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Becali, Self-Proclaimed Savior of a Nation

August 1, 2007

by Claudia Ciobanu

 

From the midst of confusing signals coming from the Romanian political class, the voice of a populist makes its way, loud and clear, to the hearts of a large chunk of the electorate.

“I am the strongest man in this country and it is normal that the strongest man lead the country,” answers Gigi Becali, when asked why he wants to become the president of the country. “If I am strongest, I should also be number one.”

Becali, one of the wealthiest men in Romania, decided to get involved with politics in 2003, because, as he often declares, he thought God would reproach him for not doing so during the last judgment. “I gave you courage, I gave you money, I gave you power and wisdom and you could have taken down those leaders that were bringing the country to perdition,” this is what Becali imagines God would tell him.

Becali made his fortune in the early 1990s. In 1989, Romania started a transition period from dictatorship to democracy and from state socialism to economic liberalism. Many millionaires were born in the early 1990s, in ways that resemble the birth of the Russian oligarchy.

Gigi Becali allegedly became a millionaire as a result of a land exchange he did with the Romanian Army. While the property that he gave away was of little value, what he received in exchange was land in the area Baneasa-Pipera, North of Bucharest. Prices of property in this area skyrocketed meanwhile. Otopeni international airport is nearby, most multinational companies have their headquarters there, and the land is fought for by

commercial groups seeking to build malls.

But the main preoccupation of the successful businessman is not real estate. Becali is the owner and manager of football club Steaua, one of the most popular in Romania. Every night, his statements about recent games and transfers are broadcasted on all TV channels.

He is also a religious person, dreaming about uniting the Orthodox and Catholic churches again and heavily subsidizing religious activities in Romania. He often makes donations to the poor, has rebuilt a flood-stricken village all by himself and has paid for people’s electricity bills.

Becali reaches people through God and football.

Gigi (people refer to him by his first name) says that he intends to win the presidential elections by 80% and that he is interested in getting absolute power, otherwise he would never be able to put things straight. His electoral slogan is: “I, Gigi Becali, swear to all Romanians and to God that I’ll make Romania shine like the holy sun of the sky.” He declared that he continues the legacy of the pre-World War II Legionnaire movement “Iron Guard.”

According to a poll conducted by the Barometer for Public Opinion in March 2007, Becali enjoys the trust of 39% of the electorate, second only to president Traian Basescu’s 41%. The third person in the classification has merely 25% support.

“He has the image of a <cool guy>” says Professor Cosmina Tanasoiu, Head of the European Studies Department of American University in Bulgaria, when asked why Becali is so popular. “He speaks in a way that makes perfect sense to the suburban electorate and has the image of a man that can do things, fix problems. He also gains from the extensive media coverage.”

The wide support he enjoys is largely due to his personal charisma. The poll quoted above also indicates that the party Becali leads, The New Generation Party, would be voted by 18% of the electorate. This is a clear case of personality benefiting the party, not vice-versa.

But support for Becali is also the expression of a protest vote against the Romanian political class, Professor Tanasoiu explains. She adds that Becali draws most of his electorate from Corneliu Vadim Tudor, leader of extreme right Greater Romania Party. Vadim Tudor made it to the second round of presidential elections in 2000, arguing that he is different than the rest of the politicians and promising he would execute all the corrupted by machine gun.

In Romania, presidential elections should normally take place in 2009. Asked whether Becali has any chances to become president, Tanasoiu answers he has chances to make it to the second round. “Most likely, if he makes it to the second round, there will be a general mobilization against him and he will not win.” The same thing happened in 2000, when Vadim Tudor made it to the second round.

But Romania is currently going through a political crisis that might cause early presidential elections. Current president Traian Basescu was suspended by the parliament and on May 19, the population will vote in a referendum about whether to keep him or not in office.

In the case Basescu’s suspension is supported by the people, there will be early elections. Although he has decent chances to win, Becali has not jumped at the opportunity to attack his main rival. Surprisingly enough, he has made appeals to his supporters to participate in the referendum and help keep Traian Basescu in office.

“His behavior is probably justified by his deep antipathy for the parliament,” comments Professor Tanasoiu. Indeed, what may seem like a deeply humane behavior, that of not hitting a rival while he is down, is actually an attack against the fundamental institutions of the state. For Becali, it is only him and his followers that count.


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3 comments

  1. Very interesting and well written article. Thanks!


  2. You probably avoided drawing a clear-cut conclusion against Becali’s candidature intentionally, thinking that the article suggests it sufficiently. However, not saying expressly what could be wrong about Becali being a politician in power, be it presidential or legislative, could mean at least two things: either you think that everything is too straightforward to be even mentioned (which I think is not the case) or you are not sure what would be a right ending to Becali’s story, due to his controversial personality and no less controversial signals sent out by means of his acts and statements.
    Would be interesting to know which one is it.
    Otherwise, I tend to disagree only with the last paragraph which does not seem to do justice to Becali and is overcritical. It seemed to me that he supported Basescu because he genuinely thought that ( as the majority of the population, journalists, politicians, etc, etc) that justice should be supported and injustice resisted.
    Thank you for reaching the end.
    Good luck.


  3. Viva Gigi!!! He’s following in Berlusconi’s footsteps!



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