest turnout across the country – that is that people here typically vote UDMR (and vote as the UDMR tells them), but that the UDMR were telling them to do something they didn’t want to do. So rather than go aganst the party, they just didn’t vote. Even then, though, the graph on this page shows that 58% of UDMR supporters voted “No”, and I read somewhere else that Covasna, although it had the second lowest turnout, was the most pro-Basescu county of the whole country. (Anyone know where I can get a detailed breakdown of the turnout/vote?)]

Posted in politics, romania | 4 Comments »

The UDMR

Posted by Andy Hockley on 10 May, 2007

I’m in the middle of writing a long (long) post about nationality and nationalism and identity and all that stuff for my extremely occasional series about Szekely Autonomy, and hope to have it done soon, but in the meantime, I was thinking about the UDMR (political party representing ethnic Hungarians in Romania), and what their purpose is.

You see, in broad terms, I don’t really get it. I can see one or two benefits in their existence (which I’ll get to in a minute or two) but in general I think they can act (on a national level) against the interests of the Hungarian community rather than for it.

Let me try and explain. Locally, they hold a fair amount of power – county and city authorities in Harghita and Covasna and probably elsewhere are typically run by the UDMR with a virtual lock on power. But why? The Hungarian electorate will tell you that they need to stick together in order to ensure that local government is not taken over by Romanians with a Bucharest agenda. Which, to en extent, makes sense. But as a single issue party (yes, they have economic policies, and so on, and are technically not single issue, but people vote for them not because of their policies on investment or what have you, they vote for them because they are the UDMR and “we have to stick together”), it’s a little bit odd to have them in power for years and years.

[At this point I have to say that I think it’s quite impressive and amazing that the UDMR has managed to position itself as the sole representative of the entirety of all 1.6 million (ish) Hungarians in Romania, with no major internal political ructions. I mean if I were Hungarian Romanian, who would I vote for? The UDMR is basically centre-right on most things, and I’m not really a big fan of what economic policies they do have – and the fact that they are aligned with the UK Tory party in the “European People’s Party–European Democrats” grouping in the European Parliament is all I need to know about their political leanings outside of the national question]

On a national level, I think (aside from one crucial element) their role is even less clear. Their existence actually ensures that the bigger Romanian parties need say or do nothing to appeal to Hungarians. There’s no votes in reaching out to the Hungarian population so why bother doing it? If the UDMR ceased to be, or ceased to play on the national stage, presumably the bigger parties would want those votes – 7-8% of the population is a huge voting block, and would represent something that would hugely benefit whichever party could best attract them. Look at the work that parties in the US do, for example, at attracting the various ethnic minorities. Likewise they (the UDMR) don’t actually have to achieve anything for people to continue voting for them. They are, in effect, acting against democracy to some degree.

The only way that it does actually work is the way they put forward a candidacy for the presidency, who (obviously) picks up the statutory 5 or 6 % of the vote in the first round and then those votes can be “sold” to whichever of the runoff candidates promises more to Hungarians. (Though once elected there is nothing to ensure that the president will actually do anything for that community)

The exception, the positive side to their existence mentioned above, is presumably unintended. That is, that by controlling the balance of power, they can ensure that the odious PRM are not part of the government. That at least appears to have been the primary function of the (national) UDMR over the past ten years. They become part of the coalition, the coalition does nothing particularly to support or promote the rights of Hungarians, but at least the government doesn’t actively target them (as it presumably would if ever Vadim Tudor or Becali or any of those other vile wankers ever got a sniff of power). So, yes, they do have a function, and an important one, but is that all there is to it?

I’d be grateful if anyone out there more clued in than I could offer any suggestions as to what the real purpose of the party is, and what they actually achieve on a national level (other than the above “not being the PRM” acheivement)

Posted in hungarian nationalism, politics, romania | 11 Comments »