The state of the politics

The Parliament assembled to inaugurate the debates on the new constitution, whatever a new constitution was called for. I stepped into the crushingly huge hall, remembering the feel of it while casting my eyes around in wide circles like a flash of a torch in a dark cave. The stately air proper. So much stateliness that you’d wonder where the Romanian state was, with so much politics around, or where the people were for that matter.

Twenty minutes past the presidium made their solemn entrance with long faces, silence accompanying them to their seats perched up on what looked like an opera stage. One of them looked a good-humoured grandpa hobbling along with his stick. One of the chairmen in fact. His desk-mate clears his throat and begins. Mona gets switched on by a spell and starts producing translations:

“There are four hundred and forty-seven members in all, sixty-two missing. Consequently, the forum is legally assembled and can duly proceed to its dealings, in accordance with the provisions of the regulations”, Mona says with a sarcastic smile, as if she had come asunder and whatever she was uttering carried on by itself, independent of what was going on in her mind. Her body seemed to relax on the chair, seeming to mean it was no big deal after all, translation was easy.

The grandpa bravely proceeds:

Ladies and gentlemen, senators and deputies,

Today we are meeting, practically, for the first time as a constituent assembly.

We must regulate the activity we are going to develop in order to carry out the task we have on our shoulders, namely that of elaborating the Constitution, in accordance to the  new society we are building up.

I glanced at Mona to see if there was anything wrong with her. I’d heard better English from her, but then it had been her own English, her own meaning.

With a view to it, you have been handed a bill of regulations concerning the activity of the Constituent Assembly.

But before getting to the object itself of our meeting, allow me to share some thoughts and feelings with you, feelings which concern me deeply at this beginning. We are reviving a tradition initiated by the Organic Regulations, the first constitutional acct in the Romanian provinces, continued by the popular assemblies and seeing a decisive evolution with the passing of the Constitution in 1865, appreciated as the most liberal in Europe at that time, and through the passing of the Constitution in 1923, which made an outstanding contribution on the path to Romania’s modernization. I do not intend, however, to lecture on you about what the Constitution is, about its role, the fundamental human rights and so on. These things you know just as well as I do, some of you even much better than me. I am thinking more about the spirit we must lend this Constitution, besides the text proper which we must elaborate.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The force of a chain is given by the resilience of the weakest ring. Likewise, the image of a society, the value of a social structure is given by the situation of the unfortunate, the handicapped, the widows with children, simply the poor, who are not responsible for their poverty. The communist dictatorship has left us an economic, moral, spiritual inheritance, which has pervaded all the paths of social life, and, worst, the people’s minds. These poisoned remains must be extirpated and the only heal is liberty. What a beneficial feeling it is when you are free, in your actions, in your inner interlocutions, what a creative power is unleashed by this feeling! To feel protected by the law, defended in your dignity is a priceless achievement. And this is not awarded because you are Somebody, but simply because you are anybody. To be given the possibility to think free, to organize your life and seek the happiness as you understand it, and not the way someone else wants, when it’s only one life that you are granted – these feelings must be inspired by the Constitution we are going to elaborate.

My goodness I thought will I be able to stand it I wondered.

The next personage was already near the stand, waiting eagerly to take the floor.

Chairman,

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am a senator of the Transylvanian Romanians.

I confess I am deeply touched by the solemn moment of this meeting and not less by the words, pregnant with feeling and responsibility, that our Chairman has uttered here. I spontaneously needed to come and take the floor, especially as a consequence of his urge for us to give up looking, as we have done, several times before, out of desperation, through an imaginary rear-mirror towards the past which overwhelms us with the personalities of our national epic, he urged us to look forward to the national epic which we hope will start coming into being based on a real democracy. My idea is simple. I come from a part of the country which, it appears, has been the most blood-stained and oppressed in the national history. I come from Transylvania. I come after the recent events, when, even following December 1989, Transylvania has continued to be the centre of interest for the whole country, and last but not least, I come to tell you, as a president of the Romanian Motherland union, and to ask you, now and then, regardless of the district or party you are representing, please, ladies and gentlemen, try to make believe you are all, for a longer or a shorter term, Transylvanian.

Thank you.

I said – what? And turned to Mona with I guess a flabbergasted look. Translation please, I whispered sarcastically. Applauds and cheers were rattling against the uncompromising walls.

Ladies and gentlemen, permit me to say, in the minutes, too many, which have been granted to us, that we mustn’t play applying foreign laws to our realities, which are ours and, permit me to believe, good or bad, they are only ours. Let us return to ourselves. Let us turn to our ancestral laws, to ‘ius valachicus’, to our old people’s and our laws’ wisdom in the rural Romania I come from, because there is no country, but a sum of villages and because the law of this Romanian village is a formidable universe, is in the long run the law of the country itself in a country of villages. And he who wanted to destroy the villages wanted to destroy the country. That much is clear. I come from a part of the country where there is a demographic mosaic. This mosaic was object of perusal for the great politicians Remus Opreanu, Mihail Kogalniceanu, Carol I, Ion Bratianu, when the Constitution of Dobrudja was put into effect in 1880. I can notice that Dobrudja is being left out of the historical law. Gentlemen, before drawing up the constitution of this country, let us cast our eyes on the constitution from 1880, of Dobrudja, which can prompt us with more fortunate solutions than the constitution of any European state from the north or from the south. Gentlemen, we have all we need for a good law. We have clever people and bright men. We have, beyond doubt, very good jurists who possess two qualities at this moment. They do not have experience. This is a first quality. Experience in this field would be like a headache. Because experience can only be his, who was here before us. At the same time, they have enough experience to make a law in behalf of, and according to, the people’s interests. Having this experience, they are well secured from the ingenuity called ignorance.

Gentlemen, regardless of the party we belong to, the nationality or nation we belong to, of the traditions and education we bring here, there is in front of us all a formidable imperative, that of giving the country a law – and remember, I come from a stream of peasants, for whom the law, no matter how it was, was the law. My peasants must have been Romans.

And now a question of principle, which should ground this Constitution. It may surprise you. Beyond doubt we are against privileges and there are people who claim privileges for groups. I am determinedly against privileges. I am against rights too. It is not rights that I want, but rightness, justice. No matter what it is.

Another round of properly vivid cheering. By now there was a short queue of actors waiting for their turn on the mike.

Chairman,

Honoured audience,

At this moment the Hungarians in Romania are looking with hope and confidence towards Bucharest, towards the persons in whose hands our joint future lies, towards the free elected parliament.

The Hungarians in Romania wish to live in peace within the Romanian society and all they expect is equal rights, or, quoting our distinguished colleague, equal justice.

Dear colleagues,

We believe democracy is unique and indivisible. Therefore we do not want democracy for the Hungarians in Romania, but democracy for Romania, a democracy which would guarantee the peaceful cohabitation, based on equity of rights. Without a democracy valid also for the Hungarians, Romania will never be free, because the littlemost contradiction in a structure harms the whole structure.

To conclude, I would like to mention one of the supreme values for the Hungarians in Romania. This value is called Europe, understanding that it is only us who will decide to adopt European values, but in the long run it will be for Europe itself to judge whether we have indeed succeeded in building up a society based on these values.

For unaccountable reasons it started to sound like a deja-vu, I was wondering why all this talk that I’d heard back in the nineties. A new law, the inheritance of the communists, European values – this must have been cleared up long ago. Or maybe not?

Chairmen, prime-minister, senators and deputies, ladies and gentlemen, Mona was chattering on beside me, as if in a trance. No trace left of her sardonic edginess, of her perpetual commentary. She even kept her eyes closed at times while her lips were continually moving and a dull, tune-less buzz was containing surrealist, feverish translations.

All who have spoken so far have confessed the place they come from, the place they are in love with because they saw the light of day there or they fulfilled their dreams there. I would rather say I am Romanian and I feel wonderful in Dobrudja, Oltenia, Transylvania, Bucovina or Modavia, they are all ours and I believe this extraordinary moment when we are talking about the Constitution we all must make for the country should include fundamental rights for all Romanians, irrespective of their hearts. Being citizens of these regions, they must comply with this holy law which equalizes us or should equalize us all, because all the citizens of these Romanian regions must equally comply with the fundamental laws of the country.

Chairmen, I was not prepared to speak, and at any rate I had not thought I would come today to anything but an ordinary meeting. But it has acquired a solemn character, which does not, alas, explain anything, on the contrary, but, forgive me, it is not a polemic, but I heard some opinions which have surprised me. I do not know what our destiny in Europe is, I do know however what my hopes for this country are. It is, before being a democracy, a state. It is a sovereign, independent and unitary state. And this is not to be debated on and we won’t ask anyone how it should be, this way or another. Hence forward we establish democracy or not, if we want to do it, and we won’t ask anyone what sort of democracy, it is the democracy this people thinks proper, this people who lives here and makes its own country. I can’t understand how we can be told something like that, that we can discuss what sort, if we are going to be a confederation or not, sure we can discuss lots of things, but I believe some of these things have been discussed in this country for over three thousand years. And one more thing: if we keep resuming discussions and raising ourselves for discussions, we’ll end up in discussing our existence itself. God’s existence is not to be discussed by a faithful one. This country’s existence is not to be discussed by its faithful ones. This is not to be doubted on. We are told, some tell us at least, their ideal is Europe. Mine, only Romania. Thank you.

The grandpa chairman cut in, apparently not much impressed by the act, or the acts, just concluded before his desk.

I hear voices demanding the cessation of talks. It is for the assembly, of course, to decide this and not me, but let me draw your attention that we have twenty-five minutes left to the break. Shall we approach a new topic – the regulations – in twenty-five minutes, or have the patience to listen to the other gentlemen who wish to express themselves?

So if I am right, the cessation of talks is proposed. Who is for? Against? Abstains? So it has been decided to cease the talks.

Ladies and gentlemen, I wish to make some specifications, very short, very important and very interesting. I have pulled an alarming bell concerning the steps that certain political forces outside the country are taking, not by coincidence, just at the moment when we are about to begin elaborating the constitution. Like many others in this hall, I possess very important, upsetting information to the effect that there are international circles who have specialized a good deal recently, who question Romania’s identity as a national unitary state, Transylvania’s belonging to the Romanian national unitary state. It was just the day before yesterday, within the governmental circles of a superpower, that it was stated that the renewal of Eastern Europe cannot be thought of without the reorganization of the borders. Other statements were made: in the European Council they pointed out that after Germany’s reunification it is necessary to bring up the problem of the reunification, or the remaking, of other countries in Eastern Europe, on a smaller scale. Moreover they applied for the foundation of a mini-parliament in our Transylvanian heart, the city of Targu-Mures. There are yet other details, highly reliable, of this kind, which have urged me to pull this alarming bell. Maybe the lapidary form of my speech and the tiredness of some participants have led to a distorted interpretation of my words. Actually, he who reads me could see what I am pleading for, not in one page, but in hundreds of pages. Thank you.

Taking note of this address, I think we can stop here the inaugural debates and I propose moving on to the debate of the regulations.

According to the norms adopted by the two Houses and to the other regulations, I propose discussing each article, to decide on each article, and then, in the end, pronounce ourselves on the regulations as a whole.

So you agree with this procedure?

Yes, thank you.

Anyone against? Abstains?

I take it, therefore, that everybody agrees. Consequently, let us move on to discussing the first article. I ask if there are any problems concerning this article, suggestions, so on and so forth – there aren’t. Good. Then allow me to put it to the vote. Who is for? Thank you. Against? Abstains? Thank you. Article one has met with unanimous approval. We go on to article number two, which is also fairly simple. Any remarks? Problems?

The other chairman:

I think it’s useless to vote on it, because it’s already enforced. It’s pointless.

But it remains for the history.

Yeah, all right. I say, even if it’s already been enforced, it may stay in the text.

Oh, certainly, I have taken note of this remark, for history it may stay.

For history and for the roundness and completeness of the regulations. Let us vote on it. For? Against? Abstains? Thank you. This article has met, too, with unanimous approval. Article number three, any problems to raise? No. Then we’ll vote it. For? Against? Abstains? Thank you. This article has met with unanimous approval too. Number four. You want to discuss it? Do you agree to it? I am obliged to read it for you, and you tell me if you agree on it, and then we’ll have a vote. Oh – it’s not necessary?

Voices from the audience were shouting impatiently. The amiable grandpa adjusted flexibly to the wishes of his public.

Oh, but you’ve read it, haven’t you. Agree with it? Anyone against? No. article number five. Is there anyone willing to take the floor on this problem? You have nothing more to add? I think we should nevertheless read it. Shall we pronounce – For? Against? Abstains? –

The break came punctually, not one minute later than scheduled. I was glad about it. I sprang to my feet almost at the same time as all the other respectable gentlemen, there was therefore something we did share. I followed Mona out of the hall, but she kept glancing at me over her shoulder winking or smiling allusively. She was back to her own skin, which she seemed to have sloughed off in her interpreting trance just minutes ago. Her smart-kid-up-to-something air was back on her, and it felt reassuring.

“Let’s try to get the Chairman for a quick chat, shall we?” she bent her head conspiratively to me as soon as we could walk side by side.

“Who, the grandpa?”

Her laughter soared over the general rumour of politicians set free.

“Yeah the grandpa”, she acknowledged. “They are splitting now, the senators head for the Senate quarters, downtown, and the deputies stay here.”

“What do you mean, the constitutional debates are over?”

She smiled her double-meaning smile again: faked condescension.

“Of course they are. It would be too exhausting otherwise. But they’ve covered quite a lot today, haven’t they, got good outcomes, don’t you think?” and here she blinked several times in fake candour.

“O did they? I didn’t realize they were getting anywhere, if you ask me”, I replied.

“Well maybe my interpreting wasn’t good enough”, she said. “They actually went through exciting regulations and thoroughly checked that any negative scenario is effectively dealt with by the provisions. The regulations themselves were quite meaningful, you know”, she added on the verge of bursting out laughing again.

“Yes, meaningful is the word of the day”, I said ponderingly.

“Meaningful is the word of all days, isn’t it,” Mona replied suddenly sounding as if tapping a different range of allusiveness. “But let’s hurry a bit that way if you want to catch the Grandpa”, she whispered just before she headed off lunging and swerving between clusters of idle MPs.

I caught a glimpse of a man his size who seemed to be leaning on a walking stick, turned towards a group of other elderly gentlemen with impressive paunches. Now was my lifetime chance of seeing and touching, as it were, a Romanian politician, I told myself in fake excitement. Mona approached the group in a quite professional manner, introducing herself and pointing to me with a neat smile and as she did so I noticed how their frozen faces lit up in their own professional pose. O yes, western press, how interesting, we’re delighted to meet you!

The unbearable crowd around us would not dispel, I wondered when on earth the senators would be finally leaving to their other quarters, or would they make it at all before their lunch break? Coffee must have been very good here and the cookies too.

I could only hear bits of what Mona was explaining and of the gentlemen’s exhortations but the bits of vision that were granted to me suggested that the grandpa was agreeing to be asked questions by this daring “British” journalist. Not that he was budging any inch, not even turning his back to his small crowd of yes-men, so the short interview was going to be a ping-pong of quick exchanges over his shoulder. That must be the weirdest official interview I ever made: the official himself half facing his other audience, my interpreter between him and myself often barring my vision with her hair and shoulders, the crowd of MPs jostling around in a perpetual rumour and squeezing the frame of my interviewee even tighter. I could only guess from a faint mumble that the grandpa was talking to Mona, because otherwise I might have just as well assumed, in the general flood of noise, that it was Mona answering my questions. I would have liked to see the spark in his eyes just you know in reassurance that he’s a real human being. But that was apparently too much to expect.

“Ask him when they estimate the constitutional debates will be completed, the content, I mean.”

Mona raised her eyebrows in a momentary sarcastic twitch, then turned her head and I could hear her voice half lost in the rumour, uttering sounds I was not familiar with. There was some discernible reaction to the question among the group who naturally overheard it, the respectable paunches stirred and brief glances were exchanged as far as I could tell from head movements, and it was then that I would have given anything to see the grandpa’s own face.

It took ages until Mona swirled her head and her shoulders back to me to report.

“Great missions cannot be given deadlines, so nobody can make any estimates. Estimates don’t count actually, when the stakes are so high”, and on  the last words she winked in a flash before swirling her head again towards the Grandpa, leaving me wondering if her wink had only been my hallucination.

“But now being December, shortly before the Christmas break, they will only be proceeding to the content debates mid-January. And there will be three hundred and seventy-six articles to discuss”, she added. “The referendum on the new constitution is scheduled for late September next year, so the debates should be completed by July, when the summer break begins.”

“Mhm”, I replied nodding. I just loved this political habit of making two contradictory statements in one: so now there was a deadline after all.

“Should I ask him why there are so many absentees? That’s our press’s favourite question”, Mona attempted to be asking in a confidential tone, despite the din around us. “Can I make it sound like it’s your question?” and she smiled mischievously. I couldn’t help smiling back and let her have her go.

There was another ripple of proper outrage throughout the circle of paunches on hearing Mona’s question. Mona clutched my arm and drew me to her so she could translate instantly. It was a good hunch, because the Grandpa launched a tirade, which would have been wasted if she’d had to summarize afterwards in her translation.

“Let me tell you! In the Senate there are a hundred and nineteen of us. Three or four have been on holiday for six months, as they are country governors too and can hardly handle both functions. Most of those who are missing are on committees, working – though it shouldn’t be so! – at the same time as the assembly. First the Constitutional Committee. At least ten or twelve members have been there all the time. Another group, some seven or eight, go almost permanently as law advisors, in our Legal Committee, where they have to draw up all the bills coming up for debate. Apart from the bills that are specifically referred to their Committee for a legal check, they have to examine all other bills that will go into the parliamentary debate. And then we have a small group of six or seven members who are on the mediation board. Because again, another thing is not good in Parliament: we senators and the Deputies discuss the bills separately, in the Senate and in the Deputies Assembly respectively, and doubtlessly we often disagree. And then the mediation board meets and, jokingly or seriously, a third house of the Parliament comes into being. These are all the absentees. If there are other persons missing, well, there are, true, some four or five who have been more or less missing from debates more frequently in recent weeks. They are Mr Campeanu from the Liberals, Mr Bleahu from the greens, but he’s anything but green, ha ha, Mr Albu has had an accident – but generally it’s the Opposition that is playing truant, if you know what I mean. And generally this is not an issue, it’s just the malevolent voices that are trying to put us in a bad light. Sometimes, when there are but few of us, there will also be the smokers, dear, what can they do, the meeting only breaks once in two hours and a half! They’re human too, tell me, what do you think of a smoker who doesn’t smoke for two hours! In two hours and a half a first-class smoker will have four or five cigarettes! And then they also occasionally need to go elsewhere, you know – And there are also situations, especially on Thursdays, when people leave home for the weekend, they need to catch a plane, so they leave at around eleven, though the meeting goes on until twelvish. But generally one doesn’t absent oneself, it’s just in such cases – To say that Parliament doesn’t do its duty or that it plays truant grossly – I’m telling you with all my sincerity, so it is. I’m telling you with all my sincerity, therefore one cannot speak about absenteeism, but one cannot claim either that everybody is always present and so on. Actually there are disciplinary committees for absenteeism – “

There was sudden commotion behind me, as if a huge snow-ball was closing up speedily and people were rushing out of its way. One of my shoulders got a jostle and a crowd was obviously bustling and scurrying back and forth behind my back. I turned my head and that second the snow-ball had already reached us: a waiter was pushing a trolley-table with an awesome pile of used dishes placed on it, accompanied by repetitive calls most likely requesting clearance. I just about had time to take a step sideways and clutch Mona’s elbows and pull her alongside as gently as I could. Grandpa and his audience were dispelled like a flock of sparrows and my interview was thereby dissolved to nothingness.

Mona stretched her neck and raised her arms over the crowd attempting to send out some message to Grandpa, but finding herself helpless she turned to me with an apologetic expression on her face.

I shook my head as in “forget it” and motioned to her “let’s get outa here”. The din and the eternal squirming of the faceless crowd were getting me. We started trudging against the stream towards the exit. I say against the stream because although half of these people were supposed to leave to their other meeting, the mass of them were either pressing towards the buffet, or just standing still, puffing their cigarettes and blaring in their randomly formed clusters. Then there was a magic door that Mona opened, one of those eighteen-foot tall wooden doors looking identical to all the others, but apparently that was the right door to open, and then she closed it behind us. All of a sudden it went quiet. We were safely out of the Wonderland.

On the swing of our haul through the crowd, we now started jogging out of the gigantic corridor network. I can’t seem to remember how we found our way out, whether I was showing Mona out or we were both tacitly heading in the same direction, following some sort of instinct like rats. But what matters, and indeed what mattered at that point, was that we were soon out in the open air, walking dazed as if we’d just been spurted out by a monster whale.

The fog of the morning was gone and a bright, crispy December sun made us feel all the more thankful for being out of confined spaces.