BUCHAREST and NEW YORK CITY |  The smear campaign against the Romanian Cultural Institute (ICR) has deepened and worsened.  

Following the political quarrel between Romanian President Traian Basescu and Prime Minister Victor Ponta, which may soon result in a shift of political control over ICR from being overseen by the Romanian Presidency to the Romanian Senate, a new communiqué, sent via email and dated June 28, 2012, is accusing ICR of “financial and legal irregularities” as well as “dysfunctional aspects,” without actually offering any tangible evidence.

Prime minister of Romania Victor Ponta | Courtesy of Wikipedia
Prime minister of Romania Victor Ponta | Courtesy of Wikipedia

At issue is money: 10 million euros, to be exact, the annual budget of ICR worldwide.

The communiqué allegedly came from “the online team” of Prime Minister Victor Ponta’s center-left government.  Reprinted below in its entirety, the message states that this sum “has never been the object of clear public and legal scrutiny,” adding that “These funds must become the object of democratic control procedure. The Government does not want to change the destination of these funds, but it believes that the compliance of the spending procedures with the legal provisions concerning the operation of public institutions must be accomplished.”

In quick reaction to this communiqué, ICR’s executive board members drafted a point-by-point rebuttal, arguing that the email message is a tissue of “disinformation and blatant lies.”  “As leaders assuming responsibility both for the good name and the institutional integrity of the ICR, the Institute’s Executive Board expressly warns all the recipients of the message in question not to allow themselves to be misled by the authority that seems to have drafted the communiqué,” ICR’s executive board stated, adding elsewhere that “No Romanian institution is more transparent than ICR in its expenditure of public funds.”

ICR’s rebuttal is reprinted in its entirety at the end of this article.

Moreover, ICR officials add that, contrary to the allegations of Ponta’s online team, ICR’s budget has always been subject every year to a democratic control procedure:

Like any Romanian public institution, ICR is annually controlled in great detail by Romania’s Court of Accounts, while the Institute’s financial activity unfolds under the strict supervision of the Ministry of Finance.

“Victor Ponta’s Online Team” claims to have found “financial and legal irregularities” in the ICR activity, along with “problems pertaining to ICR’s spending of public money.”  That’s false. Having been regularly subjected to the Court of Accounts control, ICR has always taken into account the conclusions in the Court’s audit reports, taking without delay the course of action necessary for correcting any bureaucratic irregularities brought to its attention. Actually, the Court of Accounts is the only body in a position to monitor the spending of public money, regardless of the authority ICR is subordinated to. With regard to the statements made by “Victor Ponta’s Online Team”, the contrary is true: no Romanian institution is more transparent than ICR in its expenditure of public funds (the ICR web page as well as its internal procedures stand proof), while the efficiency of spending public money to the purpose of achieving the Institute’s objectives is proved by the fact that out of the total ICR budget 80% is spent on current programs (with a mere 20% going towards administrative and personnel expenses).

Moreover, as the petition of the Romanian Ombudsman to the Constitutional Court remarks, the bill speaks in its argument of “dysfunctional aspects in the organization and functioning of the Romanian Cultural Institute” that need to be urgently addressed, yet the emergency bill provides no amendments that would correct such dysfunctions, tackling exclusively the issues of appointment and control of the Institute’s leadership. It is thus obvious that there were no dysfunctional aspects that an emergency bill needed to address without delay.

Since the communiqué does not actually bear the names of a specific author, it is not clear whether or not Prime Minister Ponta had a real hand in authoring it.  The communiqué was issued from an email account that bears his name (“victorponta2.0@gmail.com”).  Unfortunately, Ponta was recently accused by Nature, a science magazine, of plagiarizing his doctoral thesis, a charge that he at first strongly denied but then has later admitted.

Ponta is the latest high-profile European politician to be enmeshed in a net of accusations about plagiarism. Former Hungarian President Pal Schmitt and ex-German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg both resigned when accused of plagiarism. Two of Ponta’s recent appointees to his new government, less than two months old, have resigned over similar accusations of academic misdeeds.

Given the concerns over academic cheating which sprang up after the collapse of communism in Romania, it is possible that Ponta’s so-called “online team” might actually be comprised of members of the Social Liberal Union (USL) party, which is now the ruling group in the recently formed government of Romania.

Romanian Premier designate Victor Ponta smiles before a parliament session in Bucharest, Romania, Monday, May 7, 2012. Romanian lawmakers are voting on whether to approve the prime minister designate's left-leaning Cabinet, which is expected to continue a slate of economic reforms. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)
Romanian Premier designate Victor Ponta smiles before a parliament session in Bucharest, Romania, Monday, May 7, 2012. Romanian lawmakers are voting on whether to approve the prime minister designate’s left-leaning Cabinet, which is expected to continue a slate of economic reforms. | AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda

Ponta is known for his center-left politics.  He became prime minister this past April with his alliance of social democrats and liberals.  USL, the country’s opposition party, which includes Ponta’s Social Democratic Party (PSD), toppled the previous government in the Parliament. Ponta, the PSD leader, has been designated to create a new government.

One main political goal of the USL has been to reduce the political influence on government of current Romanian President Traian Basescu, who is known to have close relationships with the opposition party (the center-right Democrat Liberal Party).  Many of Basescu’s opponents, including Ponta, feel that Basescu had overreached himself.

The war between Ponta and Basescu has not helped this Balkan country which has been struggling through political instability and deep unhappiness over harsh austerity measures.  In interviews, Ponta himself has admitted that Romania is presently dealing with a credibility crisis at an international level.

Ironically Ponta and his government have worsened this credibility crisis in the international field by issuing an “emergency ordinance” that seeks to modify the 2003 law that established ICR and by smearing ICR with accusations of committing financial and legal irregularities.

With its impending re-structuring, Romania’s Cultural Institute (ICR), which has 17 offices abroad including in New York, Tel Aviv and Paris, has become the latest football in a gruesome political fight between Basescu and Ponta.  The decree is seen as an attempt to take political control of ICR, which is modeled after the British Council and Germany’s Goethe Institute.

Romanian Cultural Institute president Horia Roman Patapievici defends RCI from Romanian politicians
Romanian Cultural Institute president Horia Roman Patapievici defends RCI from Romanian politicians

The Romanian Cultural Institute, as presently constituted, has been enormously effective in promoting Romania and Romanian culture around the world. Romanian films, art, theater and literature have benefited hugely from the Institute’s work.

“RCI has been accused by politicians in power that ‘its budget is extremely large, of 10 million euros [US$12,500,000] for 149 employees – that is half of the budget of the Senate, which employs over 800 people,” states ICR leaders on its New York website. “It is a hypocritical critique brought by those attacking RCI, because our budget is extremely small compared to the budget of similar institutions in other former communist countries. There are 18 RCI branches in 17 countries and 20% of this budget covers the administrative and personnel costs for all this structure, whereas 80% represents direct funding for the projects carried out. This 80-20 ratio is the best ever reached by a Romanian public institution.”

Since the news broke out on June 13 that the Ponta government passed an emergency ordinance modifying the 2003 law which established ICR, numerous Romanian artists and international supporters from around the world have stepped up pressure against the Ponta government to preserve the independence of this state-funded body, which promotes the country’s culture at home and abroad

In Bucharest, for example, a group of culture supporters started a “bow-ties movement.” The group displayed its support for the ICR and for the country’s culture by staging a public demonstration in front of the ICR headquarters.  Participants wore a bow tie.  They asked Ponta to withdraw the ICR law, which moved it under the patronage of the senate.  They also asked the Ponta government to respect the mandate of the existing ICR leadership, which is set to end in January 2013.  They insist that ICR’s leadership team must come from within the intellectual elite, rather than be politically appointed.  They believe that promoting and financing projects must be based on professional criteria rather than on political interventions.

“Culture has a new enemy starting today: Politics,” according to a bow-tie movement organizer.

In the United States, cultural leaders, programmers and curators from the Museum of Modern Art, the Film Forum and New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts have written letters praising the professionalism and dedication of ICR outposts.  In New York, for example, Fritzie Brown, executive director of CEC ArtsLink, a cultural institution that has successfully worked for more than 5 years with ICR in New York, stated: “It has come to my attention that the mission of RCI is altered and its operations are threatened. On behalf of the many communities in the United States with which we work, we wish to protest strongly against the current Romanian government’s proposal to change the mission of the Romanian Cultural Institutes.”

Several online petitions have attracted hundreds of signatures, all of which have expressed support for ICR as a significant space for cultural diplomacy and international understanding. Here are links to two of those petitions:

Petition #1:
http://www.petitieonline.ro/petitie/contestarea_oug_cu_privire_la_functionarea_institutului_cultural_roman-p28379058.html

Petition #2:
http://www.romaniacurata.ro/ltfont-colorblackgtcare-e-urgenta-de-la-icrlt-fontgtltbrgt-protest-al–2917.htm#.T9scBIg2F_M.facebook

Under the new decree, the ICR management is expected to be replaced within weeks.

“It would be disastrous if the brutal practices and the arrogance of past and present politicians came to nefariously guide the destiny of culture,” said prominent Jewish Romanian writer Norman Manea, a literature professor at Bard College, New York, in a recent interview.

“This emergency order, adopted without any consultation or debate, is definitely a diktat,” filmmaker Cristi Puiu, winner of Un Certain Regard prize at the Cannes Film Festival for his film Aurora, told Agence-France Press.

Filmmaker Cristian Mungiu, who won the prize for best screenplay in Cannes this year, called the decision a “purge of the worst kind” — audacious words in this former communist dictatorship.

Puiu  and Mungiu are seen as leading members of Romania’s New Wave. Cristian Mungiu won the Palme d’Or top prize at Cannes in 2007 for the chilling abortion drama 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days. Other members of this New Wave include Catalin Mitulescu and Andrei Ujica. All of their films works share an austere and often minimalist aesthetic.

Since 2005, the ICR has financed the translation of more than 300 works by Romanian authors. In 2011 alone, more than two million people attended ICR cultural events staged in major cities throughout the world, official figures show. ICR’s greatest achievement has been in increasing that stature of Romanian arts and culture abroad.  The international activities of ICR have helped break the stereotypes on Romania. Only 10 years ago, when you said ‘Romania,’ people abroad thought only about dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and gymnast Nadia Comaneci.

The Ponta government’s tactics, which have been very destructive of Romania’s political position and cultural reputation internationally, have included an attack on the character and integrity of the current RCI president, Horia Roman Patapievici. Patapievic is not a member of Ponta’s party. He is considered one of Romania’s most respected contemporary thinkers and writers. In reporting this story about ICR under political siege, I myself received emails and comments from Ponta supporters accusing Patapievici of being a spy in the pay of a foreign power — once again without offering any proof or evidence.

If anything, these unsubstantiated attacks on the political independence of the ICR and the disgraceful allegations made against Patapievici and his staff have offered further disturbing evidence for those international observers everywhere who have stereotyped the Romanian character as still politically immature, still backward, full of petty revenge and rampant egotism.  — Randy Gener, in the theater of One World

I reported on this war over ICR in a previous posting. Here is the link to my previous report about Romania’s Cultural Institutes under siegehttp://theaterofoneworld.org/2012/06/16/romanias-cultural-institutes-under-seige-new-ponta-government-takes-political-control/


1. PONTA’S ONLINE MINIONS ACCUSE ICR OF “FINANCIAL AND LEGAL IRREGULARITIES” AS WELL AS “DYSFUNCTIONAL ASPECTS”

From: Victor Ponta [mailto: victorponta2.0@gmail.com ]
Sent: Thursday, June 28, 2012 2:15 PM
Subject: Re: Urgent letter of support for ICRs

Information in regards to the status of the ICR

The Prime Minister and the Government of Romania do not have, under any circumstances, the intention to hamper the activity of the ICR (The Romanian Cultural Institute) or to influence the priorities or the actions program of the ICR. The reasons for these actions do not cover the general activity of the institute, but the financial and legal irregularities within the institution. The active promotion of Romania, through the support given to cultural works or representative artists and prominent cultural figures, must continue. The Government does not wish to intervene in the internal process of selecting the aforementioned works of art or intellectual figures; interfering with the actions of a national institution is not the role of the national Government. Furthermore, the parliamentary majority of the USL (Social-Liberal Union) does not aim to replace the current leadership of the ICR.

The decisions that have been adopted are meant only to build a more comprehensive democratic framework for the ICR’s functioning and to redress the problems pertaining to the ICR’s spending of public money.

The Romanian Government made a proposal to change the institution’s current legal status – the ICR currently acts under the authority of a single person, the President of Romania – and to make the Senate, an essential institution of representative democracy, responsible for the supervision of the ICR. Furthermore, the Senate is currently under the leadership of a member of the Opposition and all Romanian parties are represented on the Senate floor and within its dedicated committees and elected offices.

In a period of profound economic crisis, during which most of the Romanian citizens have been asked to bear the brunt of unprecedented austerity measures which have entailed cuts in wages, pensions and social benefits and massive cuts to the healthcare and education budgets, it is not irrational that a Government looked into the spending of 10 million Euros, the annual budget of the ICR, a sum which has never been the object of clear public and legal scrutiny.  These funds must become the object of a democratic control procedure. The Government does not want to change the destination of these funds, but it believes that the compliance of the spending procedures with the legal provisions concerning the operation of public institutions must be accomplished.

The Romanian Chamber of Accounts has underlined the existence of severe irregularities within the ICR and we wish to redress them as fast as possible, so that the ICR can continue its activities without any additional problems. Postponing the adoption of fast and decisive measures would represent a poignant disregard for the spending of public funds – hence the decision to bring the ICR under true, transparent and effective democratic oversight.

Within the leading structure of the Romanian Cultural Institute several ex-ministers or ex-presidential advisers, all of them members of the PDL (Democrat-Liberal Party), have been appointed to prominent positions. It is the case of Valeriu Stoica, former vice-president of the PDL, of Daniel Funeriu, former PDL minister of Education and acting presidential adviser or of Valeriu Turcan, former spokesman of the president. In all of these cases, the presence of politicians within the leadership of the ICR is not justified in light of the ICR’s objectives.

The Romanian Government is open to a dialogue with all honest minded public figures in regard to the ICR’s well being and it will spare no efforts to make such a comprehensive dialogue possible in the coming weeks.

Respectfully,
Victor Ponta’s Online Team

2. ROMANIAN CULTURAL INSTITUTE RESPONDS TO “DISINFORMATION AND BLATANT LIES” |  “NO ROMANIAN INSTITUTION IS MORE TRANSPARENT THAN ICR IN ITS EXPENDITURE OF PUBLIC FUNDS”

Friday, 29 June 2012

To whom it may concern

An Email message rife with disinformation and misleading fabrications, signed “Victor Ponta’s Online Team”, was sent on June 28, 2012 from a “gmail” address using the name of Prime Minister Victor Ponta (victorponta2.0@gmail.com), to all organizations and individuals protesting against the Romanian Government’s emergency bill whereby the Romanian Cultural Institute (ICR) has been politically subordinated to the Senate and its mission – changed.

We are as yet uncertain whether the message in question is truly the Government’s, as the signature claims. It could well be a mere act of mystification, since, as a rule, governments do not sent official communiqués from “gmail” addresses. It is nonetheless an act of mystification accurately reiterating the half-truths and egregious lies concocted by the politicians in power over the past weeks in order to justify the outrageous step taken towards obliterating the autonomy of the Romanian Cultural Institute. Out of respect for those manifesting their solidarity with the way our Institute has been functioning since 2006, whose openness might be taken advantage of to the effect of condoning the fabrications making up the communiqué submitted by “Victor Ponta’s Online Team”, the ICR Executive Board feel they ought to make the following clarifications:

1) Outlining the context
Suppressing the ICR autonomy is no isolated act. It is part of the suppression policy systematically conducted by the SOCIAL-LIBERAL UNION (USL) against all autonomous authorities and entities in Romania. Since its access to power, two months ago, the Ponta government triggered off a genuine Blitzkrieg, suspending laws, changing rules, cancelling procedures, brutally taking over autonomous authorities such as the Public Television, The Institute for the Investigation of Communist Crimes and the Memory of the Romanian Exile, The National Archives, completely taking over The Official Gazette (so as to have control of law publication), curtailing the functions of the Constitutional Court, usurping the President’s attributions, modifying the referendum law (in order to allow for the President’s impeachment), dramatically altering the voting procedure (so as to be able to eliminate the opposition from the Parliament), obliterating the authorities that can limit their powers or expose their frauds, and changing as they go all the rules regulating the functioning of authorities still allowed to function (a Government decision has just suppressed the National Council for Attesting Diplomas and Academic Titles, while the Ethics Commission of the Ministry of Education underwent two subsequent changes in membership, so as to be more easily controlled when dealing with PM Ponta’s alleged act of plagiarism). Suppressing the ICR autonomy is thus no isolated case: it is in keeping with the whole movement of making all autonomous entities subservient to the USL.

2) On the administration of the ICR budget
“Victor Ponta’s Online Team” states that the ICR budget “must become the object of a democratic control procedure”, as if ICR had so far been outside the democratic control of the budget. The funds at ICR’s disposal are allotted in accordance with the state-budget law by the Parliament of Romania, in keeping with standard procedures applied to all public institutions. Like any Romanian public institution, ICR is annually controlled in great detail by Romania’s Court of Accounts, while the Institute’s financial activity unfolds under the strict supervision of the Ministry of Finance.

“Victor Ponta’s Online Team” claims to have found “financial and legal irregularities” in the ICR activity, along with “problems pertaining to ICR’s spending of public money”. That’s false. Having been regularly subjected to the Court of Accounts control, ICR has always taken into account the conclusions in the Court’s audit reports, taking without delay the course of action necessary for correcting any bureaucratic irregularities brought to its attention. Actually, the Court of Accounts is the only body in a position to monitor the spending of public money, regardless of the authority ICR is subordinated to. With regard to the statements made by “Victor Ponta’s Online Team”, the contrary is true: no Romanian institution is more transparent than ICR in its expenditure of public funds (the ICR web page as well as its internal procedures stand proof), while the efficiency of spending public money to the purpose of achieving the Institute’s objectives is proved by the fact that out of the total ICR budget 80% is spent on current programs (with a mere 20% going towards administrative and personnel expenses).

Moreover, as the petition of the Romanian Ombudsman to the Constitutional Court remarks, the bill speaks in its argument of “dysfunctional aspects in the organization and functioning of the Romanian Cultural Institute” that need to be urgently addressed, yet the emergency bill provides no amendments that would correct such dysfunctions, tackling exclusively the issues of appointment and control of the Institute’s leadership. It is thus obvious that there were no dysfunctional aspects that an emergency bill needed to address without delay.

3) Concerning the ICR mission
“Victor Ponta’s Online Team” claims that the emergency bill has nothing to do with changing ICR’s mission and that “the Government does not want to change the destination of [ICR]”. Such a statement is either hypocritical or downright mendacious, if not both. The emergency bill introduces a radical change of the ICR mission: the Government explicitly states, when claiming in the preamble of the emergency bill that maintaining the current cultural policies of the ICR “impairs on a permanent basis the feeling of belonging to the Romanian nation in the case of those temporarily living in other countries”.

It’s either one or the other: either the Government, according to the emergency bill, truly considers that the ICR cultural policy impairs the Romanians’ national identity, and in that case “Victor Ponta’s Online Team” is guilty of disinformation when claiming that “the Government of Romania do [sic] not have, under any circumstances, the intention to hamper the activity of the ICR” and “does not wish to intervene in the internal process of selecting the [cultural policies of the ICR]”; or “Victor Ponta’s Online Team” tells the truth, in which case it has nothing to do with the government, whose points were clearly expressed in the emergency bill preamble.

Therefore, either “Victor Ponta’s Online Team” lies when claiming that the Government wants something else, or it misinforms the recipients of its message when claiming to express the Government’s position: on both accounts the reality is that through the emergency bill in question the ICR mission is drastically changed, while its cultural and political autonomy ceases. Since 2006 ICR carved a name for itself on international cultural markets as a dynamic, modern, cosmopolitan and democratic institution open to partnerships. The attempt to change it into an ideological vehicle serving “to uphold the identity” of Romanians living abroad is going to kill it.

4) Concerning the politicization accusation
“Victor Ponta’s Online Team” claims that the ICR is politicized arguing that representatives of political parties are members of the ICR Governing Board. That’s disinformation made by the book: it is true that certain politically-affiliated members are on the ICR Governing Board, yet not because of their political affiliation, but because they represent on that Board certain institutions of the state that, according to Law 356/2003 establishing ICR, appointed them to the respective positions as their own representatives. Thus, it is not a politicization of the law, as “Victor Ponta’s Online Team” claims, but rather a strict way of observing it.

We should bear in mind that ICR’s Governing Board consists, according to the 2003 law establishing it, of 21 members appointed as follows: the president of the Institute; one member appointed by the President of Romania; one member appointed by the Prime Minister; a Secretary of State appointed by the Minister of Foreign Affairs; a Secretary of State appointed by the Minister of Culture and National Heritage; a Secretary of State appointed by the Minister of Education, Youth and Sports; the President of the Romanian Academy or a Vice President designated by him; and 14 members appointed by the President of Romania, 7 of which at the proposal of the creative artists’ unions and 7 – at the proposal of the president of the Institute.

What will happen in case the emergency bill is acted upon? The recent bill changes this by having all 21 members appointed by the Senate of Romania (instead of the President of Romania) and by having 7 members not only appointed but nominated directly by the Permanent Bureau of the Senate (whereas previously these were nominations made by the president of the Institute), hence a more clear political allegiance. Furthermore, although some government politicians now criticize political figures being part of the Board, the emergency bill does not expressly state any incompatibility with being member of a political party for the members of the Governing Board.

In conclusion, the communiqué sent by “Victor Ponta’s Online Team” is in keeping with the campaign of disinformation and blatant lies that USL activists disseminate indiscriminately not only concerning the ICR, but also the other institutions USL intends to supplant. As leaders assuming responsibility both for the good name and the institutional integrity of the ICR, the Institute’s Executive Board expressly warns all the recipients of the message in question not to allow themselves to be misled by the authority that seems to have drafted the communiqué. All those who are familiar with the Institute’s programs and activity can compare what they know from their personal experience of the ICR with the information on its activity originating with a source that adds to the abusive policy of total control we’ve been mentioning above, the recent proof of the lie PM Ponta has been indulging in from the onset (as we are writing these words, press agencies have released the news that Victor Ponta’s plagiarism has been confirmed).
The ICR Executive Board
Horia-Roman Patapievici, President
Tania Radu, Vicepresident
Mircea Mihăieș, Vicepresident

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4 thoughts on “Romania’s Cultural Institute under siege | Ponta’s online minions attack character and integrity of ICR leadership

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