Bucharest electoral row over Victoria Nuland’ s statements on corruption

Victoria Nuland’ s recent remarks at the 2014 U.S.-Central Europe Strategy Forum targeting corruption across the region triggered an electoral row in Romania, with the Opposition and President Basescu blaming that the American top official’s statements were hinting Romania, the ruling coalition and the incumbent government. The Social-Democrat’s leaders and PM Ponta retorted the Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs at the United States Department of State s incrimination was actually referring to Hungary and pointed back to Traian Basescu, who had a private meeting with the Hungarian PM Viktor Orban precisely on Friday.

Referring to the good ties the U.S. have with Central European countries, Victoria Nuland made a surprise twist in her address when she began to criticize that there are countries in this region which are still sponsoring corruption. “ (…) Just as we work together to defend our values externally, we must fortify them internally. In Central Europe today, I would argue, the internal threats to democracy and freedom are just as worrying. Across the region, the twin cancers of democratic backsliding and corruption are threatening the dream so many have worked for since 1989. And even as they reap the benefits of NATO and EU membership, we find leaders in the region who seem to have forgotten the values on which these institutions are based. So today I ask their leaders: How can you sleep under your NATO Article 5 blanket at night while pushing “illiberal democracy” by day; whipping up nationalism; restricting free press; or demonizing civil society! I ask the same of those who shield crooked officials from prosecution; bypass parliament when convenient; or cut dirty deals that increase their countries’ dependence on one source of energy despite their stated policy of diversification”, were some of the tough remarks Nuland passed in her speech.

PSD leaders were first to respond. Prime minister Victor Ponta commented that “President Obama and the Assistant Secretary of State Mrs. Nuland have made their public critical point towards what is going on in our neighboring country, Hungary. But you have the chance to get a reaction from Viktor  Orban himself, as he is in Romania, in Bucharest today” said Victor Ponta, as quoted by Mediafax news agency. The ruling party’s spokesperson Dan Sova also said in a press release that Victoria Nuland “was obviously referring to Hungary and to the deeds of Viktor Orban, who is Traian Basescu’s friend”. “All our European and NATO allies know that Viktor Orban, Traian Basescu’s friend, has a despotic behavior: he is the one who restricted press freedom, who stopped the gas exports to Ukraine, despite the fact EU committed to help Kiev. There is no secret to anyone that Viktor Orban has a special relationship with Moscow and particularly with Vladimir Putin”, Sova told the press release.

Later on the evening, while in a visit to Rovinari, PM Ponta said President Basescu should have apologized and cancelled his private meeting with Viktor Orban, instead of dining with him, after the U.S. critics. Ponta underlined one more time that Nuland’s statements were hinting Hungary and not Romania, as Traian Basescu was trying to acknowledge.

Indeed, the Romanian President said that Nuland’ remarks target Romania inclusive and that he is concerned her statement was used as a propaganda arm by the political class. “I am concerned because the political class dismissed an extremely strong message, which is not coming from the Romanian president this time”, he said. According to Basescu, corruption is threatening the national security, and a case like “Mircrosoft file” is a prove which shows “where the corruption can get to and how it is channeled”. The head of state directly pointed to PSD and PNL leaders, Victor Ponta and Klaus Iohannis, both presidential candidates, transmitting them that Nuland was talking about Parliaments which have crimped justice’s progress.

As for his meeting with Viktor Orban, Traian Basescu said it was not an official meeting, but a private one and that no press statement would be released after it. Yet, the Romanian head of state revealed that the topic of the Szekler land autonomy draft could be tackled.

From the Opposition’s camp, the leader of Liberal MPs George Scutaru also said Victoria Nuland’s “extremely tough” remarks are in fact slapping Ponta’s ruling and the corruption inside PSD. “Ignoring the Parliament and protecting corrupt party members are Ponta’ s real achievements and it is his fault Romania is internationally suffering”, Scutaru said.

Hungary’s Zsolt Nemeth: US not being well informed

Zsolt Nemeth, the chairman of the parliamentary committee on foreign affairs in the Hungarian Parliament’s retort was as tough as the American’s rebuke. He said the United States is not being well informed and that perhaps if the United States had a full-fledged ambassador in Budapest Washington would know more about the situation in Hungary. In taking on the sensitive issue of “illiberal democracy” Nemeth asserted there is a global competition between liberal and illiberal democracies whose final outcome is still cloudy. But “Hungarian democracy is liberal and it will remain so. However, perhaps we should learn from other countries, including the illiberal ones, to become successful”, he also commented.


corruptionRomaniatraian basescuUSVictor Pontavictoria nuland
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