Romania: A conservative revolution has commenced

Alvaro Peñas

Romania held parliamentary elections last December. The victory went to the opposition Social Democratic Party (PSD) with 29% of the vote, followed by the ruling National Liberal Party (PNL) with 25%, and the liberal centrist alliance USR PLUS with 15%. However, the victory has not served the Social Democrats much. On December 21, a government agreement was signed between the PNL, USR PLUS and the Hungarian Minority Party (UDMR), the fifth political force with a 6% of the votes. Turnout was only 31.8%, the lowest in a parliamentary election since the fall of communism in 1989. In the last elections, in December 2016, the turnout was 39.5% of the electorate, and in the local elections, held in September 2020, it was 46%. By contrast, the Romanian diaspora vote went from 110,606 votes in 2016 to 265,940.

But the great surprise of these elections was not the short-lived social democratic victory or a low turnout, but the emergence of a new party, the Alliance for the Unity of Romanians (AUR), which won 9% of the vote and became the fourth political force. A surprising result, given that, in the local elections in September, it only got 1% of the vote and the mayoralty of three small towns. In these elections, the party achieved good results in rural areas, especially in areas with great influence of the Orthodox Church, such as Suceava or Botoșani, receiving support of more than 14% of the electorate. It was also the second most voted party by the diaspora with 26% of the vote, three percent less than USR PLUS. Romanian nationalists were the most voted in Italy, and the second in Spain, Germany and France. 

AUR, which means “gold” in Romanian, is just over a year old. The party was born on December 1, 2019, the day of the Unification of Romania, in the city of Alba Iulia (officially declared “capital of the Great Union of Romania” a year earlier). AUR was founded by George Simion and Claudiu Târziu. Simion, 34, is an economist and historian specialised in the crimes of communism, and founder of the 2012 Platform for Unionist Action, which advocates Romania’s reunification with the Republic of Moldova (Moldova was separated from Romania by the Soviet Union after World War II and is now an independent state). Tarziu, 47, is a journalist and one of the leaders of the Coalition for the Family organisation. This group promoted a referendum in 2018 to prohibit same-sex marriage and enshrine “traditional marriage” in the Constitution. Despite collecting more than three million signatures, the referendum held in October of that year did not exceed the 30% threshold needed for validation.

The defense of the traditional family and the fight against gender ideology are one of the main ideas of the party. AUR has shown support for a law passed in June prohibiting gender studies in education. However, in a judgment of 16 December, the Romanian Constitutional Court oversteald the law for contravening individual freedom of conscience and affecting freedom of thought and opinion. AUR sees a family as the cornerstone of society and advocates tax advantages for large families as a way to promote birth growth. In addition to the family, the other pillars of the party are the nation, the Christian faith and freedom. According to Simion, the Polish conservative Law and Justice party is one of its models.

During the election campaign, the party maintained a nationalist discourse against the Romanian political class, defined as a “mafia”, and opposed Hungarian minority party, considered “extremist”. However, it is AUR’s protest actions against the government measures to deal with the coronavirus that have achieved the greatest popular support. The government shut down small shops to curb the pandemic, but it kept large multinational-owned supermarkets open. AUR denounced this discrimination with an intense campaign for financial and fiscal stimulus for small trade, denouncing “foreign companies taking their profits out of Romania” and protected by political elites.

“Romanians are fed up with theft, lies and a lack of attachment to national values. We are a Christian, nationalist, patriotic party”, said George Simion in the press conference celebrated after the election results were known. AUR got the fourth position with 32 seats in congress and 14 in the Senate. Claudiu Târziu recalled that his party is part of the Coalition for the Family, “we defend and promote the family, and we will do that in the parliament”. For Târziu, AUR’s success is a sign that “a conservative revolution has commenced”.

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