Tag Archive | "politics"

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Ion Iliescu

Posted on 22 December 2009 by admin

Divisive Romanian leader who succeeded Ceausescu, 1930-

Ion Iliescu was the dominant political figure of post-1989 Romania, and the most divisive. For many, the achievements of his three terms as president (1990-1992, 1992-1996, and 2000-2004) – notably ushering Romania into NATO and laying for groundwork European Union membership – will always be overshadowed by a perception that he failed to follow through on the commitment in his December 1989 “Communique to the Country to demolish the vestiges of the totalitarian state.

Trained as an engineer, Iliescu studied in Moscow in the 1950s and upon returning home quickly climbed the Communist Party ladder, serving as minister for youth issues from 1967 to 1971. But when he began to display what he has termed “a critical attitude towards the dogmas of the cultural revolution,” he was pushed out of politics, ending up in charge of a technical publishing house.

iliescu-elena

Iliescu (right) with Elena Ceausescu in 1976, before he fell out of favor with Romania's Communist elite.

His reputation as an outsider proved invaluable in December 1989, when the selling tide of popular protest that began with peaceful demonstrations in support of Timisoara minister Laszlo Tokes culminated in the arrest and execution of communist leader Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife. Iliescu’s history of dissent from the ruling ideology and his solid professional standing were the credentials that catapulted him to the forefront of the National Salvation Front umbrella movement.

But his presidency began under unfavorable auspices. Throughout the spring of 1990, crowds of students and young people protested daily on Bucharest’s University Square, aiming much of their ire at the former communist officials, Iliescu above all, who had returned to positions of power. Iliescu responded by bringing in miners from the Jiu Valley to quell the demonstrations; they trashed public buildings and attacked protesters and passersby alike, on one occasion leaving seven dead and more than 1,000 injured, by the official count.

Iliescu publicly thanked the miners for restoring order, and at the end of his presidency he pardoned one of their leaders, Miron Cozma, who had been sentenced to 18 years in prison in 1999. Public outrage forced Iliescu to revoke the decision. After leaving office he was twice put on trial on charges of genocide, instigation of war, and complicity to torture. In June 2009 he was found not guilty of all charges.

Iliescu’s legacy continues to divide Romanian society. Protesters heckled him with shouts of “assassin” and “Judas” during the 2008 commemoration of the December revolution and again on his birthday on 3 March 2009. Current President Traian Basescu has called his predecessor “a specialist in coups d’état” – an allusion not only to the controversy surrounding Iliescu’s accession to power but also the Romanian parliament’s failed 2007 impeachment of Basescu, which he blames on Iliescu’s Social Democratic Party.

Though he officially retired from politics last year, Iliescu maintains his voice in Romanian affairs politics through his blog. In a 12 October speech to the Romanian Academy, Iliescu took aim at contemporary national discontent, saying it springs from “the polluted minds of people with complexes” – people he said took no responsibility for the country’s political situation until after 1989, when it became safe to dissent.

Ioana Caloianu

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Communism Redux

Posted on 26 November 2009 by admin

By Meagan Sneesby/Argus

Katerina Konecna

Konecna

On 28 November 1989, in the face of a peaceful mass revolt, the Czechoslovak Communist Party announced it would give up its constitutional monopoly on power.  Two decades on, its successor, the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia, is the third-most popular party in the Czech Republic and has been gaining in recent polls at the expense of the mainstream parties, the left-wing Social Democrats and the center-right Civic Democrats.

Though still reviled by much of the public, the Communists wield sufficient support to likely prevent either of the leading parties from forming a stable parliamentary majority in next year’s elections. With young leaders such as MP Katerina Konecna, elected to parliament in 2002 at age 21, at the forefront, the party is working to burnish its image and expand beyond its elderly base, downplaying its association with 40 years of totalitarian rule and claiming a commitment to the values of democratic socialism. In this video report from the Argus, an online magazine produced by students in the ePhotojournalism program at Australia’s Griffith University, Konecna and other modern Communists talk about the party’s platform and its place in today’s Czech Republic.

Click here to learn more about the Argus’ Velvet Revolution anniversary project and view other videos about the post-communist Czech experience.

20 YEARS AFTER:Communism Redux from MeaganSneesby on Vimeo.

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Emil Koshlukov

Posted on 25 November 2009 by admin

koshlukov1989-2Bulgarian student leader and liberal politician, 1965–

Earlier this year viewers of Bulgarian VIP-Brother, the country’s version of the U.K. reality show Celebrity Big Brother, were treated to a joke:

A Greek boy at the beach boasts to a Bulgarian playmate, “We have bananas and oranges at home!” The Bulgarian boy runs tearfully home to his father. “Well,” the man consoles his son, “tell him that when the Greeks build themselves socialism, they won’t have bananas and oranges anymore.”

On TV, Emil Koshlukov told the joke after his reality-show housemate Todor Slavkov – grandson of Todor Zhivkov, Bulgaria’s last communist ruler – expressed nostalgia for the old regime. When Koshlukov told that joke some 25 years earlier, he was tossed in jail.

Known as a liberal and an idealist, Koshlukov has a place in modern Bulgarian legend as the student-rebel imprisoned in the 1980s on charges of anti-establishment activity for telling political jokes. Freed in 1989, the 24-year-old dissident was at the microphone on 14 December of that year when a 15,000-strong crowd formed a human ring around the National Assembly in Sofia. As Bulgaria’s Communist Party retreated and agreed to hold round table talks with the opposition, the 24-year-old called for an end to mandatory instruction of students in communism and Marxism-Leninism.

Of the students’ role in the Bulgarian revolution, Koshlukov would later describe a kind of love-in powered by cheap vodka and homemade rakia. “The whole country knew us,” he said. “The girls treated us like stars when we visited other universities.”

Koshlukov’s transition from student leader to national politician looked promising in the spring of 1990, when he participated in the round table talks, but it was interrupted by a dramatic event – a fire at Socialist Party headquarters in August. Fleeing what he said were false allegations that he was responsible, Koshlukov made his way to the United States, where he enrolled in university and kept in touch with Bulgaria’s new, democratically elected president, Zhelyu Zhelev.

He returned to Bulgaria in the late 1990s, not intending to take up politics again, but in 2001 he was lured back to the national stage to join the rising centrist National Movement Simeon II (NDSV), which governed from 2001 to 2005 under the premiership of former king in exile Simeon Saxe-Coburg. Internal disagreements led Koshlukov to quit the NDSV in 2004 and found the liberal New Time party. New Time fielded candidates in the 2005 parliamentary balloting but failed to elect any candidates. In the 2009 elections to the European and Bulgarian parliaments, Koshlukov headed the list for a coalition of New Time and the centrist LIDER (Liberal Initiative for Democratic European Government), which did not win a seat in either assembly. Observers attributed the poor showing to the unpopularity of LIDER founder Hristo Kovachki, a wealthy business mogul the government has pursued on tax-fraud charges.

The former anti-communist dissident is an outspoken critic of Bulgaria’s current leadership. “State capitalism has become oligarchism,” Koshlukov wrote in the daily Monitor in April 2007. Calling the country “only a democracy on paper,” he likened its leaders to the flamboyant, transvestite Bulgarian pop star Azis: “They are a travesty of what politicians should be – they talk like Azis sings.”

Daniela Ivanova

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Zhivkov With Us

Posted on 11 November 2009 by admin

By Boyko Vassilev

More than anyone else in modern times, he ruled Bulgaria. For three and a half decades from the mid-1950s until glorious 1989, comrade Todor Zhivkov, secretary general of the Bulgarian Communist Party, decided the fortunes of the country, and he has left his mark on it ever since.

zhivkov statue

Statue of Todor Zhivkov in Pravets, Bulgaria. Photo by Bruce McDon.

His aides say he collected jokes about himself; even if this is not true, the jokes were countless. They parodied his peasant background and folksy style, but at the end he somehow outsmarted people much better educated than him. Among themselves Bulgarians referred to him by the personal and quasi-respectful “Bai Tosho” or “Tato,” a fond diminutive for father. On 10 November 1989 he was sacked by his party comrades. The political jokes disappeared – and the transition began. Continue reading …

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Still Comrades After All These Years

Posted on 27 October 2009 by admin

By Anita Komuves

Two pretty girls in their late teens walk arm in arm in front of a light-bulb factory in northern Budapest. Wearing red shirts and red berets, they hand out leaflets to workers coming to start the afternoon shift. Some ignore them and hurry past suspiciously, just as most Hungarians do when people try to hand them something in the street. Others stop to talk and take the flyer, which tells them how capitalism abuses workers and how the current economic crisis was caused by the wealthy but makes the poor suffer. A police officer stands across the street, watching another small group of young people, also dressed in red, handing out flyers at a bus stop. Continue reading …

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Vladimir Meciar

Posted on 05 October 2009 by admin

Velvet divorcee who dominated post-revolution Slovak politics, 1942-

Vladimir Meciar holds a singular place among the post-communist figures of Central and Eastern Europe. The colorful ex-boxer was the most powerful, popular Slovak politician through the first decade of transition – despite presiding over an economic free fall, inciting ethnic tensions and so alienating Western allies that the country’s NATO and the European Union entry was threatened. He remains an influential figure, thanks to his unswerving base of older rural voters unhappy with the changes since 1989, and for the last three years he has been a junior partner in the country’s ruling coalition.

Ambitious and boasting strong anti-regime credentials – part of Prague Spring reform leader Alexander Dubcek’s circle of supporters, he was purged from the Czechoslovak Communist Party after the 1968 Warsaw Pact invasion – Meciar rode the Velvet Revolution to prominence as an active member of the Slovak opposition movement Public Against Violence (VPN). At Dubcek’s recommendation, he was appointed to a cabinet post, then won election as premier in June 1990. Within a year his increasingly authoritarian behavior led VPN to oust him, but he formed a new party, the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), and returned to power in 1992 as bitter disputes flared over the future of the Czechoslovak federation. Meciar’s demands of the Czech side, coupled with the intransigence of his Czech counterpart, Vaclav Klaus, sealed the Velvet Divorce of January 1993.

During his two spells as prime minister of independent Slovakia, Meciar periodically played the nationalist card, culminating in his brazen 1997 proposal for a mutual repatriation of ethnically Hungarian Slovaks and ethnically Slovak Hungarians. Meanwhile his international standing plummeted amid allegations that his government orchestrated a kidnapping, stifled the media, and sabotaged a referendum on NATO membership. Meciar was deeply disliked by the EU, which put the brakes on Slovakia’s accession talks, but his uplifting campaign ads helped keep him popular at home.

His reign ended in 1998 when, despite winning a plurality in national elections, Meciar’s HZDS was unable to form a coalition. The next eight years saw him relegated to the opposition bench (and twice defeated as a presidential candidate) as Slovakia boomed economically and joined the EU and NATO. But the pugnacious Meciar might yet have the last word. In 2006 HZDS was invited into new PM Robert Fico’s government, and, with the next election looming, populist winds are again blowing through Slovakia.

Daniela Ivanova


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Dirty Laundry

Posted on 13 May 2009 by admin

One commentator says his country has learned some hard lessons since the Velvet Revolution but wonders how much wiser it is for all that.

By Martin Ehl

The chuckles and incomprehension about the fall of the Czech government in the middle of the country’s EU presidency slowly have died down. It had already become a little tiring to explain to foreigners how it transpired that Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek’s government failed a vote of confidence because of the particular interests of a few individuals. Now another foul whiff of local politicking wafts our way – this time from Poland. Continue reading …

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Gloomy Celebrations

Posted on 10 March 2009 by admin

hungary bridgeHas Hungary lost its way since the heady days of 20 years ago, or is that just the Magyar pessimism talking?

By Istvan Hegedus

What went wrong in Hungary? This year Hungarians celebrate five years of European Union membership and 20 years of democratic development after the collapse of a relatively “soft” communist dictatorship. Outside observers used to deem Hungary a success story. Even most Hungarians saw their country as the star pupil among the new pluralist regimes in Central and Eastern Europe that had started to attend “democracy courses” and to undergo an economic transformation as applicants to the European Union in the 1990s. Continue reading …

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