(Photo source: Graveyard, Whitby Abbey) I have a confession to make: I have never read Bram Stoker's 'Dracula'. Pretty embarrassing, really. It wasn't a set book for school or my English Lit. BA, and once I started my to-ing and fro-ing to the country of my heart, I got so fed up with hearing about it that I flatly refused to bother. When one sees what has become of Bran and Sighisoara these days, the gaudy stalls selling everything from fangs and masks to kitsch mugs and t'shirts, well, frankly... no. Just no. Bram Stoker has a lot to answer for.
The history of Vlad Tepes is fascinating, however. No need to read a book written by a bloke who never stepped foot in Romania, much less Transylvania, when you have the real story. How infuriating when people's associations with the country run no deeper than 'Draaaacula, mouhahaha!' but don't know who he actually was. And no, I don't care how much money the whole naff mis en scène brings in. Why all the tackiness that has taken over Bran (and Poiana Brasov, too) when the real castle, Poenari, is several kilometres further down the road. Okay, maybe the 1,480 steps one has to climb to reach it is something of a put-off.
Count Dracula has been undead for a hundred and eighteen years. He is a legend mixed with reality, superstition and fearful fantasies for nobody else in all of history impaled as many victims as Vlad Tepes. Cruelty was a political power tool for Vlad Tepes and the reputation of his skewering deeds as punishment of his enemies and law-breakers was an excellent way to hold on to it. Human life had very little value at that time and the punishments meted out for even petty crimes across the realm in fact made Vlad Tepes look somewhat generous and forgiving.
After Prince Vlad's wife committed suicide throwing herself out of a window and into the Arges River far below having received a falsified letter (shot through the window) from the Turks stating her husband had been killed in battle, Vlad Tepes became far crueler. Some sources say the letter told of the Turks' invasion and in fact, she killed herself to avoid enslavement, but I guess we'll never know.
(Photo source: Whitby, N. Yorkshire) Colliding with an article today in the New York Post, I discovered that Stoker's Count Dracula spent quite some time in Whitby, an idyllic little Yorkshire fishing resort at the mouth of the River Esk on the North Sea - see chapters 6-8 if you have it in your bookcase (or online HERE). This will be nothing new to those familiar with the story, but I couldn't imagine a vampire in such picturesque surroundings. Why Whitby, I wondered? Perhaps Dracula fancied a culinary change? Bored of enemies à la brochette, did he yearn to sample the northern English town's famous fish 'n' chips? Off I went to find out more...
Apparently, Stoker's book was inspired during a short break taken in Whitby on a hunt for a family holiday destination. Whilst there, he visited the library and discovered the name 'Dracula' for the first time in William Wilkinson's An Account of the Principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia (1820). Intrigued by the town's atmosphere - the red rooves, Whitby Abbey, the graveyard with its ancient, mossy tombstones and bats flying about, he decided it would make the perfect backdrop for a horror story he already had in the pipeline.
In his tale, Dracula is shipwrecked off the Yorkshire coast en route to London on the Russian schooner, Demeter. He comes ashore at Tate Hill Sands alone as a black dog (vampires are shape-shifters) having murdered the entire crew onboard, the ill-fated ship's only cargo silver sand and boxes of earth from Transylvania. Dracula then goes off to paint the town red. Blood red, that is.
He adopts the Abbey as his own personal restaurant and sleeping quarters - being dark and spooky, it was perfect for a vampire. It was, however, to be his last seaside holiday, for, a few weeks later, the people of Whitby (who had begun to notice a rather sharp decrease in the town's population - no flies on them) got savvy. They called a meeting at St Mary's Church and decided they'd have to get rid of him once and for all before any more neighbours, tourists or foreigners disappeared. He was to be captured with caution, and stabbed through the heart with a wooden stake for that was the only way to kill a vampire.
So, the next night, off set the Whitby residents in search of Dracula. I suppose you could call it a Fang Club. Of course they went straight to the Abbey as everyone knew he was there (maybe the screams were a bit of a give away). Once they'd unearthed him, they were careful to avoid looking into his eyes (mind control and all that) or touch his fangs (not even a tickle) in case they too became vampires.
(Photo source: The Dracula Gift Shop, Whitby) Pinning the Count down on a tombstone, a priest prayed for the saving of his soul before the stake was driven through his heart to Dracula's blood-curdling screams.
Relieved they'd got rid of this depraved Transylvanian nobleman (amazing that Farage hasn't grabbed this tale with both hands for his anti-Romanian campaigns) responsible for such terrible nocturnal atrocities, they buried him in a tomb on which they placed a skull and crossbones. According to the tourist site, if you climb the 199 steps to the Abbey and enter the graveyard, you will find the very place, skull and crossbones still in tact.
(Photo source) Just look at what's going on in quaint little Whitby now: The Dracula Experience. Here at 9, Marine Parade (a property once owned by Sir Isaac Newton), one is promised a 'truly amazing evening experience' of paranormal hauntings and terror. Take a look at THIS site, too.
The real attraction for Dracula fangatics is obviously the Abbey itself. Its attached museum is full of artifacts, stories and remnants of historic Whitby, and once you've seen all that, a wind-swept stroll through the ruins awaits.
According to THIS site, another highlight is the Bram Stoker Memorial seat. From this spot, one has the view that inspired Stoker's Whitby scenes: 'One can look straight across the harbour and see the ruins of the Abbey, the Church and the stone steps. And just to the left is the cliff where the Demeter ran ashore. There is an inscription on the bench which reads: "The view from this spot inspired Bram Stoker (1847-1912) to use Whitby as the setting of part of his world-famous novel DRACULA. This seat was erected by Scarborough Borough Council and the Dracula Society to mark the 68th Anniversary of Stoker's death - April 20th 1980".'
(Photo source: Whitby Gothic Weekend) Oh, and maybe best of all, there’s a HUGE biannual goth fest called the Whitby Gothic Weekend when thousands of people pour into the sleepy resort in their best corsets, fangs and kohl pencil to troll the streets. What fun.
Thanks again, Bram Stoker.
I suppose I'll have to read the book now.
Is that the time? Must away before sunrise…
To hear that tax fraud is a massive problem in Romania will come as no surprise to anyone. According to various sources, about one quarter of economic activity and one quarter of people in work are believed to be beyond the reach of tax inspectors. Campaigns pushed by the EU have been introduced to push eastern European governments to crack down on corruption and tax evasion but to little avail - no wonder really, since it's often the officials responsible for the so-called 'cracking down' that are tax-dodging agogo.
A recent report by the Council of Europe's anti-money laundering committee said that Romania's shadow economy accounted for 28.4% of its gross domestic product in 2013 - that's about 40 billion euros ($53 billion) a year of uncollected taxes in an economy where tax revenue amounts to approx. 46 billion euros.
"Tax evasion is on the rise in Romania and poses a threat to its national security," economist Ionut Dumitru, head of the country's fiscal council, told AFP.
The loss in revenue (and other better-known causes besides) is seen in the dilapidated hospitals, the absence of necessary medication/treatment and schools lacking basic facilities. It holds the country back, ensuring it remains one of the EU's poorest members, deeply hindering it from sitting at the dining table with the big guys.
"With revenues accounting for less than 33% of GDP, compared to an EU average of 45%, Romania will never have an education system as good as Germany's for instance," Dumitru said, "and sacrificing a nation's education and health means sacrificing its future."
Schemes and scams to evade the taxman have become more and more staggering. In one of the most spectacular cases uncovered by the DGAF (the General Directorate for Fiscal Anti-fraud - but also, ironically, an accronym for 'don't give a f*ck' in the Urban Dictionary), a ring of 30 Turkish, Jordanian and Romanian nationals cheated the government of 24 million euros in VAT dodging back in 2013. The grifters set up a complex chain of 58 dummy companies to cover up their crooked operations selling 100 million euros' worth of fruit and veg on the Romanian market. Twelve were arrested. What became of the others, one can only surmise.
"Another major case concerned a network of 22 Romanian and Chinese nationals who created 15 companies selling household appliances without paying VAT," DGAF vice-president Romeo Nicolae told AFP. The loss was estimated at 12 million euros.
(Photo source) But it's hard to beat the whopping 60 million euro fraud engineered by Radu and Diana Nemes (heads of an organised crime ring), two Romanians extradited from the US in May last year, which has tarnished the upper layer of the Romanian law-enforcement system and cost the state somewhere in the realms of 15 million euros. The former president of the National Fiscal Authority Agency (ANAF) Sorin Blejnar, is currently facing trial in two cases of 'alleged' complicity in tax evasion whilst his chief of cabinet Codrut Marta, the former head of the National Customs Authority Viorel Comanita, the former head of Constanta County’s Intelligence, Interior Protection Service Dan Secareanu and a bunch of company administrators are also all under the investigative spotlight...
(Photo source) Radu Nemes, 39, is alleged to have worked with others to illegally import and sell nearly 1 million tons of diesel fuel. Investigators say Nemes dodged 53 million euros in taxes by importing the fuel for use in manufacturing, and then selling it directly on to consumers.
At Radu Nemes’s direction, trucks loaded with diesel fuel were driven to secret rendezvous points and transferred to commercial fuel companies. Diana Nemes, administrator of SC Excella Real Grup SRL, cooked the books. Together, they 'allegedly' created a network of shell companies in the names of homeless people as part of the tax dodge to distance themselves from the fraud.
Romanian authorities tapped around 100 telephones and searched 70 locations during their investigation. According to court records, Romanian investigators are convinced the Nemeses were helped by the heads of Romania’s fiscal authority and the national customs office. How could they have managed such a monumental scam otherwise.
(Photo source) Fleeing to the US in 2012 before charges could be brought against them in Bucharest, they were eventually arrested at their home in Yelm, Washington state last March on a formal extradition request submitted to American authorities by the Romanian government. The Nemeses entered the U.S. on visitor's visas which had expired at the time of their arrest, and had been living in Yelm for more than a year. During that time, they had joined JZ Knight’s School of Enlightenment (seeing is believing when it comes to that particular set-up - you couldn't make it up) whose leader claimed to channel a 35,000-year-old warrior spirit from a mythical continent and members drank a wine that would make them telepathic. They had also gone into business with a handful of local wine makers - all of whom now have some serious knives to grind and aren't keeping quiet about it.
"The Nemeses and their associates have utilised multiple bank accounts and shell corporations in the US to conceal and disguise the nature, source, location and control of the proceeds generated by the activity that resulted in charges being filed in Romania," the prosecutors stated in court documents.
Following their arrest, American prosecutors seized four Yelm properties as well as two-thirds of a Rainier winery believed to belong to the Nemeses. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Richard Cohen and Norman Barbosa said they had transferred at least $5 million into bank accounts held in the US, apparently wired through Dubai with the help of duplicitous bankers in Romania.
Prosecutors described how very comfortably Diana and Radu Nemes were living, in a newly built luxury home ten miles from their School of Enlightenment with the paranormal plonk. They had acquired a number of other properties too, including a $3 million log cabin and a number of businesses in Washington believed to have been bank-rolled with laundered money.
The FBI further reported that the Nemeses had been whizzing around the US on first-class flights, blowing more than $200,000 at designer boutiques and spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash. The couple allegedly moved their 70ft yacht from the Mediterranean in late 2012, selling it months later for $2.3 million. In addition, they owned a restaurant and a large commercial property in Yelm. Whoever said crime don't pay never met these two.
(Photo source) Wanted by Interpol, the crunch that really stunned America was the discovery of a network of fully equipped and furnished bunkers under the Nemeses' rural Washington home where they could have hidden out for months if not years on end. The shelter could be sealed from within and had enough food, water, a working kitchen and practical supplies to sit out a siege. A stash of four pistols and two rifles including an AR-15-style assault rifle were also unearthed although the couple did not possess a licence for firearms.
(Photo source) Assistant US Attorney Norman Barbosa said in a court statement, "The Nemeses’ illegal possession of multiple firearms, coupled with their access to a fully stocked doomsday bunker, suggests they were prepared for an extended standoff with law enforcement. She and her husband expected law enforcement to eventually arrive and the sophisticated surveillance system at their home suggest they were watching carefully for signs of law enforcement."
(Photo source) Once extradited back to Romania, Radu Nemes was remanded in custody and Diana Nemes was placed under house arrest following a 30-day spell behind bars. Having given birth last August, I presume she is now back in the clink again.
Meanwhile across the pond, the Nemeses' estate has been auctioned off and the proceeds have either been or are about to be returned to the Romanian state.
(Photo source) Mind-boggling. A diary found belonging to Radu Nemes reveal that the man really is utterly barking. In direct communication with God, or so he thought, he prayed for the FBI investigation to disappear. If they were caught though, he wrote, they would appeal to the European Court of Human Rights. The crazed megalomania and arrogant rantings in praise of his own genius are flagrant for all to see. Not so genius really however, when the uncovering of such a journal was all the proof any judge would need to chuck him in a cell and throw away the key. Elementary, childish diagrams show the connection linking Dubai to Romania and the US whilst money he wanted to get hold of is frequently mentioned throughout. Business proposals include a villa in Bacau, two tennis courts in Baneasa, a building in front of the mall also in Bacau or housing to raise capital.
For what happened in February's hearing and yet more background on the Nemeses along with the high-ranking crooks who aided and abetted, please see this excellent article by Ionel Stoica for EVZ. The next hearing was supposedly set for March 9th but I don't know what happened as I haven't found any reports on it. The latest took place yesterday (April 6th). Awaiting news...
In the meantime, as the hospitals, patients, schools and students cry out for urgent funding for two very basic human rights, may the Nemeses and all those others who have enriched themselves (and continue to do so) on the backs of the Romanian people spend the rest of their days behind bars. Incurable haemorrhoids (without respite) would be an added bonus.
Perhaps the proceeds of confiscated properties and estates will one day be put to good use - health care, education, parks, road repair, hospices, animal shelters, whatever - just as long as the Romanian people profit from it. It's been eons since good Karma was alive and well in Romania...
(Image source) Radu Mazare (PSD), the flamboyant local baron and Mayor of Constanta infamous for wild parties and silly outfits, was finally arrested yesterday for 30 days accused of taking 9 million euros in bribes, conflict of interest and abuse of office. Surely, this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Businessman Sorin Strutinsky was also nabbed on a 30-day arrest warrant in the same case, but didn't need to travel far as he's already behind bars for another affair. Birds of a feather and all that.
In 2006-2009 according to investigators, Radu Mazare (with his side-kick Strutinsky) demanded and received about 2 million euros from representatives of two companies in return for 'facilitating' much-needed permits for their building of malls in Constanta. The money was transferred through fictitious advertising contracts drawn up by company representatives and another controlled by Mazare, directly through Strutinsky.
With Strutinsky's help, Mazare also filled his pockets with more than 7 million euros between 2008-2014 for assuring they'd win a bid organised by Constanta Town Hall for a sanitation service contract, good for a period of 25 years - total costs estimated at 335 million euros.
This afternoon, there is news that the DNA are investigating Mazare for yet more abuse of office, this time involving three companies (indicted for money laundering), SC Mehmetoglu, SC Boulevard SA and SC Millenium Global Development SA. Mazare and the companies' representative Gina Sorina Moscu Hortolomei will be judged while free according to the DNA, though that doesn't seem to be working out for Mazare right now as he's in the slammer as I type.
(Photo source) In this most recent case, prosecutors are wagging fingers at Radu Peas (as Google Translator calls him) for "failing to fulfil job responsibilities" (understatement of the century) when, in 2004, he sold 15,465.91m2 of land in the seaside resort of Mamaia "for the ridiculously low price of 23.56 euros per m2" leading to a public administration loss of 1.1 million euros. As if that's not enough to be going on with, the DNA says that in 2007, Mazare also "allegedly" sold two plots of land measuring 11.890m2 and 502.81m2 for "a modest price" tallying a loss to Constanta Town Hall worth 3 million euros. Prosecutors have ordered the seizure of the land. Hardly surprising.
It's not a good week for PSD members it seems. According to AP in the NYT, 'a court has sentenced Ioan Niculae, worth an estimated 1.1 billion euros, for paying a bribe of some 150,000 euros in 2009 to a party official, then in opposition, ahead of presidential elections in exchange for influence in government.
The party official, Gheorghe Bunea Stanciu, was sentenced to three years. Niculae, owner of the InterAgro agriculture, energy and finance business and soccer club Astra Giurgiu, supported Mircea Geoana in the 2009 presidential race, which he lost. Two others were also handed 2 ½ year sentences. The court ordered Niculae pay the sum of the bribe.'
So, that's Valcov and Mazare along with a few other of the motley crew slurping porridge for the moment. Now how about undoing that abortion of justice in Parliament concerning Sova and Vosganian? Never a dull moment....
(Photo source) I cannot believe my eyes. Mayor of Bucharest Sorin Oprescu is to be awarded France's highest honour by Jean-Marc Todeschini, French Minister of State for Veterans and Remembrance, in a ceremony in Bucharest this Thursday 12th March at La Résidence de France (str. biserica Amzei 13-15) with François Saint-Paul, France's Ambassador, in attendance.
What has Oprescu done to deserve such an honour? Is it his undying dedication to destroy Bucharest brick by brick perhaps? Or maybe it's his exceptional displays of lying, cheating, corruption, bullying, illegal construction, demolition and eviction? Add to that an extraordinary capacity for bad taste. Since his first mandate he has shown incredible flair for all the above and has excelled in all categories.
There is little mention of this auspicious event in the mainstream Romanian press, but there are reports (so far) from B365.ro and Radio Romania. I originally found it HERE in French completely by chance. Did City Hall want to keep it quiet until the last minute to avoid civic protest?
Well, there SHOULD be civic protest - and massively too. Street demonstrations, open letters from big names to the French government, petitions, articles condemning such a choice.
How on earth could this man receive such an accolade? True, Chevalier is the lowest degree of five distinctions, followed by Officier (Officer), Commandeur (Commander), Grand Officier (Grand Officer) and Grand Croix (Grand Cross), but it seems to be given out to the least deserving of folks just lately. Only last week, the Chairman of Romania's Senate Calin Popescu-Tariceanu was also decorated Chevalier at a ceremony attended by Princess Margareta, Prince Radu, Ion Iliescu and Emil Constantinescu. Did we hear about it? Was there any big-stuff media coverage? If there was, it completely passed me by. There wasn't the fanfare one would expect to accompany such an occasion in any case.
I truly cannot come up with anyone LESS deserving than Oprescu. He is a political puppet, a typical product of a national communist society and does not know the meaning of the word 'culture'. In addition to all that, he is an absolute disaster for intelligent urban development. His two great achievements to date (the National Arena and the Basarab overpass) cost more than twice as much as similar projects abroad.
If this serial killer of patrimony wants to build something and there happens to be a historic monument in his way, it gets whacked - usually in the dead of a winter's night when there are no journalists around to sound the alarm or activists to hamper his progress. We have seen it time and time again. No matter how many times Nicusor Dan drags him through the courts, no matter how often he is found guilty of abuse of power or illegal demolition, it's all much of a muchness. He has consistently ridden rough-shod over the law which is made for little people after all, not big-shots like him, and done the deed anyway, finishing off what Ceausescu began. Nothing and nobody seems able to stop him. He is a tyrant answerable to no one who should be prosecuted for the destruction he has wrought, not awarded for the mayhem, chaos and devastation he has reaped upon a city in the name of megalomania and greed.
(Photo source) Those who care and grieve these losses at his hands are a tragic, shameful minority seen as nutty eccentrics standing against progress and modernity. There is no appropriate adjective to express the heart-ache, the nausea, the revulsion that Oprescu's handywork causes the precious few still fighting tooth and nail to save the city they love from this mayor's psychopathic massacring. In the style of his original profession (cardiac surgeon), he keeps right on going, ripping the heart out of the city, hacking up its arteries, mangling its organs and bludgeoning the breath out of it in any way he deems fit.
And France figures he deserves to be honoured for that?
Please sign and share THIS open letter addressed to Jean-Marc Todeschini and Ambassador François Saint-Paul, and if you are free tomorrow at 18h, a demo will be taking place outside the French Embassy in Bucharest also showing opposition to the choice - check out the Facebook page entitled În numele onoarei Bucureștiului. Very apt. There, you will find a long and comprehensive list (by no means complete) of all the reasons why such a distinction for such a man is so scandalous.
I'm too disgusted to write any more...
As if Romanian culture and those that strive to preserve it haven't had their fair share of battles and insults over recent years, culture is now about to be further taxed. The draft law (to replace Law no. 35/1994), signed by 84 trans-party MPs, has caused massive outcry among Romanian intellectuals, and public opinion is equally revolted.
This new tax, says Nine O'Clock, is to be applied to any cultural 'product' in Romania, from books, theatre and films to exhibitions and concerts, and the income it makes will enrich 'creators’ unions and organisations.' It will be smacked on every book before it arrives on the shelves as if it were a packet of cigarettes or a bottle of plonk. The Romanian Editors' Federation (FER), the Association of Show Producers and Organisers (APOSR) and the Union of Romanian Phonogram Producers (UPFR) are challenging it for its negative impact on economic and cultural development. Quite right too. It is scandalous.
The current law (in situ since 1994) is set at 2% of the book value whereas the draft law puts the culture stamp for books at a fixed 1 leu (about 0.22 euros) for each copy, more than the 2% in many cases. For other literary categories (cinema, theatre, music, architecture, Beaux Arts), the new values vary from 2-5% of the price of a ticket (show, concert or exhibition) and between 1-2% of the price of copies of recordings or reproductions (audio-visual, cinema, theatre, music, etc).
Apparently, the whole point is to protect and preserve cultural patrimony, encourage contemporary creativity and promote values in various cultural fields. Yes, sure. But when a victim of corruption, indifference and neglect can barely walk as it is, why not steal its walking stick and bash it round the head with a new tax, alienating it yet further still. What a brilliant idea.
(Image source) Editors, producers and cultural product importers along with show/concert organisers and administrators must obtain the new culture stamps and bung them on the products concerned. They must also send a bi-annual report before 25th July and 25th January every year. Can you imagine the fun that'll be.
The creators' unions and associations wishing to benefit from the funds drummed up must register an official demand with the Minister of Culture. Ha! And they say this is a move to limit corruption in the world of culture. Promoted by Nicolae Manolescu (president of the USR Writer's union), Ion Caramitru (president of UNITER) and Adrian Iorgulescu (president of the Musicians' Union - the guy who wanted to tax the music taxi drivers play in their cars, as he considered taxis to be public spaces... One can guffaw but he was perfectly serious) - all of them ex-ministers, or, like Manolescu, UNESCO ambassador, that's highly unlikely. The sums from the tax can only be used for means conforming to objectives defined by the aforementioned creators' unions and organisations and are untaxable. Really, the greed leaves you speechless.
Anyone trying to circumnavigate this law will have a nice fine on their hands somewhere in the realms of 5,000 to 25,000 lei (1,115 to 5,580 euros).
Draft law 583/2014 was quietly approved under wraps (no surprise there) by the Senate on 8th December 2014, while the final decision rests in the hands of the Chamber of Deputies, Parliament's lower house. The bill has currently come to a halt in the cultural commitee after several cultural associations said they had never been consulted and were therefore contesting such a measure. During the debate, the head of the cultural commitee in the Chamber of Deputies, Gigel Stirbu (another name you'll remember, see HERE - what hope is there for Romanian culture with people like this making decisions on its future?), said MPs agreed to keep the culture tax at the previous 2% level.
"Over the past several years Romania has faced a market decline for books and music. Such legislation would worsen the situation that is currently far from normal. Introducing such a 'culture tax' would directly affect the retail price of cultural products and services (books, CDs, DVDs or concert tickets) which will inevitably alienate a large category of potential readers/listeners/spectators against a backdrop in which the public’s access to culture in Romania is already amongst the lowest in the European Union," FER representatives said, reported by Mediafax.
According to the FER, the low and medium income families will be the most affected by this taxation which, in their opinion, will increase book prices by 7-10% and such a supplementary tax, they warned, would be unique for an EU member state, putting Romania at risk of a procedure of infringement from the European Commission. It would appear that Manolescu, Caramitru and Iorgulescu aren't bothered by such nit-picking detail.
The FER have therefore asked that draft law 583/2014 be annulled, since it was established without consideration for commitments taken by Romania at EU level in terms of the 'intelligent regulation' strategy, where member states are advised that any new draft law be accompanied by arguments in favour of timeliness and an impact assessment to evaluate costs for economic operators.
(Photo source) A recent head to head (Realitatea) on the subject between Gabriel Liiceanu and Nicolae Manolescu (see my blogpost HERE for his recent financial scandal) ended with the head of Humanitas (Liiceanu) claiming uncontestable victory. Manolescu was publically pulverised (how delicious) when accused of wanting to take the place of the ANAF and pocket as much as he could for the USR in illegal taxation.
"De la 'daţi un leu pentru Atheneu' s-a ajuns la 'Vă iau un leu pentru USR-u,'” said the director of Humanitas. Yes. Well said, Mr Liiceanu.
Please sign THIS petition against the rise in book prices as a result of this new legislation. In a country where people have been distanced from their history, patrimony and collective memory via acts of disinformation, corruption, demolition and destruction, allowing culture to become even more inaccessible is nothing short of criminal. Ponta's recent declaration to earmark 2% of the country's lottery earnings for cultural activities supervised by the MC is not going to cut the corn. Robbing Peter to pay Paul? Absurd. Keep your lottery earnings and drop the draft law!!!
Read more in Romanian at Istorioare Bucurestene
(Photo source) Episode 2 of Channel 4's 'The Romanians are Coming' was aired last night. Watch it HERE if you missed it. If my Facebook newsfeed is anything to go by, the complaints of discrimination and misrepresentation from some of the UK's Romanian diaspora continue.
I still say that judgement should be reserved until ALL THREE of the installments have been aired, for without the full picture, one cannot have a thoroughly informed opinion. But that's just me.
This episode opens once again with a rather 'Borat'-like scene - a perfectly truthful one for anybody wondering. Seeing as how the narrator Alex is there in the midst of it all, I bet we're looking at the overwhelming horrors of Pata Rât on the outskirts of Cluj. For more on that, see my post yesterday and for more about Alex and how he became the documentary's narrator, see HERE.
(Photo source) This time, the focus is on Mihaela, a lovely lady who lives in a nice middle class house with her husband, daughter and mother in Constanta. A nurse by profession, she finds a job through an agency in a very posh-looking residential home in Cumbria. On-line, she and her daughter browse images of the Cumbrian countryside - drop-dead gorgeous mountains, rolling hills and meadows full of flowers. Mihaela's own garden is filled with flowers too. She agonises over leaving her family, particularly her elderly mother, but the residential home she is set to work at looks like a palace and those views will swathe her homesickness. Or so she believes.
When she arrives, it's obvious that she has been duped. No mountains and flowers for Mihaela. She is sent to a non-descript council house in Sheffield that she must share with two girls from Spain. Small bedroom, filthy carpet. At least there's WiFi. Mihaela gets busy cleaning to ease the shock. The residential home isn't the palace she saw on internet either.
(Photo source) She works hard and misses her family terribly even though she can visit home by skype. Her patients at work seem nice enough, but it saddens her that they're not cared for at home surrounded by their families (as is usual in Romania), and she worries about her own mother, nearly eighty, back in Constanta.
At the end of the month, there's another bombshell to add to the mounting pile of letdowns. She is paid less than promised (and less than anybody else). Why? Because of 'problems' with her papers. She had to send them off three times before she could touch a penny of her salary. Humiliated and appallingly treated by the agency (that I hope will be investigated and closed down), this wonderful caring nurse that frankly the Brits were lucky to have returns home to her family and her garden. Too bad for the UK.
We also meet Adi, an exceptionally courageous guy who has a full-time job but sends so much of his earnings back to his family in Lupeni that he cannot afford accommodation for himself. He lives under a bridge and is so deeply ashamed that he can't tell anyone back home how hard life is. Without the money he sends, his mum tells the narrator that they would 'starve'.
(Photo source) Alex (with the fluorescent vocabulary) is back again and still sleeping rough. He has left the multi-storey carpark and is now in a cardboard box on a heath somewhere. To celebrate (or rather commiserate) the one year anniversary since his divorce, he has a beer whilst at work, gets caught by his boss and is fired. Oops. Sick and tired of trying to do everything by the book which has lead to nothing but homelessness, cold and deprivation, he throws in the towel and sets off to make a living through other means... His two friends wash their hands of him.
Okay, so there's still no sign of the architects, doctors, professors and managers of UK's Romanian diaspora, but Mihaela is quite typical of her compatriots in terms of personality (kind, warm), outlook (sunny, filled with hope) and her hardworking attitude. A nurse is not some lowly, unskilled profession with no prospects (not in the UK anyway) but an admirable vocational career. She reminded me of a lot of friends of mine and her experience couldn't fail to provoke enormous empathy from anyone with half a heart.
Come to think of it, the Brits should be the ones complaining about misrepresentation following last night's episode rather than the Romanians, seeing as how those interviewed on the streets of Sheffield were such utter low-lives. We are portrayed as heartless, xenophobic, hardfaced chavs and the general image of Britain is one I do not recognise. It's worth mentioning, perhaps, that I haven't heard or read a single Brit up in arms about it. On the contrary, the feedback is very positive. See this article from Bucharest Life.
Perhaps it is not terribly 'representative' of the UK's entire Romanian diaspora so far. But it is representative of the hardships, the humiliation, the struggles lived by real immigrants in real time in the UK today. It is representative of a life change that takes incredible guts and gall. It is representative of commitment, determination - and love for those left back home. These immigrants could, in fact, be from anywhere in the world. They just happen to be Romanian. Mihaela captured my heart. If I could have adopted her on the spot and found her a decent agency to work for so that her time in my native country would have been other than it was, I'd have done so. Bless her. To treat an honest, decent, hard-working person like that is shameful. And poor Adi. To hold down a full-time job while sleeping under a bridge just so he can feed his family back home?! I don't know a single Brit who would survive such misery. There is a a great deal of dignity to be found in such torment and one feels admiration for him, not pity.
As far as I'm concerned, this has been a documentary focusing more on how the Brits see and treat immigrants who have left their homes, their families, made unthinkable sacrifices and how acutely unfair it all is than about Romanians themselves - and it gets my vote. It is NOT pro-Farage. On the contrary. It makes every Brit watching analyse their prejudices, feel a certain amount of shame - and it demands compassion.
Maybe the Romanians protesting in front of Channel 4's HQ should take their complaints back to their own government - for that is where the 'problem' originated and that is where it should be addressed. It's easy to keep blaming the nasty, intolerant foreigners instead of tidying up one's own back yard and admitting (and taking) a certain degree of responsibility.
Roll on March 3rd for the final installment. Maybe with an IT specialist who has made it or a doctoral student or two just to make things 'whole'.
(Photo source) Last night, I watched the first of the three-part documentary 'The Romanians are Coming' broadcast by Channel 4 and 4Seven which has caused a great deal of controversy since its airing on 17th February.
To quote from an article in Huffington Post since I couldn't have put it better myself, 'The whole thing started off like a Romanian equivalent of Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. A horse and cart trundled into view across a post-apocalyptic looking street, a bare chested child played with a pickaxe and a man sniffed a bag of paint stripper.' I didn't really know whether to laugh or cry.
All of the Romanians in this first installment are trying to escape lives of abject poverty back home, sleeping rough and cheating the benefits system (with the exception of the narrator). Sandu (pictured top left), a Rroma gypsy from Baia Mare, comes to find work so he can send money home to his family of nine. He doesn't speak a word of English and when asked at a garage whether he'd like a job indoors or outdoors, it's lost on him. With a forlorn "thank you", he walks out passing up a potential job opportunity. By the end of the first episode, he has returned home to Baia Mare.
(Photo source) Stefan speaks limited English but goes to school determined to improve it so he can get a decent job. He begins his life in the UK as a living statue, but there's fiendish competition for the best costumes and his Charlie Chaplin act is upstaged by 7 much better Charlies. Eventually, he finds work as a road sweeper but has a long slog ahead to raise the funds needed to get his daughter Stefania over for leg surgery. A radiator fell on her, and the "arsehole" surgeon who operated bodged the job leaving her with a crooked leg and a great deal of pain. Sandu profits from the "free" NHS dentists to get his own "shitty" teeth fixed. When asked if he knew who'd paid for it, he answers "the EU". "No," replies the narrator. "The British tax-payer."
(Photo source) And then there's Alex, smecher and 'entrepreneur' who spent 6 years in Canada running his own company and is now in London sweeping the streets and sleeping in a multi-storey carpark near Victoria Coach Station - not bad since there's a tap for water, electricity sockets to charge his phone and a great view of a nearby park. There's also free WiFi from the Megabuses round the corner, where he fills in an online benefits application for Stefan. How come he's not in Canada anymore? Because he was "stupid". In those six years, he avoided the Canadian taxman and when they finally caught up with him he did something "even stupider" - tried to bribe them. It didn't end well. Alex left Canada (it's not clear whether he fled or was kicked out) and is now trying his luck in London. Alex speaks relatively good English even if every other word starts with 'f' and there's an equally liberal sprinkling of "sh*t", "sh*tty" and "a*seh*le".
If, in the next two remaining episodes, we see none of the Romanians we know to be skilled and successful in the UK too, working or studying, living in decent accomodation, speaking good English (a normal prerequisite and preferably without the repeated 'effing' this and 'effing' that demonstrated by Alex), paying their taxes and not living off benefits, THEN I'll agree with those feeling so outraged.
However, the narrator in this first episode, Petru Alex Fechete (another Alex), is an activist against racism and one of the leaders of a Rroma community association which fought against Apostu and Boc, supporting many families forcibly evicted from their homes in Coastei (Cluj) to Pata Rat on the city's outskirts where they were allocated just 18m2 per family. Pata Rat is a desolate stinking garbage-dump landfill ghetto infested with packs of dogs, vermin and unholy filth. Alex Fechete was a mechanic before he and his Rroma community were kicked out of their homes in 2011 and packed off to a hell-hole on earth so Sorin Apostu (currently behind bars for corruption) could demolish their houses and give the land to the Archbishop of Cluj.
Just for the record, over 20 religious leaders from all faiths in the UK signed an open letter to Emil Boc in February 2014 demanding justice and compensation for the Coastei eviction victims.
The letter ends, 'We call on you to ensure that those who were subjected to forced evictions have access to remedies and reparations, including relocation to alternative adequate housing. And that you take steps to ensure forced evictions are made illegal in the national legislation, in accordance with international and regional human rights standards and treaties that Romania has ratified or otherwise agreed to adhere to.'
Please see more about Mr Fechete and all that was endured in Adevarul (in Romanian). Would such a man with such an experience and a history of activism for the Rroma have participated in a programme if it were discriminatory?
Following the first trailer, Ion Jinga, the Romanian ambassador in London, was quick to write to producer Katie Buchanan expressing his 'surprise and disappointment' at its content which did not give an accurate image of the Romanian community in the UK. According to the MAE, Ambassador Ion Jinga's letter underlined that the vast majority of Romanian citizens are well integrated in British society. The embassy asked for the situation to be 'remedied', hoping the content of the documentary to come would be objective rather than a distortion of the whole Romanian community in the UK. The producers changed the trailer's text and introduced an extended explanation of context highlighting a more human side.
Buchanan explained that the documentary was not discriminatory. On the contrary, the aim was to show diverse experiences of Romanian citizens from different backgrounds who had come to earn money in the UK and wanted to find the truth behind news headlines in the press that targeted Romanians, according to the MAE. So, if Channel 4 have done what they say they aimed to, there'll be architects, doctors, nurses, accountants, professors, IT specialists, managers etc in the next two episodes. Right? They too are part of 'the truth'.
(Photo source) Part 1 left a good many people feeling deeply offended, misrepresented and humiliated. Razvan Constantinescu, a diplomat appointed for Bristol, slammed the series for insulting his community, calling it a ‘public slur on the rest of the hard working community’, and several hundred Romanians gathered in front of Channel 4's HQ in London yesterday in silent protest.
"We are protesting against the way Channel 4 has decided to cover the Romanian immigration issue. We consider their approach in ‘The Romanians Are Coming’ documentary unfair to the Romanian citizens working and studying in Great Britain," the organisers wrote on their Facebook page.
PM Ponta tweeted a message of support to the diaspora who weren't the least bit moved after his antics denied so many of them their voting rights last November: "I express my solidarity with the Romanians silently protesting against Channel 4's biased media coverage." He also addressed it to PM David Cameron.
The MAE have reacted too, stating that the first episode was not representative of the UK's Romanian community and only illustrated a scarce social segment.
The Romanian community in Scotland have been just as vocal. According to THIS article in The Scotsman, 'the second part (...) due to be shown tonight claims to feature more “middle class” immigrants, including a care worker in a nursing home, but the Scottish community says it does not go far enough to show the diverse work force in the UK who have come from the eastern European country.'
The article continues, 'Romanian foster carer Ioana di Mambro from Glasgow, who heads a social group for Romanian people living in Scotland, said: "This is just another attempt, like many others before, to present a distorted reality. Decent Romanian people who study or work in the UK, paying taxes and contributing to the economy are visibly offended by what Channel 4 has presented. Same goes for British people, friends of Romanians, who know better than to take that programme seriously."'
The anglophone critics are a mixed bag:
"Not just watchable and balanced (it is neither patronising nor handwringingly worthy), 'The Romanians Are Coming' is moving and human, the personal side of a political story. Such an important story too in the upcoming election, and in this part of the world today. You can’t ask for a lot more from a documentary." - The Guardian
"The result was a film that, while full of interesting people, simply didn’t come across as serious. It painted a picture of Romanian immigration that was pretty much the opposite of what it claimed, and completely failed to present – even to a fundamentally sympathetic viewer like me – any evidence whatsoever for its argument that “immigration from other EU countries makes money” for Britain. I would love to think the two remaining episodes will be more convincing, but I seriously doubt it." - Gerard O'Donovan for The Telegraph
"You've seen a few documentaries about immigration before but you've never seen one quite like Channel 4's new three-parter. That's because The Romanians Are Coming is completely from the point of view of the immigrants themselves, and its unapologetic approach to this well-rehearsed debate is rather refreshing." - The Independent
"This was a depressing look at life. Not half as depressing though as the fact that many of those who tuned in, if only fleetingly, might start believing what Nigel Farage says. As the cliche goes: all publicity is good publicity. And this was extremely good publicity indeed. For some more than others." - Huffington Post
Please, no further judgement 'til we've seen all three episodes. Half (or in this case, a third of) the picture is not the full picture. If you haven't watched the first, HERE it is. Don't forget episode 2 tomorrow night (24th Feb), and the third installment on March 3rd.
My thanks to VN.
Chevron is pulling out of Romania! Yes, the American oil giant is ending its exploration efforts for shale gas in the country of my heart following announcements that it had also stopped shale-exploration in Poland. There has been no elaboration on the decision from Chevron so far, although PM Ponta said last November that Romania didn't have any shale gas to speak of after all.
"It looks as if we don't have shale gas. We fought very hard for something that we do not have. I cannot tell you more, but I don't think we were fighting for something that existed," he said, in the midst of his Presidential campaign.
At the time, Chevron responded that it was yet to complete its assessment as to whether or not Romania had any shale gas potential. Romania is the third most energy-independent EU member and its government has been all for throwing wide the doors to companies out to discover shale gas, despite massive civic outcry that has remained consistently and admirably stalwart since 2013.
Before I go any further, I would just like to get something off my chest: Chevron's time in Romania has not been pleasant, but the fault does not rest entirely with the multi-national giant. It was the Romanian government who invited Chevron to Romania in the first place - Chevron didn't just show up for a bit of sight-seeing because they had nothing better to do. And it was the Romanian authorities who gave them the permits, the land, the contracts. Chevron didn't help themselves, however much we may dislike them (and believe me, I do).
It was the Romanian authorities who ordered curfew at Pungesti and supported (and instigated) the police intimidation carried out there. They are the ones who condoned the brutality, the beatings of children and the elderly with batons and truncheons. They are the ones who forbade colinde at Christmas, along with any gatherings comprising of more than 2 people. They are the ones who allowed the questioning of anyone trying to leave their homes and they are also the ones who caused children to be so traumatised by the threatening presence of jandarmi that bed-wetting became the 'norm' and the schools were archi-empty.
Pff! With that said, where did it all begin?
(Photo source) Chevron began drilling its first exploration well in Pungesti in May 2013, suspending work twice that same year due to mass protests from local residents who, at one point, formed a human chain to block Chevron's access to the drilling site. Hundreds of villagers blocked roads to halt vehicles carrying workforce intent on drilling. The convoy was forced to turn back as protesters, some in horse-drawn carts, called for the US energy giant to "go home", AFP reported at the time. Huge solidarity rallies also took place in Bucharest.
Demands for PM Ponta to resign were just as enormous. The crowds (not only in Pungesti) accused him of going back on his pledge to block shale gas drilling made before he took power by granting Chevron exploration permits. Romania’s government sold Chevron the rights to frack the shale beneath more than a million acres of land and since July 2013, permits allowed them to prospect three villages in Eastern Romania - Paltinis (Bacesti), Popeni (Gagesti) and Silistea (Pungesti), as well as for shale gas exploration on the Black Sea coast. See more HERE for a chronology of Vaslui's County Council's approvals, decisions, authorisations, etc. Jeez...
(Photo source) Protesters were equally furious at having been subjected to pressure tactics from representatives of Pungesti Townhall - when you read the chronology of events hyperlinked in the previous sentence, you can well imagine the type of pressure these people were under. One example given is a declaration from the mayor that anyone receiving state benefits would have them taken away if they dared show up at the rally.
(Photo source) In October 2013, things went from bad to worse for the protesters at Pungesti. The police chief of Vaslui authorised the 'removal' of protesters by force if they didn't budge of their own accord. They refused to break the chain of grasped hands they had formed on their knees to keep Chevron out. Around 300 Costicã Spiridon aged 81, said to be the heart of anti-Chevron resistance and one of its leaders at Pungesti, was punched in the stomach by police. mobilised en mass and in the confrontation,
Another protester, aged 76, was victim of a heart attack following a skirmish with police and at least three others were injured. There was even a report that police had bullied a three year old child. The stories that came out of police brutality were truly shocking. See more HERE.
Eventually, Chevron backed off. The protesters of Pungesti remained in their camps, highly suspicious of this laying down of arms on the part of the multi-national. They were convinced this was just a short teabreak, and were absolutely right. Chevron returned two months later to try again.
(Photo source) At around 4am one Monday morning in early December, Romanian riot police, jandarmi and firemen joined forces in an attempt to break resistance lines. Police and Chevron vehicles blocked the road linking Pungesti with Vaslui, surrounding the protesters' camp in a privately-owned field right next to where the company giant planned to install its well. Romanian-Insider reported on the arrests of thirty "for hostile behaviour" while the jandarmi blocked access so that Chevron could get on with the job in hand. Activists claimed that around 1,000 law enforcers took part in the operation. The police, however, put the number at three hundred. Journalists were reportedly permitted 30 minutes at the scene under police escort. See THIS video for a pretty good idea of what unfolded that Monday morning and THIS one for a little later the same day.
A press release from Chevron representatives officially confirmed the relaunching of exploration work. The Romanian Jandarmeria also issued a statement in which they stated that all measures were to protect the community and to establish proper conditions for Chevron to pursue its activity. 'All measures' meaning the beating of protesters with truncheons? Really? On their OWN LAND?!? How did that protect the community when these people WERE the community...
(Photo source) The exploration for shale gas in a community which clearly rejected the opinions of its residents went against Chevron’s officially stated commitment to protect the people and the environment and to consult communities regarding local needs. Chevron has faced opposition not only from Pungesti, but a very loud NU from a vast percentage of the Romanian population. As for 'protecting the people', that's an overwhelming fail - those who were hospitalised as a result of police brutality in both Pungesti and Bucharest bore witness to that.
Greenpeace slammed the police 'intervention' as "a serious abuse against freedom of expression", underlining that the permits given to Chevron were being challenged in court. Challenged or not, Chevron said its exploration work began that Monday as planned, despite the mayhem going on around them.
During a TV debate broadcast on Romanian public television, Chevron Romania's CEO Tom Holst appeared supremely defiant and unbelievably arrogant, promising that the energy giant had absolutely NO intention of leaving Romania.
(Photo source) Christmas 2013 was woeful for the people of Pungesti who effectively found themselves under strict curfew conditions unprecedented in peace time. Children were so terrorised by the gendarmes' intimidating presence (and with cause) that some coudn't go to school whilst others had started bed-wetting. The annual children's school Christmas party was cancelled. People were confined to their homes, unable to go anywhere without questioning from the police, and the traditional colinde (carol-singing) from house to house was forbidden. It was and still is incredible to imagine that in an EU member state in 2013, such military intimidation on orders from the Romanian authorities could have taken place. As for the mayor of Pungesti, he should have been thrown in jail years ago for a list of reasons as long as your arm.
Last month (a little more than a year on), the prosecutors' office of the Military Court of Iasi opened investigations into four possible cases of abuse of power by the authorities concerning Pungesti including illegal methods used by jandarmii. Fingers crossed there'll be heads that roll - and the further up the food chain, the better.
The anti-fracking fight is far from over however, as activist Maria Olteanu explains in her article in Frack Off Romania. There are 43 other companies with valid permits and their destinations remain unknown largely due to nondisclosure clauses within the contracts. There are rigs in Romania that continue to drill, she writes: on the borders with Hungary and Serbia and in Beba Veche which have caused severe water contamination. Chevron's exit, says Ms Olteanu, is a small victory. Although it was the only company drilling for shale gas, there'll be others interested in Romania's potential - OMV Petrom, Halliburton, Hunt Oil, Panfora Oil, NIS Petrol and Romgaz to name but a few.
And so, it doesn't come as a surprise that activists remain reserved when it comes to popping a champagne cork right now. According to EurActiv, the US Energy Information Administration has estimated that Romania could hold 51 trillion cubic feet of shale gas, which could cover domestic demand for more than a century. How about that, Mr Ponta? No shale gas, huh?
There's a long road ahead....
For more in English, please see THIS post by David Herron on The Long Tail Pipe blog which offers good, informative insight into the situation as a whole as well as possible reasons why Chevron has decided to pull out of Romania (and Eastern Europe), and Maria Olteanu's article for Frack off Romania.
(Photo source) Last Monday, President Iohannis awarded the National Order Star of Romania in rank of knight to Octav Bjoza, president of the Association of Former Political Detainees (AFPDR) in Romania.
At the age of 19, Mr. Bjoza was arrested and imprisoned by the Securitate for his adherence to the 'Garda Tineretului Român' ('Romanian Youth Guard') in Brașov which aimed to overthrow the communist regime by force. Sentenced to 15 years hard labour, he suffered unthinkable horrors in no less than 14 prisons across Romania. Released in 1962, though relentlessly persecuted by the authorities until 1989, he never stopped fighting for freedom and democracy.
"It is the first decoration I award as president of Romania and therefore I want it to go to you as a symbolic gesture, in the name of the Association of Former Political Detainees in Romania," Iohannis said at the awarding ceremony, adding that his mandate would be one of "respect for values and for Romanian heroes and martyrs, because a nation can have no future without respect for its past."
(Photo by Maria Man - source) According to Agerpres, Klaus Iohannis stated that in 25 years, Romania has found few joyous occasions to share with those who fought communism and sacrificed their youth, their families, their future and their hopes. In granting this award, he said he wished to mark the beginning of a new chapter in Romania's recent history, showing that former political detainees are moral landmarks for the new generation.
The head of state declared the distinction as an honouring of the sacrifice and courage of the men and women who suffered and perished for freedom during communism and in the days of December 1989.
When Octav Bjoza took the floor, he said the award was recognition of an entire social group who had fought against communism in the name of justice, freedom, dignity, truth and ancestral faith, "rewarding the fight and sacrifice of the former political and deported detainees of Romania." (Agerpres)
17 former political detainees representing 300 years of condemnation of which 115 had been served attended the ceremony.
Deeply touching. Where's the problem? Well... The decision to decorate Mr Bjoza has not been a popular one with everybody. According to some, Bjoza was a supporter of Codreanu's Mișcarea Legionară (Legionnaire's Movement) post-89 which makes him an anti-Semite who has absolutely no business receiving such distinction. The Monitorizarea şi Combaterea Antisemitismului (MCA) has called Mr Iohannis's choice 'disappointing' and voiced its opinion loud and clear:
"The criminal Communist system imprisoned Mr. Octav Bjoza, president of the Association of Former Political Prisoners in Romania, ruined his life, persecuted his family and denied him the universal rights of every human being. These crimes committed by the communist regime do not cancel out those committed against the Jews in Romania by the legionnaires. The fact that in post-communist Romania, Mr. Bjoza chose to share the ideals of the Legionnaire's Movement, to celebrate their ideas and their criminal religio-political beliefs is deeply regrettable," said the MCA in a press release.
The event that has caused the most criticism occurred in November 2009 when Octav Bjoza attended a ceremony dedicated to Legionnaire "martyrs" in Rasnov. Brought to the public's attention in a report by journalist Mircea Marian for EVZ, the article was described by Antena 3's Mihai Gâdea as 'a lynching'. Of course, Gâdea and co are all over this 'scandal' like a rash.
(Photo source) "I am not a legionnaire, never was and it is too late for me to become one now, but my luck was to be educated from the age of 19 in communist prisons by some of them. They marked me for life. Nothing, son, they told me, can be achieved without morality - not within the family, not the economy, not politics, and not for the country. And there's more, boy: without faith, nothing can be done. They also warned me that the Romanian nation was haunted by traitors, people who'd sell the country, and they were right," Octav Bjoza said back then in a video by the neo-legionnaire organisation, Noua Dreaptă Brașov.
Five years on, here we are. Confronted with the MCA's press release, Mr Bjoza said, "I am against any kind of extremism. This is outrageous! I was not and I never will be anti-Semitic. In prison I learned not to judge people by their ethnicity, religion or politics. I was just an anti-communist fighter there; there was no distinction of who was a legionnaire, a peasant, a cuzist or whatever political colour. I am against extremism, whether left or right.(...) I have always maintained that some of the legionnaires had good sides. Evil deeds must be judged separately and exposed so they don't happen again." (Adevarul)
Octav Bjoza has been president of AFDPR since December 2008 following the death of Constantin Ticu Dumitrescu (see my post on him HERE from that year), has never drawn attention to himself or been a target of concern. The question is this: Because he admired certain inmates with whom he was imprisoned, some of them legionnaires, does this mean he embraced the legionnaire ideology based on ethnic and religious exclusivity as a whole? Can one say then, by the same logic, that those who admire Cioran, Mircea Eliade or Mihai Eminescu must surely sympathise with legionnaire ideology and are therefore automatically anti-Semites? I don't think so. Hunt as I have done for the last three hours for a quote, an act, a phrase from Bjoza which expresses anti-Semitism, I can't find one. All I find are statements from others saying he is a Legionnaire sympathiser. If that makes him an anti-Semite then so be it, but I must say I am not totally convinced - and please bear in mind that I am Jewish by osmosis, loathe and appall any showings of anti-Semitism and would be one of the first to seethe and hiss if I saw evidence of such behaviour (oh, and I also like Eminescu).
Someone on Facebook told me that actually, the decoration was a symbolic gesture awarded to Bjoza for the association as a whole - clear from President Iohannis's words during the ceremony. This, at least, would make things easier to navigate because, were it the case, Mr Bjoza's opinions would be neither here nor there. As the president of AFDPR, he would be the person to pick up the honour on behalf of the association he represents. However, in Article 3 of Law no. 29/2000 on Romania's national system of decorations, it states that "the decorations shall be conferred to Romanian citizens for..." It doesn't say anything about awarding a decoration to an organisation through its representative.
The press also continues to insist the receiver is Bjoza himself, and so I guess that is the case (see the decree HERE), despite the President of Romania's official website stating "Este prima decoraţie pe care o confer în calitate de preşedinte al României şi, de aceea, am ţinut în mod special ca aceasta să fie acordată dumneavoastră, în chip simbolic, în numele Asociaţiei Foştilor Deţinuţi Politici din România din câteva motive...." ie. 'in the name of AFDPR.' Were this the case (and the association really does deserve the decoration), the situation would be manageable.
Mr Tismaneanu considers MCA's criticism justified and has suggested that Mr Iohannis was manipulated into a decoration that would taint his career. He has called for the resignation of presidential advisor Andrei Muraru, whose 'crass incompetence' it was to propose Bjoza. His resignation would both minimise the damage done to Mr Iohannis's image and act as a public expression of apology for such a massive moral blunder. Antena 3 didn't waste time stringing up Mr Tismaneanu and journalist Mircea Marian on their "Daily Summary".
Dear oh dear... the world does not see all the above detail. It sees only that an ethnic German president in a country that has not come to terms with its fascist past has decorated an anti-Semite, which comes at a time of a huge anti-Muslim movement washing over Germany triggering international condamnation. The timing couldn't be worse.
Comments like "he's not the only one," and "so many Romanians are anti-Semites" such as I've seen on Facebook don't make it acceptable. Far from it. We're almost into 2015, and in the effort to remember victims of communism, those of fascism are forgotten (and largely unknown). There is no state museum to Romania's fascist past, no state memorial to its victims. Thank goodness for Ana Blandiana and Romulus Rusan, without whom there'd be no Memorial Museum to the Victims of Communism (Bucharest and Sighetu Marmatiei) either. The page in Romania's history where fascism can be found is only ever addressed as a result of some kind of anti-Semitic attack or thoughtless comment such as THIS, THIS, THIS or THIS.
Will Mr Bjoza be able to convince those who matter that although he admired his fellow prisoners who happened to be legionnaires, he is not an anti-Semite? If he cannot (because he turns out to actually be one), will Mr Klaus revoke the honour and fire Muraru? I do not see he has a choice in the matter, for if he does not, this will follow him for his entire mandate and beyond.
UPDATE: Tuesday 30th December: The scandal continues... This morning, Octav Bjoza gave an interview to Gândul in which he repeated once again that he had never been and would never be a legionnaire. He underlined that he was not a sympathiser of the movement and that he has no friends who were or are legionnaires. Back to google I went again, hunting for some kind of evidence to back up the MCA's and Mr Tismaneanu's accusations against him but once more found no quotes, no utterances made by Mr Bjoza that would categorise him as an anti-Semite. The case against him is his admiration for fellow cell-mates (some legionnaires) during the years he was imprisoned, and his presence in Rasnov five years ago for a ceremony to commemorate legionnaire 'martyrs' - the most damning. If he had no friends who were or are legionnaire sympathisers, then what was he doing there?
Following the accusations, several journalists, amongst them the conservative Orthodox Iulian Capsali, Caesar Adonis Mihalache and Patrick André de Hillerin sprung to Mr Bjoza's defence. Florin Dobrescu, nationalist activist (neo-legionnaire?) and secretary of the Totul pentru Tara Party demanded an explanation from Mr Tismaneanu, along with a public apology in a particularly harsh open letter. Another jarring reaction against Mr Tismaneanu was from journalist George Roncea, see HERE. Both letters were published on Frontpress.ro by George Roncea. I personally cannot say the letters warmed the cockles of my heart, and I don't think they do Mr Bjoza any favours...
'Poorly advised, Mr Iohannis, whose supreme task is not only to preserve Romania's security and thus its foreign alliances but also to act as a moral compass for his countrymen, chose to begin his presidential career by decorating a Legionnaire sympathiser.
That Iohannis's decision will not earn him good marks from Washington and other Western capitals is self-evident, even though the country and abroad will grant him a period of 100 days grace - a tradition usual for a new leader. However, his gesture is too serious to be overlooked. Even worse is the fateful message transmitted by the unfortunate decision. If it had come only from the President, this message would be devastating.
(...) The decision could indicate, first of all, too little moral clarity, political skill or too little knowledge on values from the President, which certainly cannot be permitted. Simultaneously, it signals a weak presidential instinct for choosing his counselors, with the exception of an excellent spokeswoman.'
Nowhere does it mention Mr Tismaneanu's suspicions - that proposing Mr Bjoza was a trap set up to have Mr Iohannis discredited - a trap which the president walked right into. When one reads articles such as the above, it seems as if, had that been the goal, it has succeeded. Then again, Tismaneanu does seem to have unfinished business with Andrei Muraru.
Petru M. Iancu continues:
'It would have been elementary for the President's current adviser Andrei Muraru as former executive director of IICCMER (The Institute for the Investigation of Communist Crimes and Memory of the Romanian Exile - Sarah's note) to know all this. Did he ignore the profile of the man to be decorated on 22 December? Or didn't he care? If either turn out to be the case, it is unforgivable.'
So... who was the target of the tainting if there was one? Mr Iohannis? Andrei Muraru? Both? If this really is a set up, using Mr Bjoza who suffered 15 years of incarceration in 14 Romanian prisons and swears he wasn't, isn't and never shall be a legionnaire nor a supporter of the movement, is nothing short of grotesque. If, of course, it turns out that Mr Bjoza harbours the legionnaire anti-Semitic ideology (how to know?), then the decoration needs to be revoked at once and Muraru fired into the middle of the next century.
My thanks to Carmen Ardelean for her thought provoking comments, Valentin Nas and Mihai Papuc for their informative links and Roxana Dascalu for pointing me in the right direction as always.
(Image source) At noon today, Klaus Iohannis was sworn in as President of Romania replacing Traian Basescu, almost twenty five years to the day the communist regime fell. The ceremony was attended by MPs; former presidents Ion Iliescu and Emil Constantinescu; Patriarch Daniel; Roman-Catholic Archbishop Ioan Robu; Prince Radu and a host of others.
The role of the President in Romania is for the most part ceremonial, but he has the power to appoint the PM, oversee foreign policies and veto draft laws.
"Today I stand here before you aware of the importance of this moment for the future of Romania. I am honoured by the confidence Romanian citizens have bestowed upon me," Iohannis said in his address after the swearing-in ceremony. The new head of state said he was "deeply moved by the love of the country - the driving force for voter turnout - and by the peoples’ aspiration for freedom and prosperity." 25 years after the fall of communism, they had once again made democracy and involvement triumph.
"There is a need for the whole political class to understand there is no way forward for Romania except that of a country rid of corruption," Iohannis continued. "I want people to see we have made durable laws and solid institutions by the end of my term," he said. "Things are not going to happen over night. We must face traps at every turn. I am glad there is the good will to begin talks for a revision of the Constitution. We all want deep change for Romania. Mentalities need to alter. I want a Romania where there is no time for show. I want a strong nation."
"I want corruption gone from the public agenda", he went on. "Public institutions should work for the citizens and the political class should understand once and for all that they are working for the public rather than individual or group interests."
"Romania cannot remain the country of great expectations and paltry results, the country of squandered time and lost opportunities," he told the session, adding that he wanted to leave behind him "a stronger and more united Romania" showing Romanians that "projects are being carried through."
(Photo source) President Iohannis (it still feels so good writing that!) promised to seek a political consensus with parties from the ruling coalition and the opposition on key initiatives to address education, health and the judiciary; a decision on permanent dialogue procedure and an action plan to leave talking to one side so work could begin.
Iohannis also vowed to present Romania’s national defense strategy in the first six months of his term, while framing a national consensus on the need to increase the defense budget to at least 2% of GDP.
It was a wonderful speech in just about every way. Warm, confident and full of vibrant assurance of his determination to transform Romania into a country worthy of admiration, trust and respect. I don't recall the last time a long-term plan for the nation was envisaged (let alone vocalised) by her president. Seriously. The country seems, at last, to have fallen into good hands. How moving it is to know that, finally, she has a president who truly cares, loves her dearly, will fight for her and protect her - and is hellbent on sweeping her off her knees so that she may sit at the international table at eye-level with the best of them. Klaus Iohannis brings hope and decency to the Romanian people. I am not sure how much he will be able to achieve in five years (the President has a right to a maximum of 3 mandates ) and I pray that Romanians will be patient. Rome wasn't built in a day, and the rebuilding of Romania will be a long and rocky road that requires unwavering support and perseverence. Cohabiting with ponta will be thorny. Painful, even. Let's hope that state of affairs will come to an end before the Parliamentary elections. I honestly believe that Klaus Iohannis's emotional (and deliciously surprising) presidential win last month is the beginning of a very positive, exciting new chapter in Romania's history.
Awarded the Officer's Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany (2014), Knight of the National Order of Merit of Romania (2011), The "Friend of the Jewish Communities of Romania" Medal of Honour (2010), Knight of the Order of the Star of Romania (2007) and The Federal Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany (2006) amongst other distinctions, his hard-working, precise and uncompromising reputation will stand him in good stead. May President Iohannis be blessed with success, wisdom and strength - he has a monumental task ahead. To coin the title of his book, "step by step"....
Merry Christmas, one and all!
(Image source) And so, pontaur has 'given up' the title of "Doctor", renouncing his controversial 2003 PhD in Law awarded by the University of Bucharest, comprising of a thesis whereby almost a third was nicked from two Romanian scholars, though how he can actually 'give up' something that was never his in the first place beats me. 85 out of the 307 pages (or 115 out of 297, according to the University of Bucharest's Ethics Committee) were lifted with no reference or credit given to the original authors. Marius Andruh, head of the National Council for Certification of University Titles, Diplomas and Certificates (CNATDCU) at the time said it was a clear-cut case of 'copy-paste plagiarism'. Take a look HERE and see for yourself. You don't even need to understand Romanian, for the similarities in text are there for all to see. A number of competent and respected academics (Boston College, Princeton, Hamburg...) also came forward with independent reviews, all agreeing that the thesis showed a blatant failure to comply with ethical norms - see a handful of them HERE.
The association of Romanian academics abroad (Ad Astra) called for Ponta's resignation and more than 3,000 academics petitioned the education ministry to revoke the PhD. To no avail. The ministry refused, and ponta kept both his position and title.
Surely it was not ponta's place to 'renounce' the PhD on his own terms yesterday via a letter to the University rector, but for the University to revoke it after an extrajudicial (min. of ed.) verdict ruling academic misconduct and integrity violations. In any case, who in their right mind would renounce a doctorate if there was nothing wrong with it?! I'm not even sure the rector is able to accept ponta's move from a legal standpoint. How ironic if he'd have to refuse, unless that's exactly what the PM has in mind.
A little background: Back in 2012 when ponta's plagiarism scandal came to a head, the government-appointed National Ethics Council (NEC) ruled the thesis standard to academic requirements. Meanwhile, the interim minister of education (who had questionable rights to take such decisions since he was just that - an interim minister) Liviu Pop dissolved another institution, the University of Bucharest's Ethics Committee, before their decision could be officially announced, stating that he wanted more new members increasing their number from 21 to 45. The Committee completely ignored Pop, refused to dissolve and continued anyway ruling on a verdict of plagiarism - see their findings HERE. Pop declared the result politically motivated and, furthermore, invalid because eight of the 21 members were absent, thus, no quorum.
Following the news, Gandul reported that ponta considered the Committee's decision both political and illegal - an act of Basescu's revenge for his going to Brussels unauthorised (yet another scandal). 'Politically motivated' in the sense that Basescu was out to discredit ponta, perhaps, but the President did not get hold of the document and rewrite it himself, did he? No.
The government argued that neither the University of Bucharest nor the CNATDCU (whose mandate had also since been annulled by Pop) had the right to investigate allegations of misconduct on the part of state dignitaries, according to Nature magazine on 20th July, 2012.
(Image source) The PM accused the then-presidential adviser Daniel Funeriu of going to Munich and meeting with representatives of Nature magazine to feed them the plagiarism story, protecting himself as an anonymous source. He went on to say that he appreciated that the Romanian press had not wanted to get involved in such a claim (I bet!), forcing Funeriu to take his story abroad. In the end though, Funeriu had the last laugh. Nature is an internationally read magazine and written in English. The news travelled like wild-fire - much faster than it would have had it remained in the Romanian press and thus read only by Romanians. Today, if you google 'plagiarism+thesis' you'll see ponta in top rank.
A hoard of international news sites zoomed in on ponta's copy/paste extravaganza, some shining an unpleasant (though sadly accurate) light on Romania - a country where 'cheating starts early' and 'teachers accept bribes in exchange for turning a blind eye'. One would deem from this that if the Prime Minister could cheat and get away with it, then what hope was there for the rest of the population? ponta's plagiarism was a serious national embarrassment that did nothing to improve Romania's reputation abroad. It didn't help that Ponta's thesis director was none other than Adrian Nastase either, who was and still is serving a two year jail sentence in Rahova Prison for corruption. All in all, it made for a pretty bad day in terms of international opinion.
(Image source) Did ponta eventually resign in shame for having cheated and dragged the image of his country through the mud as was the case for Germany's Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg and Annette Schavan, Hungarian president Pal Schmitt or Canada's TDSB director Chris Spence? See more high-profile examples HERE. You know the answer to that. Of course he didn't. For two and a half years, he continued to proclaim his innocence blaming it all on an omission of quotation marks and footnotes rather than his amazing Xeroxing skills.
ponta has not finally admitted to plagiarising as decency would have had him do (particularly since the entire world knows he is guilty in any case), but in his letter to the rector of the University of Bucharest, he wrote that he should have renounced the title "long ago when the first accusations came out." Much too little much too late. Again, surely it shouldn't have been his 'choice'. Was he worried the University of Bucharest's Ethics Committee would bring a lawsuit against him, I wonder? I don't buy the 'image improvement' suggestion, for his letter to the rector doesn't contain any sincerity. Perhaps it is a tactic to divert attention from the terrible tragedy at Siutghiol where four people aboard an emergency care SMURD helicopter were killed after it crashed into a lake on Monday? The rescue operation was a complete fiasco - almost a déjà vu of the appalling foul ups, bungling and general incompetence seen in the Apuseni mountains at the beginning of the year.
(Photo source) Today, President Basescu (coming to the end of his term) was forced to accept the swearing in of the afore-mentioned Liviu Pop (left) as Minister for Social Dialogue and Sorin Cîmpeanu (right) as Minister of Education, who both contributed to destroying Romania's Educational Institutions. President Basescu was reportedly disgusted by the whole thing but according to the Constitution, Parliament's decision is a binding act that could only be refused by committing a serious constitutional violation.
In June 2012 Sorin Cîmpeanu became a member of The National Council for Certification of University Titles, Diplomas and Certificates when Liviu Pop enlarged it (adding pro-ponta supporters like Cîmpeanu) thus assuring that the council would rule in favour of waiving the plagiarism accusations. Cîmpeanu was not appointed a minister at the time, but today, his star has risen. You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours. Time to reward the faithful...
This whole ponta-renouncing-his-PhD story is a sham. One big publicity stunt. No admission of guilt, no apology to the professors he slandered, the academics he ridiculed, the institutions he had attacked. His letter to the University rector is heaving with insincerity at best, and to add insult to injury, he's making a big public meal of the whole thing at 5000 decibels on his Facebook page. The burning question is WHY NOW? There's a definite whiff of fat, red herrings blowing in from the East and I don't like it one bit....
For further reading, please see Politicians, Intellectuals and Academic Integrity in Romania by Lavinia Stan and Lucian Turcescu; the Integru website; Quora (a forum on what people think about ponta's letter to the rector); A plague of plagiarism at the heart of politics; Academics under political pressure over plagiarism ruling on PM's thesis, Ce a omis să spună Ponta: „Da, am plagiat!” and Prea târziu, dle Ponta. Să vă fie rusine!
Citeste mai mult: adev.ro/ngocr9
Citeste mai mult: adev.ro/ngocr9
My thanks to Rocky's Dad for his timely translations
(Image source) Blimey... scapă cine poate! It's all happening in PSD's wide-screen Caragiale-flavoured version of "The Titanic", and it would be a great black comedy if we weren't talking about such dispicable acts of scheming and venality within the political class. There is no respect, no conscience, no dignity. Encouraging though it is to watch the cracks begin to form in the PSD hull, it's painful to see the extent of ponta and co's contempt for an entire population as the stories leak out.
Following the news that UDMR was abandoning ship, Marian Vanghelie (my favourite comoara nationala) who in 2011 unforgettably declared "Daca nu esti bun, PSD te ejaculeaza imediat!" was... er... ejaculat. He, Sova and Geoana together, actually.
Ousted Van Ghelie gave a lashing of an interview to Realitatea TV last night, in which he held nothing back - and everybody loved it. Why? Because simply knowing that ponta 'lies as he breathes' and that Ghita is a weasel is not nearly as good as actually hearing it said out loud. pontaur uses fear to control the party, Van Ghelie said, and then went on to confirm the foulness in play that we already knew. ponta and Liviu Dragnea should be prosecuted for the catastrophic diaspora vote organisation, he told Realitatea, for the PM "had made a mockery of Romanians". Furthermore, ponta has been blackmailing party members using their criminal files as leverage (35% of PSD members have 'problems with Justice'), and the amnesty bill was drawn up with Ghita in mind since he has a case pending, he said. He also described ponta and Ghita as being joined at the hip and told of how the two of them monopolised all major public contracts. I don't doubt a word of it.
Neither do I doubt that the company 'controlled' by Dragnea, Tel Drum, has a deal in every commune, and as long as ponta is PM, Dragnea the businessman will have his share of generous contracts from the Ministry of Development. For more on Tel Drum's long and consistently shadey history (were the DNA taking a long nap?!), see HERE, HERE and HERE. The stench of corruption is so strong, I can smell it from here. (Incidentally, Bombonica, Dragnea's wife, has a couple of hiccups of her own - she owes the state a mere 7.5 million euros, but that's another story.)
Today, Van Ghelie told B1 in a telephone interview that despite ambassadors asking for additional polling stations during the presidential elections for the voters abroad, both ponta and Dragnea said they could not or they would lose the election. "I'm not lying," he said, "I am not Victor Ponta with the long nose. Ponta's biggest mistake - and he's an immature kid who doesn't live in the real world - is that he always treats every problem superficially and I think he treated me superficially too."
It's unlikely he has finished washing PSD's dirty laundry in public (he's going to sue them, apparently), so stand by for more from him...
(Image source) Mircea Geoana launched into a good soaping of PSD leaders today too. At a press conference, he said that "Rich and Corrupt" had become the new motto of the party run by the ponta-Dragnea-Ghita triad, and compared ponta to Kim Jong Un. A pretty good parallel (see left). Geoana accused ponta rather more eloquently of deliberately refusing to open new polling stations abroad, despite being advised to do so by foreign campaign consultants: "I am convinced and there is sufficient evidence," he said, "to prove that obstructing the diaspora votes was a deliberate act. Ponta was the person responsible and Corlatean was his main accomplice." If PSD wasn't reformed, he continued, "real" social-democrats would be "forced" to create a modern left-wing. "Real social-democrats, take your party back!"
As for Sova, I can't be bothered to write anything about him as he doesn't deserve the effort.
(Image source) And then as if that wasn't enough drama to be going on with, PAM PAM PAAAAAAAAM!!! Sebastian Ghita, ponta's bosom pal and Duba(i)-roomy, resigned earlier today after a natter with the PM. "I will not return to the party while the issues related to communism, corruption and the change of political party rules are unresolved," he told DC News. In a speech yesterday prior to his resignation, Ghita named Radu Mazare, Nicu Constantinescu, Bunea Stancu, Adrian Duicu, Mocanu, Tudor Pendiuc and Viorel Hrebenciuc as 'living proof' of the 'perception' that PSD was corrupt and needed reforming, adding that it was also high time the elderly and childless (I thought that was Firea's obsession) Iliescu retired. RETIRED?! That pondlife should have been in jail long ago, and even that would be too good for him.
In a statement today, Ghita said he thought Geoana and Van Ghelie had got what they deserved. Apparently, Geoana had wanted to blackmail ponta (really? Can't imagine that, personally) to get his hands on the Foreign Minister's job. "He phoned (me) and said that if ponta didn't name him Foreign Minister, there'd be war in the PSD. Ponta chose a professional in Bogdan Aurescu." (I agree with that final bit - Aurescu is an excellent choice - for everyone except Mr Aurescu, maybe)
Ghita really has a knife to grind with Van Ghelie: "Vanghelie represents everything that is the most abject in party politics: corruption, betrayal, lies. I was an opponent of his when I joined PSD. I believe people showed what they really thought of him yesterday. You can't have a dimwit, an ignoramus, a thief, as leader in Bucharest and expect to win an election. It's shameful to say that Vanghelie is one of us!"
So there you have it, (ex) PSD members turning on each other and letting hissy cats out of all kinds of bags. It was only a matter of time, but which frames of this film are a mis en scène, I cannot fathom. Ghita's departure sounds more like strategy and praf in ochii publicului to me. ponta is definitely up to something.
Nevertheless, Van Ghelie's bean-spilling has triggered a nasty storm, the clouds are gathering, ponta's ship is blowing off course and there doesn't seem to be enough lifeboats to go round. Which rat will jump next, d'you reckon? Seems the elections taught them nothing. They are as unelegant, as indecent and as disrespectful as ever....
For more insight, please see THIS excellent article (in Romanian) for Hotnews by Vlad Mixich. Further info also in Ziare, Adevarul, Hotnews (Ziua sinuciderii colective in PSD by Dan Tapalaga) and B1 TV.
(Photo source: Romanian diaspora Munich prepared for a night in the cold) It's really something when the government of an EU member state that calls itself a democracy forces its diaspora to spend the entire night queueing in the cold (Munich: 4°C; London: 9°/rain) to be sure they'll not be denied their RIGHT to vote, but that's exactly what happened on Saturday night. Anyone saying "yeah, but they left", just remember where a LARGE percentage of Romania's GDP comes from (not to mention WHY the hell they left in the first place). There have been other incredible stories, such as the one about a group of Romanians from the Swedish town of Goteborg with no polling station who rented a bus and drove 230km to vote in Denmark whilst in Canada, a Romanian girl flew 670km so she could vote.... There was no doubt: the Romanian diaspora were determined to participate in the election of their next president yesterday.
The Romanian government/MAE/BEC did little to facilitate yesterday's 2nd round of voting abroad, following the shameful fiasco of 2nd November. Au contraire. Tens of thousands of voters for one polling station with a maximum of 7 stamps was the "norm". Apparently, granting more polling stations is 'against the law', but they managed to do so for the **Republic of Moldova (pro-ponta). Why all the obstruction? Because the western diaspora is notoriously anti-"red", ie. anti-PM ponta and his PSD party, who did ALL they could to obstruct, to corrupt and to steal as many votes as possible. Their electoral campaign was so riddled with abuse, indecency and illegality that I still cannot believe yesterday's 2nd round was permitted to go ahead, despite criminal complaints filed with the Romanian Constitutional Court and the European Commission.
(Photo: Sarah in Romania - Paris, 17h30) Sunday morning, Voting Day, saw queues in front of the Romanian Embassy here in Paris as early as 5h30am. At 6am there were a good couple of hundred, and by 10h30, it looked like THIS. Incredible. Queues the length of rue St Dominique and reports of around 5,000 people. Many left to return later and two people needed medical attention. The rest waited. And waited. The voting was slow. Purposefully slow. During the 1st round, the embassy doors on the street were open. This time, they were closed and guarded by gendarmes who had clear orders to keep the peace. Obviously, the embassy staff did not want a repeat performance of two weeks ago, and were taking all necessary steps to keep the people OUT.
The police were out in force. Both sides of rue St Dominique were cordoned off with metal barriers so that cars could pass and traffic circulation remain (relatively) unhindered. When I arrived at 16h30, I had a great deal of trouble trying to get in to the street, now closed off to pedestrians except for the few who lived in the area. I asked a gendarme how I could pass, for I had come as a volunteer for FADERE and he advised me to take the other slightly less crowded side of the street. By sheer luck, I recognised Ciprian, head of the volunteers for FADERE, coming towards me. He had been there since 7h30 in the morning and was soaked to the skin. It was pouring with rain and the crowd, I was told, had hardly moved over the last couple of hours. Indeed, someone told me, the slow progress of the morning had become an old three-wheeled caruta since about 2pm. They were slowing down...
(Photo: Sarah in Romania - rue de l'Exposition, Paris, 20h) Torrential rain, pretty chilly and yet the Romanian diaspora stayed and waited. And waited. And waited some more. My 'job' was to ask people if they were happy with the organisation of these elections and if they weren't, to sign our form (getting soggier by the minute) which would then be given to FADERE who would collect them all as proof of the appalling situation for the filing of (I presume) official complaints at a later date. Nobody was happy of course, so there was no shortage of takers. This gave me the opportunity to talk to a great many people, hear their individual stories, and speak Romanian here in Paris - a rarity and a joy, even in such outrageous circumstances.
People told me they had been waiting hours. Some 5-6, some more. Others had stood in relay with friends and family, keeping the place in the queue in turns. As I sheltered from the rain (impossible to use the signature sheets at that point since it was raining so hard my forms had holes in!!), a couple came from the other side of the road. The lady was in tears, very flushed. She was exhausted, couldn't stand anymore. They had been there for hours. How could a government DO this to their own people. How indeed.... Shameful doesn't even cover it. Another FADERE volunteer standing with me gave her a bottle of water and fanned her with her clipboard. The poor woman looked as if she was about to pass out. "Go and sit in the café over there - have a hot tea. Warm up. Rest," I advised. But they were afraid they'd miss their chance to vote. And then, in a moment of lucidity, they realised they'd never be able to vote anyway. The rain was by now a deluge. The line was not moving. There were hundreds and hundreds of people. Perhaps a couple of thousand. Impossible to tell through the umbrellas, the failing light. Eventually, they left. Home? The café? I have no idea.
(Photo: Sarah in Romania - rue St Dominique, Paris) The rain eased a little. Up and down our 'clearer' side of rue St Dominique where people stood like sardines we went, asking people if they were happy. Many laughed, others said "have you found anyone happy here?" Actually, I did find one. A lady who smiled and smiled. "I AM happy to be here. I know I won't vote. They have taken that from me. But I am here with my people on this day, and that to me is just as important."
The desire to scream at the injustice of it all, combined with an equal desire to hug every one of these courageous people I met was omnipresent....
The hours slipped by. I chatted to a couple of gendarmes who were dripping, as we were, from the endless rain. The ones I spoke to were sympathetic, a couple even outraged. I asked how long they intended to stay and was told "as long as it takes". "Are you expecting trouble?" I asked one built like the Berlin Wall. "These people cannot vote. If this was happening to me, I'd sure be angry. Yes Madame, tonight we are expecting trouble," he replied. And he wasn't being sarcastic or ironic. He actually seemed sad, resigned. The police had been called by the embassy as THIS letter, in response to a complaint re: the scandalous 1st round (I think), from the French authorities attests. ALL the gendarmes I spoke to understood the situation and were sympathetic. However, as they explained, what happened inside the embassy on Romanian territory was not their business, but what happened out in the street on French soil WAS. They had orders to keep the peace and that is what they intended to do. Can't argue with that.
(Photo: Sarah in Romania - ICR, rue de l'Exposition, 20h - doors open) By 20h, the crowds had swelled. Don't ask me how many people there were. I couldn't tell you. A SEA of people both on rue St Dominique and round the corner in front of ICR on rue de l'Exposition. We wandered up there talking to people, listening to their stories. Pensioners, young families, students, professionals. They were from all over Romania - Baia Mare, Satu Mare, Brasov, Iasi, Galati, Bucharest, Craiova, Cluj, Sibiu, Sighisoara... And they had ALL been there for hours. I spoke to about a half dozen who HAD managed to vote earlier on and had come back to support their friends. One told me she felt 'closer to home here'. But the majority of my 'nemultumiti' had not yet voted.
More rain and it had grown colder.
20h40: a notice was handed around the queues in front of ICR saying that President Basescu had demanded an extention until midnight. The notices were passed down the queues. Down and down they went. I could see the expressions on peoples faces. Nobody really believed anything they were being told any more, but hope was not completely snuffed out. Not just yet.
(Photo: Sarah in Romania - ICR, rue de l'Exposition, 21h - doors closed) And then a massive booing. Absolutely massive. It was 21h and the doors of ICR had slammed shut (see video HERE by Lucian Mândruta). Had we been so occupied with the notices about the extention that we had forgotten the time? On 2nd November when the embassy staff had tried to close the doors, the crowd pushed forward and blocked them. This time, all I could see was the queue, a bunch of CRS who maybe stopped resistence from anyone nearby and the double doors now closed. The booing was deafening. NUUUUUUUUUUUU people cried. NUUUUUUUU!! VREM SA VOTAM!! HOTII!!!!! IO-HAN-NIS!!! JOS PONTA!!! HOOOOOOTIIIIII!!!!! Over and over, people shouted their fury, indignance, exhaustion. Over and over the slogans ricocheted off the stone walls of the old buildings along the narrow rue de l'Exposition. Over and over. VREM SA VOTAM!! VREM SA VOTAM!!! I stood with Nicolae Teculescu from La Maison Roumaine and Patrice Eyraud, President of OVR in silence. We couldn't believe what we were seeing, although really, it should have come as no surprise. It had happened once already. IO-HAN-NIS!! IO-HAN-NIS!! Were they imploring his help or showing their allegiance to their choice of future president for everyone to hear? Both, probably, for I do not believe there could have been a single supporter for ponta in the entire crowd.
(Photo: Sarah in Romania - rue de l'Exposition / rue St Dominique - 21h20) My two musketeers Patrice and Nicolae, and I made for rue St Dominique. See this video by Lucian Mândruta. It seemed as if the entire world was shouting slogans, booing. RUSINE! RUSINE! RUSINE SA VA FIE!!! I'd never yelled so hard in my life and never with such anger, such rage, such disgust. After hour after interminable hour waiting in the rain, people had once again been denied their constitutional right and this time, they weren't going to be ignored. They weren't going to yell a bit and go home because there was another chance in two weeks. No. This was IT. There was no more voting to be done. JOS PONTA! JOS PONTA!
(Photo: Sarah in Romania - CRS wall) Into rue St Dominique and immediately a line of CRS (Compagnies Républicaines de Sécurité, ie. the riot police) with their helmets, batons and riot shields. See THIS video (L. Mândruta). As I stood on the corner by the arches leading into rue de l'Exposition (ICR), the chanting from in front of the embassy resounded loud and clear: VREM SA VOTAM! VREM SA VOTAM!!! Down in front of ICR, they took up the chant. Huge. Unbridled indignance. VREM SA VOTAM!!! As I watched, looking up towards the embassy, I saw stuff being thrown at the embassy wall. Plastic bottles perhaps? Hard to say from the distance. And then loud booing from the crowd. A police siren or two that is often given as a warning sounded. Mr Teculescu decided to leave at this point, for things didn't look good. I now know that this was the moment when the tear-gas that has been so vastly reported by the Romanian press occurred.
When eventually I got to the embassy taking a long route round since the road itself was blocked, I found friends (French and Romanian) who explained exactly what happened: It seems there was a bunch of provocateurs 'sent' to cause trouble who, when the doors closed at 9pm sharp, started throwing bottles and other projectiles both at the embassy (that's what I saw from my spot further down the road)) AND the police. What did they expect in return? A bouquet of flowers? Tear-gas was sprayed, I was told, in the direction of these trouble-makers and yes, people in the vicinity definitely would have got a lungful since there was such a huge and very compact crowd. People today are asking "who ordered it?" NO ONE ordered THAT. But in THIS video, you can see what happened VERY clearly indeed. Check out the 'provocateurs' fighting near the door, literally HURLING a metal barrier at police lines. Frankly, I think French law enforcement were pretty restrained considering the circumstances.
(Photo: Sarah in Romania - rue St Dominique) Meanwhile, further down the road where I stood, the CRS were in line formation to create a wall, and slowly advanced down rue St Dominique, pushing people away from the embassy. One man fell (I saw that) and yes, the police should NOT have pushed, but they had been ordered to clear the area and since we had no intention of moving, this was their strategy. One or two of them could have pushed with a little less enthusiasm, however.
Down the street we were slowly herded, but we could still hear the chanting further up around the embassy. We chanted too. A lady near me was crying, her husband's arm around her shoulders. As our eyes met, she shook her head, shrugged her shoulders in such a terrible, defeated manner that I couldn't help it. I hugged her and cried too. Those bastards had done more than deny people their votes. They had robbed them, humiliated them, forced them to stand for hours and hours in the rain with NO intention of giving them what their constitutional rights allowed.
(Photo: Sarah in Romania - Romanian Embassy, 21h45) Finally, with Patrice, we left rue St Dominique via a side street and made a circle, returning once again to avenue Bosquet and the top part of the not-yet-cordoned-off rue St Dominique. Crowds and crowds were shouting for their right to vote (see video HERE). The shock, really, had by now worn off and there was a complete sense of togetherness, of joint determination rather than that momentary individual pain that had sparked for a little while after the doors closed. It was a community again, a family, together against ponta and his cesspit of abuse, illegality and corruption. From that point, the evening turned into a street party with singing, slogans, and later a hora, for no Romanian evening would be complete without a hora. Even the police were amused. It was a lively atmosphere especially when rumours began to circulate about the results: our IO-HAN-NIS had won and everyone at 'home' was taking to the streets. Fantastic news that gave us such a lift despite being tired, cold and pretty wet from the rain. What were the results? 48.5% ponta / 49% Iohannis? No, no. Iohannis had more! But really, it wasn't clear. We knew he was ahead, but by how much was a mystery. Adriana, one of the FADERE volunteers (a wonderful, energetic person to whom I thank for being so warm, passionate and encouraging throughout) dashed about spreading more news: 10,000 in Timisoara!! Cluj! Sibiu!! EVeryone is out in the streets with us!! Wonderful news. The crowd struck up "Desteapta-te romane" with more feeling than I've ever heard.
(Photo: Sarah in Romania - Sit-in) The two huge police vans edged forward a little. Everyone sat down firmly on the wet road. "Noi de aicea nu plecăm, nu plecăm acasă /Până nu vom câştiga libertatea noastră!!" How incredible to sing that right there and then, with the police vans wanting us gone. Seemed that law enforcements quite liked the rendition as they stopped and the evening progressed with no further interference. "On s'amuse!!" one policeman told me, smiling, "Ils sont géniaux, ces roumains!" They are indeed.
(Photo: Sarah in Romania - Hora) I left with Patrice and Caroline (president of Pro-Patrimonio France) at around 22h30. How much longer the 'party' went on, I cannot say., but when I got home and heard the news that yes, it was true, Iohannis had won and by a HUGE 10%, I burst into tears and cried and cried. Despite EVERY possible effort to fraud, steal, bribe, abuse and obstruct, ponta and his lousy party had LOST THE ELECTIONS and Iohannis was the new PRESIDENT OF ROMANIA!!!! It seemed unbelievable. Even now, it's hardly credible. For those supporting Iohannis, we had put our hopes on a miracle - never tell me they don't exist.
(Photo source: Klaus Iohannis) This morning when I woke up, I rushed to my computer hoping against hope that it hadn't all been a terribly vivid dream. But it had not. Sure enough, Iohannis really DID win - and with a huge 11%! Perhaps people weren't as easy to 'buy' after all. From the two polling stations in Paris, 96.14% of the votes had been for Iohannis. Well, of course they were! ponta the magnificent had planned so hard it had all blown up in his smug, ugly face.
The main news of today, this brand new day that promises a new, better Romania, is that ponta refuses to resign from his post as Prime Minister, which means that Iohannis will have to work with him - not an easy task. I so hope ponta and his lousy party will be forced to sell their properties, cars, etc to reimburse the country for the entire cost of their repugnant electoral campaign, though I doubt that'll happen. Presumably, austerity measures will have to be applied for that. This evening, protests are once again under way all over Romania demanding ponta and his governments resignation. I doubt they will listen, for their arrogance and immorality has made them deaf as posts. Iohannis has a tough job ahead and I do not envy him. I pray the Romanian people will be patient. Cohabiting with ponta will be thorny. Painful even. Let's hope that state of affairs will come to an end before the Parliamentary elections next year.
For now though, Santa Klaus (as many call him) has come early, and for the first time in 25 years; hope is alive once again in the country of my heart. And it is beautiful to see.
**PS. Just for the record, the Republic of Moldova, considered pro-Ponta and thus given extra polling stations, wasn't that pro-ponta after all! Klaus Iohannis - 78,59%, Victor Ponta - 21,41% LOL!! BRAVO Moldoveni!!!!!
(Photo source: Teodor Melescanu) UPDATE 18th Nov: Foreign minister Teodor Melescanu resigned this morning after less than a week in office. "Since we live in a country where nobody is keen to take responsibility and the only concern is to shift blame, I, as a man of honour, take this responsibility and tender my resignation," he told reporters. He apologised to Romanians abroad who were unable to vote through no fault of their own, and blamed the 'rigid legislative framework'. He said that the ministry had made every attempt to solve the problems from the first round. Yeah, right. They didn't try hard enough. Melescanu was in Paris on Sunday and told the crowd he would stand in line with them, cast his vote with them. Then... he vanished. I expect the rain, cold and standing for hours on end was too much for him. La revedere, Melescanu. Close the door on your way out. pontaur has nominated Romania’s ambassador to the EU Mihnea Motoc to fill his shoes.
Mr Iohannis has asked President Basescu to withdraw ALL ambassadors from the countries where Romanians were humiliated in their fight to vote on Sunday. "All ambassadors and consuls from those countries where Romanians were humiliated must be withdrawn," he said. Quite right. Then fire them, make them donate their bank account contents to charity and let them live on minimum wage and the lowest pensions for the rest of their days, please. "Someone will pay the consequences for the catastrophic voting organisation abroad," said our new president (I still can't believe it!!! Heeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!!). He continued, "I would like, once again, to express my respect for the Romanian diaspora who understood the importance of voting, and spent many hours in the rain, the cold, so that they could do so. Thank you."
(Photo source) Furthermore, President Iohannis instructed Parliament to keep its word and reject the draft law on the controversial amnesty and pardon bill last night. The legal committee did so, and the Chamber of Deputies followed suit today. It is done!! After one year on the back burner, it has finally gone. The vote was unanimous: 293-1 with 1 abstention (wonder which solitary soul voted in favour..?!). There will be NO pardon for prisoners serving sentences of up to six years for non-violent crimes (ie. corruption, money-laundering, influence peddling, fraud, etc), so the likes of former PM Adrian Nastase, Gigi Becali, Dan Voiculescu and other officials and magistrates currently in the slammer for such misdemeanours will be staying there until their sentences are served.
Mr Iohannis had insisted on the overturning of the bill throughout his campaign and has shown to be as good as his word. This is a signal of much-needed change in Romania, and an EXCELLENT step towards true democracy and justice which will be welcomed as much on the international front as at home. The president has also ordered that Parliament approve all requests regarding the launching of criminal investigations into legally challenged MPs. The Chamber gave the go ahead for Ioan Adam (PSD), Mircea Roșca (PNL) and Ion Diniță (PC) to be remanded in custody today. Another Liberal deputy, Akos Mora resigned.
Mr Iohannis made it clear today that his party intends to be the major powerhouse of Romanian politics for years to come. "We, the new PNL, wish to take power in 2015 or after parliamentary elections in 2016 at the latest," he said. According to Reuters, in his capacity as PNL leader, Mr Iohannis stated that his party may look to forge new alliances to unseat ponta from as early as next year. Good.
It's been quite a day! More news as it happens...
(Protest 8th Nov., Cluj - Photo: Andrei Avramescu) It's only been a week since the first round of Romania's presidential elections left so many of us gob-smacked. What an exceptional performance of PSD fraud, obstruction, illegality and merciless slaughtering of democracy it was. The last seven days have been a constant stream of the kind of stories one would expect to find in a predictable telenovelo with the most lamentable of scripts. I don't think I'll even bother to go into them since you must be as sick to death with the lack of decency, elegance and integrity as I am.
How ironic it is that, as we remember 25 years since the falling of the Berlin Wall and the first anti-communist protest in Bucharest (1945), we are faced with the very real threat of a return to dictatorship in Romania should ponta win these elections. There can be nothing worse in store for the country than ponta. What can one do but pray that those who've allowed their votes to be bought with flour and oil, obeyed crooked officials and priests, and been brainwashed by A3 will suddenly wise up through a reality jolt before next Sunday's second and final round.
(Protest Cluj, 8th Nov - Photo: Mediafax) In the category of admirable, heart-warming things to tell you, around 10,000 took to the streets of Cluj yesterday, another couple of thousand in Timisoara and hundreds more in Bucharest, Constanta, Brasov, Oradea, Deva, Targu Mures, Sibiu and Craiova in protest of the government's willful obstruction of diaspora votes last Sunday. BRAVO!!!! Calls were made for ponta to resign, though I doubt he gives a toss.
Although ponta has ordered his gophers to assure there are no balls-ups on 16th (he has spent the entire week pathetically blaming everybody but himself and making up fiction as he went along), Foreign Minister Titus Corlatean (why hasn't he been fired by now?) has announced there are to be more voting booths, but no additional polling stations, according to Reuters. The declaration forms that were so glaringly absent in the diaspora are available online in PDF, and one can only hope the government has sent all polling stations extra stamps. Three per centre last week was nothing short of absurd.
(Paris, 9th Nov - Photo: Sarah In Romania) Hundreds of Romania's diaspora protested in London, Dublin and Vienna today whilst, here in Paris, Trocadéro bore witness to a coming together of around 4-500 more in the name of voting rights, respect for the constitution and the upholding of democracy. If ponta thought he could intimidate those living abroad by denying them their fundamental and constitutional rights, he truly shot himself in the foot - maybe both feet. The Romanian diaspora in Paris is more determined to vote than ever on 16th - and I'd feel confident betting veeeery few of them will be ticking the box for ponta. As it is, the 160,056 (of some 550,000 registered) Romanians living abroad who managed to vote last Sunday against all odds gave 46% of their support to Iohannis leaving ponta scrambling about in the mire with only 16%. These are people who have LEFT Romania. They CANNOT be bought, bribed, dictated to by priests or brainwashed by Antena3. Many are students at estimed universities, professors, doctors, architects, lawyers. They can think for themselves and do so very well, thank you very much.
(Paris, 9th Nov. Photo: Lucian Popescu) If a single Romanian news site DARES report violence, people paid to demonstrate or anything else equally low linked with Trocadéro today, I and hundreds of others can vouch that it is a lie. This was a wonderful, good-natured, friendly community gathering to speak with one voice. Never, in all my demos with the Romanian diaspora here in Paris, have I seen so many young people present. With heart-felt renditions of "Deșteaptă-te române" and "Treceti batalioane romane Carpatii", slogans, banners and the tri-colore flag against a marble-grey and rapidly darkening sky, they stood in a vast semi-circle around the parvis des droits de l'homme, the very spot where, so symbolically, the Universal Declaration for Human Rights was adopted.
As night fell, this wonderful, gutsy crowd of Paris's Romanians knelt or sat for a minute's silence in memory and respect for the victims of 1989 who had died fighting for a better Romania, her freedom and for democracy - terribly moving. Closure came with a huge hora that covered the whole surface of the Esplanade, and shouts of "Romania, trezeste-te!" (Romania! Wake up!)
For the first time this week, I felt the spark of hope, optimism and pride. Already terribly moved by such an enormous turn-out and so much warmth, their energy, indignance and determination was deliciously contagious. I left smiling - something I have not been able to do particularly well since last Sunday.
Thank you, Romanian diaspora in Paris. Thank you Romanians everywhere out in the streets, writing articles, reporting honestly, filing criminal complaints and doing all you possibly can to stop your country from toppling into the abyss. Thank you. To those doing sod all, I have nothing to say...
(Image source) UPDATE 10th Nov: Corlatean 'resigned' or rather, 'retracted' according to the press which is more like it, from his position as head of the MAE after massive street protests both in Romania and in the diaspora demanded guarantees of their constitutional voting rights in the second round. As a friend of mine pointed out, this will surely make him the 'martyr of voting fraud'. Well, if it hadn't been this puppet, it would have been another and I, for one, have absolutely NO sympathy. ponta has replaced him with ally Teodor Melescanu. Aoleeeeeeu!!!! Who better to run the Ministry of Foreign Affairs than the ex-director of Romania’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SIE) - the very same guy who managed to clock up ALL his signatures to run for presidential candidate as an independent in just TWO DAYS. He announced his support for Ponta's candidacy after obtaining 1.09% of votes in the first round.
On announcing his 'retraction' (impossible to translate it as 'resignation' or 'stepping down', as that would infer some semblance of decency of which there is zilch) which had nothing to do with accepting responsibility in denying people their constitutional rights, Corlatean blamed the incumbent President Traian Basescu (who had called for him to go) and Iohannis for his departure. He could "not accept the Ministry of Foreign Affairs breaching the law on Mr Basescu's and Mr Iohannis' electoral grounds", he said. Being pressured to allow extra polling stations, he claimed, would break the country’s voting rules although the Central Electoral Office said this would not be a problem. You'd think the CEO would know. Corlatean's 'retraction' is nothing more than a strategic mis en scène.
Melescanu, Corlatean's replacement, echoed that extra booths would be provided for the voters abroad, but additional polling stations would be impossible. His profound phrase of the day, "It's very clear that nothing is clear", just about sums things up. In an announcement earlier today, he said that he would be sending the maximum number of stamps permitted to each polling station: seven. SEVEN!!! Better than three, but still insufficient. Stand by, as they say, and let the fox see the rabbits... This does NOT bode well for the diaspora on Sunday.
If you thought that wasn't enough to be going on with, there's more news.
Senator Cristiana Anghel has suggested a law be introduced stipulating that, unless Romanians have spent at least three months in the country over the last year, they should not be permitted to vote. This is absurd when you consider that many who DO live in Romania on a permanent basis haven't the FAINTEST idea what the hell is going on from one day to the next - much less in politics. You may remember my post about a bunch of country folk who didn't even know in which country they lived. I rest my case. Another pro-ponta ploy to gag the diaspora.
(Photo source) Meanwhile, the BOR have been busy canvassing for their dear ponta who has been giving them millions of lei in handouts all year. In Cluj, Maramures and Giurgiu, congregations have been told to think about God whilst voting on 16th which means NOT electing a non-orthodox president (Iohannis is Lutheran). Hallucinating, right? For shame. Did you know that ONLY the orthodox christians make the sign of the cross correctly? That is what church-goers were told. News to me. In Romania these days, the closer one gets to the church (a thriving business thanks to the uneducated, simple and naïve) these days, the further one is from God...
The photo of a notice on a church door (see left) was taken by Dan Mazilu in Giurgiu. We are told: "don't forget that we cross ourselves from left to right, so WE MUST VOTE LEFT! We leave those who cross themselves the wrong way round on the right, tempted by Satan! Vote Victor Ponta, for he alone supports the church, not the foreigner Iohannis." What an odious ranting of utter cobblers... However, if Ponta gets 99% of the votes in Giurgiu, you'll know why.
Appearing on B1TV, journalist Radu Banciu commented on the implication of church interference and the fact that Iohannis's religion has become a subject of the electoral campaign. "Ponta is not 100% orthodox either," he said, "CVT converted to orthodoxy when he married at aged 40, and Tariceanu is catholic. Religion is not a criteria. This is outrageous discrimination. Why should someone who is catholic, black or white have no rights in Romania? We are part of the EU, along with 27 other countries. This cannot be tolerated." Quite right, Mr Banciu.
(Source: Ionel Stoica) ponta and his PSD have been busy coming up with 'douceurs' to tempt anyone still undecided. The latest 'pomană electorală' comes by way of Chinese-made "Roman" watches. I kid you not. The wearer will be reminded he is a proud Romanian every time he checks the time. ACL Arad has accused PSD of exceeding the legal limit on value permitted for campaign promotional material. PSD denies it, assuring that the watches cost under 5 lei (1.13 euros) a piece. You couldn't make it up. ponta has been rather a pest in Arad, it seems. In a press release Monday, ACL Arad representatives say that PSD has been distributing the wrist watches in the streets of Arad, along with flyers and other promotional campaign material with the name and picture of Victor Ponta. According to Law 370 of 20 September 2004, all this is classified as electoral bribes and must be punished as such. ponta punished? THAT would be the day. ACL Arad told Mediafax that the watches were in bags along with printed campaign materials and a lighter, exceeding the 10 lei limit. The bags were "received accidentally" not only by the public but also by members of the Alliance. Oops. PSD spokesman, Flavius Ghender, said that the party did not offer watches at all (those guys really need to communicate with the Mother Ship), only bags, pens, lighters, key chains, calendars and printed material "whose total value is less than five lei". Oh well, that's alright then, innit. The watches were a figment of the imagination.
Finally for this evening, Iohannis promised last week to prioritise the abolition of the immunity law which protects the President of Romania. I find this a little odd since it is a law applied to many constitional systems across the globe with the exception of Islamic states as far as I know, but getting rid of it (which the French have just opted to do) gives comforting transparency. If the president himself is not above the law, then it sets a precedence. Romanians lack good figure-heads they can admire these days. The only worry is that any such president would have a nightmare of a time getting a fair trial while still in office - hence the law as it stands whereby immunity ends when the mandate terminates.
He has also called (yet again) for ponta's resignation following the 'irregularities' of 2nd November. Good luck pursuing that tack, Mr Iohannis - you have our full support.
More updates as they come...
Just back from the Romanian Embassy here in Paris on the eve of the country's Presidential Elections... I have to say that never, EVER did I imagine I would witness such a travesty of democracy with my own eyes. Having heard voting had stopped due to an absence of declaration forms to register, I printed out a bunch of them received from a FB friend in Bucharest thinking maybe it could help, and headed off to rue St Dominique to see what was going on. Arriving at around 20h, there were hundreds of people both in the street, the embassy courtyard and round the corner in front of ICR. No one had voted since around 14h I believe, as THERE WEREN'T ANY DECLARATION FORMS LEFT and there weren't enough stamps either. There were also FAR too many people for Paris's two polling stations to deal with (there used to be three). Can you believe anything so absurd??? The declaration forms (available online) I had brought with me, though distributed, weren't very useful as they didn't have the official stamp on them. And even if they had been, the documents themselves had to be officially verified. Some even had declaration forms in their hands, but couldn't get into the embassy in any case. Chaos. Everything was at a total standstill. All rumours and reports of Munich and Paris being given extra voting time are BS - for Paris, anyway. The Embassy (an institution there to protect its people) called the CRS (riot police), who took position at the embassy entrance, rue St Dominique. At least ten police vans were parked along av. Bosquet. Were they expecting a riot or had the embassy ordered them to intimidate?!
At some point, around 21h I think, we were told the embassy would close (as previously mentioned, no extention was given). The crowd booed and surged forward, blocking the closure of the doors. Both main doors to the embassy were thus wide open and people poured into the main hall. Alas, too late - the personnel had gone and taken the urns with them leaving so, so many denied their democratic right to have their say in their country's future. The lights went off in the main hall, but the chanting that had been constant continued all the louder: "vrem se votam!", "Jos Ponta!!" "Vrem ambasadoru'!" "Hotii! Hotii!"
Meanwhile on the street, a good hundred people stood looking literally shell-shocked. They had been denied their right to vote in an EU member state in 2014. They were barred from their own embassy by riot police. WTF?!? Some were in tears, others were very angry and antagonising the (very calm) police who'd much rather have been somewhere else for they were well aware of the situation and the two I spoke to were appalled. Most people out there were just silent, perhaps remembering past times, perhaps just too staggered to do much but stand there in the rain...
Tonight I witnessed people denied the right to vote, entrance to their embassy and basic democracy. Tonight I witnessed what many knew already: that PSD and Ponta are prepared to do absolutely anything to win the elections. Well, know this: the diaspora of France will NOT be voting for Ponta in the 2nd round. They will NOT be voting for this odious little parasite who took their rights from them today. They want him gone, removed, jailed. And all that would be too good for him. Tonight I witnessed such an abuse of power and justice that really, I keep wondering if it was a bad dream. But it was not. Corlățean, Moise and Ciamba (in charge of organising the diaspora votes in Europe since he is state secretary of the MAE) must resign. ponta must be banned from running in this election. 500+ votes from Paris alone cannot be counted because they couldn't be cast. This is NOT an election. It is a mis en scene, a hi-jacking. It is grotesque.
UPDATE: The rahat has started to flood all over the Romanian press. Take THIS one from Ziare for example, which states "Cele mai mari probleme au fost la Ambasada Romaniei din Paris, unde peste 2.000 de romani au fortat intrarea in institutie, suparati ca procesul de votare de duminica a fost extrem de greoi." THERE WERE NOT '2,000 romani'! Utter crap! There were more like 2-300. Jeez..... Had there been 2,000 furious Romanians going nuts because their right to vote had been denied, the ambassador would probably be zacusca by now. And well he'd deserve it. Other sources report hundreds of CRS - there were NOT. There are rumours that protesters STORMED the embassy - they didn't. The doors were open (one, then two). They just stopped them from being closed and surged in. No 'storming' occurred. These people were not the special forces, for goodness sake! They were not armed. WHY the lies? WHY the misinformation? WHY not just say it as it was? Isn't the reality newsworthy enough in its sheer shamefulness? Piling on the fiction adds insult to injury.
This appalling attack on democracy didn't just happen in France. People queued for hours and thousands were denied their right to vote ALL OVER EUROPE for a myriad of reasons.... If you could not vote today, please see HERE to file a complaint - you will find a template for a letter and the address of where to send it. HERE is a petition, too. Please read it, sign and pass it on.
To be sure, there's little risk there'll be a repeat performance for the 2nd round since they have been caught red-handed, but they cannot get away with what happened today. We must NOT allow it. The political system and its government in place in Romania today has CEASED to be representative of democracy. One way or another, it must go.
UPDATE 3rd Nov: Results of the elections (such as they were) were as imagined: pontaur will face Iohannis in the 2nd round on 16th November. Romania itself is split in two - Transylvania with Iohannis and Muntenia and Moldova with ponta.
With regards the diaspora, there's a heap of news. To start with, the IPP is demanding that votes by correspondence be permitted (they weren't up until now) for the diaspora and is also offering free legal aid.
Due to the insufficient number of polling stations, ditto for number of stamps and the declaration forms running out, there was mayhem just about everywhere. Although polling stations swamped by stampedes of voters and shortages of everything repeatedly requested an extention to remain open for votes, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MAE) refused, siding with BEC. Last night, hundreds of Romanians gathered in front of the MAE in Bucharest in protest, standing in solidarity with their friends, families and fellow compatriots abroad.
Federația Asociațiilor de Români din Europa (FADERE) have asked the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MAE) for 1000 polling stations in time for November 16th and is looking at filing a criminal complaint against Titus Corlățean, whom they consider responsible for the chaos and lousy organisation yesterday. The Association said that more than 150,000 Romanian diaspora voted in the first round "and maybe two or three times more would have exercised their constitutional right if the Romanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs had made sufficient polling stations available." The president of FADERE, Daniel Tecu, continued, "Year after year, Romanians abroad have saved Romania's GDP through remittance. Having travelled hundreds of miles to be able to vote, the diaspora have shown once again that they love Romania and care who leads it. I would like to express my respect to all those who voted and to those who tried but failed, due to poor organisation."
A protest against yesterday's constitutional rights abuse is set for 18h this evening in front of the Romanian Embassy here in Paris and is echoed at embassies throughout Europe. Join the FB page for the Paris sector, and check it for posters to print out and bring with you, updates and news.
Pleaase sign THIS petition addressed to the President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker, the Vice-President Frans Timmermans and the Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality Vĕra Jourová asking them for help to ensure that the second round is free, secret and direct through their mediation with the Romanian government "in such a manner that the basic democratic right to "free, equal, universal, secret and direct elections" (acc. to European Parliament Resolution 1320 (2003)) is upheld." It needs your signature and it needs it NOW!
The President of the German Bundestag's Commission for European Affairs, Gunther Krichman, has also written a letter to Mr Juncker in which he affirms that the serious problems Romanian voters faced abroad yesterday constituted "flagrant abuse of the fundamental values of the European Union" and that "the election did not benefit from a legitimate democracy." He stated that it was clear the diaspora had suffered not only because of organisational difficulties, but due to vote obstruction on the part of the Ponta government - an act which is unacceptable for an EU member state and must be condemned by the commission. He too asks Mr Juncker to intercede with the Romanian government over the next few days to ensure that all citizens settled abroad can exercise their statutory right to vote in the 2nd round of the elections.
Incidentally, ViPi has declared that the diaspora voting yesterday was very well organised thank you very much, and actually, there was 'evidence' that people were bussed in to the voting zones to cause havoc, block the voting process, pretend to be queueing and take a heap of photos. Ce nesimtit... Well, he has well and truly shot himself in the foot. Both feet even. ALL those abroad will be voting for Iohannis in the next round with more determination than ever, along with the Monica Macovei and Udrea supporters. I do so hope ponta has signed his own execution warrant. Enough is enough. Close the door on your way out.
For more, please see E vina noastră, a diasporei, E-un început în tot sfârşitul, UITE, Ponta, ce-a făcut MAE la Paris! Eşti mândru? Ei voiau doar să voteze, Hundreds of Romanians locked outside London Embassy 'denied their right to vote', Victor Ponta face declarații jignitoare la adresa românilor din Diaspora and Stimaţi oficiali de la Bucureşti, noi, cei care „fraudăm” votul la Paris, vă transmitem următoarele
UPDATE 4th November: In total, 161,054 Romanians in diaspora voted Sunday out of a possible 530,446 who had the right to do so (according to Direcția Generală de Pașapoarte). The highest turnouts were in Spain (where there were reports of fraud), Italy and the Republic of Moldova. Here in Paris, the results from the two polling stations combined were for: Iohannis - 2,344, Macovei - 911, Udrea - 339 and Ponta - 295 (adevarul.ro) with the Romanian Embassy votes: Iohannis - 1,140, Macovei - 477, Udrea - 176, Ponta - 153. For a breakdown of voting numbers per country, see HERE. In short, the global diaspora votes were cut drastically by about two thirds. Here is how the lucky third voted:
- Klaus Iohannis – 46,1%
- Victor Ponta – 16%
- Monica Macovei – 15,1%
- Elena Udrea – 10%
- Dan Diaconescu – 4,5%
- Călin Popescu Tăriceanu – 2,9%
- Corneliu Vadim Tudor – 2,8%
- Teodor Meleşcanu – 0,83%
- William Brînză – 0,57
- Kelemen Hunor – 0,54%
- Gheorghe Funar – 0,53%
- Zsolt Szilagyi – 0,18%
- Constantin Rotaru – 0,11%
- Mircea Amariţei – 0,05%
(Image source) Despite all efforts, Iohannis ran away with the election for Romanians abroad. Nuff said.
There's a great deal of news today, some interesting, some downright barking mad, bouncing about the media sites. I guess the sublime to the ridiculous will crank up a gear or two between now and 16th November, God help our sanity.
- The first big news is that, apparently, in order to curry votes from the Hungarians, ponta has promised to give autonomy to the Székely Land (Ținutul Secuiesc). Not true, of course, even if Marius Diaconescu says it is. Hpw could such a ridiculous statement possibly be true? Furthermore, should you not be wheezing too hard to read on, Iohannis has been accused of selling Transylvania to the Hungarians. Never a dull moment. Moving swiftly on.
- Ponta and Gabriela Firea are in the midst of abusing the broadcasting law and violating the Constitution (what else is new?), says Narcisa Iorga on her FB page: Although they have absolutely no right to tell news channels what to do, organise the subjects of broadcasts or their times, these two herberts are doing just that. Yesterday, they signed a PSD press release in which, under the guise of inviting Klaus Iohannis to a debate, announced both the theme and the time of the broadcast. Such interference in editorial policy constitutes a flagrant violation of the Constitution under the article relating to freedom of expression, and broadcasting legislation. NGOs in the media domaine have not yet reacted and it seems that the CNA is blocked by the political will of Parliament. Ms Iorga says that the signing of such a press release constitutes a dangerous precedent, and she is surely right.
- Back to the misery of Sunday's voting chaos for the diaspora: news from the Canary Islands, whose 8,000 Romanians had absolutely NO polling station at all. To have voted, they would have had to buy plane tickets to Spain...
- Monica Macovei has filed a penal complaint against ponta, Corlățean, Stoianovici and everyone else instrumental in the obstruction of Sunday's votes and also demanded an immediate independent and impartial investigation. See press conference HERE and/or HERE.
- Journalist Grigore Cartianu wrote this morning that numerous votes cast in Romania were from people who weren't even in the country, for they actually live abroad. They had absolutely no idea. All part of the mechanics for the big PSD Voting Fraud, he wrote. He hopes that the criminal prosecutors will be wading in to take action with a great deal of media attention, thus discouraging this same abuse in round 2. Don't we all.
- Political bed-swapping is now rife, which will come as no surprise to Romanians who are used to seeing politicians change parties and allegiance with about as much regularity and moral questioning as changing socks. PRM is now holding hands with the UNPR (latest news), the UNPR are holding hands with PSD, PSD are holding hands (or maybe sleeping with by now) with the Hungarian UDMR, but seeing as how they usually run with the hounds voting for whoever their chief tells them to, who the heck knows for certain at this point which way UDMR will go. Everyone is holding hands delightfully though, 'dancing a political hora,' says Narcisa Iorga. All kinds of alliances are taking place right now - a truly Byzantine atmosphere. Meanwhile, Tariceanu (favoured as ponta's future PM), Dan Diaconescu, Vadim Tudor and Teodor Melescanu all announced officially today that they'll be supporting ponta in round 2. What a cosy coalition of controversial characters, undercover agents and raving nutters. Birds of a feather. Bravo.
More news as it happens, but perhaps I'll start a new post. This is going to be a long fortnight...
Citeste mai mult: adev.ro/neip5eFor just some of the good articles (and there are many worth reading) in the press today, please see Păcat că noi, cei proști, nu înțelegem cum merg lucrurile..., Ultima manipulare a Geniului Carpaţilor: Neamţul ne vinde ungurilor Ardealul and Interrogatio Iohannis.
(Image source: Sfantul Dumitru by Romanian painter Gheorghe Tattarescu) Today, Orthodox Christians observing the Gregorian calendar celebrate the feast day of St Demetrius (see HERE for procession in Thessaloniki). One of the most important military saints often paired with Saint George, Demetrius is regarded as a protector of the young, the patron saint of crusades, is invoked by those struggling with lustful temptations and is also known for an impressive number of miracles.
Our spelling of Demetrius (or less commonly Demetrios) is a romanisation of the ancient Greek pronunciation; in Romanian, he is Dumitru.
Demetrius of Thessaloniki is one of my personal favourites along with St Seraphim of Sarov, and anyone who has ever been to an Orthodox country will have heard of him. But who was he, and why is he so beloved?
THIS site gives the story of his life:
'The Great Martyr Demetrius the 'Myrrh-gusher' of Thessaloniki was born into one of the most noble and distinguished families in the province of Macedonia (Thessaloniki, Illyricum) in the year 270AD. Roman paganism, spiritually shattered and defeated by the multitude of martyrs and confessors of Christianity, was intensifying its persecutions. The parents of St Demetrius were secretly Christians, and he was baptised and raised in the Faith in a secret church in his father’s home.
(Image source: XIIc mosaic icon of St. Demetrius the Great Martyr, Xenophontos Monastery)
By the time Demetrius had reached maturity and his father had died, the emperor Galerius Maximian had ascended the throne (305). Maximian, confident in Demetrius’ education as well as his administrative and military abilities, appointed him to his father’s position as proconsul of the Thessaloniki district. The main tasks of this young commander were to defend the city from barbarians and to eradicate Christianity. The emperor’s policy regarding Christians was expressed simply: "Put to death anyone who calls on the name of Christ." The emperor did not suspect that by appointing Demetrius, he had provided a way for him to lead many people in the opposite direction.
On accepting the appointment, Demetrius immediately began to teach the Faith openly and overthrow pagan customs and idolatry.
When Maximian learned that the newly-appointed proconsul was not only a Christian, but had also converted many Roman subjects, his rage knew no bounds. Returning from a campaign in the Black Sea region, the emperor decided to lead his army through Thessaloniki, on a mission to massacre the Christians.
When the news of the emperor's plan reached Demetrius, he ordered his faithful servant Lupus to distribute his wealth to the poor and began to prepare himself for martyrdom through prayer and fasting.
(Image source: Fresco of St. Demetrius by M. Panselinos in the Church of Protaton on Mount Athos, circa 1290)
When the emperor arrived in the city, he summoned Demetrius who boldly confessed his faith and denounced the falsehood and futility of Roman polytheism. Maximian threw him in prison, where he was visited by an angel who comforted and encouraged him.
Meanwhile, the emperor was busy amusing himself with 'games' in the arena. His champion was a German named Lyaeos. He challenged Christians to wrestle with him on a platform built over the upturned spears of victorious soldiers. A brave Christian named Nestor went to see Demetrius and requested a blessing to fight the barbarian. Thus granted, Nestor prevailed over the fierce German and hurled him from the platform onto the awaiting spears. The enraged Maximian ordered the execution of the holy Martyr Nestor (October 27th) and sent a guard to the prison to kill Demetrius, too.
At dawn on October 26th, 306 soldiers appeared in the saint’s underground prison and ran him through with lances. His faithful servant, St Lupus, gathered up the blood-soaked garments, took the imperial ring from his finger (a symbol of high status) and dipped it in the blood. Once all had been sanctified by the saint's blood, St Lupus began to heal the infirm. The emperor ordered his subsequent arrest and death.
The body of St Demetrius was cast out for wild animals to devour, but the Christians took it and secretly buried it.
During the reign of St Constantine (306-337), a church was built over St Demetrius's grave. A century later, the relics of the holy martyr were discovered during the construction of a new church on this spot. Ever since the seventh century, a miraculous stream of fragrant myrrh is said to flow continually beneath the crypt from the sarcophagus, giving St Demetrius the name 'Myrrh-gusher.'
Followers of St Demetrius tried to bring his holy relics, or some of them, to Constantinople on numerous occasions. Invariably, the saint made it clear that he did not want them taken from Thessaloniki.'
(Photo source: The relics of St Demetrius at the temple in Thessaloniki)
The most ancient icons of St Demetrius may be found in the church of Thessaloniki of which he is patron saint. This is not just because he was born and died there, but because the people believe it was through his actions that the city was saved from the many attacks by Slavic nations, the Bulgarians, Arabs, Saracens and many others besides. Even the liberation of Thessaloniki during the Balkan wars of 1912 coincide with the feast day of St Demetrius on October 26th.
"The world has found in you a great champion in time of peril, as you emerged the victor in routing the barbarians. For as you brought to naught the boasts of Lyaios, imparting courage to Nestor in the stadium, in like manner, holy one, great Martyr Demetrios, invoke Christ God for us, that He may grant us His great mercy."
Apolytikion (Third Tone)
HERE is a recording of excerpts from an oratorio written for St Demetrius by the Romanian-born composer of Greek origin Nicolas Astrinidis (1921-2010) in 1962. Three parts premiered at the first Demetria Festival in Thessaloniki fifty-two years ago today, and the entire work was first heard in 1966 with subsequent performances in 1985 (Thessaloniki) and 1993 (Bucharest).
La multi ani frumosi cu sanatate si noroc tuturor care poarta numele de Dumitru!
This post is dedicated to Mitu with love.
(Image source) There's never a moment's respite from the dung-flinging and name-calling in the race (no rules seem to apply) for Romania's presidential seat in November.
The latest scandal could have massive implications, however. President Traian Basescu has accused PM Victor Ponta of having been an undercover agent from 1997 to 2001 for the SIE, Romania's Foreign Intelligence Service (presidents Ion Iliescu and Emil Constantinescu were in power respectively) when he was a prosecutor - a position that was legally incompatible with any other functions and thus unconstitutional.
In early September, President Basescu warned that one of the candidates was hiding secrets from his past and if he didn't come clean, he would have no other option but to reveal the truth himself. Et voilà. No proof has yet been forthcoming, but Basescu has promised that he could come up with the goods if necessary. Ponta, as you would expect, has denied the allegations as 'lies and defamation'.
When it comes to 'lies and defamation', Ponta is an expert. His distortions of the truth (or total absence of truth thereof) spouted with such flippant indifference have got him noticed on an international scale. The plagiarised thesis was only the tip of the iceberg. But if THIS turns out to be one of his porkies, it will be the biggest whopper yet, and should completely disqualify him from any further political life. Permanently. It means that he lied to the electorate, to state institutions and to external partners creating a half-baked identity as to who he was from 1997 onwards. And it also means that people with influence and sway must have equally lied for him too. A true can of worms...
Basescu's accusations have the 'experts' split into two camps. Journalist Catalin Tolontan (chief editor of Gazeta Sporturilor) wrote on his blog, "Basescu is trying to show how much of Romania’s political life seems to be manipulated by the intelligence services", whilst Radu Tudor (Antena 3) said the President was playing murky political games which broke the law and risked Romania's security interests to promote his own electoral interests. "Such so-called-revelations will have little impact on the presidential elections campaign," he added.
I have no trouble at all believing Ponta could have been an undercover spy. Sadly though, I think Radu Tudor is right in that it won't affect the elections. Do Ponta's supporters really care whether or not he was a secret agent? Nope. What they care about is getting anyone vaguely 'basist' out of the game. The most serious impact would of course be on Romania's rule of law, her legality and her state democracy. Another, if this is all proven true, would be from the West where Ponta is already all but popular. Should there be solid proof of his missions abroad as an SIE agent - and the media say he was deployed westwards during the four years in question - it would more than likely lead to further isolation should he become Romania's next president. Worse still from a western point of view, this secret agent position would have coincided with a period when Romanian intelligence was still in cahoots with Soviet-style commanders.
Today, Teodor Melescanu (the guy who resigned totally unexpectedly as director of the Foreign Intelligence Agency (SIE) to run for President and managed to 'obtain' the 200,000 signatures required to stand as an Independent candidate in just TWO days) announced that Basescu had asked for and been given access to a list of all undercover officers in Romania. What will he do with such a list, I wonder.
Monica Macovei has published a very pertinent list of probing queries on her FB page to try to pinpoint who may have covered for Ponta, if anyone did. For example, 'from whom did President Basescu get his information?' and 'at that time, who at the SIE was responsible for recruiting Victor Ponta as a spy, consciously violating the Constitution in doing so?'
Cristian Pantazi writes that explanations regarding Ponta's possible secret past with SIE are essential to state democracy: Ponta must publically respond to Basescu's allegations; Basescu must explain why he kept this information to himself until the election campaign; The SIE must justify why it allowed such a situation (if it's true) and the Parliamentary overseeing committee must come forward publically to explain such a monumental failure.
Without these responses, the mockery and insult to law and legality is beyond words. One way or another, heads must roll: someone (Basescu? Ponta? Others?) lied and someone must be held accountable...
UPDATE: For the latest news, please see Digi 24 where Monica Macovei demands Ponta's resignation, Agerpres on Elena Udrea asking the same, and this article (also Agerpres) re: Melescanu's deep disappointment - that one's pretty funny, all things considered.
(Photo source) In May this year, Razvan Anghelescu of Vax Populi ventured out into the Romanian countryside to ask people what planet we were on. I have to admit I often wonder about that myself, and a few of the responses he got were literally out of this world. An earlier video where people were quizzed on the name of Romania's national anthem was an eye-opener too - so much so that this time he probably thought he'd make his question a bit easier...
Two days ago, he returned to the sticks with another conundrum: "What is the name of our country?" This ever so simple question revealed what seemed to be a parallel universe where a bewildering number of people had absolutely NO idea. Yup. There were folk who didn't know the name of the country in which they had lived all their lives. They didn't know the name of the country in which they VOTE.
One woman said that Anghelescu had taken her by surprise. She knew the capital was Bucharest, but the name of the country? She really couldn't say. Other responses included, "I know it, but I can't think of the name right now," "I'm ill, dear. I don't know," and "I don't think I was taught that in school." A man admitted simply, "I don't know." Another, "I've no idea."
Razvan Anghelescu put his 3-minute clip on youtube, showing nine people interviewed. Only one answered correctly. Within 24 hours, the video had 5,000 hits. As I write, the number has climbed to 303,060. Since it appeared, Romanian social networks have been full of it. Some amused, some mocking, some concerned and saddened.
One could be forgiven for thinking it a mis en scène in the name of entertainment, but Anghelescu has firmly stated, "Don't insist on this being fake, because it isn't. (...) Do not attack me for planning the whole thing because I did not. I NEVER paid a leu for a single interview, and I did hundreds."
Anghelescu has done the Romanian people a favour, for when the laughter has died down, one must ultimately ask this: Who is responsible for such incomparable ignorance? Should we blame this on decades of communism which concentrated on decapitating the intelligentsia and promoting a nation of uneducated, brainwashed sheep who should not think for themselves? Should we blame the people themselves for complaisance as to their lack of education (presuming they are actually conscious of it)? Or should we blame the politicians for doing zilch to alter such a dire situation 25 years post-lovilutie?
Probably all three of the above, but the guiltiest of all is the latter for their oppression through ignorance, poor education (or none at all), shameful health care, and an abyssmal lack of respect for a population. Sure, there is ignorance everywhere across the globe. But for certain citizens to be incapable of naming the country in which they were born and continue to live?! Ignorance breeds submission, and submission facilitates control. I have heard priests in churches telling people who to vote for. The politically motivated media is responsible too. But the sleazeballs otherwise known as 'politicians'? They make the unforgivable crime of robbing a people of their brains and the ability to think an art form. How can those who do not know in which country they live possibly be responsible enough to vote? They cannot be. But the politicians encourage it. They profit from it. They prey on it. They enforce this ignorance and lack of education for their own ends with no shred of decency, conscience or care for their victims. It is selfish, parasitic greed, and it is nothing short of diabolical.
No wonder the likes of Pontaur, Nicusor Constantinescu and Mazare win elections, whether local or national. Can anyone expect otherwise? Sheep do not need to know the name of the country in which they live. They only require food, a little entertainment and treats from time to time.
Viitor de aur Romania are....
(Photo source) US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian affairs Victoria Nuland gave a scathing speech from Washington today, criticising leaders in Central and Eastern Europe who take advantage of NATO and EU membership and 'ignore democratic values while protecting fellow corrupt politicians from being held accountable'.
The speech coincides with one of Romania's most mind-boggling corruption scandals in modern history, the "Microsoft affair", involving at least nine former ministers as well as current Prime Minister Ponta who was head of ex-PM Adrian Nastase's Control Task Force at the time.
Although names were diplomatically omitted in Ms. Nuland's address, it was clear she was referring to Viktor Orban of Hungary and Romania's Victor Ponta.
"And just as we work together to defend our values externally, we must fortify them internally. In Central Europe today, I would argue, the internal threats to democracy and freedom are just as worrying. Across the region, the twin cancers of democratic backsliding and corruption are threatening the dream so many have worked for since 1989. And even as they reap the benefits of NATO and EU membership, we find leaders in the region who seem to have forgotten the values on which these institutions are based," she said.
Alluding to Hungary's Viktor Orban, she stated, "So today I ask their leaders: How can you sleep under your NATO Article 5 blanket at night while pushing “illiberal democracy” by day, whipping up nationalism, restricting free press, or demonising civil society!"
Her remarks come a month after Barack Obama tarred Hungary with the same brush as Russia in terms of threats to civil society.
Referring to Romanian law-makers who refused to lift the immunity bill protecting corrupt politicians currently under investigation and therefore blocking their prosecution, she had this to say: "I ask the same of those who shield crooked officials from prosecution, bypass parliament when convenient, or cut dirty deals that increase their countries’ dependence on one source of energy despite their stated policy of diversification."
Victor Ponta insisted that she was talking about Hungary and not Romania at all. Oh sure. And look! A pig just flew over that tree....
Ms Nuland continued, "As President Obama noted, oppressive governments are sharing "worst practices to weaken civil society." They are creating wormholes that undermine their nations’ security, freedom and prosperity. The countries of Central Europe—through the EU and nationally—must remain vigilant. We can only be strong when we protect political pluralism, civil society and the right to dissent within our own borders; when our governments are clean, transparent and accountable to the people they serve."
Whilst President Basescu confirmed that Ms Nuland's speech was indeed as much directed at Romania as it was Hungary, Ponta continued to protest. Sova stuck his oar in too, just for good measure: evidently Nuland meant Hungary and was referring to the actions of Viktor Orban, Basescu's friend. Pathetic...
This is not the first time US officials (and the EU too) have condemned Romanian leaders for undemocratic practices, and some would argue it's none of their business to do so. Feelings re: the US in Romania are a deeply mixed and complex bag due, on the whole, to convenient uses and abuses. See HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE for a glimpse into past events concerning Chevron as one example, and the CIA secret prisons as another. On the political front, Ponta was harshly criticised back in 2012 for his efforts to dispatch President Basescu - methods which were considered to 'encroach upon fundamental democratic and rule of law principles' and Nuland was hastily propelled to Bucharest in January this year, too, after the Ponta-led coalition tried to pass the amnesty law for officials under investigation for corruption. Tut. That kid in the sandpit just can't play nicely, can he.
Those thinking that this hums of pot calling kettle black may have a point, but to be fair, Ms Nuland is not the US interior minister (or whatever the equivalent may be) and it is therefore not her job to clean up her own back yard before addressing corruption in Central and Eastern Europe. I don't honestly have much time for her either, but that's simply because I don't consider a Bachelor of Arts degree (albeit from Brown) an adequate qualification for such a demanding appointment (in existence since 2001), and I don't like nepotism. Word has it that her post is really nothing more than a figurehead position obtained, perhaps, via her husband Robert Kagan. Nevertheless, having said all that, her speech today was bang on target and I applaud her for it.
I do find the TIMING questionable, though. Not only does it coincide with the "Microsoft affair", but it comes just short of a month before Romania's presidential elections. Coincidence? I doubt it. For sure, Ponta would be a disastrous choice for Romania and has little popularity beyond his supporters at home for a myriad of reasons, see HERE, HERE and HERE for just a few. The Americans don't like him one bit either, way preferring someone from the right.
(Photo source - Ziare: Macovei şi-a lansat viziunea ca preşedinte, cu 10 porunci pentru clasa politică) Monica Macovei, independent candidate for November's elections and former Justice Minister, was quick to publish a press release. She warned that NATO was not an umbrella for corruption, and then, within the context of Ms Nuland's speech, went on to present a pretty darn convincing argument as to why five of her opponents could not possibly be heads of state. Whatever one's views of Ms Macovei, those who thought she didn't have a chance might have to think again...
For more, please see Da, Victor Ponta, Victoria Nuland vorbeste despre tine (Gândul) and Victor Ponta, despre declaratiile subsecretarului de stat american Victoria Nuland (Revista 22).
Thank you, Roxana, for the inspired title!
[Gheorghe Leahu: Popa Nan, source]
In 1459, 555 years ago today, Bucharest first appeared in a written document. 555 years....
Bucharest became Romania's capital in 1862. This, from Wikipedia: "Its eclectic architecture is a mix of historical (neo-classical), interbellum (Bauhaus and Art Deco), Communist-era and modern. In the period between the two World Wars, the city's elegant architecture and the sophistication of its elite earned Bucharest the nickname of "Little Paris" (Micul Paris). Although many buildings and districts in the historic centre were damaged or destroyed by war, earthquakes and Nicolae Ceaușescu's program of systematisation, many survived."
A fost odata a city where beauty stood on every turn, where every corner was a photo opportunity and where history, patrimony and heritage mattered. Along with culture. A fost odata a city which valued education and promoted learning, where the university was reknown and the doctors admired. A fost odata a city (and country) whose musicians exuded incredible poetry through symphonies and suites and whose concert halls were filled with names that would wow any 'mélomane'. Yes, times were hard, of course they were. But, on the whole there was respect and far more pride than we find today. There was elegance. A fost odata...
Of course, one can still find beauty in Bucharest - that reticent grace and charm that brings a lump to one's throat every time one is confronted with it disguised under a veil of dust or graffiti or in a crumbling courtyard. Perhaps, for the visitors as well as for many Bucharest residents, one must be told where to look - the splendid streets around Dorobanti, the hidden villas behind Unirii, the oldy-worldiness of Tineretului, the charm of what's left around Cismigiu on all sides, the elegance of Cotroceni and Icoanei - and that's just for starters. Bucharest demands to be loved. Few of us actually oblige. Indeed, there IS beauty for willing eyes and hearts.
All elderly ladies deserve kindness and respect. Bucharest is no exception.
Happy birthday, my dear beloved city. May what is left of your quiet and timid loveliness be preserved and loved yet a while...