29279 3/22/2005 10:14 05BUCHAREST716 Embassy Bucharest CONFIDENTIAL This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available. C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 BUCHAREST 000716
DEPT FOR EUR/NCE - WILLIAM SILKWORTH
E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/21/2015 TAGS: PGOV, PREL, SOCI, PHUM, RO SUBJECT: A WOLF IN WOLF'S CLOTHING: ROMANIAN EXTREMIST PARTY TRIES TO CHANGE ITS IMAGE
Classified By: DEPUTY POLITICAL SECTION CHIEF CHRISTOPHER PALMER FOR RE ASONS 1.4 B AND D
1. (SBU) Summary: The extreme nationalist Greater Romania Party (PRM) changed its name to the Greater Romania Popular Party (PPRM) March 12, a move aimed at burnishing its tarnished image and facilitating its affiliation with the center-right European Popular Party (EPP). Corneliu Vadim Tudor, outspoken xenophobe, political chameleon and PRM,s founder and leader, formally renounced de jure leadership of the &new8 party but will serve as PPRM,s &Honorary President,8 publicly boasting that he will retain control of the party. While President Basescu's National Liberal Party-Democratic Party coalition remains skeptical of PRM's "transformation," leaders of the former ruling center-left Social Democratic Party (PSD) express willingness to work with a &democratic8 PRM. End Summary.
&Strategic Moves8 To Change the Party,s Image
2. (SBU) The National Council of the Greater Romania Party (PRM) voted unanimously March 12 at the urging of party founder and president Corneliu Vadim Tudor to change the party,s name to the Greater Romania Popular Party (PPRM). Tudor also formally renounced his executive responsibilities and the Council elected him &honorary president.8 The PPRM,s new president is the PRM,s former first vice-president Corneliu Ciontu, a PRM deputy since 1996 and currently a Chamber of Deputies Vice President. Ciontu, aged 63 and a sociologist by training, holds a relatively low profile and is widely viewed as personally loyal to Tudor. Like his mentor Tudor * a &court poet8 to dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife Elena - Ciontu was loyal to the communist regime, serving as a Romanian Communist Party activist from 1973 to 1989.
3. (SBU) During a press conference following the PRM,s National Council, Tudor acknowledged that the PRM had made a &strategic move8 aimed at improving the party,s image and breaking the &informational blockade8 imposed on PRM by mainstream European parties. Alleging that PRM was the main victim of &electoral fraud8 in the 2004 parliamentary and presidential elections, Tudor claimed that his party needs &European protection8, referring to the PRM,s ongoing efforts to join the center-right EPP.
4. (SBU) Tudor also voiced &great disappointment8 with the party he founded, asserting that the PRM is fraught with endless internal fights. Tudor declared that he decided to step down because he was tired of trying unsuccessfully to &calm down egos8 and no longer wanted to deal with &fools8 from PRM local organizations. He claimed that he plans to dedicate more time to setting up a new TV station and to completing his doctoral dissertation on &The Presence of Angels in the Bible.8
PRM's Declining Public Support
5. (SBU) The announced changes coincide with the party,s declining popularity. An INSOMAR poll released March 13 credits the PRM with only 5 percent of popular support and political analysts agree that Tudor,s and the party,s relatively weak showing in the 2004 parliamentary elections exacerbated divisions within the party. Discontented PRM members note that, for the first time ever, the party as a whole gained a larger percentage of the national popular vote in parliamentary elections, than its charismatic leader and three time presidential candidate, Tudor, garnered in the first round presidential contest (12.99 percent in the Chamber of Deputies and 13.65 percent in the Senate vs. Tudor's 12.57 percent). Following the 2004 elections, a number of local PRM activists called for changes in the party,s leadership and prominent PRM senator Mihai Lupoi resigned from the party, accusing Vadim Tudor of extremism and a dictatorial leadership style.
6. (C) Tudor,s campaign over the past few years to shed his virulently anti-Semitic image by embracing what he calls &philosemitism8 has failed to convince Romanians or the international community at large that he has become, as he claims, a mainstream conservative in the Christian Democratic mold. Tudor,s attempts to cultivate a mainstream image for the party correspond with his unsuccessful attempts to join the European Popular Party (EPP), a move aimed at giving the party greater internal and external legitimacy. However, the EPP has rebuffed the PRM,s overtures and some analysts assert that the EPP called for Tudor's complete ouster from the party, given his long record of Holocaust denial, as well as anti-Hungarian and anti-Roma statements. Some also allege that the Israeli-owned consulting company, Arad Communications, urged Tudor to step into the background and to rename the party. His own attitude toward the erstwhile PRM President is clearly evident in his contentious award to Tudor of Romania's highest honor - the Star of Romania - in the waning weeks of PSD-controlled government.
The More Things Change. . .
7. (SBU) Tudor,s statement that he will continue to control the party, coupled with Corneliu Ciontu,s acknowledgment of Tudor as &uncontested leader of the party8 have convinced independent observers that Tudor remains at PPRM's helm. Only the former ruling center-left Social Democrat Party (PSD), which finds itself in the parliamentary opposition with Tudor,s party, accepted the PRM,s metamorphosis at face value: the PSD spokesperson stated in a news conference that the party is ready to work closely with a &democratic8 PPRM. Ex-PM and PSD president Adrian Nastase said that Vadim Tudor,s decision to step down was a &proof of wisdom8 and &an extremely important decision,8 while former president Ion Iliescu declared that the changes &could lead to something interesting.8 In an interview with a popular TV station, Iliescu also indirectly slammed Nastase for discounting the importance of PRM votes in last fall,s elections.
8. (SBU) Leaders from the governing parliamentary coalition dismissed out of hand the PRM,s alleged transformation. Democratic Party acting President Emil Boc and the leader of the ethnic Hungarian Party (UDMR), Marko Bela, asserted that PRM's name change and the withdrawal of Vadim from the front line are merely &sham8 changes aimed at duping the EPP and fooling the Romanian public. Although National Liberal Party (PNL) and Romanian Humanist Party (PUR) representatives publicly welcomed the PRM,s attempts to transform its image, they expressed caution over the substance of this change, given Tudor's continued role within the party. (Note: PNL and PD leaders have repeatedly insisted publicly and in private meetings with Embassy officers that they will not enter into a coalition with Tudor. End Note.) Widely respected Timisoara mayor Gheorghe Ciuhandu, leader of the tiny center-right Christian-Democrat Popular Party (PPCD), criticized PRM,s &faade8 change. The UDMR and PPCD declarations are especially resonant since these parties are the only two Romanian parties currently affiliated with the EPP.
9. (C) Comment: Political analysts widely predicted a PRM attempt at auto-transformation, given the PRM's declining public support and growing discord within a party where some members view extremist Tudor as the primary obstacle to the PRM's integration into mainstream Romanian and European politics. Indeed, senior PSD officials predicted last fall that the PRM's attempt at a "makeover" would include the purely cosmetic change of renaming the party in early 2005, and possibly, changing Tudor's formal role within the party. They also hinted that a PSD-PRM alliance would be possible if PRM sufficiently changed its image. In post,s view, the &new8 PPRM remains, for all intents and purposes, the &old8 PRM, albeit with a slightly new name, still under the de facto control of extremist xenophobe Corneliu Vadim Tudor. End Comment.
10. (C) Naturally, the maneuverings described here are not taking place in a vacuum. Despite his extremism, Tudor has been a constant and sometimes, even eloquent, proponent of tough anti-corruption measures. His fire on that issue, at least for the moment has been stolen by practical moves of the new Center Right Coalition against tax evasion and thievery in high places. At the same time, other parties are taking aim at parts of Tudor's parliamentary support. The PSD, for example, continues to flirt with the notion of attracting PRM parliamentarians who were allocated seats when the National Union Bloc (BNS) offered its support to Tudor during the last electoral campaign. Similarly, Cozmin Gusa, former PSD General Secretary and later, Basescu confidant, told us that he thought he could easily hive off a half dozen "progressive" PRM parliamentarians who could be convinced to support his newly formed National Initiative Party. (Note: According to Gusa, the party is intended to be an Orthodox analogue to the Conservative Catholic parties of western Europe. End Note) The moral - the intentions and plotting of Tudor may count for much less than he believes. Genuine alternatives and ambitious scavengers are likely to take a toll on his base support and parliamentary seating.
11. (U) Amembassy Bucharest,s reporting telegrams are available on the Bucharest SIPRNET Website: www.state.sgov.gov/p/eur/bucharest. DELARE