Anti-Western speech sources in Romania: judiciary, oil and gas, public protests

An overview of the media monitoring process in July, August and September 2018 clearly shows that the main topics which politicians and media alike focused on were related to the judiciary. That’s a very relevant indicator of the way the relationship between the two groups (politicians and media) works: it is a one way road used to transport messages from the politicians, via media, to a greater audience (the public). Basically, almost all messages that get to people are of political origin and conception. The explanation is rather simple: on one hand, many of the media outlets are controlled (openly, most of the time) by politically involved businessmen, on the other hand, the independent media is under-financed and not able to compete with the politically biased one.

How is this concentrating interest on the judiciary relevant for the anti-Western public speech? The reason is that this focus is on changing the core of the judiciary laws in a such way that the social-democrats in power in Romania and their allies become the opposite of what the US and EU would expect. As a result, repeatedly, the US (mostly through the voice of the ambassador Hans Klemm) and the EU leaders criticized the decisions made by the Romanian political establishment and asked for judiciary status improvement and executive power not meddling with the judiciary legislation.

Amending the judiciary legislation in order to weaken the rule of law and dismissing politically uncontrolled magistrates could not be done while supporting an EU and US agenda. In other words, one couldn’t support Western democratic values and, in the same time, try by any means to weaken the rule of law, judiciary and magistrates’ status.

The logical outcome, then, was that the approach these politicians chose to have was very similar to the one also chosen by Putin’s loyalists.

This very toxic philosophy has been clearly expressed and put to work in the last years and examples can be found at any given time during this period.

In the very first month of our surveying process, July 2018, one situation that proved to be exemplary for that kind of approach was the dismissal of Laura Codruta Kovesi. Kovesi had been in office as chief prosecutor of the National Anti-Corruption Directorate (a structure of the General Prosecutor’s Office in charge of white collars corruption) for five years when she was politically dismissed one year prior to the end of her last term. The move (not only often requested, but carefully orchestrated by the social-democrats in power and their allies) was glorified by politicians and journalists that, for years, claimed that Kovesi was Soros’s tool, supported by both the US and the EU.

Laura Codruța Kövesi
Laura Codruța Kövesi

The arguments used are very similar to those of the Russian propaganda – the Western countries are acting colonially and are trying to impose their will on Eastern European countries so that, eventually, they control everything: the markets, the resources, the people. It is then, in that scenario, necessary to grab the reins of judiciary.

The second situation to be noted down in July was the issuing of the preliminary report of the Venice Commission on the amending of the judiciary laws. One of the most shameless piece of news on this topic was displayed by Antena 3 news TV channel under the headline “The Venice Commission praise the judiciary laws amendments”. The only problem, though, was that the preliminary report of the Commission strongly recommended that those amendments should be revoked.

The Venice Commission preliminary report forced politicians in power to express their very feelings towards the involvement in the judiciary matter of whoever criticized the amendments. One of the rudest social-democrats, Codrin Ștefănescu, claimed that the Venice Commission is only able to recommend, not to urge, so the parliamentary majority would simply ignore the Comm’s report. Another social-democrat, Eugen Nicolicea, blasted the Venice Commission in an interview.

Eugen Nicolicea
Eugen Nicolicea

A former minister of Justice and present MP in charge of the law amending procedures, Florin Iordache, tried to be diplomat but did it in a wrong way when he stated that the Venice Comm members hadn’t read the final version of the amendments. The Senate speaker, Călin Popescu Tăriceanu, spoke his mind, like always: the Venice Comm members are politically biased.

It is, though, worth mentioning that the Venice Commission is an essential institution of the EU and not just a club of judiciary aficionados keen on debating judiciary systems issues in EU countries just for the sake of debating.

However, there was no rest between the two events. Another one, with no connection to judiciary, set the propaganda in motion: the debate on the passing of a new bill aiming to set royalties for the oil and gas resources extracted in Romania. This was the perfect occasion to realize who’s who in the rudimentary local propaganda business: Sputnik claimed that Romanians would rather live in poverty than put a normal (i.e. high) price on oil and gas, Active News (a portal getting very active in such contexts) stated that the Black Sea is an American lake, therefore Romanians will have to give their resources for free, Fluierul (a fake news portal) was blunt about it: selling cheaply the resources is treason. Politicians (either in power or in opposition) were extremely shy about the topic and very few good analyses were offered to voters.

Later on, though, some of the politicians would get extremely vocal and explicit, as we shall see.

Should one wanted to check accurately how high the level of anti-Western attitude of the Romanian political establishment was, August was the month to do it.

At first there was what seemed to be plain stupidity: the Romanian minister of Defense claimed that the Deveselu anti-missiles shield deals with ballistic missiles. Most probably, what the minister (Mihai Fifor) really meant was that the shield deals with annihilating those ballistic missiles, instead of implying it uses ballistic missiles for offensive goals. But the clumsy way of saying it sparked furious reactions: all opposition politicians asked for his resignation.

Mihai-Viorel Fifor
Mihai-Viorel Fifor

Russia, however, rejoiced: Sputnik mocked Fifor and the Russian embassy in Bucharest ironically congratulated the minister. But then adopted a more official tone and accused Romania of playing games designed  to cover American lies.

The fiesta of fake news was started by the swine fever epidemic that engulfed Romania. Because of terrible consequences (millions of pigs killed not only in farms, but in households in the countryside – the pig being there a very important source of food – and subsistence farms), farmers and villagers alike were extremely frustrated (and for good reasons). To pour gas over flames, Sputnik published stories about swine fever hotspots in the proximity of Pentagon bio-labs and EU countries benefiting from the crisis (all these leading to one “logical” conclusion: the swine fever was “imported”, “planted” in Romania).

At a much smaller scale, the recipe was the same as that famous one created in the ’80s and known as “Operation Infektion” (fake news claiming that AIDS was concocted in a US military laboratory).

As if it was not bad enough, not only that Romanian authorities were simply absent in this scandal, but actually a Romanian MEP, Daniel Buda, supported the scenario and bluntly claimed that the next phase is bringing to Romania from EU huge quantities of pork injected with hormones.

An extraordinary situation, however, provided the ultimate proof that, now, the ruling politicians in Romania are in a very complicated relationship with the West, especially when confronted by the people. That event was the massive rally that took place in front of the Gov building on August 10th. Although the vast majority of the crowd consisted of calm people, the Gendarmerie forces chose to attack the people, use tear gas and brute force.

As it was later revealed, the order to attack was political and came from the Interior minister, Carmen Dan, one of the most loyal – if not the most – member of the cabinet to Liviu Dragnea, the social-democrat leader.

And it kept going like that even further on: when the ruling party faced penal investigations, it chose again to respond in style. Russian style: the protesters were (allegedly) manipulated by evil foreign forces, paid by multinational companies aiming to steal Romanian natural resources etc. The most astonishing disclosure in this context was that made by the PSD leader, Liviu Dragnea: four men attempted to murder him (!) and Soros was no stranger to that (!). All this propaganda was exported to Brussels wrapped in a letter signed by PM Dancila (though, eventually, Dragnea’s “murder attempt” was left aside).

In order to support the anti-Romanian war carried out by foreign evil forces, the social-democrat propaganda messengers (former Army and secret service officers) suggested that president Iohannis is a German secret agent, (the PM economic counselor, Darius Vâlcov) “revealed” that natural resources were sold two billions USD cheaper than they should have (because of not updating the royalties level – as if that could have been attributed to the same external evil forces) and (a social-democrat MP, Liviu Pop) depicted the US and some EU countries as cockroaches feeding on Romania’s natural resources.

So it is pretty interesting to notice that the natural resources topic was brought back in the media to be used against the protesters and politicians supporting the European path of Romania. The set up seems to have been carefully created so that many layers of the target audience could be reached: for the educated public, financial figures were used to represent the loss (the two billions USD not cashed in), whereas for the almost illiterate – the approach was visual and disgusting (an image of cockroaches invading the country). In the same time, for the conspiracy theory fans (educated or not), the fully covered secret agents ruling the country to disaster topic was successfully utilized.

Finally, another attack on the judiciary was carried out. It all started with Rudolph Giuliani sending a letter to president Iohannis (it was later disclosed that Giuliani was paid by the former FBI boss Louis Freeh’s company – a company that represents some Romanian hotshots in court after being indicted for corruption – to write the letter). The letter asked for a general amnesty to be granted and, in the same time, criticized the Romanian judiciary ways. All this led to yet another clash in Romanian society – the ruling coalition politicians used the letter in their favor and the independent media accused a scheme financed by some convicted moguls.

This time, the scandal gained transatlantic publicity: media in the US covered the story and linked Giuliani to president Donald Trump (the first is a lawyer for the latter), the State Department reacted by denying any connection to Giuliani’s letter, the US embassy to Bucharest also stated that Giuliani’s only a private person.

Rudy Giuliani
Rudy Giuliani

September was the month to strengthen the anti-EU and anti-US general attitude of the coalition in power. Darius Vâlcov, the economic counselor of PM Dăncilă kept on depicting president Iohannis as the Nazi leader Adolf Hitler. But that was no surprise given his social-democrats colleagues history of similar “jokes”.

More serious than that, though, was that a once trustworthy and reliable civic activist of APADOR CH and Open Society, Renate Weber, now a MEP (and member of the Senate speaker party, ALDE, component of the ruling coalition in Romania), thinks that the strategic Romania – US partnership is about Romania buying loads of weapons from the US for no other use than to infuriate Russia and thus transforming the “big bear” from the East into a real enemy.

As the General Prosecutor’s Office investigation progressed, new allegations had to be made up against the protesters on August 10th. So, luju.ro delivered: the protesters are connected to Brussels MEPs and smoke pot (!). Sputnik was more than happy to cover the “scoop” (in fact, just republish everything) and the social-democrats in power very enthusiastically used the allegations to ask for investigations to be conducted by prosecutors (Russian style, again).

Not surprisingly, it was revealed that the Romanian Gov financed a website that republished all Sputnik articles in Romanian.