Romania, Serbia and the Orthodox Brotherhood

BUCHAREST: The decision this week by Romania's government to open its air space to NATO warplanes is the most difficult any of the country's postcommunist governments has taken since the death of Nicolae Ceausescu. For the moment NATO initiated its air strikes against Serbia what can only be called a bout of "Serbomania" has gripped the country. What I mean by "Serbomania" is an extremely unbalanced, biassed, almost neurotically emotional pro-Serbian attitude, one completely lacking in any serious or reasoned critique of NATO' military action.

What is more curious about Romania's outburst of "Serbomania" is that, not many months ago, the country was locked in a "NATO-mania" all its own. Indeed, up to the outbreak of this war, joining NATO was not only official Romanian policy, but enjoyed massive public and media support. According to surveys, about 90% of Romanians backed NATO membership. Most newspapers and broadcast media enthusiastically welcomed the prospect of NATO enlargement in the hope that Romania would be invited into the club. When, in 1997 at NATO's Madrid summit, Romania was turned down, public enthusiasm cooled. But that does not fully explain the open hostility toward NATO that is now on the march.

It is not only that, today, many Romanian journalists and columnists agitate against NATO or have taken the Serbian side. What is most striking is the rationale people invoke for supporting Serbia. By and large, the all-pervasive view here is that of Harvard Professor Samuel Huntington who predicted that international politics after the Cold War would become a"clash of civilizations". Accordingly, many people here see the Balkan conflict as a struggle between "Western civilization" and the "Orthodox-Slavic" one in which Serbia and Romania belong.

Ethnic cleansing and the plight of the Kosovar refugees, who are Muslim, doesn't seem to trouble anyone's sleep; nor is the ruthlessness of Slobodon Milosevic, who, after all, is no Orthodox patriarch, but a cunning ex-communist apparatchik, condemned in any way whatsoever. Reasoned arguments have evaporated from the pages of newspapers, which instead denounce NATO for waging war on "heroic" Serbia and play on public sympathy for the suffering of "our Orthodox brethren".