The Economist: My name is Paste. Copy Paste
According to party loyalists, Prime Minister Victor Ponta is in select company. Interior minister Ioan Rus on Friday claimed (this and most other links in Romanian) that “ever since Plato and Aristoteles, everyone who has ever written a PhD in philosophy, in social sciences, has plagiarised.” Apart from the bemusement that Mr Rus’s statement may cause, it is also an indication that despite energetic (foes say clumsy) attempts to silence the plagiarism scandal, the 39-year-old Prime Minister may be heading for the same political graveyard that contains the corpses of the German defence minister Theodor zu Guttenberg and the president of neighbouring Hungary, Pál Schmitt.
In an interview (link in Spanish) with El Pais last week, Mr Ponta promised to resign if proven that his PhD about the International Criminal Court was an act of plagiarism. He made those statements before the ethics committee in charge gave its ruling, with its chairman saying it was plagiarised “copy-paste style”, 85 pages out of a total of 307, from the work of another Romanian scholar. The relevant text excerpts can be found here.
In an twist of irony, the professor who oversaw Mr Ponta’s work was no other than his political mentor, Romania’s former Prime Minister Adrian Nastase, the first high level official to be put behind bars for corruption. Barely was the verdict out than the Ponta government dissolved the entire committee, alleging it was full of acolytes of Traian Basescu, the country’s president and the PM’s political rival. A few days earlier, the government also took over the publication of the official gazette, until then under the authority of the parliament. The move seems also politically motivated: the journal so far has failed to publish a verdict of the Constitutional Court which Mr Ponta chose to ignore last week, the first public official since 1989 to do so.
The court had ruled in favour of the president in a long-lasting squabble over whom should represent the country at EU summits. Mr Ponta went to Brussels anyway, claiming again that the ruling was politically motivated by “a bunch of judges appointed by Basescu.” The president, a shrewd former sea captain, surprised everyone by staying home. And he took his time in giving Mr Ponta an official mandate to represent the country. “I got a phone call from the Prime Minister around noon saying he wants a mandate,” Mr Basescu told journalists last week in Bucharest. It took another few hours for the fax to arrive – the EU summit had already begun.
The episode, along with the politicisation of state institutions ranging from the public television to Romania’s cultural institutes abroad – has sparked the outrage of the country’s cultural elite. Among them is Herta Muller, a German-speaking writer of Romanian origin who in 2009 won the Nobel prize for literature for her works exposing the terror under the infamous Securitate, the secret police under the Communist regime. Gabriel Liiceanu, a prominent philosopher, who wrote about the “combination of circus and nightmare” that has grabbed the public opinion in the past two months since the Ponta government came to power.
The Social-Liberal government has been in power since May. It gained a a majority thanks to mass desertions from the PDL party that had ruled the country since parliamentary elections in 2008. New elections are due this fall and polls so far (and local election results last month) indicate a clear win for the ruling coalition. Mr Ponta would be sorry to miss that.