Education for Democracy: Do We Need a (New) Strategy?
Program funded by IDEE
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Education for Democracy: Do we need a (new) strategy?
Foreword

Many politicians, analysts, opinion leaders, and NGO representatives were intrigued by the results of the December 2000 polls, especially by the high percentage of votes received by extremist political forces. Several months later we observe few initiatives which look towards the causes that have led to these results in an attempt to identify appropriate solutions aimed at protecting and strengthening Romania’s democratic evolution.

The Foundation for Pluralism organized the roundtable "Education for Democracy: Do We Need a (New) Strategy? " in an attempt to initiate a public debate on this long neglected subject. As a participant mentioned: "…(Romanian society) …is exhausted and sick of fairy tale stories about reforms and transitions, just as much as it doesn’t want to hear anymore about civil society..’

The starting point of the debate was the study " The Evolution of Voting Intentions in the Electoral Year 2000" by the Institute of Marketing and Polls (IMAS) and was generously offered by its CEO, Mr. Alin Teodorescu. The participants’ goal was to identify the recent evolution of Romanian society, its political elite and civil society and to propose solutions addressing the main challenges.

In December 2000 the Romanian electorate acted as a moderately informed citizenry and voted according to electoral messages which met their expectations. The switching over of a relatively large percentage of the electorate towards the Great Romania Party (an allegedly extremist party) was the result of a well-managed campaign, with few clear messages, most of them taken from former President Emil Constantinescu’s program (i.e. fighting corruption, poverty and EU accession)

The participants highlighted the importance and impact of decisions made by members of the political elite. These politicians ought to have taken into consideration the consequences of their actions. Unfortunately, between 1996-2000, many politicians acted without considering the expectations of the citizens who voted for them, in 1996. As narrow party or group interests surpassed the public interest, the former governing coalition was not capable of following a cohesive policy.

One conclusion drawn was that a component for the future strategy for democratic education should include financing, within political parties, for training programs on conflict management, coalition building and public policy formulation. To achieve a stable democracy Romania needs an articulated political opposition. Besides education for the electorate there is a real need to train and educate the political elite, in order to offer citizens acceptable options.

In regards to civil society the participants observed that the term itself has become discredited. One cause may be due to the fact that a number of leaders have entered the political arena under the civil society banner – a no-win situation for the Romanian political scene. "Romanian civil society needs a rebuilding effort, but any attempt to redesign it from a central point is doomed to fail". A solution proposed by the participants was to encourage grass roots initiatives, volunteer based, spontaneous or facilitated, which will lead to increased social capital.

To this end, a possible scenario to finance civil society development is to support community-based programs that respond to current citizen needs. Therefore, funding strategies should be oriented towards meeting community-identified demands, in the field.

Formulating and implementing a strategy for democracy in Romania involves a continuing effort of the political class and of civil society. And this is because a mature democracy requires an accountable political class and informed citizenry, involved in the life of their communities.

Alexandra Luminita Petrescu
President of the Foundation for Pluralism


Round table

Education for Democracy – Do we need a (new) strategy?

Bucharest, March 2001


Luminita PETRESCU,
President of the Foundation for Pluralism:
For today’s meeting we set ourselves the task of initiating a public debate on the need for (new) strategies in democracy education in Romania. Our starting point is a recent piece of research conducted by the Institute for Marketing and Polls (IMAS), The Evolution of Voting Intentions in the Electoral Year 2000. We have invited political analysts, NGO representatives, sociologists and donors, to track down the potential causes that shaped the outcome of the latest elections and to consider whether and to what extent we, Romanians, really need a (new) strategy for democracy education.

Alin TEODORESCU, IMAS Director:
Today’s presentation is based on the research study The Evolution of Voting Intentions in the Electoral Year 2000, conducted by IMAS.

The replacement of former Prime Minister Radu Vasile in December 1999 triggered a dramatic crisis within the senior party of the ruling coalition to be settled only at end January 2000. Mugur Isarescu was appointed to take over the Cabinet. The Parliament relieved Mr. Isarescu of his former duties as Governor of the Romanian Central Bank as long as he was to serve as a Prime Minister.

The new Prime Minister did not reshuffle the Cabinet and carried on with most of Radu Vasile’s team. However, he appointed some new advisors. The Government’s program during Mugur Isarescu’s term of office may be summarized in the following objectives:
– bringing down inflation to 27% (not reached as inflation rose to 40%)
– achieving economic growth of 1.5% (fulfilled)

Leaving the Democratic Party in February 2000, Victor Babiuc, Defence Minister, sparked a new political crisis which lingered on for yet another month.

Romania entered the local elections campaign – which actually started in mid-March 2000 – amid endless political squabbles and conflicts on the part of the governing coalition while the population grew grim about the meager economic and social indicators of the previous three years.

Mugur Isarescu’s appointment as Prime Minister got little next to a disastrous press coverage. Even so, people once again lined-up and closed ranks behind the new man at the helm, albeit with much less enthusiasm as compared to the time Victor Ciorbea, Radu Vasile or Emil Constantinescu, were sworn in. Thus, the opinion indicators measured by POBPolitical Opinion Barometer – were temporarily improved both for the governmental team and the President. Credit for the Government is expressed by a sudden improvement of the public opinion indicators concerning governance. It just happens whenever new leaders take over or when the central public authority addresses specific issues on the public’s agenda. Optimism is catchy on such occasions and it quickly spreads to indicators such as the subjective living standard index or Romania’s overall trend.

Throughout year 2000, opinion polls preserved the 1998 order in terms of public confidence in key political institutions, with the Presidency well ahead of the Cabinet and the Parliament on the third place. This hierarchy shows Romanians expect more from the President than from the Cabinet, and more from the Cabinet than from the Parliament. In other words, the President has a much more representative role for the public than the other two institutions, although both Emil Constantinescu and Ion Iliescu always made it clear the President enjoys only limited executive and legislative powers.

The campaign for the Bucharest City Hall once again confirmed the lack of co-ordination within the Democratic Convention of Romania (CDR) and the volatile character of their own electorate. The candidate running on CDR’s ticket was virtually unknown to the general public. The other partners within CDR (the National Liberal Party and the Right-wing Forces Union) dissented and picked their own candidates for the job. However, the Democratic Convention of Romania’s campaign was fairly effective, as its candidate rose from 7% to 17%, but not as effective as to enter the run-off. Traian Basescu’s campaign proved to be a very dynamic one, eventually winning him the Mayor’s seat. The Social Democracy Party of Romania started with a comfortable 40% in opinion polls, and it held on to this lead throughout the entire campaign. Nevertheless, they lost the battle to PD’s candidate due to some communication breakdowns during the week before the first ballot, as they failed to take advantage of the involvement of CDR’s candidate in the FNI case.

During summer 2000, all political parties warmed up for the presidential and parliamentary elections that were due in autumn. On the 17th of July 2000, President Constantinescu announced he would give up running for presidency. The Democratic Convention of Romania was left with no candidate for the presidential elections. The National Liberal Party (PNL) nominated Theodor Stolojan and announced it would drop out of CDR to run in the elections on its own. The Alliance for Romania (APR) nominated Theodor Melescanu, also announcing its participation on separate lists. So did the Hungarian Democratic Union of Romania (UDMR) that nominated Gyorgy Frunda.

The National Peasant Party – Christian Democratic (PNTCD) held two workshops to assess and draw up potential strategies, the first one in Snagov and the second one in Sinaia. All available data showed PNT-CD would have been better off running on separate lists and backing their own presidential candidate. This would have normally secured them enough votes to reach the 5% threshold needed to get into the Parliament. Despite this, the leaders of the National Peasant Party – Christian Democratic decided to set up a new alliance called the Democratic Convention of Romania 2000 (CDR 2000) by sealing an alliance with the Right-Wing Forces Union. They were also waiting for Mugur Isarescu’s expected commitment to run for presidency (Isarescu was nominated by President Constantinescu as his “natural” successor). However, Mugur Isarescu entered the elections as an independent, a serious mistake considering the Romanian electoral system that does not allow significant results for independents. What is more, in August 2000, Isarescu released two contradictory messages: at first he declined running altogether, but later on changed his mind to say he would take the challenge any way. As a result, his stock of confidence got rapidly depleted, starting with September 2000.

Comparing polling performances of all ex-CDR parties, we can see the National Liberal Party took on the best possible strategy under the given circumstances, that is running on separate lists, and backing their own party member candidate a well-known person, yet not popular enough with voters.

As far as last autumn’s parliamentary elections are concerned, CDR’s split-up into two competing entities (CDR 2000 and PNL) resulted in them sharing CDR’s previous 19%. CDR 2000 entered the campaign on little over 10% (the electoral threshold for alliances), without a candidate for presidency, and on a rough downturn which gave them a tough lending at about 5% (the 26th of November 2000). The National Liberal Party accounted for a 7% share of CDR’s voters. Some 2% were lost through unfair competition on the party’s electoral logo.

Though a high-flown party for two years between 1998-1999, the Alliance for Romania failed to come up to the mark, missed the threshold by far and couldn’t get any seat in the newly elected parliament.

Taking full advantage of Corneliu Vadim Tudor’s tremendous media performance, the Greater Romania Party (PRM) soared from 5% up to almost 20%. The Greater Romania Party made large inroads into CDR’s traditional electoral agenda, adopting its main themes, i.e. fighting corruption and poverty, European integration, and distance from Ion Iliescu and his Social Democracy Party of Romania. PRM added it all up with its own appealing themes such as bringing back state authority, economic growth based on state investments as well as boosting national dignity by reliance on historical tradition).

The Social Democracy Party of Romania had a rather weak and defensive autumn campaign also serving as the Greater Romania Party’s favorite target. The Social Democracy Party of Romania restrained its attacks against the Hungarian Democratic Union of Romania, the Democratic Convention of Romania 2000 and the National Liberal Party, in an attempt to lay the groundwork for the governance to come. The Social Democracy Party of Romania was much busier polishing its image abroad rather than trying to woo voters, as it already had enough reserves to ensure a comfortable margin of victory.

The Democratic Party lived off Traian Basescu’s victory in the Bucharest campaign and finally succeeded to secure its place in the new Parliament, if by half its 1996 tally.

Ion Iliescu entered the presidential campaign as the expected victor, in the absence of Emil Constantinescu, his traditional opponent, but he lost points as a result of Corneliu Vadim Tudor’s violent attacks and due to a weak campaign, which lacked updated topics and relied mainly on canvassing constituencies. Yet, there was no obvious reason for Ion Iliescu to doubt his final victory.

At the campaign’s very beginning, Corneliu Vadim Tudor was credited with about 10%. He took over all campaign themes that made Emil Constantinescu’s agenda back in 1996 (in fact, the only ones that could have made Ion Iliescu’s voters swing to his side). He refreshed them and added on his own issues, as he summed up his entire political program to some carefully chosen slogans and powerful speeches. Corneliu Vadim Tudor’s campaign focused wholly on television with neat, professional appearances. His rhetorical abilities and literary education helped him jump from 10% to 28%, in less than 12 weeks, still not enough to threaten Ion Iliescu’s position.

Voters did not think of either Mugur Isarescu or Theodor Stolojan as standing any real chances of winning. As a result, voting intention for both of them grew slimmer in the last 45 campaign days. In the elections’ aftermath both of them rebounded in terms of public confidence capital they had lost in the electoral arena. They were again perceived as trustworthy public persons. At least one of them might consider running in the 2004 elections.Petre Roman lost his electorate. Exit polls suggest Teodor Melescanu could have some good hopes for the future. He found himself at a disadvantage when his natural opponent, Emil Constantinescu, quitted the race, much the same with what happened to Ion Iliescu. Frunda Gyorgy preserved his ethnic backing.

To come to an end, one might argue that the public’s reaction is normal: if parties or politicians in office do not deliver on their promises, they would vote for the opposition, whatever this might be. As expected, the volatility of the public concerning presidential candidates was higher then that concerning parties. The electoral campaigns have positive results if they are properly run and if there is a consolidated party apparatus. The electoral fight in Romania, like in any other country, is not ideological, but pragmatic, and particularly related to the parties’ and politicians’ ability to successfully govern. Ideology in any electoral race is only likely to bring about confusion and makes sense just to a small part of the intelligentsia, the ideological elite that fancy it. The technical and administrative elite is more interested in administrating resources than in the ideological orientation of the political establishment.

Stelian TANASE, political analyst, editor in chief of the monthly publication Sfera Politicii:
First of all, we can’t define a general feature that charactarizes the civil society as a whole. Civil society is a mixed reality, which may include a great many number of antidemocratic groups, to say nothing about intolerance and unbridgeable divides which may also be part of it. I am not talking here about the usual competition in a normal society, which lives through competition, I am now talking about that one which is born out from intolerance. I would like to refute the widespread belief that, by definition, civil society means tolerance. It is a world that has its own trenches and pitfalls, and its quite different values, which do not make up a coherent system. There is no set of values for the entire civil society to share and cherish. To be more specific, fascist and paramilitary organizations belong to the civil society too. That’s why we should review and rethink our notion of what civil society is.

Secondly, something has happened all these years: political forces and leaders labeled themselves as the civil society itself, speaking and acting on behalf of it. It was highly risky and we now pay the price. Emil Constantinescu’s fall, as well as the decline of the Democratic Convention and of the Civic Alliance, demonstrate it. We have to draw a sharp distinction between society as a whole, on the one hand, and civil society on the other. The media and even some finely trained intellectuals seem to barely care for it. They much too often mistake society-as-a-whole for the civil society, which is just that part of a given society, consisting of people who come together and organize themselves unlike the rest. That is the specific difference. I want to make it the case that, the decline of these political forces has led to a radical depreciation of the civil society in the last 2 or 3 years. Right now we find ourselves at the lowest point of what we call "civil society". There is an attitude of reserve towards it. The concept bears negative connotations, unlike 10, 15 or 20 years ago when it looked like a light, a hope, a perspective for us all. Today it’s nothing more than a dead end, something utterly negative. Simply calling its name now in any discussions no matter if with political forces, journalists or common people is enough to sound pejorative. Those who lost the elections in 2000 and who used this concept to disguise their lack of ideology and of political ideas, made civil society – the real one, the existing one, whether good or bad, successful or unsuccessful, contradictory or not – pay the bill. And quite frankly, this should be our starting point.

There is a third thing related to civil society, which I would like to share with you. We all know our civil society is rather weak and feeble and everybody knows why. There is no need for us to dwell on this any longer. As a matter of fact, we may hold no matter how many seminars, write no matter how many essays whereby we make fine distinctions and find no matter how many differences and this will not be of much help. To my mind, civil society consists of groups of people, who associate themselves without relying on state structures, in order to advance a common cause or defend certain shared interests. They are people who stand for themselves or others and in doing so, they use their own resources yet counting on and trusting their families, neighborhood or friends. If we are to consider this definition – large though it might be – we just have to admit, the Romanian civil society is quite feeble, because Romanians have few such associative capacities. I am not talking only about those associations established by a group of people who get the proper papers and register them as legal persons, but also about those who come together for a short span of time (a month, two or five). There common purpose is to fight together for a cause: let’s say dogs, trees in the street, painting fences or just enjoying in a Natalia Oreiro fan club. This is also civil society.

We must say civil society is more than often mistaken for NGOs and this wrongly narrows it down to just another part of it. I even dare say our NGOs seem less effective when compared to other parts of the civil society. May I remind you that people got together to work out the overheated issue of stray dogs. I got dozens of phone calls, my neighbors got alarmed, they were keen on organizing themselves to approach the mayor and have everything fixed and in place. I sensed dynamism, and it felt somehow comfortable to take part. We reached a common ground, something worthy to fight for. It was a dynamic gesture, full of life and force.

To be more specific and to speak up my mind about it, I would say there can be no imported civil society. Those associations that never cease sprouting all over and small groups calling themselves "foundations", "institutions", which are solely financed by Western organizations, cannot stand for the civil society. They might be institutions of public interest or the like, yet not the civil society as such, at least not under the "grass–roots" definition I put forward at the beginning. I am not saying there is something wrong with them as I am myself part of such an institution and I work with foreign funds, but I still think this difference might help us understand the present state of weakness and frailty of our society. Those NGOs that are exclusively supported by most respectable and revered Western institutions cannot be equated with the Romanian civil society. It is obvious that their programs encourage the civil society, that they join in programmes and protect the interests of some people or groups of Romanians. So we cannot deny their usefulness. I even wonder what might come out of all these interests if these financing institutions were ever to withdraw their support and drain their money pipelines to us. A great deal of valuable things that NGOs have achieved to our good wouldn’t have been done at all. We also come to realize the importance of these NGOs, when we remember those thousands of projects that have been carried out in various fields. The very same when it comes about grants that allowed students, scholars and young managers travel and study abroad.

Yet again, from my own standpoint, this is by no means the real civil society. By civil society I mean people sharing some kind of interests and getting together for a longer or a shorter span of time relying on domestic funds. These people put in their own money and more often than not volunteer in whatever they might be doing. Within this limited approach, - and mind you this is not biased to NGOs financed from abroad -, it is crystal clear today’s Romanian society runs short of genuine interest in associating to fight for a common cause.

Romania’s civil society needs rebuilding, but any attempt to redesign it from any central point is doomed to fail. If anyone claimed having a role in rebuilding civil society, that person would be a humbug or somebody who did not know what it is all about. Our society may gain dynamism and its associative capacities may enlarge. However we must admit that, in the last 10 years, the results have been rather poor. One of the reasons for this is the alleged claim some politicians and parties made to represent the entire civil society and to act on behalf of it. At a certain moment, they even tried to argue that a certain association, an alliance, a party or a political coalition could represent civil society as such.

I will move on by supplying you with a telling example from my own experience in the USA. I once lived in New York for 6 months, in just another block of flats, in an ordinary district. There was something there I particularly found very interesting. I used to get various leaflets that a certain group in that street slipped in my mailbox. They just wanted to wipe graffiti away, whitewash trees and the like. They used to gather at the church (every Sunday), and organize fairs and raffles putting their stuff up for sale to raise money for the church, the poor in their district, or local projects. They had nothing to do with the City Hall, they did not ask for funds, they handled things on their own, but above all, they would work hard and spend time to clean up the area (5 or 6 buildings). I joined them myself, they were really interesting to me, and everything was based on volunteering. All New Yorkers do the same, that was not just an exception. It was a group of citizens that gathered people, had their names on some list and then asked them to wash the dirty façades or sweep away the dead leaves in the parks. They did everything by themselves, for free. Of course, the city utilities did their job properly. The streets were cleaned up 2 or 3 times a day. There are heaps of garbage all over Bucharest, but nobody does anything, except blaming the Mayor for it. We are not able to organize ourselves. Should I talk like this to the people who live next to my door in the same block of flats, I would only get an ironical smile. Everybody breathes polluted air, everybody knows there are always 20 cars in the parking, whose alarm systems, go sounding out every time a cat passes by (and this happens almost every night at two o’clock), but nobody does anything. Except complaining while sipping their coffee in the kitchens. A man was recently attacked in the neighborhood, but nobody did anything, people did not even call the police. Nobody thought of hiring some security staff or volunteering to watch. Everybody was happy it didn’t happen to them. This is our way of going about things and it is hard to change it. Yet this is exactly what we have to face and fight back.

Coming back to what Alin Teodorescu said, I think our society undergoes a time of democratic regression. It is exhausted and sick of stories about transition, civil society, NATO. It is one step back from whatever might have been gained between 1992 and 1997, a time when everything looked on the right way and there were good prospects for sorting things out, albeit later when compared to more successful countries. It seemed that everything would be right. We are back in 1990, of course on a spiral in which certain things have changed, it’s not really 1990 again, but the mechanism is the same. We’ve been through rough and rather intricate times as well. One of the problems which haunts me is our refusal – that is those who have held the floor for years – to come to a conclusion and to find what led to this big failure. This is what is at stake: given an outright failure, we still shun talking about its cause. We run full responsibility to a lesser or greater degree depending on the extent to which we take part in some structure or another. A reason for this failure might be the fact that 7 million people did not vote. So, 7 million people out of the 16 million voters did not express their political options and thus got no political representatives. I am not talking about the ones who voted for a party, which failed to reach the electoral threshold, and had their seats redistributed to other parties. Those who voted for the National Peasant Party – Christian Democratic, by redistribution, actually voted for the Social Democracy Party of Romania and the Greater Romania Party. I am only talking about those who simply did not vote. If we put together these two categories, we get some figures and we come against a blurred political reality which does not match the social reality. We do not think about this, we do not talk about it, as if we wanted to quickly dismiss this failure.

What is going to happen in 2004? Taking into account the government’s moves – and I do not want to turn this into a political matter because I am not the supporter of any political cause – it seems eager to take full control, and reign everything in. Some PDSR leaders think the media was responsible for their losing the elections in 1996. Consequently they have been taking steps to prevent the press from gathering information and exposing poverty, corruption, unfair business deals and government mistakes, as it did between 1995 and 1996. On one hand, they believe the press had defeated them, and on the other hand, they want to safely seal everything up by bringing in more red tape to cut us off from information. Please mark their efforts to gain the control of secret intelligence services and secure privileged access to information. At the same time, we witness a fight between departments and politicians of the incumbent administration as they race for control over the Romanian Intelligence Service, the Ministry of Internal Affairs. They want to bring their own people in and come on top of everything. This dispute is after all one of the few weak points known to us at present.

The question now is what has been done to restore the opposition? We need a real, articulate opposition to voice an alternative. Otherwise there is no democracy. What is our alternative at this point in time? Do we have a real choice? We are left with two ways out: the first one is to build up a new catch-all coalition for 2004. To identify its members we have to look inside and outside the Parliament. As any administration naturally wears out towards the end of its term, decline is just a matter of time As people will grow weary, the opposition, the civil society will dream up some kind of a new structure and a new message to fight PDSR and PRM in 2004. The second possible outcome is that one of the parties (be it inside or outside the Parliament) will take off to a point where even if it loses, it will be in a position to slash PDSR’s score and confine its chances of maneuvering. Is it likely that one of these parties or a new party reach this result?

The last problem is related to the civil society’s role in this evolution for the coming several years. Some of the mainstays of the civil society are powerful institutions (the Church, the press, the unions), but they do not develop coherent policies, except for the Church which is more united. NGOs make up an imported, would-be civil society. Beyond these, there lies the realm of free associations of citizens to better pursue long-term interests. I presume the coming years have in store some serious tensions as this administration has to live up to several challenges on a strictly timed agenda, let’s say for instance the accession to NATO at the summit in Prague the coming year, where it’s going to be either yes or no. Economic reform is far from being settled. Imagine us in autumn 2002, doing rather badly on economy, with no agreement concluded with the IMF and NATO turning us down. What is going to happen then? What is the Social Democracy Party of Romania going to do? What is going to happen to the Greater Romania Party as a political force? What is going to happen to the opposition? For now, the liberals’ message is rather ambiguous. I do not know what will happen to the National Liberal Party in 2004 if Traian Basescu takes over the Democratic Party. It might not even enter the Parliament if it carries on with its present self-defeating, low profile policy. I think that the Social Democracy Party of Romania, as the party in office, has to play sensibly. Its policy will heavily depend on the International Monetary Fund, NATO, foreign investments, unions’ pressure and poverty. Worsening circumstances might bring in a new equilibrium in the Opposition and Administration balance of power. Would we be better off with business as usual and prosperity for people to come together and set themselves common aims? This is a serious issue: we do not have a true associating tradition in community. I think that civil society has hit the bottom and it has acquired a negative meaning mainly because of those political forces which did not use it properly. Civil society only works from bottom up, through private and independent initiatives, and no one should be in charge of rebuilding it.

This was the mistake we made after 1990. I do not want to sound sad or skeptic because I feel neither of them, but I think that we should take it much slower than back in 1990. Any "spectacular" public press action is useless. We shouldn’t rush or press things because it is inefficient. All that matters is to return to the genuine meaning of the civil society. This reconstruction should go bottom up. No initiative group, newspaper, association, or party should be at the helm. In this respect, I think we may be optimistic if we are patient too. Let’s wait and do well whatever we do wherever we might be.

Dan PETRESCU, founding member of the Foundation for Pluralism:
First of all I take the opportunity to thank Alin Teodorescu and Stelian Tanase for telling us important things concerning the latest evolutions of the civil society. We have all been familiar with them to some extent at least, we all thought of them here and there, but it is only now that these thoughts have been neatly grasped and presented in a nutshell. I would like to add something more on financing bodies. According to the latest statistics, the Western financing for Romanian NGOs went down from the previous 70% to 40%. There is a request for local funding which is of course limited because of the economic situation. One harmful side effect of foreign financing was handing out money subject to importing patterns. There is nothing wrong with this as long as they are tailored to our actual circumstances. Unfortunately much of the agenda in question has been governed by supply-rather than demand. This resulted in alienating many NGOs from their beneficiaries and created a gap between them.

I would like to consider several issues related to the extremist parties’ record in the latest polls. I am not that naďve to think Romanian voters read each party’s political programmes. We should do something about this. When tackling a topic like strategies in democracy education, we should wonder whether this is an activity field in its own right or not. We all need some basic civic and political education. I do not know how many of those attending today’s meeting read the Greater Romania Party’s manifesto. They offer a set of economic solutions, which are entirely out of touch with reality and are not even consistent with the very principles they claim to uphold. If acting well wins you an election that is indeed worrying and troublesome as it means that decent and close examination of political programs has no value. Unlike others, I strongly disagree with the fact that the votes for the Greater Romania Party were generated by dire poverty because PRM did not carry the poorest counties. A great many of those who voted for PRM were young people who were spared the Communist propaganda. Is there really no way to put into place some education programs to help them weigh political programs?

A similar situation occurred in Turkey, where growing frustration among people boosted the extremist side. They commissioned large-scale in-depth sociological research to find out why the young voted for the fundamentalists. As a result, they came up with a bottom up community communication action plan aimed at young people.

Do we have the necessary elements to find out why our young people voted as they did, and see whether their vote was right or wrong, whether they need similar education or not?

Alin TEODORESCU:
Some of the questions raised by Dan Petrescu can get an answer. In my opinion, the ideological elite of our society is definitely wrong in the way it assesses the current situation, that is where we stay and what we need. Any society’s elite falls under three categories: the technical, the administrative and the ideological ones. In Romania, the ideological elite has always been very active and violent both before and after 1989. That is what all slower countries in terms of market economy share. Looking at Vadim Tudor’s recent evolution will prompt us with the right answer. Corneliu Vadim Tudor is one and the same with the Greater Romania Party. If Vadim Tudor left the political scene, his party would soon vanish, too. It is a one-man party, different from the Civic Alliance, the Civic Alliance Party, the Group for Social Dialogue. These organizations include both political and nonpolitical personalities. The Greater Romania Party has easy access to the masses, can "read" the people’s state of mind, just as it happened with the Nazi, Mussolini’s and Franco’s movements. We are wrong to think Romanian voters got it wrong and they need political education. It is the political elite that needs political education Why is it so? Because it is due to the mistakes of the ideological elite (which includes the political one), its irrationality that increased Corneliu Vadim Tudor’s and Gheorghe Funar’s vote margin (let’s not forget that the latter got 10% in the 1992 presidential election).

I will show you the curve of people’s trust in Corneliu Vadim Tudor compared to Emil Constantinescu for a span of time that covers more than 4 years (December 1996-March 2001). On December 1996, 70% of the people trusted Emil Constantinescu. In July 1997, the government was defeated in Brussels and Madrid. Romanians turned to the president as the people’s rightful voice, and Emil Constantinescu replaced Victor Ciorbea, which put him on an upswing trend. Then, for more than 12 months, Emil Constantinescu tumbled down in opinion polls. He shortly became popular again when he declined to run for presidency only to leave the limelight for good. All that time, Corneliu Vadim Tudor’s popularity was constantly within the range of 20-25%. His popularity started to go up when the Ciorbea crisis got worst. In December 1998, he reached 18% vote intentions (and it scared us all) and almost 30% trust level. Fortunately, in January 1999, Corneliu Vadim Tudor made two mistakes on the same day: he sent Miron Cozma a letter inviting him to attack Bucharest and launched scathing attacks on Constantinescu’s private life with a phony love affair (the Hartner case) seemingly unaware that in Romanian politics any such attack backfires and mars the attacker. As a result, his popularity decreased from 18% to 8% (trust level), but it soon resumed growth. In July 2000, at the beginning of the presidential campaign, he had 20% (trust level) and he reached 42% thanks to an excellent directed campaign. The other two candidates called themselves independent or technocrat. Corneliu Vadim Tudor attacked along the same lines as Constantinescu and had won his voters. If Emil Constantinescu had run for the presidential position, he would have entered the second tour and the outcome might not have been easily predictable.

Emil Constantinescu made a huge political mistake by giving up. Corneliu Vadim Tudor needed 2 years to get from 22% to 30% (trust level). Its upswing evolution in opinion polls is not correlated with Emil Constantinescu’s fall.

The political elite must think of all the consequences of their political acts, not only of their own self when they look into the future. The public who was interested only only in certain themes (corruption, NATO integration, its dislike for Ion Iliescu and the Social Democracy Party of Romania, especially in the big cities of Transilvania) followed the leader who spoke about these issues, no matter who he might have been. That is why in Transylvania Vadim raised more votes than anyone expected. He got almost the same number of votes as Constantinescu did in 1996.

What could Emil Constantinescu do? I will tell you when Constantinescu really lost the race. Ion Iliescu maintains his 35% (trust level) until April 1999. Constantinescu does nothing, although he was provided with these figures on his desktop monthly. In January 1999, we were confronted with the miners’ crisis. Radu Vasile finally sorted it out, but Constantinescu, instead of reorganizing his team and building on his trust level, withdrew his backing for PM Radu Vasile. As a result, Radu Vasile has to leave office, because Emil Constantinescu influenced the public, and both of them plummet to a crash. Support for NATO air strikes on Serbia gave Iliescu an unassailable lead. The one who wrote the speech for President Constantinescu should have had his citizenship taken away. Actually, the speech that had been written for Constantinescu was against him. There is a big difference between loyalty towards NATO and the European powers and the concern that should have been present for the civilians from Serbia. That text should have focused on two issues: the first one - keeping our word and allowing NATO forces to fly into the Romanian air space; and the second – raising funds and opening a help line to civilians from Serbia who were not to blame for the dispute between Milosevic and Clinton. That was a conclusion drawn after 4 days of hard investigation and it would have rehabilitated Constantinescu, but it was lost on the way. As a result, voters jumped to the conclusion that next to economic shambles we would also be dragged into a war. From that moment on, in spite of all the efforts – changes in social policies, help for the flooded, appointing new Prime Ministers – there was nothing to make up for the lost ground.

I think that it is obvious now that the elite is the one that makes mistakes and the public only acts accordingly. The public is interested in eliminating corruption, in ridding off stray dogs, in NATO and EU integration and it supports the one whom it trusts to sort out these problems.

The second mistake: Constantinescu knew that any change of prime minister starts from a lower level of trust then the previous one. At the beginning, Ciorbea started at a 70% in public trust and he ended up at 20%. Radu Vasile started from 40% and ended up at 9%. Mugur Isarescu started from 40% and finished at 7%. The president was aware of the fact that changing people at a certain moment is just a short-lived solution. So he should have taken care of the most important matters on the public agenda, such as: inflation, Gross Domestic Product and the real income. In 4 years, Constantinescu spent less than a month taking care of four of the most important problems which concerned the Romanians: bringing inflation to a lower level, rising the Gross Domestic Product, economic development and growth of real income. When you spend only 3% of your time in office on working out problems that people are interested in by an overwhelming 70-80%, you will get what you deserve.

I don’t agree with Stelian Tanase on his account of PDSR’s ways of ruling. I think leading politicians are now fully aware of the Public Opinion Barometer and its consequences. Constantinescu and his prime ministers had also full access to this data from the very beginning. The Social Democracy Party of Romania pays more attention to inflation, Gross Domestic Product, and real income than to foreign affairs, and relationships with various politicians bodies all over the world. The present administration is aware of the fact that people’s trust does not last for ever, and that replacing the prime-minister is a short-lived solution. All that matters is to take care of Romanians’ priorities. Romanians’ personal agenda which includes their own and their family’s health, keeping one’s job, the income-spending ratio, their children’s education, and minimizing personal risks is immaterial in the long run. The collective agenda is what’s at stake here. Romanians’ public agenda has changed over the past 5-6 years. In 1995, we were afraid of a war, of ethnical conflicts, of inflation, of lowering living standard and of unemployment. In July 2000, as today, we were interested in our living standard, in the quality of the public services (especially the Police, the Justice system and public health services), inflation and unemployment. Our political elite knows all these facts. It is not the public that must be educated, but the elite. I suggest we create an NGO for the politicians’ education after they get to power.

Yet another mistake was to think CDR needed just one man to run for President, and that all the rest should pull out, when the ballots had been already printed.

Our political and ideological elite is pathetic. Its deeds prove it needs to be educated. It is absurd to argue that an independent candidate is better than one belonging to a party. The parties are the ones that rule in any democratic state. They are organizations of the civil society whose goal is to get political power.

Renate WEBER, president of the Foundation for an Open Society:
At a certain moment, a group of civic organizations raised the problem of civic education. In addition to it, we should also tackle the thorny issue of the parties’ political offer aimed at voters. Parties should admit to the sheer fact that politics is a game based on rules and those rules must be obeyed. They should know that their decisions affect all of us as by a chain reaction effect.

It is up to us to shape political behavior by considering and acting within its legal and institutional dimensions. For example, today’s Romanian Parliament has the largest ever number of MPs who were convicted for crimes. Law denies some categories of convicted people the right to vote but not the right to run for office. I suppose people voted for Corneliu Vadim Tudor because he took over some of Emil Constantinescu’s ideas, but also because they wanted to show off. Vadim Tudor pledged overnight wonder solutions for everything including trials on stadiums, and voters lined up behind him to see the whole mess cleared up in an instant.

A recent Donor’s meeting addressed the much hyped for need for civic education. At that time I urged we should consider ways to review Romania’s political offer so that voters should be presented with a real choice. It seemed to me there was a serious misunderstanding of what had really happened in Romania and a tendency to evaluate things superficially. But I do not believe that we should wait for others to support our own ideas. I wonder what would have happened if Gyorgy Frunda (supported by the Hungarian Democratic Union of Romania) and Mugur Isarescu had not run for presidency? It seemed to me that voters preferred Theodor Stolojan to Theodor Melescanu, as he appealed to those who wanted business dynamism and who after all make up what we would like to call the Romanian “middle class”. In the spring–summer 2000, when Melescanu was losing momentum and Stolojan enjoyed public leverage, opinion polls also forecast an impressive turnout. Mugur Isarescu confused voters. Am I wrong?

Andrei STOICIU, Ph.D. in political sciences, IEP Paris, councilor at the Political Department of the Presidential Administration:
I would like to split this debate into three symbolic parts. Our focus is democracy education. I think that there are different mechanisms by which we can influence it: the formal mechanism related to legislation, to the Constitution, judicial aspects, immunity, who may run and under what conditions, voting procedures. So far most of our debates have focused on issues related to the separation of powers, and to be more specific, about the fact that our government used to rule by ordinances and that it did not take into consideration the Parliament’s prerogatives. The government’s actions affected the Parliament’s image. My opinion is that we have talked enough about the formal mechanisms of education or democratic processes. The second main topic which was addressed here is related to the informal mechanisms belonging to the civil society, that is NGOs, mass-media, those who create the news, the role assigned to the civil society and individuals speaking on behalf of it. People argued here that the latest elections have triggered a sharp decline of the civil society and the willingness to come together. More often than not these debates have been about legitimizing representation, that is who talks in the name of whom. Donors maintain that, unfortunately, financing policies have not always been the right ones. All these mechanisms are familiar to us all, as they have been extensively discussed. The third category of mechanisms is now under close inspection here, namely democracy education, which is indeed our weakest point. There are some mechanisms that I would call "alternative". They generally create competition for the political offer not only in its theoretical formulation, but also in its implementation. It has been suggested that parties should improve their political offer. There is little talk however on the way political parties elaborate this agenda, how they select staff, how information is exchanged among various institutions. There are no alternative policies and more often than not parties find themselves unable to decide whether their ideas are right or not. This derives from the fact that there are not enough Romanian institutions which can offer alternative political scenarios and evaluate the present ones. All mechanisms that are related to political transparency, to policy evaluation, to competition in public policies, represent a field that has long been neglected in Romania. Here we might include the mechanisms of communication among institutions as driving force to democratization.

Ion DUMITRU, Ph.D. in economy, scientific advisor at the Scoala Românesca magazine and at H Foundation:
Democracy represents a political system, a way of thinking, a certain behavior and a certain type of relationships. People in Romania do not act democratically. Party members diverge so often because they fail to understand political competition. We want to be a part of the EU, but the EU imposes on us its acquis communautaire, even if Romanians themselves have their own expectations. We find ourselves in times of economic, political and social crisis with two different forces piling up pressure on the Nastase cabinet. Nastase tries to play his cards the best he can. If successful, Adrian Nastase will be more and more popular and he will become a major politician. If not, Nastase will step down like so many others. Everything leads us to one easy end: democracy is something to be learnt. Neither market economy nor civil society work properly in this country. So we can’t talk about democracy. Democracy should be functional and participative which is out of the question here. Our entire people should be democratically educated, especially the young ones. This is a process that can be done efficiently only in schools. In this respect, an educational model was created and it was called THE ALTERNATIVE, a program based on the democratic system.

It means education switches from external command and coercion over students to self-control based on self-motivation and interest. In this way, students become active participants in their education and therefore they have to co-operate with others in order to acquire the necessary knowledge and skills for their future profession. In this context, the crucial problem with our educational system rests with proper content and methods as well as community building. If the students practice democracy while attending classes, they will grow to be real democrats, members of a democrat party, future democrat leaders. Our present leaders are not democratic at all. They just pretend to be so, but when it comes to democratic principles within their own parties they easily disregard them.

Stefan FATULESCU, professor, president of the H foundation:
The state of the civil society and existing NGOs mirrors the state of the people. On the other hand, I totally agree with the fact that we must reeducate the elite, not the common people. Our elite has been "limping" since 1939, our modern society’s golden age. If the elite had done its duty then, communism wouldn’t have been successful here. Today’s elite is not much more to blame than the past one.


Dan PETRESCU:
First of all, donors should carefully examine present circumstances and take their time before reorienting their programs. We have provided them with two possible answers today. The first one was given by Stelian Tanase who made it clear that civil society needs rebuilding from the bottom up, from genuine and urgent needs, in order to nurture willingness to associate and increase social capital. According to him, donors should support only the practical activities, which imply people coming together. IMAS has pursued such a research as far as I know. Such a project clearly points out that availability for associating is boosted as a result of specific activities. Andrei Stoiciu has given the second answer. His point is that Romania lacks means to create public policies. Our politicians should be able to create or to evaluate public policies and should be trained to do so in courses of governmental or non-governmental institutions. They should come to think and reason this way which involves asking for public opinion.

 

Adrian BADILA, member of the Board of CENTRAS:
What has been said here so far is very interesting. It is obvious that we need to reconsider a strategy concerning civil society taking into account the present circumstances. Want we want is an integrated approach to democracy education addressing each segment of society – kindergarten children as well as the persons making political decisions hoping that they would become our elite. We were rather gloomy at CENTRAS between the first ballot and the run-off in the presidential elections. Then I said that we should face reality with our own forces, that we could do what we had taught others to do during the 11 years of running hundreds of courses and trainings on institutional management, strategic planning, communication, democracy. We should note that we have representatives not only in the field of civil society, business and politics, but also in the owners associations. I think that what we need is pragmatism, a lot of work done with an eye on the future.

Alin TEODORESCU:
I would like to go into further details with a view to last summer’s political dispute between Mugur Isarescu and Stolojan while running for presidency. What can the donor do for democracy having the above in mind, their attitude towards CDR and all the other organizations involved in the campaign.

Theodor Stolojan is a special Romanian politician. He is more of a phenomenon than a person. He served as Romania’s Prime Minister. He is remembered for little but one thing, that is he united exchange rates on November 11 1991, doing away with illegal currency transactions in the streets. This had been a source of social uneasiness as it involved almost half of the active population of the country. It turned out to be enough for people to celebrate his skills. At the beginning, he considered himself a technocrat, good for administrative positions. On the 17th of July, after President Constantinescu’s withdrawal from the race, Stolojan still wanted to be a Prime Minister, not to run for presidency. While attending courses sponsored by donors, he understood that politics rests with political parties and their full support in any democratic society, that he had to face the challenge of the popular vote if he wanted to get an administrative or a higher political job. He understood that there was no other way to do it. The situation was entirely different from the one in 1991, when he became the Prime Minister, as in the meanwhile we passed the Constitution and we have become a normal country. Then, he did three things: he joined a party, he accepted to run in the elections for presidency knowing that he couldn’t get more than 10-11%, and pledged he would stay in politics, which was exactly what he did, to strengthen up his party for the coming elections in 2004. This was a good example of educating the elite.

The other technocrat, Mugur Isarescu, first declined running for presidency, then he changed his mind stating that that was a result of the public request. Then he labeled himself an independent. Which comes to saying that he made two things: 1) He left the Democratic Convention of Romania 2000 without a leader who could have backed the party to get more votes; 2) He showed contempt for the older political organizations and encouraged the widespread longing for powerful individuals. Therefore he was the one to start the fight among the political leaders that had good media coverage by that point in time.

And please do not forget all forecasts on July 2000 showed that the votes for presidency could be more unsteady than those for the parties.

The Democratic Convention of Romania could have clung on to its initial 10% if it had had a valid candidate to run for presidency. Thus, the Parliament’s make-up would have been different. The technocrat candidate, professing utter contempt for political parties lost his popularity and dragged down to disaster the less powerful political organizations which could not succeed by themselves (the Alliance for Romania, the Democratic Convention of Romania 2000). As a result, all the 1,400,000 votes for the Democratic Convention of Romania and the Alliance for Romania were given to the Greater Romania Party and the Social Democracy Party of Romania through one politician’s inconsiderate acts.

What can financing bodies do as far as democracy education is concerned?

When we think of the Donors Forum we should take into account two realities: our political system is stable (we have a Constitution, we had 7 free and fair elections in a row without problems). We now run against 4 major problems:

    1. The political parties are weak and corruptible. They should be strengthened (both those parties which entered the Parliament and those which did not) by a kind of institutional building program;
    2. Our electoral system is old. It does not help the less powerful parties and candidates without an important political support, and it ought to be improved in terms of voting procedures and electors’ lists;
    3. There is rather poor communication between the political elite and society. The experiment with the Prim-Minister’s open line showed that some 64.000 phone calls had been registered in 8 hours. (A World Bank, grant, provided money for this program. Later there were less phone calls)
    4. The educational level of the political elite is very low, which allows the less prepared persons to promote actions and programs, which are out of touch with reality.

Luminita PETRESCU:

Thank you very much. I would like to conclude with this message: after the campaign that took place in December 2000, many of us came to realize that democracy couldn’t be taken for granted. November 1996 was an euphoric moment because the so called "democratic forces" had won the elections and everybody was happy: non-governmental organizations, many people, the winning parties, as well as those who sponsored civic education programs, democratic education, who thought they had reached their goal. Unfortunately, during 1996-2000 we experienced a lack of interest in politics among non-governmental organizations, especially among civic organizations, among the parties in power, and among sponsors. Over the last 4 years, there have been fewer civic educational programs than during 1990-1996. We all seem to agree we have paid dearly for this lack of interest. It is very important for us to do something. By "us" I mean common citizens and non-governmental organizations. I know that it is hard to break an institutional "wall" and to get to what – every 4 years – we call voters, but I think that it’s worth trying. As a sponsor, I would pay a special attention to the political parties because political improvement is critical.

Even if in 4 years’ time Romania would boast the most socially active and aware citizens ever if those citizens had to pick between the lesser evil, that is between "a smaller evil and a bigger one" democracy (which we’ve been trying not only to teach but also to practise for some 10 years now), will once again come under threat.