Recent highschool graduates, just over 18 years of age, met in a friend’s house for a get together and remember the good times party, in April 1991. Bucharest was about 16 months free from Communist rule, and everybody danced with the greatest joy. Close to midnight, sleet, then snow, fell over the city, and some guy decided to play one of the greatest ballads from Prince’s (then) latest album: Lights dimmed, couples embraced and glided on the floor, loudspeakers amply whispered “Sometimes it Snows in April” (Parade, 1989).
Every spring I witness the fierce battle between winter and summer, between the bad times of the past and the good times to come. Sometimes, General Winter falls back for a couple of weeks, only to regroup and strike back with a vengeance–but we all know the effort is futile! Since 1990, not one April passed without me thinking of that party and that song, of the deeper meaning the song title may hold. This April 2007, the clash between the past and future was stronger than ever before–the evidence, however, is not to be found in weather records, but in Romanian politics.
The governing coalition dissolved, a minority Cabinet was installed, and 322 parliamentarians suspended the President for alleged infringements of the Constitution. I think I finally grasped that deeper meaning, and I rush to share it with you: This April 2007 was the end of Romania’s communist winter, the final stage of the transition, the clear start of a new age. Politicians and analysts in Bucharest strive to identify and discriminate the “good” and the “bad” according to visible delineations among the clashing camps. For them, opinions can only be for or against President Băsescu, for or against Prime-Minister Tăriceanu, for or against corruption or integrity, etc. To my mind, such delineations are intrinsically flawed, because they fail to recognize the existence (or persistence) of former, communist-regime elements in all camps.
Until the mid- and late 1990s, the political cleavage in Romania ran along the rift between anti-communists and “neo-” or “crypto-communists”; especially in the early 2000s, the political cleavage shifted and corruption appeared to be the new battle-field. But, as recent history reveals, not all former communists are corrupt (or corruption-defenders), just as not all anti-corruption crusaders are democrats and/or free marketeers. An old story claims that wheat seeded in the fall can’t germinate over winter unless covered by a thick layer of snow–otherwise, it would simply freeze and die before growing and riping under the hot summer sun. As much as we’d hate snow during the cold winter, we depend on it for next year’s bread. Similarly, elements of the old regime are instrumental for the conflicts that require solutions, that lead to progress, through sustainable reforms.
Just as General Winter, the forces of the old regime had to attempt a last strike against the new order being established in Bucharest. I am not able to point out to specific persons that constitute these “forces of the old regime,” because I believe this “last strike” to be an unconscious, very natural, defense mechanism of the old system, of the working relationships labeled “business as usual.” But we all know the effort is futile, because winter whithers out, and summer kicks in. Regardless of the results of this 19 May referendum, “business as usual” will no longer be possible in Romania, after 2007. The snow is bound to melt, and the already germinated wheat is bound to grow and ripe–it will be a new type of “wheat,” and it will force Romanians to develop the taste for a new type of “bread” 🙂
I’m happy for Romania being able to conclude its transition so smoothly and democratically. Such a battle between the old regime and the new order could have been brutal, expensive and protracted. This symptom, of the titanic clash that took place within the very fabric of the Romanian people and state for the past 18 years, could have taken the shape of civil war, trade union strikes, businesses refusing to pay taxes, etc. The selected solution consisted of political quarrels on the TV screens, a representative (some wonder?) vote in Parliament, and a nation-wide referendum, that all together cost only a few months and some €20 million–a very affordable price for solving such a tremendous problem, don’t you think?
I believe this may have been the last time it snowed in April, because next year we might very well find Romanians enjoying their new order, democracy and free market–smiling, holding hands, couples gliding over the dancing floor painted in the EU colors. [Later edit, on 11 March 2008: Unfortunately, this coming April it may well snow again, as the safeguard clause is just around the corner 🙁 ]