A decision to move the Romanian Cultural Institute under parliamentary control sparked unprecedented reactions among the country's intellectual community.
By Paul Ciocoiu for Southeast European Times in Bucharest -- 27/06/12
Intellectuals joined a bow-tie rally on June 18th to show support for ICR president Horia-Roman Patapievici. [Victor Barbu/SETimes]
Effective next week, the Romanian Cultural Institute will fall under the supervision of the senate, including managerial decisions such as appointments to its own board. This sweeping change stems from an emergency decree issued on June 13th, when the cabinet of Prime Minister Victor Ponta accused the institute of being a propaganda tool for President Traian Basescu.
Ponta, a leftist, leads a three-party coalition government that came to power just weeks ago, after the previous cabinet led by Mihai Razvan Ungureanu was toppled in an April 27th no-confidence vote. Basescu is centre-right politically, and has little common ground with Ponta.
The institute was established in 2003 to promote Romanian culture and civilisation, both at home and abroad, under the patronage of the Romanian presidency.
The move to put in under senate control triggered a wave of criticism from one vocal group of intellectuals, who told SETimes that it throws Romanian culture into the thicket of politics and deprives it of crucial independence that has significantly improved Romania's tarnished image abroad.
"This decision takes a swipe at the Romanian culture," Edmond Niculusca, president of the Romanian Association for Culture, Education and Normality, told SETimes. He said it would be a "tragedy" if the institute moved under the supervision of people who have nothing in common with culture.
Hundreds of intellectuals and civil society members sent an open letter to the European Parliament, denouncing what they called "an excess unworthy of a European democracy."
On June 18th, the group joined a "bow tie protest" in front of the institute offices to show solidarity with its president, Horia-Roman Patapievici, who is accused by the Ponta government of siding with Basescu.
"Why an emergency decree? Where is the emergency? Patapievici's term expires next year," Cristi Puiu, a noted Romanian filmmaker, told SETimes.
Participants in the protest asked Ponta to withdraw the emergency decree, observe the term of the current institute management, choose future leaders from the intellectual elite rather than from political ranks, and promote cultural projects based on professionalism and not political influence.
The institute, which has 17 offices abroad, has been very active in promoting Romanian culture over the past years. Last year, a book by a Romanian author was translated every week, Niculusca said.
"This is an institution which really functions. Therefore, such a change should have been submitted to a public debate. ICR has done a tremendous job in fixing Romania's image abroad," he underlined.
Those who attended the protest last week deny any political bias. "I was out there in the streets in January when I protested against Basescu's austerity measures. And now I am here to support an institution which flourished under his patronage. Does that make me politically biased or a supporter of a principle?" Dorin Ionascu, a 25-year old philosophy student, told SETimes.