An interview with the activist of Save Romania Union (USR) about her experiences related to Bulgaria and how USR and its presidential candidate Dan Barna position themselves with regard to transition, international relations and the role of women in politics
Ioana Abăseacă is 24 years old. She has graduated with a degree in Political Sciences from the University of Bucharest. She is passionate about the 20th century history. Thanks to the opportunities for student mobility she has lived and has worked for a few months in Sofia and has beautiful friendships with Bulgarians. Ioana lives and works in the Romanian capital, Bucharest, a city, which she equally loves and hates. She considers herself a great fan of coffee.
Mrs. Abăseacă, first of all I would ask you to present yourself before our readers! You are only 24 years old, but you have a biography, which contains a lot of academic and political activities and you have lived in a few different European states, among which is Bulgaria…
Yes, this is true. I have studied Political Science at the University of Bucharest. During my studies I tried to use all the possibilities for mobility and internships, which the University offered, so that I enrich my academic experience and my knowledge in the domain of political sciences. I went in Vilnius in the second year of my studies along Erasmus+ programme. Later, between the second and the third year I made a practical internship in Sofia. In the third year of my studies I had a research scholarship for a month at the Faculty of Philosophy in Trnava, Slovacia. In the 5th year of the faculty (and the second of my master programme) I went to Paris to the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, because I made a double French-Romanian master. My travellings, which altogether lasted a bit over two years, helped me develop the European part of my identity. I had the chance to know more people from different countries and to get closer to other European cultures.
Among the thingx that make you special is your openness to Bulgarians. What experience did you have in Bulgaria and with Bulgarians? What attracted you to Sofia? What attracts you to us in general? Aren’t you repulsed by the fact that Bulgarians are slavs and have cultural proximity with other slavic nations, that in the 20th century Bulgaria and Romania had confrontations and wars or that in our countries there are stereotypes about neighbours? Isn’t Romania for you “an island in a sea of slavs”?
I always say to my friends that Bulgaria is the country of my spirit. I like very much to be there and in the last three years I have returned on many occasions to Bulgaria. I spent the celebration for the new 2018 year in Sofia together with friends. I was an intern in a non-governmental organisation, which deals with refugees in the Bulgarian capital in the summer of 2016. I think I worked there around 3,5 months, and then I had to return to university. I worked for an international team, but I had a lot of Bulgarian colleagues. I always felt very easy to speak with Bulgarian colleagues and friends. I had similar cultural experiences and resonated with their ideas.
I like Sofia because unlike Bucharest it has a more intimate and bohemian atmosphere. I didn’t see in Sofia so many big boulevards with intense road traffic as there are in Bucharest. Unlike Bucharest’s streets, Sofia’s streets in the evening are not so big and noisy. I enjoyed my walks in Sofia, when I returned from the market or from the center.
Romanians and Bulgarians have stereotypes for one another, because they don’t know well each other. As for the Slavic component, I heard the famous saying that when in Moscow rains, the umbrellas in Sofia get opened. I don’t know what is life in Russia, because I have never visited this country. But I like the Bulgarian Slavic culture very much. I found out in the times of my stay in Sofia a lot of thing for the history of the country: from the terrorist act in the 20s, when the king remained alive, because he was delayed, to the fantastic story about the king, who returned to his country after 1989, made a party and became prime minister.
You come from a Danubian city – Braila, which has given a lot to the Romanian culture, but in the XIX century was also an important cultural center for Bulgarians, as it was the place where the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences was established. What did Braila give you? Is it still this multi-ethnic city, which is related to the big world through the Danube, as it was in the XIX century? To what extent does your Brailan roots help you in what you do after you left your city of birth?
Yes. With all my sincerity I say that had I not interested myself in these details, I wouldn’t have found out that that the history of Brails is so closely connected to the history of Bulgaria. I wouldn’t have learned that Braila was a point on the way of Bulgarian elites towards the University of Odessa in the XIX century. I didn’t learn these things in the high school or in the university. I passed many times by the statue of the Bulgarian revolutionary Hristo Botev in Braila without showing special interest who is he and why he stays there. What I found in the high school was that the names of some of the main streets in Braila are named after the cities, where Romanians fought against the Ottomans in 1877. So we have “Vidn”, “Plevna” (Pleven), “Grivita” in our local topography. I am not sure whether today Braila is still this cosmopolitan city from the books of Panait Istrati. The people there don’t quite care for the past. I think that my curiosity for Europe is not obligatory coming from the fact that my initial education in Braila. It was a coincidence that I am from a city with such a past, but this coincidence made me walk along a beautiful travelling of my own to the past. I will continue to explore what Braila was.
You are part of the election campaign of the presidential candidate Dan Barna and you are also a young leader of the USR. Why are you so sure that the USR proposes the right decisions to Romanian problems? Aren’t the big issues for USR – the depoliticization and technocratisation of state institutions, the privatisation of public systems, the anti-communist discourse, solutions only to a relatively small elite of Romania – the winners of transitions, while the masses don’t recognise themselves in these fights? How could the USR reach those who have lost and who have suffered in transition?
I am a part of a Romanian political party, which will participate in the European elections with a candidate. I participate in the campaign along with my colleagues in support of our candidate – Ilie Dan Barna, member of parliament from Sibiu. I am not a “young leader of the USR”, because I don’t have any official position within the party. I am not sure whether my party has all the right solutions for Romania’s problems. Such a conviction would be dangerous and impossible. What I can guarantee to anybody is that we – the members of the party, debate a lot and with a lot of passions what are the best solutions for a performant rule in Romania. Our approaches are always innovative for the Romanian political landscape, because we make grassroots politics. Each time when somebody from our party goes out in the public space with public policy proposals, with which the party members do not agree, he is forced to renounce them under the pressure of the majority of members.
USR entered the parliament in 2016 with 8,9% of the votes. At that moment its electorate was close to what you describe. Its discourse resonated in a small part of the population. In 2019 we received 22,4% at the European parliamentary elections. Now the candidate of the Alliance 2020 (USR and Plus) is at the second place in the preferences of the electorate for the presidential elections. Everything that USR did in the three years of its existence was to extend in space, to make campaign in the urban, rural and diaspora zones, to reach more people, including those who are not interested in politics and who you call “losers of transition”. I think that the last election results show that we have managed to overcome successfully the moment, when we were voted only by a small party of society and now the electorate sees as as a credible alternative to the government of the traditional parties.
What differentiates USR in the Romanian politics is its special connection with the French president – Emmanuel Macron, whose political group in the European parliament has as president Dacian Ciolos from the Alliance 2020 (USR/+) – your alliance for the European elections. In his turn Macron considers Eastern Europe and especially South-Eastern Europe a special zone of his interests. But he wants also a EU which functions at more speeds with a West-European nucleus moving faster. How does USR position itself with regard to the ideas for Europe of many speeds? If you don’t want the peripheralization of Romania what initiatives will you make on European level (having influence in the group Renew Europe), in order to avoid such peripheralization?
USR supports Europe at one speed from North to South, from East to West. We think that the differences between West and East are due to the totalitarianism, which has held the Eastern part of Europe captive for half a century, while the occidental part of Europe was free to develop and make progress. We want a single Union – from Paris to Bucharest, a European Union of all of its citizens.
How do you position yourself with regard to Macron’s ideas on the Mobility Pact, which hit at the employers of the transport companies from the Eastern Europe, but give benefits to the truck drivers?
We need laws and clear rules for all the members of the European Union. Truck drivers by the nature of their profession are examples for European citizens who work in a transnational medium. We need to apply the same rules for them and for the other European citizens with regard to salaries, taxation and to have a unitary vision.
In other order of thoughts, do you support common European army and how do you argument your position on this issue?
At strictly personal level, I am against the army. I would like us to live in a better world, in which the states don’t have to invest at all in war and destruction. Do you know that if only 10% of the military investments were transferred to fight against poverty it would be eradicated on global level? But I fear that such a change is impossible at this moment. I would agree with a common school for military instruction: a German soldier to learn in a military school with French professors. I would encourage exchanges of experience like: a Croatian soldier going to work for three months in Finland and to have more common missions with other EU soldiers. I would agree with the creation of a common European army, as long as we abandon completely the national armies.
How did it happen that Macron renounced on his support for the French candidate for chief European prosecutor and declared support for the Romanian candidate Laura Koveşi?
It is very simple. USR-Plus is the partner of Macron in the Renew Europe parliamentary group, whose president is Dacian Cioloş. Mr. Cioloş managed to negotiate with the French leader from the position of strength and to obtain support for the candidacy of Laura Codruţa Koveşi. A Europe with one speed means that the high position in the EU be held by countries from all the three time zones of Europe.
What would be the difference in the foreign policy if the Romanian president is Klaus Iohannis and if the Romanian president is Dan Barna? What vision does USR have for the region of South-Eastern Europe, not only with regard to the Republic of Moldova, but also with regard to countries such as Bulgaria, Greece, Western Balkans? What are the political partners/interlocutors of USR in Bulgaria? Are we going to see a closer cooperation between USR and political forces from Bulgaria, bearing in mind that the pro-European vector in our countries got stronger after the European elections in May 2019?
See, Mr. Mitev. When Klaus Werner Iohannis and Ilie Dan Barna reach the second round together Romanians will have the occasion to watch a high-level debate between both candidates. The acting president, who candidates for a second mandate, hasn’t shown a great interest towards our part of Europe. In fact, in the five years of his mandate he has visited only once the Republic of Moldova, once Bulgaria. He was never in Greece or in the countries of Western Balkans with the exception of Serbia, where he went once. In spring 2019 the lack of engagement of Romania towards the region was very clearly seen. In the moment when a parliamentary blockage in the Republic of Moldova took place and Maia Sandu’s government was not recognised by the grouping of Vlad Plahotniuc, neither the president of Romania, nor the minister of external affairs had a clear position in support for democracy in the Republic of Moldova. Maia Sandu and the block Acum (Now) received support from other countries in the European Union and by the EU itself. But Romania has not positioned in time through its representatives. These days USR had meetings in the Romanian parliament with representatives of the civil society in the Republic of Moldova and proposed a joint declaration of both chambers of parliament, which is to appeal to positioning. We at the USR will support in the long term the Republic of Moldova and the countries from Western Balkans for their accession to the EU. Dan Barna has already visited many times Chişinăul.
Dan Barna is the Alliance 2020 (USR, Plus)’s candidate for president. Our alliance has already shown that it can be a stable partner in the region through its results at the European elections and wants to confirm this thing when he receives the mandate for the Cotroceni Palace (the president’s office) and for government next year. We would like to be a voice in the region and we want to cooperate closely with the neighbouring countries of Romania. Dan Barna says that in his campaign he wants to be an involved, active president. He means that he will use all his constitutional rights in order to take Romania out of the shadow in international relations, in which it has stayed for the last years with regard to its foreign policy.
In Bulgaria we have partners affiliated with us through the group Renew Europe – DPS, and we have channels for communication with “Yes, Bulgaria”.
Could you open for us the door to the organisational life of the party? What activities do you do for USR? How careful does USR take care of its young leaders? What future do young cadres like you have in this party?
It depends on what you want to know. We have many activities and projects. Each week there is a debate or an event somewhere in Bucharest or in the country. We work a lot online. We have a few platforms from communication. We debate and take care of our calendar of tasks. Usually when there are campaign we have periods when we stay in shifts at the party HQ or at the HQ of the Alliance 2020 so that we could bring signatures, to make reports or to make promotional materials.
In the campaign “Without penally accused people in politics” in the summer of 2018 the USR’s HQ at the Boulevard of Aviators was open 24h a day. Some colleagues slept there. Others worked 27 hours non-stop so that we could transmit those 1 million signatures on time.
Even the last weekend (14-15 September) we had the Fifth Congress in Timisoara, where we voted the new managing institutions of the party: national bureau, national commission for arbitrage and national commission for financial control. At this congress our colleagues from the Timiş branch of the party prepared a system for online supervision of vote counting and we could follow in real time how the votes of the delegates at the Electoral Commission are counted.
As for the investment in the future, there are many ways through which we could prepare future political leaders. On one hand, there is the young wing of the party, to which I belong. There we try to prepare people below the age of 30 years, which could choose to have public career. On the other hand, USR plans to make a foundation in the future, which will spread knowledge for its members. At this moment we have two members of the national bureau of the party who are 30 years old and the medium age of the USR members of parliament is 34 years. The party is often associated with the young in the Romanian public space. In short, the young play an essential role in USR.
In the end, what role do women play in the circles of USR? Will it be a party which overcomes the idea that Romanian politics is sport only for men? How sensitive are the party and its voters towards the problems of equality of gender, gender violence, to the economic and social pressures against the family and young mothers?
Women represent at this moment approximately 27% of USR members. Politics is not sport. To make politics means to have vision for administration of the place where you live, to represent the citizens in the parliament or to be in the street in order to discuss with citizens. There are studies, which show that women take their jobs very seriously, but in majority they believe they are not prepared and don’t candidate for public functions. Our party attracts at this moment voters mostly from the masculine part of the population. The problems of gender equality are discussed within the party, especially in the young wing, where we constantly propose lists, commissions, structures, which have greater feminine representation. As for the other issues you mentioned – the economic and social pressures upon the family and young mothers, they matter for our members, but I can’t say I have followed closely these issues.
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