Romanian Foreign Minister Teodor Baconschi was sacked yesterday (23 January), a week after describing crowds protesting against austerity measures and the government as “slum dwellers”. Baconschi reportedly learned of his dismissal during a meeting of fellow EU ministers in Brussels.
Minutes before entering an extraordinary parliamentary session dedicated to the anti-austerity protests that have swept the country, Romanian Prime Minister Emil Boc telephoned Baconschi to inform him he would be dismissed.
Anti-austerity and anti-government protesters, meanwhile, gathered for the 11th consecutive day in the central Bucharest’s University Square, but one witness said the crowd was “almost a half of what it had been and much colder, because of the weather”.
Baconschi, who had served as foreign minister since December 2009, took the call during a European Council meeting where he was discussing the Iran oil ban with ministers from across the EU.
“No one was expecting it today, it had been already a week since he posted some comments on his blog regarding the protests,” a source close to the discussions told EURACTIV. “He entered the European Council meeting as a foreign affairs minister and left it without holding this function anymore.”
Controversial blog post
Boc explained to Baconschi that during his mandate, he had been “flawless”, but that he would be dismissed from his function “because of a certain blog post”.
A diplomatic source told EURACTIV that Baconschi was “easy” a few hours after receiving the phone call that withdrew only his position as a foreign minister. Baconschi remains as first deputy president of the governing Liberal Democrat Party (PDL).
Baconschi had written a blog entry when the anti-austerity protests started around the country. He called the protestors “inept and violent slum dwellers”.
He wrote that the opposition was using the protestors, “these people who are dumbed-down by the television, petrified of apocalyptic-like scenarios which are always proven wrong by reality” and more recently, was sending “bullies” into the streets.
The long-time diplomat saw the protests as “a life and death fight between the forces of the past and the project of a new Romania” and said that the “inept slum-dwellers” will not make a difference for the future, but the “working Romanians” will.
Baconschi had already said, just after posting this entry on his personal blog, that he was referring only to the violent protestors – mainly the football supporters – and not to the peaceful ones. “Everyone seemed to have accepted this explanation and we went along with it for a week, we had nearly forgotten,” the source close to the talks said.
Baconschi had taken up the role of a negotiator between the government and the protestors, but the crowd rejected Baconschi’s call for reconciliation and criticised his blog post.
The most likely person to succeed Baconschi is Cristian Diaconescu, one of the three presidents of the National Union for the Progress of Romania (UNPR), who has served as foreign affairs minister for nine months in 2008 and 2009.
“UNPR had been hunting that post for a long time and they might have threatened to pull out from the governing coalition just before the extraordinary meeting today,” the source told EURACTIV, explaining the rushed decision of sacking Baconschi by telephone.
UNPR was formed as an independent party and served as a recruiting platform for former opposition members, both the social democrats and the liberals, in order to build a coalition with the governing party.
Former Minister for Foreign Affairs Teodor Mele?canu, currently a vice president of the National Liberal Party, called Baconschi’s removal “an image move that will have no impact whatsoever” and will further diminish Romania’s credibility at international level.
Adrian Cioroianu, who served in the same position in 2007-2008, said that Baconschi had already become his party’s Achilles heel. “It all started with him assuming a political role and then the statements he made just fuelled the controversy,” Cioroianu said. “It is, however, very unpleasant to receive this news during a mission.”
Opposition presses for early elections
Liberals, which form one of the main opposition parties, have used the momentum created by the protests and the departure of Baconschi to start handing over their resignations from parliament, calling for early presidential elections.
The first one to resign was liberal MP Ludovic Orban, followed by fellow party members Adriana S?ftoiu and Ciprian Dobre. The Liberal Party said it was hoping that members of the other opposition party, the Social Democrats, will soon hand over their resignation and spark the toppling down of the current government.