Charlie Hebdo cartoons are difficult for many French people to understand, so for a non-Francophone they are next to impossible. Without good knowledge of French politics, the country's social issues and French culture in general, Charlie is going to be beyond you. I have to admit that it has never been a regular read for me, but that is due to the vulgarity rather than the topics addressed.
French satire is two-layered, ie. you have the superficial image - the first glimpse if you like, which is what the Romanian, UK and everyone-else press see, understanding no further than the evident. Beneath it, however, you have the second layer which the French and only the French it seems, understand. Charlie cannot be taken at face value, and to do so is an error. Obscene, offensive, repugnant, bad taste - yes. Racist, no.
Journalists, bloggers and so on continuing to accuse Charlie of racism haven't grasped that second layer. I don't blame them. It is entirely cultural. But if they do not have the full picture, isn't it best to keep quiet?
Vox has published two excellent articles with analysis on a couple of Charlie covers, while a new project, Understanding Charlie Hebdo, has been designed to explain the magazine's ideology to English speakers too. If, after reading the following explanations you STILL insist that Charlie is racist, then I give up.
The first concerns a group of headscarf-clad, pregnant Nigerian women shouting "Don't touch our welfare!" The title reads, "Boko Haram's sex slaves are angry."
'On the surface,' says Vox, 'it seems that Charlie is mocking Nigerian human trafficking victims labelling them as welfare queens, hence the outrage among non-French readers. However, that is NOT what the cover is conveying. Looking at the second layer of satire, it's saying the exact opposite.
What it actually conveys is an image of the French political right which they consider so monstrous when it comes to welfare for immigrants that even Nigerian migrants escaping Boko Haram sexual slavery are just here to steal welfare. Charlie is, in fact, criticising the idea that Boko Haram sex slaves are welfare queens, not endorsing it.'
The next one concerns French Justice Minister Christiane Taubira who has been the butt of many a racist attack over the last few months. Here, she is depicted as a monkey. Shocking? Yes indeed. But Charlie is attacking France's far-right National Front, not Christiane Taubira. Here is what Understanding Charlie Hebdo has to say:
'The cartoon was published after a National Front politician Facebook-shared a photoshop of Justice Taubira drawn as a monkey, and then said on French television the she should be "in a tree swinging from the branches rather than in government" [Le Monde]. The cartoon is styled as a political poster, calling on all far-right "Marine" racists to unify under this racist imagery they have chosen. Ultimately, the cartoon is criticising the far-right's appeal to racism to gain supporters.
The cartoon was drawn by Charb who participated in a great many anti-racism movements.'
- 'The quenelle is a gesture created and popularised by the notoriously antisemitic French political activist and comedian Dieudonné. The name quenelle comes from a dish of elongated fish balls, said to resemble a suppository. Hence, the phrase glisser une quenelle ('to slide the quenelle'), with a gesture evoking fisting practice, is similar to the English insult 'up yours'. Jewish leaders, anti-racism groups and public officials especially in France have interpreted it as an inverted Nazi salute (illegal to perform in France) and as an expression of anti-semitism. French officials have sought to ban the gesture.
- The person depicted is French political activist and comedian Dieudonné. He has been convicted for anti-semitism in France.
The cartoon depicts Dieudonné getting a quenelle (a racist anti-semite symbol of his own creation) stuffed up his derrière and is figuratively telling him to eff off and take his hate-talk and hate-symbols with him.'
Not what you thought? I certainly hadn't recognised Dieudonné as the lucky receiver of the quenelle, and am now feeling a lot better about the image as a whole!
- 'The man in the picture is the prophet Mohammed. Whether or not representations of the prophet are forbidden by Islam is debatable.
- The cartoon was published in February 2006, about 5 months after the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy and Charlie Hebdo's cartoon is a reaction to these cartoons. Wolinski even states during the meeting: "it's the first time the Danish make me laugh!"
The cartoon is published as a nod to the Jyllands-Posten Mohammed cartoons, which are republished within this issue. What is being addressed is precisely the idea of whether the prophet can be portrayed as an image. Charlie Hebdo are toying with the philosophical idea of what a representation of the prophet is.'
So, you see, things really are NOT what they seem. A couple more perhaps?
Here is Dur d'être financé par des cons (Revelations on Opus Dei's money / "Hard to be financed by morons") which appeared in #905 - 21/10/2009 by Charb.
- 'The man crucified is Christ.
- The two breifcases are stuffed with money and full to bursting, symbolising corruption.
- A headline styled in the manner of French tabloids (scandal! Scandal!) announces that someone is being bought by Opus Dei, an institution of the Roman Catholic Church described by many journalists as the highly controversial due to its hush-hushness, its recruiting methods, misogyny and support for authoritarian right-wing governments.
- The positions of the headline and speech-bubble along with the text of the speech-bubble itself recall the famous cover of issue #712, featuring the prophet Muhammad.
By recalling the previous cover of issue #712 (featuring the prophet, see above), Charlie Hebdo is poking fun at its critics who say they only feature cartoons of the prophet. Furthermore the portrayal of Jesus here is more offensive (and the shade of pink is darker and more saturated). He is not only displayed on the cross, but with his bags of dirty money. Charlie is shouting out: "see! we did Jesus too, and added the scandal and controversy!" '
(Image source) And what of the latest cover entitled Tout est Pardonné (All is Forgiven) on a green background showing the Prophet Mohammed in a white robe and turban, shedding a tear and holding up the Je suis Charlie sign?
Of course it is provocative. Very. It is a finger up at the extremists if ever there was one. "Look!" it says. "We're still here!" Featuring the depiction of the prophet yet again despite all that has happened, it recalls a similar cover from November 2011 where the Prophet Mohammed says "100 lashes if you don’t die of laughter!" This publication resulted in a firebomb attack on Charlie’s offices.
Who better to explain it than its artist, Luz. In an interview with Libération’s Isabelle Hanne he said, "With this cover, we wanted to show that at any given moment, we have the right to do anything, to redo anything, and to use our characters the way we want to. Mohammed has become a character in spite of himself, a character in the news, because of those who speak on his behalf. This is a cover aimed at intelligent people, who are much more numerous than you think, whether they’re atheists, Catholics, Muslims..." (Slate)
But who is sorry here? Who is forgiven? Luz continued,
"I had this idea: to draw my caricature of Mohammed, the one that had started all the noise. And to do him holding a "Je Suis Charlie" sign. It was my last-ditch effort. So I drew my little drawing, looked at his face, and laughed. I saw this character who had been used in spite of himself by nut jobs who set shit on fire. Humorless assholes: That’s what these terrorists are. Of course everything is forgiven, my man Mohammed. We can overcome because I managed to draw you. I showed my drawing to Richard Malka and Gérard Biard, and then we cried. Because we had it, a cover that looked like us, not like everyone else or the symbols that imposed on us these last few days. Not a cover with bullet holes - just a cover that makes us laugh." (Slate)
Yes, Charlie Hebdo uses brutal satire against dogma, hypocrisy and hysteria, regardless of source. Satire works through different levels of interpretation and appears in several degrees. Yes, the depictions can be obscene and offensive, but satire is as French as Camembert, and it was meant for a French audience. One can accuse Charlie of many things including irresponsibility, but racism? No.
( La Belgique peut-elle accueillir... - Charlie Hebdo N°1069, 12 décembre 2012 ) France is still coming to terms with the unprecedented 3-day horror of violence and brutality by men 'avenging the prophet', which began with an attack on the offices of satirical weekly magazine Charlie Hebdo leaving 12 people dead, four of them much-loved artists. Heaps of articles and 'opinions' (here's one) have been circulating, published by people who consider themselves qualified to spout, judge and preach, when actually it's doubtful they ever picked up a copy of the magazine in their lives, much less read it or researched its history and raison d'être.
Charlie Hebdo, a bastion of French satire, is best-known for its illustrations and provocative caricatures that mock all forms of authority, from politicians to religion to the military. No one escapes, as the images here will attest. "Equal opportunity offense" for all is what Charlie is about, and it was not and is not racist. Controversial, yes. Offensive, yes. Vulgar, yes. Racist, no. Au contraire. How many non-French out there (particularly those writing articles and 'opinions') are actually aware Charlie fired cartoonist Maurice Sinet (aka Siné) for a piece considered anti-semitic in 2008? His article concerned Nicolas Sarkozy's son on the verge of marrying into a wealthy Jewish family and claimed he was about to convert. 'He'll go a long way in life, this lad!' Siné commented. Critics said it could have been interpreted as making a link between conversion to Judaism and social success and was therefore anti-semitic. For the rest of the story, see HERE.
Can it be that there are those amongst us (intellectuals included) who do not know the difference between racism and satire? As Charbonnier (Charb) told Al Jazeera in a 2012 interview, his argument had always been that free speech must be upheld at all costs and cannot be bound by what will and will not cause offence.
(source) In the Romanian press, Plesu has voiced the worrying opinion that it would be 'wise' to 'limit' press freedom - a dose of extremism all of its own. "For any journalist, author, anyone in the public eye, the issue of "freedom of expression" must be a matter of constant reflection. It is the profession's ethical basis, her key legitimacy and her virtue and daily undertaking. (...) If we have the right to risk our lives for our views, we may endanger the lives of others (who could have different views) (...) Is it always permitted to be able to say anything about anyone, and on any subject?" CTP didn't even bother trying to be eloquent. As far as he is concerned, Charlie is nothing more than a racist, Islamophobic rag.
Even if Charlie's sense of humour is considered unacceptable by a Romanian (and by other cultures, too - the UK and France both have laws forbidding incitement to racial hatred, but France makes the distinction between religion and race), "it falls well within the French tradition of satire – and after all was only intended for a French audience," says Olivier Tonneau. Charlie does not mock religion, but FUNDAMENTALISM.
French two-layer satire is difficult for a non-Frenchman to understand, rather like a cryptic crossword. It only works if you understand both layers which requires good knowledge of French politics, social issues and her general culture, otherwise, all you see is the top, superficial layer - something very different from the actual message beneath. See a good explanation of that HERE using a Charlie cover and another from The New Yorker as examples.
Citeste mai mult: adev.ro/ni1vm8
Citeste mai mult: adev.ro/ni1vm8
Journalist Hugh Schofield described the magazine's ideological roots (pretty much unknown beyond France) in an article for the BBC: "Charlie Hebdo is part of a venerable tradition in French journalism going back to the scandal sheets that denounced Marie-Antoinette in the run-up to the French Revolution.
The tradition combines left-wing radicalism with a provocative scurrility that often borders on the obscene. Its decision to mock the Prophet Muhammad in 2011 was entirely consistent with its historic raison d'etre."
To see the last edition published before the attack (translated into and explained in Romanian), please see HERE. The controversial new novel, Soumission, by French author Michel Houellebecq which imagines a France with a Muslim elected president, is also ribbed unmercifully. Considered by its critics as Islamophobic, you'd have thought they'd have been a little gleeful to see Charlie throw barbs at it.
First founded in 1970 when its predecessor, Hara-Kiri Hebdo, was shut down by the French government for making fun of Charles de Gaulle, and again for a decade in 1981 due to lack of funds, Charlie's stance is strongly left, anti-authoritarian, anti-religious and utterly anti-institutional, particularly targeting the NF and the Le Pens.
(source) Inspired by France's great tradition for comic strips (everyone reads them here, children and adults alike) particularly Charlie Brown of Peanuts from whence came the magazine's name, cartoons and caricatures are Charlie Hebdo's defining trait. Over the years, it has printed caricatures that make the now-famous representations of the Prophet Mohammad look pathetic: police holding the dripping heads of immigrants; masturbating nuns; popes wearing condoms. There has also been the retired Pope Benedict XVI in an amorous embrace with a Vatican guard; former French President Nicolas Sarkozy portrayed as a sick vampire and an Orthodox Jew kissing a Nazi soldier - anything to get the point across.
"The aim is to laugh," Charlie Hebdo journalist Laurent Léger once said. "We want to laugh at the extremists - every extremist. They can be Muslim, Jewish, Catholic. Everyone can be religious, but extremist thoughts and acts are unacceptable."
What is it about those who cannot laugh at and shrug off an image? Satire is supposed to cut through to the bone. See THIS thought-provoking cartoon by Joe Sacco on satire for The Guardian.
In his book The Art of Controversy (2013), Victor Navasky, publisher emeritus of The Nation, convincingly argued that political cartoons are "a uniquely potent art form because images jolt the human mind more quickly than almost any other form of communication."
Even before the French Revolution, underground prints circulated in France showing the clergy and aristocracy performing a myriad of hair-raising and debased acts.
(Mais qui veut des anglais dans l'Europe? - Charlie Hebdo N°1017 - 14 déc. 2011) The Globe and Mail has an interesting article HERE by Jeet Heer entitled 'France's deep-seated tradition of subversive satire'. Here is an extract:
'In 1829, French interior minister François-Régis de la Bourdonnaye, Comte de la Bretèche, complained, "Engravings or lithographs act immediately upon the imagination of the people, like a book which is read with the speed of light; if it wounds modesty or public decency, the damage is rapid and irremediable." The following year, the French government outlawed attacks on “the royal authority” or “inviolability” of the King’s person.
In 1831, the law was used to arrest Charles Philipon, who drew a now-legendary cartoon showing King Louis Philippe’s jowly face metamorphosing into a pear ("la poire" is French slang for "fathead").
Facing the court, Philipon asked, "Can I help it if His Majesty’s face is like a pear?"
That same year, Philipon’s friend Honoré Daumier, France’s greatest cartoonist, drew an image of the King as a Rabelaisian giant, sitting on a toilet and eating the food of the poor as he excretes wealth for the nobility. Daumier was jailed as well for that cartoon, and an 1835 law specifically targeting caricature was introduced, on the grounds that, "whereas a pamphlet is no more than a violation of opinion, a caricature amounts to an act of violence." '
(DSK, le complot! - Charlie Hebdo N°1015 - 30 novembre 2011) Here in France (and she is not alone), the use of satire is a historical reaction to governmental and religious excess. When speech is suppressed and the media is controlled by the state (or too afraid to stand up to it), satire thrives. It holds the rich and powerful accountable.
It takes a certain sophistication and maturity to handle mockery. And to understand it for what it is. Satire targets those higher up the food chain. Mocking those lower down isn't satire. It's bullying. Charlie and French satire in general never bend at the waist. Ever.
Robert F. Darden wrote in his article for Huffington Post, "The ability to understand and appreciate satire, religious or political, is one of the defining, distinctive qualities of an actualized, fully functioning human being, one who is big enough to occasionally laugh at himself or herself, and one who knows that occasionally his or her sacred cow is going to get gored."
(Solidarité - 8 et 9 janvier 2015) Fear is an emotion that slyly gnaws its way through the spirit until there is nothing left. Of course there may be another attack tomorrow, or the next day, or the day after that. Perhaps at Easter, 14th July, Liberation Day, next Christmas, at the Tour de France, les Soldes, the Salon des Livres, the next football match, or Roland Garros. But one can either cave in to fear and fall to one's knees or keep drawing, demonstrating and remain standing in defiance.
And with that, there is nothing left to say.
For more, please see "Charlie", de menaces en fatwas – Regard sur une histoire by Marion Van Renterghem and Ariane Chemin; On Charlie Hebdo: A letter to my British friends by Olivier Tonneau; What everyone gets wrong about Charlie Hebdo and racism by Max Fisher and Cea mai buna zi din an pentru rasistul din mine by Vlad Mixich
(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.
(Photo source) What a strange No Man's Land it is! There's always something weirdly Twilight-Zone-ish about this hole between Boxing Day (26th Dec) and 1st January. For those not back to work, what on earth are you supposed to do with it?! You still feel vaguely festive in a tired out sort of way, but everything's done. Nothing much for it now but to veg out and recover from food-comas and hangovers (children and rellies permitting), watch TV, nibble on leftovers (if you can stomach them), enjoy your presents, hit the Sales or read those books you haven't had time to dip into. It's rather unsettling.
There are many names given to this somewhat unchartered period of our calendar as we hang on to the remainders of Christmas, but we have no official word for it in the English language. Some call it The Witching Week, because, they say, anything you do at this time amounts to precisely nothing. Others call it Twixtmas (my favourite) from the Old English betwēox and Middle English betwixt = between; neither one thing nor the other. Further suggestions online include Food Week, Crimbo Limbo, Holiday Taint - and the most popular: The Festive or Christmas Perineum. Eek, if you know your anatomy and physiology, and the etymology is none too appetising either despite the logic.
The Norwegians DO have a name for this twitchy, restless gap: Romjul [ROMyool], composed of the modern Norwegian rom meaning "space" or "room" and jul "Christmas", thus creating the "Christmas space" between jul and New Year. It's an excellent word that begs an English parallel.
In the Romanian countryside, festivities begin on 20th December (St Ignatius) and continue until 7th January without the static hiatus we seem to have. The highlight of winter customs, the "Festivalul Datinilor de Iarna", starts in Sighetu Marmatiei (Maramures) tomorrow (27th Dec). For photos, see my album on the left entitled Datini si Obiceuri Laice de Iarna from 2007, and for more details on Romanian traditions during this period, see HERE.
(Image source) And so here I am gazing at a few forlorn sarmale and what's left of my salata de boeuf fara boeuf cu pui with New Year still feeling eons away. A whole week to survive! I ponder my lovely presents piled on the sofa wondering if they'll help fill the chasm - John Cleese’s autobiography, yummy Scottish shortbread, Dalrymple's 'The Last Mughal', socks, elegant pyjamas, a thriller, Sodoku looroll, bonnet and scarf, chocolates, Malek Halter's "Sarah", deliciously perfumed teas...
I spose I could venture out to get crushed to death underfoot in the Sales stampede, but then again, I think I'll put on my Christmas socks in an effort to hold on to the last vestiges and dive into 'Moghul' with a cup of tea and a bicky for a bit....
(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...
(Photo source) The possible building of a church in Bucegi Natural Park, a protected zone, on 3000m2 of land 'donated' (note the inverted commas) by the Busteni Local Council in 2012, has caused massive public outcry - and rightly so. Zero public debate, zero respect for the opinion of the people of Busteni, and very little legality involved from what I've been told. PLEASE add your name to the online petition (don't forget to check your e-mail inbox or spam to confirm) of over 15,000 signatures and visit the FB page Spune NU construirii noii biserici in Parcul Natural Bucegi for news updates, both initiated by Petre Cristin.
A 'protected zone' means that construction can only take place in exceptional circumstances and by special licence. This is not an 'exceptional circumstance' and the BOR doesn't yet have all the 'special licences' either. So far. Demand for the approval of this project has been quite a saga, see HERE. Permission to build a new place of worship was granted in March this year by the Scientific Council of Bucegi Natural Park (Consiliul Ştiinţific al Parcului Natural Bucegi), but environmental approval is still to be obtained and the PUZ yet to be given the green light - already refused once. The aforementioned online petition addresses Consiliul Judeţean Prahova asking them to reject the PUZ once and for all, as well as the Environmental Commission of the European Parliament. May both institutions be sensitive to the 15,000+ (and ever increasing) outraged citizens (read the comments, including that of the CJP's president) appealing against such a project.
The media reported that dozens of priests and nuns attended a service last Saturday near the summit of Caraiman where the church is set to be built, officiated by His Eminence Cassian, Archbishop of the Lower Danube. The BOR said the ceremony was not to dedicate the site (following statements in the press that it was), but to celebrate the Exhaltation of the Holy Cross and a memorial service for fallen heroes marking the centenary of World War 1, for which the Archdiocese of Bucharest obtained a permit, number 10.424/11.09.2014, from the administration of Bucegi Natural Park.
(Photo source) Oddly, the permit also included right of access by road and the temporary placement of a tent in the form of a church without a foundation, conforming to law number 50/1991. Presumably, this was meant as a stand-in until the real one was completed, but it was taken down 2 days ago when the signatures on the petition increased at a rate of knots and media attention snowballed.
The majestic Bucegi area is a deeply spiritual, sacred place of unrivalled beauty where no church is required to feel at one with the Powers That Be. In any case, there are already six churches/monasteries (Cota 1000, Sfânta Treime, Runcu, Caraiman, Sinaia and Pestera) not that far away. One thing Romania does NOT lack is places of worship. It lacks schools, hospitals, old people's homes. But churches? No. There are 18,000 of them whilst only 4,000 schools and less than 500 hospitals. There is no money for students' textbooks or medicines, but there is always money for a new church. Building one THERE would ruin the landscape beyond words. WHY would the BOR wish to do such a thing?
(Photo source) If the BOR cared so much for this zone, why didn't THEY come up with the 2 million euros for an approved project funded entirely by Norway not only to restore the cross (Monumentul Eroilor) on the Caraiman peak (left) but also for the installation of a museum at its base, a suspended viewing platform, special lighting and wi-fi. The 1.9mn euro project, not yet begun and dating from the spring of this year, is known (rather unoriginally) as "Daţi un ban pentru Caraiman".
"Tourists asked for this church, it's a necessity," explained parintele Constantin Stoica, spokesman for BOR. "There, as you know, is the Cross on Caraiman, the highest cross in all Romania. Tourists feel they need a place to pray and reflect." Really? Tourists said that? Honestly? I guess they could pray and reflect a lot better with the new wi-fi connection.
So, let me try to get this straight: The BOR gets the land for nothing, lets foreigners pay for the restoration of Monumentul Eroilor with all the mod-cons plus museum, and then rakes in all the profits from tourism tax-free without having paid a penny. Wow. If that isn't 'business', I don't know what is.
Please, BOR, leave the mountain IN PEACE with the natural, mysterious beauty God gave it that is far beyond what a man-made church could ever evoke. 'Natural Park' means exactly what it says: NATURAL. Wasn't the abuse at Ceahlau enough? It CANNOT happen again. There are more than 15,000 Romanians who will NOT allow it. Not this time.
(Image source) I didn't think a bloop from a Minister of Education could get much dafter than Marga's Transylvanian radiator, but yes... the current seat-holder, Remus Pricopie, has surpassed it, rewriting the founding legend of Rome.
Before I go on, here's a little background:
The statue of the Capitoline Wolf (Lupa Capitolina or Lupoaica, as she is now known) nurturing Romulus and Remus (see story HERE) was presented to Bucharest by the city of Rome in 1906 for the 'General Exhibition of Romania', held to mark three important events: 40 years since the crowning of King Carol I as Romania's ruler, 25 years since the Proclamation of Independence by the Romanian Kingdom, and 1,800 years since the emperor Trajan colonised Dacia in 106. Replicas of the original Lupoaica can be found in twenty-six different towns and cities across Romania and the Republic of Moldova, symbolising the Latin origin of the people.
One would think, therefore, that Remus Pricopie might have seen one. Or even two.
(Image source) However, invited to Digi 24 to participate in a 'sincerity test', he was asked in which city Romulus and Remus were born and replied something on the lines of "I don't know if they were born in a particular city, because they were found in the woods, in a nest. I think it was a fox who found them, not a citizen ..."
"It wasn't a fox. It was a wolf," corrected the moderator.
Ouch. Big ouch.
He could be forgiven for not having seen the wolf in Bucharest (he is originally from Neamț county) since it keeps being moved about for reasons I cannot fathom (and at great cost). Keeping tabs on its whereabouts has become something of a challenge. It vanished completely for renovation in 2006 and four years later was moved from its (rightful IMHO) place at Piata Romana where it had stood for thirteen years to the intersection between bd. I.C. Bratianu and str. Lipscani. One of the reasons given was that motorists kept driving into it. Really? Yes, well.... In any case, that gives Pricopie, the Minister of EDUCATION, absolutely NO excuse for being ignorant of the legend. A fox? Seriously?
(Photo source) Another reminder (albeit an eyesore) stands on the steps of the capital's National History Museum (sculptor: Gorduz) - Emperor Traian holds the She-wolf in his arms. Apparently. The butt of much mocking, not to mention controversy (see HERE), it is more like an exhibitionist holding a flying Rottweiler than an emperor and the symbolic She-Wolf. Today, he holds a fox in honour of Pricopie's bungle as you can see, but crocodiles, handbags, covrigi, a missile, Bugs Bunny, Elena Udrea, he has held them all. It's quite a tourist attraction. One of those painful 'must-sees' great for silly selfies...
It would be sooooooooooo nice for Romania to have a Minister of Education with a modicum of general knowledge, a smattering of culture and at least a BIT of respect for his country's history. IS that really too much to ask? Recent news of a decision to allow students university admission WITHOUT the Bacalaureat is shameful enough, indicating a severe degeneration of an education system in free fall that utterly beggars belief. Does having an ignorant Minister of Education help in any way at all, or was he chosen to personify the disaster proving right all those who believe Ponta is out to make future Romanians as dim as possible? The 'fox' isn't Pricopie's first goof - see more HERE.
While the motley crew of candidates for November's Presidential elections make fools of themselves on a daily basis, a Minister of Education who knows a wolf from a fox would certainly be progress...
50km from the city of Brașov at the foot of the Făgăraș Mountains lies a cave so steeped in mystery and strange phenomena that it is rather difficult to describe. The Rupestral Monastery of Șinca Veche (or The Temple of Șinca Veche), also known as 'The Temple of Fulfillment', 'The Temple of Wishes', 'The Temple of Fate', 'The Cave Monastery' or just plain 'Grotto', is a national monument and, on this very spot, the Divine Liturgy was served for almost a quarter of a millennium. Why so many names? Well, because nobody really knows when the cave was actually sculpted and transformed into a place of worship, nor what the underground rooms were for. Enigmata all the way.
It is probable that the cave of sandstone was formed naturally by erosion caused by mountain springs. For sure, the snail-like spiral visible around the inside of the 10-meter 'tower' (below left) would be testimony to that.
Its age has been estimated at more than 7,000 years with even earlier Dacian origins. One of the arguments defending this is the presence of two altars, which can only mean that it is not of Christian origin. Historians say that, in this respect, it is utterly unique. Along with these, the cave also consists of 9 rooms with curious sculptures and shrines. Small, repetitive indentations in the wall give the feeling of a vast and indefinite space, whilst natural light comes in through the entrance and the 'tower' (left) that opens upwards, connecting with the surface allowing the sun to filter down onto the main altar below. Legend has it that this 'tower' serves as a pathway for supernatural energy to flow in and out. Dim though it is, there is enough light with the additional candles to contemplate a natural simplicity of indescribable beauty.
Since Șinca Veche is located at the border with what was once the Habsburg Empire, an amalgam of different religions and communities sheltered within these walls at various times, not least monks hiding from Austrian Empress Maria Teresa out to convert them to unthinkable Catholicism. The conditions they must have lived holed up there for perhaps years on end, the cold, the dark, don't bear thinking about...
(Photo source) The walls are covered with drawings, many of which archaeologists have been unable to explain. Dating them is equally impossible. Amongst them, though, are more familiar signs and symbols including a Star of David above the second, least visible altar. Within it, a Ying and Yang (or perhaps it's two fish?), leading researchers to believe it dates from the pre-Dacian period. The face and shoulders of a man (see below left) perhaps portrays the image of a Dacian... Oddly (as if things aren't odd enough), apart from the altars, there are no Christian crosses to be found in these rooms despite the lengthy presence of the aforementioned monks on more than one occasion.
"Strange energy" and "special place" are expressions used by those who have stepped inside to seek rest and solace here. On the eve of religious holidays, locals report that celestial choirs can be heard, whilst legend says the temple site is a gateway to other universes, where ancients communicated with the "upper world" or beings from parallel dimensions. There are stories of healing, dreams coming true after praying here and non-existent lights and shadows appearing on photographs. It is indeed a most mysterious place that sends your imagination running wild.
All secular or religious settlements are generally found near water sources and at Șinca Veche, as one walks through the woods around the cave, a spring babbles merrily amongst the stones that has been sanctified hundreds and hundreds of times further strengthening the belief of healing waters.
The locals speak of a tunnel at the bottom of the cave linking Șinca Veche to the citadel of Râșnov.
There are several people primarily instrumental for this incredible though slightly spooky place of worship found today in Șinca Veche. Maria Bagiu, an epidemiologist from Brasov, established the Orthodox-Cultural Foundation when she retired in 2004. She discovered the cave (also in 2004) in a pitiful state of degradation, and managed to get on the good side of local authorities, forming an agreement with the Șinca Veche Townhall who agreed to lease the land to the foundation. It is this foundation that runs what you see today. Be that as it may, not everyone is in awe of Dna Bagiu. There have sadly been reports that monks who used to take care of the temple have been thrown out (see comments section of hyperlink) and that Dna Bagiu herself has become some kind of local religious leader. I'll let you draw your own conclusions....
Brasov County Council has since rebuilt the road from the village to the grotto and geotechnical and geophysical surveys of the site were carried out in 2005. The construction of the roof to protect the grotto from the elements and any further damage was conducted by Serban Sturdza, President of OAR (The Order of Romanian Architects). Work continues to preserve this marvellous place for generations to come.
Nearby, St Nectarie, a small, traditional monastery classified A on the list of historic monuments sits on top of the hill with views that made me wonder how anyone can possibly discount the existence of God. Built in stone and wood and run by nuns (and a few monks too if I have understood correctly), it is filled with a myriad of abundant flowers. As the toaca sounded announcing Liturgy, I was transported to another time and place, entirely at peace with the world.
Photos by Sarah in Romania unless otherwise stated. Please ask before borrowing and/or hyperlink back to this post. Thank you!
Last weekend whilst exploring the breathtakingly beautiful village of Peștera, Bran, we came across a statue with a sculpted plaque:
"Tu Ghicuta urci Vladusca
Pan’ la Pietrele lui Crai
Sa dai branza cea mai grasa,
Dar in coji de brad s-o dai
Afle varul secelean
C-a facut-o un pesterean…"
This lovely, simple monument in stone overlooking the magnificent Bucegii is dedicated to the shepherds of the Bran-Moeciu area with an extract from "Legenda Branului" by Ion Duicu. It is an epic poem of 2,578 verses recounting the Bran Legend he had heard from his father and grandfather, both shepherds of Bran. The book includes illustrations by Ion Duicu himself, as well as extracts from his notebooks. Definitely worth trying to get hold of, me thinks.
The verse is a reference not only to shepherds, but to other occupations going on in the village at that time, too. Some of these professions exist today, but since old farms are now mostly guesthouses, there is very little left of what used to be. The carts are gone replaced by cars, though the cheese wrapped in pine bark (brânză de coşuleţ) is going strong, as are the shepherds. This extract is a little dig telling those in Săcele that the brânză de coşuleţ from Peştera is better than theirs!
So, what of the legend? It is a 'Miorița' story of sorts, although apparently with a happier ending.
'During the times of the Getae (the original inhabitants of present-day Romania dating back to the 3rd and 5th centuries BC), in the Bucegi Mountains, there was a famous shepherd elder called Bran-da-Bur. He was the eldest brother of the Bran kin and the one who would task his nine younger brothers to go down from their home on Bucegi Mountain to settle the lands that would become known as Bran. Bran-da-Bur’s and his brothers’ actions closely resemble the founding stories of the peoples of old,' says THIS site.
More on the legend I cannot tell you, for there isn't much about it online. However, Peştera and the other Bran villages are a historian's delight. Archeological discoveries unearthed near Peștera bear witness to the Middle Paleolithic era (around 200,000 to 45,000 years ago or so). Household items and jewellery from the Bronze Age prove continual habitation of the area, with a marked separation of the Thracian tribes into farmers on the one hand and herders on the other. Further continuity of habitation is shown through Dacian pottery moulded by hand, along with other finds from the Post-Roman era (III–IVc AD). Impossible not to be overwhelmed!
Further mention of other villages in the Bran area appear in 1729, when the Austrian administration began to collect taxes. Moeciu de Jos, Coacăza (Peştera), Valea Lungă (Cheia), Zbârcoiara (today part of Moieciu de Jos) and Moieciu de Sus all noted. Magura is not mentioned until 1869 - not because it didn’t exist, but because the revenues were insignificant to the Habsbourg treasury.
Until 1848, Moeciu and Bran villages were 'subjected to or dependent on Brasov' and were found in documents only as "divisions". However, when the abolition of serfdom came to pass in 1848, the residents in the villages around Bran were also 'freed' and gradually regained their properties.
In 1885 - a time of great administrative reform - Moeciu de Jos, Cheia, Moeciu de Sus, Magura and Peştera became self-administrated "political communes" until 1924 which brought a new administrative partition. All the villages in the Bran area became a distinct section of Brasov county, known as 'Post Bran'.
Paradoxically, the villages of the Moeciu and Bran regions apparently didn't suffer too much under communism since co-operative farming was impossible. The regime attempted a form of organisation known as 'companionships', but that thankfully didn't work either. At the time of the lovilutie in December 1989, Bran was experiencing economic prosperity, allowing the entire area to develop quickly making it one of Romania's top tourist destinations.
And all that from goagaling 'Legenda Branului'!
All photos by Sarah in Romania. Please ask before borrowing and hyperlink back to this post. Thank you!
(Image source) BREAKING NEWS: Romanian businessman, politician and media mogul Dan Voiculescu has been sentenced to 10 years (the maximum under the new penal code) in prison for money laundering and fraudulent privatisation in the Food Research Institute (ICA) affair. The verdict is final and comes after six years of judicial wrangling, delays, political hoodwinking, theatricals and media attacks on the judiciary. Given his age and the Romanian law on old farts being jailed, he will be eligible for release after serving 1/3 of his sentence.
The seizure of several properties (inc. his apartment on Kiseleff) and $3.5mn (rent from Romtelecom);the freezing of accounts; a ban on running a business both in Romania and abroad, and the confiscation of Grivco Tower and the offices of Antena 1 and 3 plus 5.8mn RON from Voiculescu's daughters (the sum of ICA shares made over to them by their father) were also ordered as part of today's verdict. Seven of the eleven other accused were handed jail sentences of up to 8 years, to be served in Rahova along with Voiculescu.
Camelia Bogdan and Mihai Mihalcea have given Romania a bit of faith in JUSTICE today. The result is symbolic of hope - a new generation of fair judges. All those howling and gnashing teeth that this should be Iliescu, Basescu, Videanu, etc., etc., just wait. Wait. If Voiculescu can be given his comeuppance, then it is equally symbolic that NO ONE is above the law.
To quote a close friend of mine, "it would be wonderful if all the others had the same treatment. So... the job is only half done." Correct. But IT HAS BEGUN! They should be building jails instead of churches across Romania to house the hoard of parasites deserving porridge, for now that Felix has been dealt with justly, I am confident there'll be bus-loads more.
Voiculescu has used his media empire (the ironically-named Intact media group - far from 'in tact' right now - of TV and radio stations including Antena 1 and 3) to attack and intimidate professional and political rivals, as well as the judiciary. Now he has lost it.
His attempts to dodge sentencing have included resigning as Senator twice and then rerunning for a parliamentary seat, resulting in the case being moved from court to court to hinder and delay the verdict. But today, justice has at last been done.
Mircea Badea is furious, which makes me happier still. PM Ponta has assured he will do all he can to help the stricken Antena 1 and 3 journalists, calling the confiscation an abuse of press freedom.... Perhaps it is in a sense, but since when did press freedom mean anything to Ponta who gags, threatens and insults journalists on a regular basis.
(Photo source) In my humble opinion, the orders for fines, restitution payments and confiscation - see HERE for a list (in Romanian) - of so much Voiculescu holds dear is far more poignant than the prison sentence itself which, since he is over 60, will end up being very little - slightly over 3 years, I think. But he has been hit where it hurts - his property and his business. In 2009, he was noted by the local weekly, Capital, as one of Romania's top three richest men with a wealth estimated at 1.5 billion euros. I guess what he has been ordered to cough up will make a bit of a dent. Of course, Badea and company will continue to use the 'white flag' technique to deflect attention from their guru for weeks, perhaps months, to come and the martyring of Voiculescu has already begun.
For his part, Voiculescu states that he regrets nothing in his usual arrogant manner. Regrets nothing? He deserves another few years thrown on top of the ten year sentence for that alone. Those seeing such arrogance as 'courage' and 'honour' need their brains rewired. Brrrr. Absence of regret is inhuman, although I expect he does regret being caught. Oh yes, and since, he says, he had a loo in the courtyard until he was thirty-four, prison won't be any worse.
Chapeau bas not only to the judges and the ADN prosecutor, but also to the handful of excellent journalists who covered the last few days with such professionalism, sharing INFORMATION rather than their PERSONAL COMMENTS despite intimidation and attacks from pondlife such as Mircea Badea who has a mouth on him like a sewage plant. Particular applause to Ionel Stoica (EVZ) and Biro Attila (Gândul).
For further news, here is Agerpres, Business Review, Romania Insider, Globalpost, and Hotnews (all in English). Take a look, too, at how the verdict has been received across the world from Germany to Japan. Don't miss it!