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Just a few days before the parliamentary elections on December 9th 2012, the Romanian government quietly passed a controversial emergency ordinance reorganising the National Audiovisual Council (CNA). Far from going unnoticed, as Prime Minister Victor Ponta and his social-liberal coalition (USL) would have hoped, the imposed changes have sparked yet another fiery debate between media specialists, politicians and European institutions.
Facing public pressure, Ponta did not publish the ordinance in the Official Monitor of the government, therefore delaying its full implementation. Instead, he re-sent it to the Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Public Finances for "improvements". This doesn’t mean, however, that the matter is closed. Once the two ministries agree on ways to re-write the text, it will be out of anyone’s hands when and in what shape the document will be implemented, or how unexpectedly it will appear in the Official Monitor. The only person holding that decision is Victor Ponta.
One of the most feared changes in the ordinance by the members of the CNA is the one limiting the Council’s power to sanction television and radio stations, as well as programme suppliers, for breaching standards. Presently, the CNA is the only public authority able to take such measures. However, under the new regulations passed by government, any CNA sanction that is contested in a court of law will automatically be suspended until the case is closed – which might take up to two years, considering the length of Romanian court cases. Therefore, the Council would become an advisory body rather than a public authority, and its members would be unable to take effective measures when faced with a breach of standards.
The latest Corruption Perceptions index by Transparency International (TI) brings into question the description of the European Union's role, often told in dialectic terms, of the transformation of Eastern Europe from a web of Soviet satellites to European states. Whilst levels of perceived corruption in Eastern Europe have remained steady compared with three years ago, and admittedly in some cases improved for those states belonging to the EU, they have also plummeted in those "Western" countries most affected by the euro crisis. The public narrative of corruption would do well then, to shift from a primary reliance on historical cultural explanations embedded in the European Union, and focus more on the particular socio-economic conditions at hand.
The comparative view
The headlines on this year's World Anti-Corruption Day (December 9th 2012) focused almost exclusively on the plight of Italy and Greece. The TI's report, based on averaging a range of independent institutional assessments of transparency and accountability, and therefore a "perception" of corruption, rather than a quantitative assessment of this opaque area found Greece to be languishing globally in 92nd place. Greece was not only at the bottom of Western and Central Europe's rankings but well below a number of post-Soviet states, including Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, and Poland, for levels of its political and economic corruption.
In sharp contrast, a number of post-Soviet states in Europe are slowly, steadily progressing in terms of holding their institutions accountable. Whilst notably behind traditional Western and Nordic countries, Hungary and Poland both improved their rankings, receiving over 50 out of 100 points from across 10 institutional surveys each. Slovenia and Estonia also featured in the top 20 of European countries too. This analysis does not forget that there are notable criticisms to be levelled at Hungary in particular, most notably Victor Orban's assault on the independence of the Hungarian media, the central bank and judiciary independence, but suggests that a comparative view leads to the conclusion that behind the headlines there are moderate improvements to be noted in the conduct of the Eastern European public sphere.
"Mild mannered European civil servant by day, superhero, erm, at weekends and at other times on request..." He is Captain Europe, an anonymous employee of the European institutions whose mission is to lift European citizens' spirits during these hard times, while fighting the mortal enemies that are eurosceptics.
It all began back in 2008, when this civil servant assembled all the pieces of a suit that would become his part-time uniform for the next four years… and those to come. Carrying a European flag as his cape and the 12 golden stars of the European flag glued on the torso of a tight blue suit, he went to a costume party. It was the first day of many as a superhero.
"A colleague was particularly pleased with some work I did, so I sent him a picture of myself in costume and told him to think of me as his superhero. The upshot was that I was invited to take part in Europe Day," he explains. A successful experiment, Captain Europe became a fixed attraction in these celebrations, and his phenomenon went viral after, of course, coming up on Facebook and Twitter. "I got so many appearances that I have just had to order a new suit," he says.
Superpowers and Twitter
On the day that the EU won the Nobel Peace Prize, Captain Europe appeared on the Place du Luxembourg, the favourite square for celebrations in the bubble, passing on his enthusiasm to fellow eurofans as well as passers-by.
Slavoj Zizek’s new film, The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology (official website), is meant to be a wake-up call, not a propaganda film. While most things we see on the big screens are idealised, romanticised, stereotypical versions of reality (and especially of morality), the "big problems" eat away at us because public opinion avoids tackling them. This is especially true for Eastern Europe, where years of dictatorial regimes taught the population to not ask too many questions and less than 25 years of democracy haven’t yet produced a particularly opinionated generation. In several short scenes, Zizek, the Slovenian philosopher, film-maker and the protagonist of the movie, uses examples from film, music, history and current events to discuss various ideologies.
One of the fascinating points Zizek makes in the film is how the financial crisis became a source of violent outbursts and protest movements across Europe. He believes Europe no longer faces "an accident", something that can be fixed, but rather is undergoing a structural phenomenon. Crisis has become a way of life, with the poor getting poorer and the rich getting richer until the poor act out. What these protests lack, though he says, is a coherent agenda. Putting it this way, most of the manifestations of protest in Europe, including the Eastern countries, have been nothing but rage episodes or wannabe-copies of what a public manifestation should look like.