Every 25 years or so Romania startles the rest of the world.
In 1989 we had to pass through the bloodiest Revolution in the Eastern Block in order to get rid of the most unreasonable communist dictator in Europe, bar Stalin of course.
In 2015 we had to be awaken by a disastrous fire in a night club to oust a prime minister who is currently under investigation for alleged corruption.
What’s going on here?
For the last 2000 years the Carpathian mountains have been the first obstacle that had to be negotiated by the migratory peoples that came to Europe from the depth of Asia.
Since for the first 1000 years on the plains where now lie Northern Poland and Northern Germany there was nothing to be plundered while the Northern shores of the Sea of Marmara were harboring a very rich city – Byzantium – most of those tribes transformed the area between the Carpathians and the Black Sea into a sort of highway. That’s why whatever forms of political structures the local population – the proto-Romanians – were trying to set had very short lives. They usually were fleeting fiefdoms run by chieftains from the migratory tribes whose authority survived only till the next, and more powerful, tribe arrived in the region.
After the huge Russian plains have been somewhat stabilized by the establishment of the Crimean Khanate the situation became even more complicated. The area was a battle ground for Bulgarians, Turks, Tartars, Hungarians and later Austrians and Russians. Besides the constant political instability this situation included the fact that very seldom the people who were in charge with running the place had a strong connection with the people they were leading. If any at all.
This had very insidious consequences, the most important being a huge distrust of authority. The present days libertarians would argue that this is a good thing… Well, think again.
If the people do not, not at all that is, trust those who happen to be in power and those in power do not care at all about those under their patronage you have the ‘perfect’ set of circumstances for the onset of an all pervasive corruption.
During the last five centuries the Western Europe has slowly evolved from Feudalism – the rule of he who happened to be powerful enough, tamed by some traditions inspired by religion, to what is now known as ‘The Rule of Law’. Meanwhile, in the European provinces occupied by the Ottoman Empire people lived in an almost schizophrenic manner. They passionately hated their rulers – and did their best to cheat them when ever they could, while developing a very strong respect for traditions, the only thing that kept the people together.
By the way, this is also the explanation for what has happened in the former Yugoslavia, where strong ethnic and religious allegiances were played upon by callous political adventurers.
This constant distrust/disdain between the rulers/administration and the general public has only deepened during the Soviet imposed communist rule and produced a real chasm between these two social strata. And it’s exactly this divide that is the reason for which all dictatorial regimes fail abysmally, sooner or later.
A convincing explanation for this was provided, long ago, by Pareto: ‘whenever the circulation of the elites (social mobility) is hindered, the society where this is happening is in great danger’.
Another way of explaining the unfailing demise of any dictatorship is corruption. When ever the rulers do not care about anything else but their very short term interests and the ruled do their best to cheat the system the corruption becomes so pervasive as to clog the entire social mechanism.
If left to itself this cancer can lead to implosion. The Roman Empire, for instance, didn’t fell because it was mortally wounded by the barbarous migrant tribes. It had became so weak because of wide spread corruption as to allow the barbarians to provide him with the fatal blow… Just consider what Caligula used to do for fun… The Soviet Empire did almost the same thing.
Now that I’ve reached this point I’ll have to remind you that corruption does not always have to be about money but covers all instances when people misuse, intentionally, their power.
You see, people make mistakes.
There is no way of avoiding this.
And the main difference between a corrupt society and one which is more or less ‘normal’ is that in a normal society he who notices a mistake has at his disposal enough means to report that mistake to the relevant authorities while having a decent chance to survive the attempts of the ‘perpetrator’ to ‘cover his tracks’.
The fire that started the current uprising in Romania was nothing but the final straw that broke the camel’s back. People have witnessed, individually, so many instances of corruption that had become fed up with it. But each of them wasn’t quite sure about what the guy next door was going to say/do about it. Meanwhile the authorities were more a part of the problem than providing a solution.
When this tragedy struck a lot of people have finally understood that this has to stop. And took their grief to the street.