(Photo source) The day before yesterday, Romania's Minister of Tourism, Marius Dobre, voiced the idea of using national symbols of legend such as Dracula and Miorita to change strategy for commercialising the country's tourist industry.
Nobody took much notice. But then Minister of Agriculture Petre Daea (photo left - and yes, he's the one in blue. Quoique...) leapt in with his argument for changing the present leaf logo (apparently plagiarised, see HERE) to a sheep and all the fun began. According to him, "sheep are living statues.” Living statues? Yes. “Just look how this beautiful animal grazes in Romania's green pastures," he told Antena 3. "Near a sheep you can find a leaf, but near a leaf you can’t find a sheep.” Deep. Very deep. Where did they find this guy? Perhaps he'd also like to trade in Romania's national anthem for THIS while he's at it.
"Oh yes!" cried Romanians everywhere, thrilled at such a superb parallel reflecting a good portion of national behaviour at election time. Did they really? No. Of course, everybody fell about laughing. Internet was swamped with memes and Daea became the sheepish butt of the day. Actually, several days. The fact that Daea just happens to rhyme with oaia (the Romanian for 'sheep') didn't help him much either.
(Image source) Romania's current tourism branding logo can't be changed until 2020 as it was created with EU funds, so the whole discussion was somewhat pointless and Daea's woolly eloges all the more hilarious.
If a foreigner had suggested a sheep as Romania's tourism symbol, one can safely assume everyone would have felt terribly insulted. What does a sheep represent after all? As for Miorita, it may be considered a literary masterpiece, but it is one of the saddest (and most infuriating) examples of fatalism and hopelessness I have ever read.
I asked students what they thought about all this. Howling with laughter, they shook their heads and then howled some more. What did they suggest as a symbol for their country? "Sheep," said R., "aren't such a bad representation after all." Everyone laughed again. "Why is that then?" "Well, a sheep is interested in its own patch of grass, follows the sheep in front of it and can't think for itself." Ouch. "Aaaand," added S with a wink, "they recently sank a Russian spy ship! They're heroes!" Aha!
(Photo source) "The Romanian blouse ('ie')," suggested C. "It is a symbol of beauty, craftsmanship and heritage," she said. It is. Handed down from mother to daughter over many generations, every inch of the traditional ie from the material (cotton or linen of flax or hemp) to the intricate embroidery is pure art painstakingly hand-sewn, and has remained unchanged for centuries. The Romanian blouse is a statement of folklore and cultural belief and has been much promoted beyond Romania. Foreigners love them. Good suggestion.
"How about opinci," asked V. "Aoleu! Noooo!" cried almost everyone. "They're too peasantish." "What's wrong with peasantish?" Kitsch, apparently.
(Photo source) Other animals, then? Romania's national animal symbol is the lynx. Did you know? Nobody did. "What about a wolf?" "The bear! It is strong and protects its young. And it is very intelligent." "So is a pig. Hai! Let's choose slanina as a national symbol!" "A... bou. That is veeeery representative!" Gales of laughter.
(Photo source) Come on. Think harder. You live in one of the most beautiful countries I have ever seen. What about monuments? Nature? Something that breathes your history, your culture.
"Babele?" said someone. Not bad.
"The Caraiman Cross?" Nope. Romania is a self-proclaimed secular country. No religious symbols.
"A mountain. Any mountain. Our mountains are wonderful." Very true. They are.
"Something by Brancusi? Columna Infinita?"
What would I choose, they wanted to know. Hmm. A linden tree? They are everywhere, smell divine after the rain giving Bucharest a perfume so heady it makes you giddy - and they don't smell the same anywhere else. Trees are symbolic of wisdom and heritage, and in Slavic folklore, linden trees were sacred. Or maybe the waterlily that fills the Danube in late spring and early summer, delicate, peaceful and so completely sure of her loveliness?
Dobre doesn't get why his suggestion has caused such ridicule (pass me a kleenex!). "France has the Gallic cock, the Netherlands have the cow, Spain has the bull. Why can't I talk about a symbol like Miorita?" he asked rather upset.
Meanwhile, in a country relentlessly fleeced by its shamelessly corrupt government, the Minister of Agriculture sees nothing wrong with promoting sheep to the hilt as a representative symbol. Shear genius really...
In the middle of the Old Town, the inconspicuous entrance to str Covaci 6 and its several flights of wooden stairs will lead you away from the hustle and bustle of cobbled streets, shops and restaurants up into a seeing-is-believing world of pure, unadulterated Kitsch. Yes. The Romanian Kitsch Museum opened its doors yesterday, and well worth a visit it is, too.
Garden gnomes accompany your climb up the old stairs, and as you round a corner, you're confronted by a sublimely cheesy mural of Christ in Superman robes with colourful giftbags of stuffed toys at his feet.
The museum's 215 exhibits are divided into several categories ranging from religious kitsch to communist, modern and gypsy. There's even an area for making your own kitsch. Everything has you doing double takes as you make your way around, not knowing quite whether to laugh or cry. But you'll cringe. Ohhhhh, how you'll cringe.
Flashing crosses reminiscent of a '70's discothèque, pitzipoance and cocalari in all their tasteless glory, images of screamingly awful gypsy palaces, tacky gold jewellery, flames of a mock fireplace on a flat TV screen, Count Dracula (perhaps Romania's ultimate kitsch), plastic fruit on doilies, bad copies of the Mona Lisa, moth-eaten taxidermy, lurid tapestries, gaudy ornaments... Aaaaagh!!!
The communist style of political speech known as limba de lemn (wooden language) is featured too, encouraging you to pick texts and see them transformed into the hollow, meaningless phrases so many Romanians will remember right before your very eyes. That had my attention for quite some time. Fascinating.
With a great deal of gypsy kitsch to be seen, it's hard to imagine the gypsy community won't be just a bit put out. However, one of the information texts explains, 'Cultural differences are a rich source of kitsch. When a minority culture subsists beside a majority culture, many of its features are labelled as authentic kitsch. The important gypsy minority in Romania comes into prominence through its contribution to the Romanian landscape.' Included in the 'gypsy' category: manele, gypsy culture, gold accessories, fortune tellers and gypsy architecture. Whether offensive or not, the kitsch is undeniable. Like it? Don't like it? It's kitsch either way.
I expect the BOR will complain a lot louder than the gypsy community. Religious kitsch is widespread and plentiful across the entire country in varying degrees of splendiferous tackiness, so it's hardly surprising it is found here in rather generous doses. The corresponding introductory information board reads: 'When religion stops being spiritual and becomes materialistic, it turns into kitsch.' Couldn't agree more.
Museum founder Cristian Lica told us that everything in the museum had come from his own personal collection and all images had been taken from the public domain. He'd used nothing that wasn't already out there, in other words. A friendly man and perfectly happy to stop for a chat, it had not been his intention to upset anyone, though he was aware that it might.
So, is Romanian kitsch any different to that from elsewhere? I've been googling to find out, and really, it appears not. Perhaps French kitsch is a little more oppulent (HERE's a mind-bogglingly exaggerated example), whilst English kitsch finds its culminating points in the Eurovision Song Contest (!!), Brit seaside holidays and the kind of tat you'd expect to find in souvenir shops these days, but apart from that, one pile of kitsch is much like another: 'Definition - KITSCH (noun): showy art or cheap, decorative objects that are attractive to people who are thought to lack any appreciation of style or beauty (Cambridge Dictionary)'. The only difference is that Romania has a great deal more of it (and shows it off in spectacular fashion) than anywhere else I've ever known.
Bucharest is certainly plagued with a massive scourge of kitsch (more prevalent since 1989) which invades our streets, parks, taxis and churches along with our homes. It is impossible to make it through the day without having it shoved in our faces at some point or another. See HERE for a perfect example. For this reason, tourists pay a 30 lei entrance fee whilst Romanians pay 20. They have to put up with so much bloody kitsch that they deserve the discount! :D
Kitsch is as annoying as it is omnipresent, but seeing so much of it here in this space dedicated to (sub)culture seems to make the bling and artlessness a little less nauseating, strange though that may sound. Let's hope the future of Cristian Lica's museum will not be marred by controversy and a sudden demand for political correctness, for it really does deserve to be seen - both by foreigners and Romanians alike. In addition, any artist is welcome to exhibit on the upper floor dedicated to Art, just as long as their work is kitschy, Mr Lica says.
For more, see THIS excellent article by Alison Mutler, THIS from Vice, and THIS one by Hotnews complete with videos.
The Romanian Kitsch Museum
Strada Covaci 6, București 030167
Phone:+40 723 794 989
Open every day from 12h-23h
[Photos by Sarah in Romania - please don't nick without asking]
Yes, Romania has a new government. Yes, they are how we knew they would be. See the staggering list HERE with more details HERE.
Take a look at THIS superb but horrifying post at Bucharest Life which takes the words right out of my mouth, honestly, courageously and accurately describing how it is. And shall be.
For more on the diabolical situation here in the country of my heart, please see THIS post and THIS one too both by Alison Mutler, and how about THIS for good measure - the hallucinating story of a law being picked apart to allow Dragnea, a convicted criminal on a suspended sentence for election fraud, to become the country's PM. See also THIS article by Sabina Fati for RL (in Romanian). It's all happening in Absurdistan. The abuse is mind-blowing - a hijacking of an entire country right under our noses. A coup d'etat in slow motion. And Bucharest Life is right. They will get away with it. BECAUSE THEY CAN.
So that's that then. This morning, President Iohannis approved Sorin Grindeanu for the premiership, and asked parliament for their confidence vote as per the Constitution. Grindeanu will have ten days to form his government - and what a delightful crew that is sure to be....
If you have any trouble identifying Romania's new prime minister at the press conference in the photo below (source), here's a hint: he's the guy on the left without a single microphone, looking bored and playing with a pen, while the other bloke, puppet master Liviu Dragnea, describes government plans for the year ahead.
Nice one, Romania. More humiliating would be difficult, and there it is in one shot.
You can also catch the moving first interview between Romania's premier and Kamikaze HERE. You'll love it.
Congratulations to Sorin Liviu Dragnea Grindeanu,
new Prime Minister of Romania!
(Photo source) Dragnea has come up with a new proposal for Romania's premiership: current president of Timis County Council, Sorin Grindeanu (pictured left), son of Nicolae Grindeanu, former PSD leader in Caransebes.
Communications Minister in the Ponta government from December 2014 to November 2015 and vice mayor of Timisoara for four years until 2012, he has been an MP since then.
A graduate in computer science from Universitatii de Vest (Timisoara) Mathematics Fac., he was part of a military science training programme at the National Academy of Information (the academic branch of SRI) in 2013 and while in Parliament, was member of the SRI Control Committee. You can explore his credentials further at www.soringrindeanu.ro.
His political mentor was Ilie Sarbu (Ponta's father-in-law) who treated him like a son according to Pressalert.ro. Sarbu's loyalty was not reciprocated though. "Nu este o personalitate a partidului, a fost printre cei tolerati," ("He [Grindeanu] is not an important party member. Only tolerated,") Sarbu said after the battle between them went public in 2010. A local PSD leader added that if it hadn't been for Sarbu, there would be no Grindeanu.
Grindeanu's name has been knocking about for quite some time and was no Eureka flash. It's likely that this was who Dragnea had in mind from the very start, throwing in Sevil Shhaideh as a red herring to make Grindeanu look all the more appetising.
According to Hotnews says Dan Tapalaga in his excellent background article on Grindeanu, he was on the list (following election results) of definite possibles for Ministru de Interne no matter who ended up with the premiership, though he denied the possibility of leaving his position in Timis for a post in government.
Perhaps the most interesting information of all with regards Sorin Grindeanu is at local level - his closeness to the Cristescu brothers (local barons) known for sponsoring political careers of those they thought potentially promising within the PSD party.
In all the jobs held by Grindeanu, he has never shone for any initiative or any particular accomplishment. Considered simply part of the system, he has, however, a name within the party: "the man of the Cristescu brothers - the guys with the greatest influence in Banat," reports EVZ.
Marius and Emil Cristescu set up business in a kiosk in the students' zone back in the 90s, are today amongst Romania's top wealthiest men and finance the Banat PSD, reports Dan Andronic for EVZ. They own the BEGA Group which includes 16 commercial businesses in various sectors including mining, real estate, media and tourism. Simply put, they own the Banat region.
Andronic goes on to explain how the brothers dabbled in politics a little, candidating as independents for local elections and then switched to supporting all sorts of electoral campaigns from a distance, a bit like playing poker. In other words, anyone who'd win would have to take into consideration their sponsors - the Cristescu brothers - and pay back the favour.
In 2002, they were under investigation for all kinds of irregularities. No further news on that. Lack of evidence, maybe?
Although Grindeanu may not profit from the brothers directly, he benefits a great deal from being propped up.
Now back to Dragnea who professed to having had several solutions up his sleeve to save the country from utter chaos: 1) Putting Sevil Shhaideh forward again (WTF?!); 2) Proposing himself (WTF bis); 3) Sorin Grindeanu. Just plain flippant.
Relying on his powerful weapon of Parliamentary majority which he considers a legitimate carte blanche bestowed by the people (only a fifth of the electorate mais enfin, bon), he has once more vowed to suspend President Iohannis if Grindeanu is refused.
Dragnea must think that the suspension of a president is much like firing your cleaning lady. Is he actually thinking ahead at all, or just making the most of the delicious rays of power in which he finds himself right now?
There is something deeply distasteful and horribly ironic about naming a PSD-ist from Timisoara PM on the (almost) 27th anniversary of the Revolution...
Dragnea is tirelessly prodding Klaus Iohannis with a very pointy stick. In the eye. Renaming Shhaideh? Putting himself forward? Or this option of a nobody. Dragnea's every calculated move and utterance has been sheer arrogant provocation with one agenda - his own. What happens to Romania as a country is neither here nor there.
President Iohannis is said to give his decision shortly and Traian Basescu, vocal as ever, has forecast a refusal given the SRI connections. The first nomination, he said, was crass stupidity. This one is a political error.
There is no earthly reason why President Iohannis should approve this non-starter for premiership. None whatsoever. Apart from Basescu's opinion re the SRI connection, he has zero national experience, is tangled up with local barons who are considered the true leaders of PSD Timis according to EVZ and got to where he did through leg ups. There is nothing special about this man. Nothing that merits the position of prime minister. In fact, the ONE thing he has going for him is that he doesn't have a PhD...
I have a feeling the president will approve the proposal, all the while hoping he sticks a finger up at Dragnea and does not. I'd like to see early elections and all those millions who didn't vote at the parliamentaries thus allowing Romania to turn so deeply and shamefully red, out there putting this right. I want to see people furious that their country is now in the hands of a bunch of criminals and that the leader of the majority lies as he breathes, so dangerously full of himself that rules, limits and conscience simply do not exist.
Until the decision, then...
For a little (uncomfortable) clarity, see THIS excellent article by Sabina Fati for RL and THIS very revealing piece from Dan Tapalaga for Hotnews both in Romanian.
(Photo source) President Iohannis has rejected Dragnea's proposal of Sevil Shhaideh (hurrah) after taking the Christmas break to chew on it. Well done President Iohannis, and well done Secret Services. The choice was so absurd that one can only presume it was meant to fail.
Having weighed up the pros and cons, President Iohannis announced his decision in a televised statement earlier today. There was an elegant absence of explanations as to why, but the numerous arguments were pretty clear to anyone bothering to google. In addition to all that, Hotnews revealed that Mr Shhaideh's brothers were also connected to the regime in Damascas.
Dragnea is said to have been 'stupefied' by the president's refusal, vai de capu' lui. Gotta larf.
(Photo source - Catavencii: Servil Shhaideh pentru noi este Liviu Dragnea doi!)
PNL welcomed the decision:
"(...) The Romanian Government should not be transformed into a personal government of interposed people at the disposal of Mr. Liviu Dragnea. PSD told us they have tens of thousands of experts. If this is true, they will find other names of prime ministers, preferably individuals with a known political activity, without vulnerabilities and sentences," party chairwoman Raluca Turcan said.
Former-President Traian Basescu, now President of PMP and always generous when it comes to voicing opinions (wanted or unwanted), added his grain of salt - I can't believe I'm quoting him here but he is right: "In view of the new nomination as with the new government, people controlled by the secret services should not be considered. It is not the time for a political war between Dragnea and Iohannis. Any aspect relating to impeachment of the president should be left out.”
According to Reuters, Dragnea saw no constitutional reason for the refusal - national security obviously doesn't feature on his list of prioroties - and would consider having Iohannis impeached in response: "If, after analysis, we reach the conclusion that it is best to suspend the president, I will not hesitate. But we don't want to jump head-first and plunge the country into crisis."
How thoughtful of him to consider the country.
Sounds more like plans (and a dreamed up excuse) for a putsch. There are no grounds whatsoever for impeachment. It is the president's duty and his constitutional right to approve or refuse the proposal of PM at his discretion. He cannot be forced to appoint someone against his will. Impeachment would take time, require a national referendum and be laughed out of the stratosphere before it had even begun. And yet I can't shake off the distinct feeling of a carefully scripted mis en scene which is, so far, going perfectly according to plan however bizarre things may appear.
So what happens next?
(Photo source) We'll listen to the purposely misleading howls for suspension, fire and brimstone lobbed at Iohannis for another day or two. Dragnea, backed by Tariceanu, will pretend to assess whether or not Iohannis broke the Constitution and probably come up with a few fictional creations to keep Antena3 viewers chomping at the bit. Ridiculous time-wasting theatricals to divert attention from what they're really up to (planning a coup d'etat to get rid of President Iohannis? Changing the Constitution to suit their ends? Both? With these guys, there is no 'too low') but it keeps the masses gossiping and emotions high.
Then Dragnea will nominate one last candidate for PM who must be accepted by the president as per the Constitution. If that does not happen, another election will be held. Or....other developments will have occurred by then.
Caragiale would have soooo much material for his end of year extravaganza.
Watch this space.
For more, please see Reuters, BBC and Agerpress.
(Photo source) What is one supposed to think re Dragnea's take-it-or-leave-it-coz-this-is the-only-one-I'm-giving-you proposal of Sevil Shhaideh as Romania's next Prime Minister? It's caused quite a stir. With no criminal record and no investigations underway, President Iohannis has no official reason to disapprove it seems. That she is both muslim aaaand a woman are not valid reasons despite the present climate in Europe, and the fact that no one can pronounce her name and few even know who she is are not grounds either. Dragnea is really taking the mick.
What were we expecting? Someone from the party's upper stratosphere that Dragnea could control, right? Not some new recruit who's only been with the party since June 2015 (who he can and will also manipulate). What are they up to?
Maybe it is as Sergiu Miscoiu, a professor of political science at Babes-Bolyai University in Cluj, says: "Picking Shhaideh suggests that Dragnea will control the government without taking direct responsibility." He adds that the choice might also be to counter accusations of orthodoxism and nationalism so flagrant during the campaign. Referring to the Social Democratic Party, he said: "PSD are saying implicitly with this nomination: ‘You accused us of being nationalist and orthodoxist — look what we're doing, don’t you like it?’ "
While PNL and USR protested against PSD's proposal accusing Liviu Dragnea of actually wanting to lead the Government through intermediaries, UDMR (who on Wednesday signed a protocol for parliamentary cooperation with PSD and ALDE - anyone surprised?), labelled the choice as 'interesting', wrote Nine O'Clock.
All seems a bit too simplistic to me. Dragnea and his cronies are not simpletons, more's the pity. They do nothing without good reason that would benefit them personally, and they're terribly good at planning ruses for future scams using smoke and mirrors. Diversion is what they do best.
(Photo source) Perhaps the non-politically minded have never heard of Shhaideh but she isn't completely unknown. Her one high profile position was Secretary of State in the Development Ministry of the Ponta government when Dragnea was its minister, succeeding him when he stepped down in 2015 - it lasted 6 months. Hardly fertile background for job of PM then, and the lack of experience has become a justifiable source of criticism with opponents arguing that Shhaideh is only being nominated as a figurehead while Dragnea lords it behind the scenes. But of course.
Much has been said about Dragnea and Nicușor Constantinescu's presence at the Shhaideh's wedding in 2011 though Dragnea was not her naş as reported by several press sites since it was a muslim ceremony where there is no such thing as naşi. Good job, journalists with such excellent cross-cultural knowledge. See more about Dragnea's role as witness at the wedding HERE.
My opinion? That a) No matter who is chosen to be Romania's next PM, they will find themselves a puppet with Dragnea's hand up their rear end; b) Maybe the Syrian husband is more interesting to Dragnea and co. than Mrs Shhaideh herself, making her nothing more than a pawn; c) This is a complete red herring and Dragnea has something else in the offing...
Her husband Akram Shhaideh isn't just any old Syrian. Nope. A former official in Bashar al-Assad's Agriculture Ministry, he left Syria in 2010 shortly before the Arab Spring began, but still owns several properties in government-held parts of the country. According to riseproject.ro, he is a staunch supporter of Bashar al-Assad (accused of just about every war crime known to man by the international community). Rise reports that Akram Shhaideh, now living in Romania, posts and shares pro-Assad messages on social media defending the current regime in Damascus while slamming the rebels fighting in Syria along with the Arab and Western leaders who support the Syrian revolution.
Yesterday, Dragnea publicly requested an investigation by the intelligence services. Akram Shhaideh was a Romanian citizen, he said, and therefore had already been checked by all state institutions otherwise he wouldn’t have been granted citizenship. Fair point. Getting citizenship in Romania is incredibly difficult. Unless, that is, you have friends in ever such influential places.
Living (and working, according to his CV) in Romania since 2011, he obtained citizenship in 2015. Interesting that, since non-EU residents need to have been in Romania for 8 years without a break longer than 90 days to obtain citizenship according to law. 2011 to 2015 is only 4 years. Marrying a Romanian can decrease the number of years required to five. Still not enough. What was I saying about friends in ever such influential places...
For Akram Shhaideh's verbose CV, see HERE. A few things are worth a second glance: He has 2 PhDs, both from Bucharest - one awarded in Dec 2010 and the other in Oct 2010. Brilliant how one can get 2 PhDs in the same year especially when, according to your CV, you're actually living and working in a different country at the time. Bravo.
Akram Shhaideh is also the author of several books with titles that deserve a standing ovation for the biggest laugh of the season: The Strange Behaviour of Living Creatures (2011); Outgrowing the Earth (2011) and The World on the Edge. Talk about premonitions.
“He is a peaceful man. There is no problem, no vulnerability,” Dragnea said.
If anyone else had said this, one could probably have believed it. But Dragnea lies as he breathes. Suspicion is therefore normal. If he tells you it's raining, you'd have to go check.
Again, let's wait and see. But if he is pro-Bashar, then he will logically also be pro-Putin. A PM of Romania married to someone with connections to Bashar and pro-Putin sympathies is not good. Not good at all. But it would have Dragnea and cronies grinning from ear to ear.
Dragnea has declared this is the one and only proposal for PM to be put forward. Basically, take it or leave it. The arrogance is mindboggling.
"If this proposal is turned down although there is no constitutional or fundamental reason for doing so, we’ll understand that it is not desired for those who won the elections and hold majority to form a government. Coming up with a second proposal is pointless,” Dragnea said after meetings at Cotroceni.
President Iohannis has the right to refuse this proposal and he would be sensible to do so, for it has the holes of Swiss cheese and the elements of a complete diplomatic clusterf*ck. Amongst other concerns, if Akram's connections with Bashar turn out to be true, then the EU will be unlikely to accept such a nomination in a member state. Particularly now. It would be more than worrying for such a man to be privy to Romanian state secrets. If one cannot be sure, then the response should be NU.
President Iohannis is taking the Christmas period to think about it. And so he should. Long and hard, all things considered.
Refuse it, Mr. Iohannis, and let's go for early elections.
I tumbled into R.G. Waldeck's Athene Palace yesterday and boy, is it a trove of history, first-hand gossip and addictive scandal in fabulous detail. I was no stranger to King Carol II's disastrous ruling nor the shameless disgrace of Elena Lupescu, but the career of unscrupulous leach Ernest Urdareanu (1897-1985), the true meteoric ascendance of an eminence grise, came as a staggering revelation.
Pour yourself a nice festive drink, then sit back for a story that will whisk you back to late 1930s Bucharest - another world, or so I thought. Turns out it wasn't that different from today's Bucharest after all, for opportunists and Rasputin-type power-snafflers have existed since time immemorial, all out to rob Romania and her population for their own self-enrichment. Because they can.
Astonishing really. Almost out of nowhere, Ernest Urdareanu became King Carol II's minister of the court, chamberlain, closest advisor and the third branch of Romania's ruling Trinity with the King and Lupescu. After King Carol II himself, Urdareanu emerged as the most powerful AND the most hated man in all Romania. And with cause.
Nobody seems to know much about Urdareanu's early years, but Wikipedia says he had two brothers and came from a military family. In 1931, he arrived at the Palace as an aide recommended by Nicolae Titulescu, and became head of the Palace garage (he had a great passion for cars and was a former racing driver) where he was a regular chauffeur for Lupescu. Appointed private secretary in 1933 and vice-marshal in 1936, the star was truly launched a year later when he became head of the royal household.
Photo source: Urdareanu (fifth person from left to right) in the company of King Carol II and Jockey Club President Constantin Argetoianu (1939)
Urdareanu was not promoted on merit, experience or qualification but on the boundless trust bestowed upon him by Carol II and Lupescu. The power he gleaned was hallucinating, and how it could possibly have happened had many a Bucharestean scratching his head from 1936 onwards.
According to Waldeck in Athene Palace (University Chicago Press, 2013, p24/5), many 'fantastic stories' buzzed frenetically around the capital. The most fantastic perhaps was that the King had married Lupescu off to Urdareanu. Many say the two were lovers and it has never been disproved. Whatever, impossible though it was to ascertain how this man's career had soared so extraordinarily, one thing was sure and certain: It was Lupescu who had taken him from the garage and popped him into the Palace.
(Photo source - Ernest Urdareanu) Carol II was a blabbermouth. He talked too much, too freely and to everybody. On more than one occasion, he even talked about Lupescu and she was most displeased. It seems that she put Urdareanu in his valuable, powerful position to keep a gossipy king in check and thus cover the throne in some wondrous veil of secrecy that would emanate an air of mystery befitting royalty as well as minimising further chitchat focusing on her.
The upshot was that Urdareanu became the singular most important influence over Carol II's reign.
Urdareanu lorded it over the camarilla (circle of shady but powerful favourites including wealthy industrialists Auschnitt and Malaxa, Aristide Blank, Mihail Manoilescu around the King all of whom loathed Urdareanu) too, along with Lupescu. Although Carol II may have created his lavish personality cult which grew more extreme as his reign progressed, Urdareanu controlled it - and everything else:
(Waldeck, p25) 'Prime Ministers and cabinets came and went often, but Ernest Urdareanu was always there, firmly between the King and the outside world. No letters or telephone calls reached the King unless approved by Urdareanu. The King received in audience only persons whom Urdareanu approved, and even these were received in Urdareanu's presence. Even His British Majesty's minister, ponderous Sir Reginald Hoare, and the Fuhrer's stiff and polite envoy, Dr Fabrizius, had to count heavily on the good will of the all-powerful court minister.'
Rumour had it (and it's not hard to believe) that anyone who wanted to see the King had to grease Urdareanu's palm first. He is quoted to have boasted, "Madame Lupescu controls the King, but I control Madame Lupescu so I control Romania." (Moats, 1955)
Photo source: Ernest Urdareanu and Elena Lupescu, Bermuda, 1941
As the King's right-hand man, Urdareanu had seats on the boards of a myriad of companies in which Carol II had financial interests. It is generally believed that Urdareanu helped the King transfer large sums of money out of the country into foreign banks, and did not neglect his own financial benefit in the process.
Waldeck describes (p25) Urdareanu as a swarthy little man of 'flashy elegance with a silver plate in his skull who was said to use powder and rouge.' Every day he had lunch at Lupescu's house - they were neighbours. Young Prince Michael detested him and 'behind his father's back called him Murdareanu which was Romanian for dirt.' Astute child.
Everyone knew he was corrupt to the very bones, and the huge wealth he amassed in only a few years was proof of the pudding. Waldeck writes (p25/6), 'Rumour had it that the great European powers, including Germany and England, paid large sums to the King's favourite. All this if true, would be in the best tradition of the Balkans.
But even Urdareanu's bitterest enemies admitted that he adored the King and was completely loyal. They even admitted that Urdareanu advised Carol according to the best of his knowledge as to what was best for the King. What his enemies resented was that this 'best knowledge' was a primitive kind of unscrupulous shrewdness, and that what Urdareanu thought was the best interest of Carol was rarely the best interest of Romania.'
Fast forward to 1940 (see HERE for more on Carol II's abdication): When King Carol II fled Romania with Elena Lupescu and hundreds of pieces of luggage, among them priceless paintings such as several El Grecos which some say actually belonged to the state, along with other treasures, Urdareanu was right there with them. Naturally. It sounds rather like a madcap adventure for teens off inter-railing for the summer. Wikipedia explains: 'When King Carol and Madame Lupescu were forced to leave the country after the King's abdication on 6 September 1940, Urdareanu accompanied them on their adventurous flight from the country, when the royal train was hounded and shot at by members of the Fascist Iron Guard. First they went to Switzerland and afterwards to Spain, where they stayed in Barcelona, Madrid and Seville. Due to constant pressure from the German and Romanian government for the extradition of Lupescu and Urdareanu on account of their suspected crimes and corruption, in March 1941 Urdareanu organised their flight to Portugal.'
They weren't in Portugal long. Fearing German occupation would spill in to Portugal, the three preferred to seek asylum in Cuba, Mexico and Brazil. In Mexico, Urdareanu married 18-year-old Monique Cook (happy to give many an interview on her marriage, adventures and opinions of Carol II and Lupescu over the following years, see HERE for example) and, in 1947, organised Carol II's and Lupescu's marriage in Brazil.
'In 1949 all four returned to Portugal, where they set up a household in Estoril, with Urdareanu still as secretary and chamberlain of the King. After the unexpected death of King Carol in 1953, Urdareanu organized the funeral in Lisbon, which was not attended by ex King Michael, partly because the latter didn’t want to meet Lupescu and Urdareanu [how perfectly understandable - Sarah's note]. Michael detested Urdareanu.
After King Carol II's death [untimely at 59 years old - Sarah's note], Urdareanu and his wife stayed with Madame Lupescu until her death in 1977. Urdareanu later died in Portugal in 1985, at the age of 88, never returning to Romania.' Of course he didn't return to Romania. He'd have been immediately arrested and thrown in jail.
So that's that. That's the story. Except it isn't a story. This slippery, sly and pretty darn ruthless bloodsucker from seemingly nowhere swung from royal chauffeur to perhaps the lover of the King's mistress (Downton Abbey much?) and became the most powerful man in Romania besides the King himself. At the moment of abdication, this (by now wondrously rich) freeloader ran off with King and Vamp for a wild extended holiday in Europe and Latin America on money nicked from the Romanian population, and went on to live out his days bine mersi in lovely Estoril finally snuffing it at the ripe old age of 88 having never answered for a single crime.
80 years on, any sign of evolution?
For more, please see Romania Libera and BZI.ro.
Other books in English on this period in Bucharest: Foreign Correspondent by Robert St John; The Balkan Trilogy by Olivia Manning
For 16 centuries, tradition has it that Saint Nicholas crosses the globe tonight, leaving presents for all those who have done good deeds throughout the year. Children (young and old, big and small!) polish their boots on the evening of December 5th, so that he will stop by and drop his gifts inside them. Over 811,000 Romanians mark their name day on December 6th.
Saint Nicholas (Greek: Άγιος Νικόλαος , Agios ["saint"] Nikolaos ["victory of the people"]) (270 - 6 December 346) is the common name for Nicholas of Myra, a saint and Bishop of Myra (Demre, in Lycia, part of modern-day Turkey). Because of the many miracles attributed to him, he is also known as Nicholas the Wonderworker. He had a reputation for secret gift-giving, such as putting coins in the shoes of those who left them out for him, and thus became the model for Santa Claus whose English name comes from the Dutch Sinterklaas. His reputation evolved among the faithful, as is common for early Christian saints. (Wikipedia)
St. Nicolas is surrounded by a rich myriad of tales and legends. One story is that of a poor man who had three daughters. In those days, a young woman's father had to offer prospective husbands a dowry. The larger it was, the better chance she had of finding a good husband and without it, she was unlikely to marry at all. The poor man's daughters had no such dowries and were therefore destined for slavery. Mysteriously, on three different occasions, a bag of gold appeared in their home providing the much-needed riches. The bags, tossed through an open window, are said to have landed in stockings or shoes left in front of the fire to dry, leading to the custom of children hanging up their stockings or putting out shoes. Sometimes the story is told with gold balls instead of bags, hence why three gold balls - today's symbols for pawn brokers, sometimes represented as oranges - are one of the symbols for St. Nicholas.
One of the oldest stories showing St. Nicholas as a protector of children takes place long after his death. The townspeople of Myra were celebrating the good saint on the eve of his feast day when a band of Arab pirates from Crete arrived in the district. They plundered the Church of Saint Nicholas and made off with the booty. As they were leaving town, they snatched a young boy, Basilios, for slavery. The emir selected him as his personal cup-bearer, as Basilios didn't speak Arabic and thus would not understand what the king said to those around him. So, for the next year, Basilios served the king bringing his wine in a beautiful golden cup. For Basilios' parents devastated at the loss of their only child, the year passed slowly and was filled with grief. As the next feast day of St Nicholas approached, Basilios' mother refused to join the festivities for it was now a day of pain although she agreed to keep a simple observance at home - quiet prayers said for Basilios' safekeeping. Meanwhile, many miles away, as Basilios was fulfilling his tasks St. Nicholas suddenly appeared to him, blessed him, whisked him up and set him down again at his home back in Myra still holding the king's golden cup. This is the first story told of St. Nicholas as protector of children which became his primary role in the West.
Another story tells of three theological students en route to Athens to study. A wicked innkeeper robbed and murdered them, then hid their remains in a large pickling tub. Nice! It so happened that Bishop Nicholas, travelling along the same route, stopped at that very inn. That night, he dreamed of the crime, got up, and summoned the innkeeper. As Nicholas prayed earnestly, the three boys were restored to life. In France, the variation is that of three small children who, wandering in their play, get lost. Lured by an evil butcher, they are captured. St. Nicholas appears and appeals to God to return them to life and to their families.
And then there is St. Nicholas and the sea. When he was young, he made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. There as he walked where Jesus had walked, he sought to experience the Lord's life, passion, and resurrection through meditation. Returning by sea, a mighty storm threatened to wreck the ship. Nicholas calmly prayed. The terrified sailors were amazed when the wind and waves suddenly calmed, sparing them all. No surprise that St. Nicholas is also the patron of sailors and voyagers.
(Image source: Artist: Michele Damiani; Postcard: Magicatera, Bari, Italy 2007: St Nicholas Center Collection
There are plenty of other stories full of how Nicholas saved his people from famine, spared the lives of those innocently accused and many more. He carried out kind and generous deeds in secret expecting nothing in return. Within a century of his death, he was celebrated as a saint. Today he is venerated in the East as a wonder or miracle worker and in the West as patron of a great variety of people - children, sailors, bankers, pawn-brokers, scholars, orphans, laborers, travellers, merchants, judges, paupers, marriageable maidens, students, children, victims of judicial errors, captives, perfumers, even thieves and murderers. Bref, he is the friend and protector of all in trouble or need.
Sailors claiming St. Nicholas as patron carried stories of his favour and protection far and wide leading to chapels built in many seaports. As his popularity spread throughout the Middle Ages, he became the patron saint of Apulia (Italy), Sicily, Greece, and Lorraine (France), and many cities in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Russia, Belgium, and the Netherlands. Following his baptism in Constantinople, Vladimir I of Russia brought St. Nicholas' stories and devotion to his homeland where Nicholas became the most beloved of saints. He was so widely revered that more than 2,000 churches were named for him including three hundred in Belgium, thirty-four in Rome, twenty-three in the Netherlands and more than four hundred in England.
Nicholas' tomb in Myra became a popular place of pilgrimage. Due to the many wars and attacks in the region, some were concerned that access to the tomb might be hampered. For both the religious and commercial advantages of a major pilgrimage site, the Italian cities of Venice and Bari vied for the saint's relics. In the spring of 1087, sailors from Bari managed to spirit away the bones bringing them to Bari, a seaport on the southeast coast. An impressive church was built over St. Nicholas' crypt and many faithful journeyed to honour the saint who had rescued children, prisoners, sailors, famine victims, and many others through his compassion, generosity, and the countless miracles attributed to his intercession. The Nicholas shrine in Bari was one of medieval Europe's great pilgrimage centers and Nicholas became known as "Saint in Bari." To this day, pilgrims and tourists visit Bari's great Basilica di San Nicola.
In Romania and beyond, children typically leave their boots on the window-sill the evening of December 5th. By next morning, Moş Nicolae (Sfântul Nicolae) has left sweets and gifts if they have been good, or a rod (Romanian: nuieluşǎ) if they have not (most children end up getting small gifts but also a small rod).
So, now you know. Happy Feast day to all Nicoles, Nicolettes, Nicoletas, Nicolas's, Nicus, Nikys and Nicks and to all children, both big and small, everywhere!
[Gheorghe Leahu: Popa Nan, source]
In 1459, 557 years ago today, Bucharest first appeared in a written document. 557 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."
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, concealed under a veil of dust, grime or graffiti or in a crumbling courtyard. Perhaps, for 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 sleepy oldy-worldiness of Armeneasca, the charm of what's left around Cismigiu on all sides, the dignity 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 remains of your quiet and timid loveliness be preserved and treasured yet a while...
This morning, I wandered into the so-far-unbeknownst-to-me Biserica Adormirea Maicii Domnului (Mosilor/Sf Gheorghe Nou), also called Razvani by locals in memory of its founder, ruling prince of Moldova, Stefan I Razvan. According to the plaque for historic monuments, it was originally constructed in 1597, rebuilt in 1705-6 and underwent repair in 1857-9 following serious damage by fire. Restored to its present state in 1970 (architect E. Chefneaux), it has been undergoing further work to strengthen its foundations since 2012.
In the shaded coolness of the porch, a priest and several parisioners were having coffee and covrigi. Invited to join them, I had to decline (tho' the coffee smelled marvellous) as I was on a mission, not to mention a diet.
"Then take these," said the priest, giving me a handful of mini covrigi. "You look like a busy lady and being busy is hungry work." How nice. Thank you.
"And just a moment!" he added, rooting about to the elbow in a large bag. "Here. Take this too. Im sure you'll like it." He handed me a CD/DVD entitled 'Parintele Cleopa'. I shall indeed watch it a little later on this evening.
:)It was a morning filled with the kindness of strangers at every step. Smiles, greetings, small talk with/from all sorts of people from all walks of life.
As I stood admiring a particularly gorgeous facade (see left, architect L. Negrescu, 1899) somewhere behind Magazin Cocor, a guy leapt out of his van and came rushing over.
"1898," he said (well, he wasn't far off). "Isnt it splendid!" I wholeheartedly agreed. It really was. He presented his card with a gentlemanly flourish which rather brought Dick Van Dyke (Burt) in Mary Poppins to mind, and said, "you never know when you'll be needing a good plumber!" Indeed you don't!
Everyone was glowing with good humour this morning from the cobbler behind Coltea Hospital, the trolley bus drivers (actually two) and the kebab seller ("No? Not even a cup of coffee?? You've broken my heart!") to the man in the corner shop who gave me a free bottle of water ("such heat - hard for ME to bear so for an English lady it must be awful!") and a sweetheart feeding birds in the gardens of Sf Gheorghe Nou who said she could recognise each and every one of them and had given them all names, bless her.
Had I really forgotten how incredibly warm people are here in my beloved city (present summer temperatures aside!), or was there something in the water today?
Perhaps a little of both :):)I kid you not. EVeryone, without exception, had
(Image source) When I woke up this morning I realised, rather surprised, that I'd never done a post on Rusalii. Excellent timing then, seeing as how I'm in the mood for some magic.
Rusalii is Romanian Pentecost/Whitsuntide and falls 50 days after Easter. We had our Pentecost ages ago (May 15th), but since Orthodox Easter was five weeks after ours this year, they're still catching up. Whit Sunday and Monday are national holidays here, so a longer weekend lies ahead for many - more than welcome considering the heatwave that has hit Romania over the last few days.
(Photo source) There are plenty of stories attached to Rusalii as you would expect in a country so rich in folklore. Rusaliile are magical creatures - fairies, actually - found in forests, mountains, near water and in the sky itself who visit this crazy world of ours over the course of this week (or for three weeks depending on the region). Legend has it they are the souls of dead girls who, having left their tombs on Maundy Thursday and spent Easter amongst the living, have flatly refused to return to the underworld preferring instead to hang around a while and torment those who disrespect the rituals of Pentecost. According to tradition, people once avoided calling them Rusalii to appease them, giving them different names instead: Iele (rather like the veela in Harry Potter) and Zane (fairy) and Frumoasele ('beauties'). They must, says folklore, be chased away at all costs.
One way to do this a little in advance is by giving generously to charity on Mosii de Vara (yesterday), a summer commemoration for the dead. Once Pentecost is upon us, however, wearing garlic and wormwood around one's waist is advisable.
(Photo source) In the countryside, keeping the fairies at bay is done by way of dances - Calusarii - a ritual of healing and protection. Here are two from 1974 and 2004 performed by three generations of dancers. Do take a look for they are amongst the oldest traditional dances in Romania.
Back in days of yore, Calusarii, which date back to the Dacians, were danced uniquely by men bound to the group for 3, 5 or 9 years and forbidden any sexual activity during the ritual dance period. The ancient meanings have been lost over time, but folklorists and historians believe that the dance was either a fertility ritual or indeed an exorcism performed to cure the delirium and hypnotic trances caused by fairy possession which would eventually drive a person out of their mind. Such a disease, known as luat de Rusalii (taken by the fairies) can be triggered either by seeing them dancing naked in the moonlight or by inadvertently stepping on a spot where a dance has taken place. One can recognise these spots with a trained eye, for the grass is left burned following fairy presence, and once it grows back it is a darker green, left untouched by cattle and covered by a particular kind of mushroom known as Lingurita Zanei (Fairy Spoon). So now you know. Keep eyes peeled should you be in the countryside this weekend...
(Photo source) It’s hard to say what calusar actually means, says RoUnite, although you may be interested to take a look at a few definitions derived from other beliefs:
- - Some say the word comes from Latin “collosium” meaning a dance group and a secret society.
- - Others relate the Romanian word “calus” which means a small piece of wood placed in the mouth to prevent talking.
- - The word calus could be also seen as a diminutive of the Romanian word “cal” (horse) from the Latin caballus.
- - Last but not least, it’s sometimes said that “calusar” is derived from “Salii Collini” – Roman priests of Mars whose duty was to keep Rome safe in battle. There are of course similarities between “calusarii” and “Salii Collini”, but the number of differences almost excludes the possibility that they are related.
The dance spread to Serbia and Bulgaria and also has similarities to our British Morris Dancing, suggesting that the Celts rather liked it, borrowed it from the Dacians and took it home westwards. Originating in the south (Oltenia), other variants may be found in Moldova, Maramures and Transylvania.
(Photo source) Apart from Calusarii there are other superstitions linked to this festival, says Romania Journal. Knowing them will help you take some precautions to protect yourself from fairies up to no good:
- - Refrain from working in the fields for Ielele will catch and punish you;
- - On the day of Pentecost, you must not enter a vineyard, a wilderness, a forest or stand next to a fountain - there lurk the evil spirits;
- - Anyone working on the day of Pentecost (ie. today) will be punished by the Fairies for not properly honouring and cherishing the day;
- - 9 weeks from Rusalii one should not pick medicinal herbs;
- - You must not quarrel on Rusalii;
- - Doors must be brushed with garlic to protect homes from evil and bad luck all year long;
- - Evil spirits are banished through noisy rituals and cracking lime branches.
I have to work tomorrow, Whit Monday, so I hope that won't upset any fairies. If you do too, we'd better stuff our belts and/or pockets with garlic and wormwood just in case.
In the meantime, Bucharest is heaving with events for Pentecost from open air jazz and classical music concerts to exhibitions, picnics and fairs, see HERE.
Enjoy the weekend!
For more on Rusalii, please see HERE in English and HERE in Romanian.
IMPORTANT POST SCRIPT: Anyone concerned by the prospect of possible altercations between Rusaliile and Sanzienele on Thursday night (Noaptea de Sanziene) due to a collision of these two mystic festivals, fear not. It seems they met three years ago when the very same thing happened and signed a peace treaty which still holds today. Thank you to Rocky's Dad for the comforting info - it was rather a worrying prospect.
(Photo: Sarah In Romania) The steps of the Romanian Athenaeum concert hall in the centre of Bucharest have long been a favourite vantage point for watching the world go by while concert (and sometimes conference) nights in this beautifully ornate, circular, domed main hall leave you entirely at one with both surroundings and history as the music ebbs to its sublime close. Ateneul Roman is very much part of home to Bucharest's music-lovers.
Today, it is residence to the George Enescu Philharmonic Orchestra and choir, along with the George Enescu International Music Festival. Take a look at this marvellous virtual tour if you've never had the pleasure to put a foot beyond its doors.
In 1865, cultural and scientific personalities Constantin Esarcu, V. A. Urechia, and Nicolae Creţulescu founded the Romanian Atheneum Cultural Society. To serve its purposes, the Romanian Athenaeum, a building dedicated to art and science, was erected in Bucharest, says Wikipedia.
(Photo: Sarah In Romania) Designed by French architect Albert Galleron on a property that had belonged to the Văcărescu family, it was inaugurated on 14th February, 1888, although work continued until 1897. Built with funds collected publicly following a national lottery - 500,000 tickets were issued at one leu each. The scientist Constantin Esarcu (1836-1898) addressed an appeal to the people of Romania: "Give one leu for the Ateneu'!" - a lesson in unity and an awakening of national conscience. The slogan is still remembered affectionately today.
In addition to being a great symbol of culture, Ateneul Roman is also a historical site, for, on December 29, 1919, a conference of leading Romanians voted there to ratify the unification of Bessarabia, Transylvania, and Bukovina with the Romanian Old Kingdom to constitute Greater Romania.
The graceful, circular-form of the building is owed to an already existing foundation in the Diocese Garden (Grădina Episcopiei), once destined for ... a circus. Its facade, inspired by the architecture of ancient Greek temples with its majestic row of columns, is supported by a triangular pediment. At the time, its placement was much criticised, but today, Ateneul Roman is an oasis close to the bustle of Calea Victoriei and a nearby carpark - one can't imagine Bucharest without it.
When I lived here back in 2008, I was treated to a tour (my first) of this exceptional gem by one of the pianists hired to accompany the George Enescu choir. Back-stage we went, full of what had been scenery and all kinds of bits and pieces, the room where the choir members could change, eat, etc. In the main hall, I stood there like a goldfish, opening and closing my mouth in wonder, as she explained the fresco encircling the walls depicting the history of the Romanian people in 25 'chapters'. Of course, I had sat in the audience many times and gazed at it, but hadn't known who was who nor what chapters referred to which parts of history.
(Photo: Sarah In Romania) There, all the stories I'd been told unfolded before me - Emperor Traian entering Dacia; Stefan cel Mare (who was actually not so 'mare' but rather short!); Mihai Viteazu and the unification of the three principalities; Horea, Closca and Crisan the three heroes of the Peasants' Revolt; Carol I; King Ferdinand and Queen Marie of Romania and many more.
Here too, I was told, on 1st March 1898, the chords of George Enescu's divine symphonic suite "Poema Romana" rang out for the first time. Holding the baton was George Enescu himself, aged just seventeen. Other great names who had performed on that very stage flashed before me: Celibidache, Lipatti, Arthur Rubinstein, Pablo Casals, Stravinsky, Richard Strauss, Bartok, Ravel....
Moving closer to the present, my marvellous guide explained that by some miracle, Ateneul Roman had survived the bombardments of World War II while many buildings surrounding it had succumbed. The beautiful fresco had been covered up during the communist era so people would not be able to see their history of Emperors and Kings - King Carol II and King Mihai were erased completely. Extensive reconstruction and restoration work was carried out by a Romanian construction company and the restoration painter, Silviu Petrescu, in 1992.
(Photo: Silvia Colfescu) A friend from the US and writer of the blog, Tom's Place, visited Bucharest that summer. He had never been inside Ateneul Roman, so we popped into the little office round the corner and begged the caretaker to let us in since the main door was closed. He accompanied us to the main hall, the "Mouse Hole" (the little hall downstairs) and once again, I swooned at the majestic marble staircases, the graceful lines and architectural beauty. We stayed for a couple of hours photographing everything we could like a pair of things possessed until our (or rather, my) camera batteries went flat. Since then, there have been countless visits with friends to this wonderful culture-capsule of sheer elegance - both for tours (I can't get enough of them) and concerts.
Memories of this incredibly romantic place are always swamped with great affection. Imagination is overwhelmed with enchanting, magical snap-shots in rapid succession of a Bucuresti de alta data back in a time when one dressed up for concerts (actually, there, they still do), when top-hatted gentlemen helped ladies in elegant gowns clutching tiny, beaded bags and opera glasses out of carriages or motor-cars and when there was a real and admirable inteligentia alive and well in Romania's capital. Ateneul Roman is a major part of 'my' Bucharest and my heart longs to be sitting on those steps once again waiting for friends or lost in my book. It longs for the lovely circular concert hall, the stunning fresco and the first lulling notes of Fauré's Requiem or Schumann's "Carnaval" to envelope it.
La Multi Ani, dear Ateneul Roman - and many, many more!
"Într-o zi de noiembrie a anului 2002, o zi însemnată pentru România, deasupra cerului întunecat al Bucureştilor s-a arătat un curcubeu. Eu cred în curcubee..."
~ Silvia Kerim, 'Vedere din Parfumerie'
Silvia Kerim, Romanian journalist and author of the poignantly beautiful book 'Vedere din Parfumerie', passed away last night here in Bucharest. She was 84.
A passionate publicist of theatre and film, she was also an immensely talented prose writer of children's literature.
Born in Bucharest on 21st October 1931, Ms Kerim graduated from the Faculty of Languages and French Literature and started out as a journalist for Contemporarul. She went on to write for Romania Liberă, then for Cinema and Secolul 20. For eighteen years, she was editor at Formula AS which published weekly articles on cultural events. She also worked for Radio Romania's Teatru la microfon pentru copii and adapted many wonderful books to radio, such as A Christmas Carol.
As producer delegate at Casele de Filme, Ms Kerim worked with directors Sergiu Nicolaescu, Mircea Veroiu and Mircea Daneliuc amongst others, and as editor in chief at Animafilm, penned many wonderful musicals for children - see Mary Poppins. Writer and director of a series for children on TVR, Casută cu poveşti, broadcast in 1995-6, she wrote over twenty-five works, many of which were children's musicals.
Married (and later divorced) to Mircea Veroiu who died in 1997, her Ultima vară a tinereţii (2009) was dedicated to him.
Căsuţa cu poveşti
For me, more than film and theatre, she was an incomparable portrayer of tender memories, giving voices to those who could no longer bear witness themselves: 'Ponica, o legenda' on Hortensia Georgescu, 'Fereastră de la Venetia', Amintirea că un Parfum and of course, my beloved 'Vedere din Parfumerie' (translated most beautifully into English by Brenda Walker - see extract HERE). See others HERE. The American Biographical Institute declared her Woman of the Year in 2004 and other well-deserved honours and titles were bestowed upon her by Romania's president, the Writers' Union and UNITER.
Amintirea că un parfum
When I lived here for the first time back in 2008, I carried my English translation of 'Vedere din Parfumerie' around with me all over the place for months, highlighting places on my map of Bucharest that I couldn't possibly leave without visiting; paying tribute to the streets I could find (for names had changed) that had once housed family mansions of elegance, opulence, taste and love destroyed by the madness and megalomania of Ceausescu, and mourning in front of the homes today going to wreck and ruin. Thank you, Ms Kerim, for your witnessing of such tragedy, such massacre, such heartless brutality, such a searing scar on history - the history of individuals and that of bricks and mortar. The history of patrimony and heritage, of beauty and soul.
Countless times I walked along str Parfumului passing her lovely house, and countless times I paused in front of her gate. Several of those times, she was in her garden with her dog or one of her cats and we talked about 'those' days. It will be a long while before I can walk along str Parfumului again...
Odihnească-se în pace!
Silvia Kerim's funeral is tomorrow at 13h at the Calvin Cemetery, Calea Giuleşti, nr.101.
Silvia Kerim - source
UPDATE: Silvia Kerim's beloved cats and dogs are now up for adoption having lost their adored mistress. PLEASE if anyone can give them a loving home akin to what they have been used (Ms Kerim considered them her children and would be appalled to know they were living on the edge of a precipice), there is a preference they be adopted in PAIRS so as not to be alone - there are 6 cats and 2 dogs.
Please see this FB post from Formula AS for photos and more information, or call 021/320.33.26, 0722/38.31.37 or 0723/19.55.04 for the pusscats and 0745/60.60.50 for the doggies (a Ciobanesc mioritic and a cocker spaniel).
Last week, one of my closest friends (S.) came to Bucharest for New Year. It was her first visit so I really wanted her to feel the charm of this marvellous, vibrant city. We sped about all over the place taking in museums, galleries, churches, monasteries and two wonderful days in Brasov.
Towards the end of a lovely busy week, S. decided she'd like to go on a tour of Casa Poporului ("well, you've got to haven't you. Can't be in Bucharest and not see that."), so having found nothing helpful on the site (bravo) we called to enquire about times, reserve a place on a tour and thus done, set off that same morning. According to the voice on the phone, S. needed her ID, the tour in English would begin at 10h45 and last 90 minutes and there'd be a visit to the underground nuclear bunker. "Ooooh!" said S.
The night before it had snowed hard, and Bucharest was something of an icerink in the making. The taxi dropped us off at the Izvor entrance a good way from the building itself - taxis can't get any closer. We crunched and slid along to the front of the hugely imposing eyesore gingerly negotiating the stone slabs that run alongside to the entrance doors. No sand, no salt, just a load of people-friendly ice. A nice tourist (Italian?) saw the two of us clinging to each other like a pair of old dears and helped us along. Thank you, kind tourist, whoever you were.
Once inside (God, what a foreboding place it is), we went to an info centre to the right where a lady sat behind a white cardboard-like counter similar to those you find at fairs. She checked the list for S's name and ticked her off. I didn't join the tour due to my overwhelmingly deep aversion to the place. Just one ticket please. The info lady filled in a slip of paper which involved ticking several boxes whilst looking important, and then waved us to a small dusty shop the other side of the hall evidently stuck in a 70s time warp. "What now?" I wondered. "We pay there, I spose," said S, who having lived two years in Moscow seemed more with it than I was. The bored girl at the counter took the slip of paper with the ticked boxes and said "60 lei" in a none too friendly tone. Jobs worth. 60 lei exchanged hands. No "thank you", no "enjoy your tour". Happy New Year to you too.
Unsurprising for the first week of the year, people were still on holiday and tourism was booming. Around us, UK/US English, French, Italian, Spanish, Hebrew. Visitors queued in droves on that freezing, snowed up morning. An American nearby was flicking through Rick Steves for some pre-tour input on life in Romania under communism. What better place to come, you'd think.
A young guy (Scandinavian?) was at the info counter asking if he could pay by credit card. No. Cash only. "But I have no local money. Can I pay in foreign currency?" No. "Is there an ATM here?" Vague shrug translating roughly into 'not my problem'. Excellent customer service. Later, S. said there was an ATM but on the other side of the barrier and up the stairs. Useless if you need cash to pay the entrance fee since without your ticket, you can't get through the barrier. Here we are in 2016 and credit cards cannot be used in the famous House of the People ("second largest building in the world next to the Pentagon, you know"). In what decade are we exactly?
10h45 came and went. At 11h, a voice called for those wanting the English tour. Stampede. Once S. had gone through the barrier (xray security and tralala) and waited a further 20 minutes on the steps beyond for everyone else to be checked, I went back to the info lady to see if the modern art museum was open. Nope. Neither was the café above it and no, there were no exhibitions currently running. If I wanted the contemporary art wing, I'd have to go around the outside of the building to the front. On the unsalted icerink. No thanks. An excellent example of optimising Bucharest during the holiday season. Well done, authorities.
The entrance hall had a commie-style make-do bar (no seats, just the bar see above left) where I got a coffee and then took root in a bright green chair by the door to people-watch the 90 minutes away. No wifi. Don't be daft. At least there were chairs.
After a while, I decided to explore any books to be had in the gloomy shop. With no room to swing so much as a flea in there, I squeezed my way past four people (German) getting tickets for a later tour, and browsed a little to kill time. Didn't take long. Mugs of Dracula, wooden masks, Romanian blouses at 521 (yes, ONE!) lei a shot, plastic dolls in national costumes that needed a wash, calendars (2016 - well done), magnets, keyrings. Books? Another stupid idea. Some on Romania (a few quite dog-eared), two illustrated books of Casa Poporului that analysed the "impressive architecture" but nothing much else, and a bunch of guidebooks from publications I'd never heard of. Nothing historical, no novels. No effort to cater to an interested or curious public.
Back to my seat. People queueing, wondering where to pay, a traffic jam for those trying to get into the cramped shop while others waited for friends and family already on tours. Half an hour later, I just happened to turn to my left and... there was S. sitting on an identical green chair trying to text me. "Hey! How come you're out so soon? Didn't you like it?" She shrugged. "It started late and finished early." A 50 minute tour for the price of 90 minutes.
"Did you take lots of photos?" I asked. "Yes, and so did everyone else whether they'd paid the photo tax or not. I had to wear an extra sticker to say I'd paid mine but there were people snapping away who hadn't. What a rip off."
A rip off indeed. 50 minutes instead of 90 and an unnecessary photo tax that's a con anyway. A nice way to fleece tourists.
What had she learned from the tour? Anything interesting? Not much except for the number of lightbulbs in the chandeliers and the weights of the afore-mentioned, the height of the windows, the length of the curtains and when they'd last been washed, the number of artisans from all over the country who worked on the site and how BIG, how EXPENSIVE, how IMPRESSIVE and how GLORIOUS it all was. Seriously? How about Ceaușima? The destruction of an entire third of the city? 7km to be exact. The 27 orthodox and 3 protestant churches, 6 synagogues, Vacaresti monastery, the entire district of Uranus, the tens of thousands of homes? The suffering of the population who went cold and hungry for such madness? The terror of so many working there that the Ceausescus would be displeased with results? The appalling working conditions? Nope. Oh wait, yes. Demolition was mentioned in passing, but the only statistics were concerning the nit-picking details leading to the 'greatness' of the building, not the heinous suffrance it wrought. Hallucinating. Disgusting.
What about the nuclear bunker? "Oh, that," she said. "If you mean a few pipes in the basement... Didn't see a bunker."
So, to recap: A 90 minute tour that took 50 minutes; a photo tax that was nothing more than a way to squeeze yet more money out of foreigners; the famous bunker visit that didn't happen and an agitprop guide.
Did anyone ask questions, I wanted to know. "Yes," said S. "Some. They wanted to know the weight of this and that, the materials used, etc." I almost regretted not going on the tour too so I could at least have yelled about one of the largest peacetime urban destructions at the hands of humans in recorded history. The bombings on Bucharest and the 1977 earthquake together caused only 18% of the damage produced by Ceausescu's demolition frenzy campaign in the 1980s.
How a serious tour guide of a monument symbolic of mutilation and misery could possibly brush these facts under the carpet and wax lyrical on the glorious size, the dazzling chandeliers, luxurious carpets, number of bloody lightbulbs, etc is deplorable. Pure nauseating propaganda blurb. A MISguided tour from beginning to end.
In addition, S. had her passport WITHHELD until she'd finished the tour. Of course it's normal to demand ID on entering such a place. Tourists would of course show their passports. But to confiscate them? No entering of name, address, passport number into a computer like anywhere else, and then returning it to its owner? In 2016? Too much effort, too sensible or is it just to intimidate further, adding to the general coldness and oppression already reigning in that sinister place? It is a breach of international law and is simply outrageous that they get away with it. No one has the right to confiscate such a document, except for the government who issued it or if a crime has been committed.
For S. it was a disappointing waste of money. Friends of mine here apologised profusely for the lousy experience although it wasn't their fault. "Yes," contradicted one. "It is entirely our fault that after 26 years this STILL goes on." She has a point.
Shame, shame and shame again. If authorities in Bucharest want tourists (or rather, tourists' MONEY), they're going to have to respect them, treat them properly, abide by international laws and clean up their act. After such blatant lack of consideration (and this is not an isolated case) along with the scandalous abuse of truth on what should have been an educative tour, who would ever want to return? It seems that after 26 years, along with the make-shift coffee bar, the sulky 'nu se poate' staff and the dingy little shop in the unappealing entrance hall, mentality indeed hasn't changed a jot.
Photos by Sarah in Romania and SH.
(Photo source) At 14h this afternoon, Dacian Ciolos (former EU commissioner), Romania's Prime Minister Elect, announced the awaited official list of proposed ministers to form his new government - and pretty damn good it looks on the whole. This is the first time in 23 years (1991-2) that Romania has had a government of technocrats.
Ciolos said he had chosen experienced and competent people in their fields both internationally and in EU administration who were open to dialogue; people with vision and professionalism from private sectors and experts from civil society, and those skilled in management; young people with solid education and training, people with integrity. He has also favoured gender balance (very rare for Romania), giving one third of positions to women.
Here is the newly proposed government (with my various sacks of salt) as it stands this evening:
(Photo source) Costin Borc - Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Economy - Great choice! Borc was Corneliu Coposu's righthand man, and sent by the aforementioned to the University of Stanford. He was brought back by the anti-communists in a bit of a hurry to advise Radu Vasile (PM 1999-2000) when the miners returned to wreak mayhem in Bucharest. He's an excellent trouble-shooter in a crisis.
Vasile Sebastian Dâncu - Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Regional Development and Public Administration - Sociologist and university professor with 25 years in academia, he is president of the IRES. A PSD member (and Minister of Propaganda in the Nastase government), he has apparently distanced himself from the party and says he is a technocrat. He was proposed by Dragnea and perhaps accepted by Ciolos so PSD would not throw any spanners in the works. Technocrat? Hmmm...
Lazar Comanescu - Minister of Foreign Affairs - Foreign Affairs advisor to President Iohannis, he was Foreign Minister from April to December 2008, and named Romania's ambassador to Germany in 2009.
(Photo source) Mihnea Motoc - Minister of Defence - Mega-like for this choice. Member of the United Nations since 2003, he spent five years there as Romania's Permanent Representative. In 2008 he left the UN to become his country's Permanent Representative to the European Union. Today, he is Ambassador to Romania in the UK.
Petre Toba - Minister of the Interior - Inspector General of the Romanian Police. He was Deputy of the Romanian Police in 2007-2009. and held senior positions between 2003-7 in the Capital Police Directorate. There's a bit of scandal hanging round his ears, so I have my reservations...
Anca Paliu Dragu - Minister of Finance - An economic analyst in the European Commission, Anca Dragu has also worked for Central Bank and the IMF.
(Photo source) Cristina Guseth - Minister of Justice - Whoop! Whoop! Another excellent choice. Cristina Guseth is director of the pro-democracy Freedom House Foundation, one of the very few NGOs with admirable credibility in the field of integrity and anti-corruption. Ms Guseth works with Brussels on projects for justice reform and the rule of law in Romania, and organises workshops and seminars for judges and prosecutors on public procurement, extended confiscation, media relations and integrity and anti-corruption policies throughout the country. A stickler for fairness and transparency, she is also an exceptional communicator and skilled in PR. Those who say she doesn't have the criteria for Minister of Justice need to think again.
Marian Costescu - Minister of Transport - currently the CEO of Căile Ferate Române (CFR) - Romanian National Railway.
Adrian Curaj - Minister of Education and Research - Mr Curaj is professor of cybernetics at Politehnica here in Bucharest. When consultant for World Bank, UNESCO, UNIDO, ETF (European Training, Foundation) and the European Commission for tertiary education, policies in science and innovation and foresight, he coordinated numerous research projects and published scientific articles and books. Two of the inventions, of which he is co-author, received gold medals at the International Salon of Inventions in Geneva in 2009 and 2013. He is currently General Director of UEFISCDI but, impressive as all that may sound, he is currently under investigation for corruption. Fail....
Claudia Ana Moarcăs - Minister of Labour - Graduate in Law (University of Bucharest), Claudia Moarcăs went on to study labour law and social security in Geneva, Switzerland, then international relations at the Foreign Ministry. She obtained her doctorate (on unions) in 1996. Since 2012, she has taught Law at the University of Bucharest.
Dr. Patriciu Achimaş-Cadariu - Minister of Health - Dr Cadariu is a gynaecology, obstetrics and surgical oncology specialist with an MA in Advanced Oncology (University of Ulm, Germany) and a doctorate in Medical Sciences. After specialising both at home and abroad, he has been head of the Oncology Institute 'Prof Dr Ion Chiricuta' of Cluj for the last three years. Dr Cadariu replaces original proposal, Andrei Baciu, who appears all over FB posing in his undies and looking pretty good I'd say. Cough. Sorry. Of coooourse that's not the image one wants for a Minister of Health (and health managers who know him said he wasn't capable of such responsibility in any case), so Baciu OUT, Cadariu IN. Much better choice (but without the six-pack?). Ciolos reacted quickly so extra points to him.
gynecological oncology and surgical oncology specialization, master in advanced Oncology (University of Ulm, Germany), Doctor of Medical Sciences - See more at: https://translate.googleusercontent.com/translate_c?depth=1&hl=en&prev=search&rurl=translate.google.com&sl=ro&u=http://www.romaniatv.net/o-noua-propunere-pentru-ministrul-sanatatii-vezi-cine-il-inlocuieste-pe-andrei-baciu_257059.html&usg=ALkJrhgly0Wk0a3qllO-Ev7f9ELJ64BpCA#sthash.JeD8JBQz.dpufHead of the Oncology Institute of Cluj for the last 3 years, Dr Cadariu has worked both at home and abroad and specialises in Obstetrics and Gynaecology.
Achim Irimescu - Minister of Agriculture - Secretary of State in the Ministry of Agriculture from 2012-4, Irimescu currently occupies the posts of Advice Minister at the Permanent Mission of Romania to the European Union, agriculture department chief and is Romania's representative on the Special Committee on Agriculture. A busy chap with a great deal of experience.
Victor Vlad Grigorescu - Minister of Energy - Current member of the Board of Directors of Electrica SA, he has solid experience in both public administration and the EU.
Aura Răducu - Minister of European Funds - expert in European and international financing of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), she has also worked as a manager of programmes and EU policies in DG Regional Policy (DG Regio) within the European Commission. During a seminar organised by Freedom House in 2014, she suggested a bottom-up administrative reform to increase the absorption of European funds. Smart lady.
(Photo source) Cristiana Paşca Palmer - Minister of the Environment, Water and Forests- Brits would LOVE this lady. EuropAid's Head of Unit in the European Commission for climate change, environment, natural resources and water (see a talk she gives HERE), Ms Pasca Palmer got her MA in Public Administration at Harvard - Kennedy School of Government.
Raul Marius Bostan - Minister of Communication and Information - Implementing programmes for the US Agency of International Development (USAID), World Bank, the European Commission and local government, Raul Bostan organised the first International Conference on Fiscal Decentralisation in Romania. Trained in England and Italy, he studied administrative systems in both Germany and the Netherlands. Raul Marius Bostan VMB Partners is founder and member of Telekom CA.
(Photo source) Vlad Alexandrescu - Minister of Culture - Graduate of the University of Bucharest in Languages and Literature (French and German), Alexandrescu obtained his doctorate in philosophy of language at L'École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris, under Prof. Oswald Ducrot. Romanian Ambassador to Luxembourg from 2006-11, he has been a member of the Group of Social Dialogue since 2002. In addition, Vlad Alexandrescu is an impressively prolific author, see HERE. (Tudor Vianu's grandson, incidentally - bonus point!)
Elisabeta Lipa - Minister of Youth and Sport - Elisabeta Lipa is the most decorated rower in the history of the Olympics with five gold medals, two silver and one bronze. She was awarded the 2008 Thomas Keller Medal at the Rowing World Cup in Lucerne. No further blurb needed.
(Photo source) Violeta Alexandru - Minister of Public Consultation and Social Dialogue - Currently director of one of the most active NGOs campaigning to increase the quality of public policy-making processes in Romania, the Institute for Public Policy (IPP). IPP conducts research, advocacy and promotion in areas such as public administration reform, transparent institutions and the integrity of elected representatives and officials. Sounds like she'll be wonderful for this new and much-needed ministry.
In addition, there is also Ion Dragos Tudorache (head of the Prime Minister's Chancellery), Dan Stoenescu (the diaspora delegate) and Ciprian Bucur (delegate for parliamentary relations).
So what happens now? Well, each individual proposed will get a grilling by the relevant parliamentary commission. If they pass and are approved, it goes to a session in plenum for a confidence vote. If it fails the vote, Ciolos will have to go back to the drawing board. Should his second government proposal not meet with approval, there will be early elections.
With the hearings in parliament hopefully tomorrow, a vote on Tuesday and oaths taken in the afternoon, I do so hope it passes, for it looks like a bloody good government (with personal thumbs down for Dâncu, Toba and Adrian Curaj). Chalk and cheese, night and day. There are many out there NOT wanting reform who are digging in their heels with all their might to scupper any progress towards decency that may be had. Well, I guess we'll just have to wait and see.
For more, see ABC News, Reuters and Global Post.
(Photo source) It has been an incredible week so far here in Romania and it isn't over yet.
On Tuesday night, some 20,000 protesters took to the streets in a peaceful but very angry demonstration after a fire at a nightclub over the weekend caused by corruption, incompetence and greed claimed the lives of 32 young people and injured almost 200. Calls for the resignations of PM Ponta, Minister of the Interior Oprea, and Piedone (mayor of sector 4 where the tragedy occurred) filled the air laced with 'Corruption Kills!' 'Shame on you!' 'Assassins!' The ambiance was one of complete solidarity. Crowds walking from Piata Universitatii to Piata Victoriei were joined in their calls by the supportive honking of horns in rhythm with the slogans all along Bd Catargiu. A fire engine stopped to flash its gyrophares and sound its sirens, at one with the voices on the street. It was an incredibly moving march. Emotional. Indignant. One voice with one demand. CHANGE. An END to this corrupt and elitist political class. Enough.
(Photo source) The very next day, PM Ponta resigned taking his government with him. Piedone followed shortly afterwards, his dreams of ever replacing mayor of Bucharest Sorin Oprescu (on house arrest under investigation for corruption) well and truly shattered. Having previously said he felt no responsibility for the Colectiv nightclub disaster, his tune changed as he left office to one of contrition admitting moral responsibility. Too little much too late, for Colectiv could only have been in business without basic safety measures if the three owners, currently under arrest on suspicion of manslaughter and involuntary bodily harm, had bribed the authorities.
(Photo source) President Iohannis expressed his support for those on the streets via his Facebook page the same day. He was "impressed" by the civility, he said. "The next step has to come from the politicians who cannot ignore the sentiment of revolt expressed by the people." Having repeatedly called for Ponta to resign after the PM was indicted in September for forgery, money laundering and tax evasion, the president said he regretted that it had taken dozens to die before the government finally gave in to the pressure from the streets.
(Photo source) Last night, with their Prime Minister and government gone at last, protesters were out once more. Stronger than the previous night though equally peaceful and non-violent, the media reported numbers reaching 70,000 across the entire country and 35,000 in Bucharest. The Romanian diaspora in London, Paris, Rome, Munich and Barcelona showed solidarity in their hundreds. Ponta's resignation was not enough. It had to be the beginning of new political reform. From Piata Universitatii, the historically symbolic site for anti-government protests, they called for early elections and better governance. They later made their way to Parliament.
Tonight for the third night running, the streets are full once again and there now seems to be a real sense of organised mobilisation and civic movement emerging. As I write at 20h30, sources report around 7,000 people at Piata Universitatii.
(Photo source) Journalists such as Vlad Mixich are trying to structure and clarify a clear and unmistakeable message with four specific demands (see Vlad Mixich's FB page):
- - an end to privileges, ie. immunity for parliamentarians and government members
- - a parliament of 300 rather than 600
- - the confiscation of wealth three months from conviction for criminals of corruption
- - the appointing of a Prime Minister who is NOT amongst the current Romanian political class
Protesters are also demanding the law of lustration, ie. the banning of convicted criminals standing for election.
(Photo source) On Facebook, the main social network here in Romania, the protest organisers are looking to appoint spokespeople. Proposals include Tudor Chirila, an actor, musician and symbol of social conscience to today's young Romanians. Vlad Mixich and Sabina Fati have both declined calls to be protester representatives, for what Romania needs, they say, is good, honest, decent journalists writing informative, accurate reports of what's going on. Please see recent articles by both Vlad and Sabina HERE and HERE.
President Iohannis has appointed ex-Minister of Education Sorin Cîmpeanu as interim Prime Minister who must now form a new government which needs to be approved by parliament. The aforementioned gets two opportunities to formally accept it and failure to do so will lead to early elections. The president had to choose someone from PSD, no matter how unpopular, due to its majority in parliament. Cîmpeanu does seem to be one of the less repugnant in a bunch of otherwise utter foulness.
Today, the president met with a PSD delegation that did not include Victor Ponta. PSD, still with the UNPR's support, has the largest number of seats in parliament although this is not reflected whatsoever in opinion polls. Liviu Dragnea, PSD party leader, has stated that PSD wants control of the interim government. President Iohannis, however, has said he wants to meet with ALL parties in parliament today and tomorrow. He ALSO wants to talk to both civil society and protester representatives. How strikingly different from 1990 when Iliescu labelled demonstrators golani (hooligans) and brought in the coalminers to crush the student uprising.
(Photo source) People from the grass roots are organising themselves too, sick and tired of disfunctional civic society. Young professionals have founded Initiativa Romania. From all walks of life and all political persuasions, members have one common link: to unite Bucharest's citizens and civil society in the search for those who can represent an alternative to the present political class in local and national public administration on both the long and medium term. They are calling firstly for the resignation of ALL political party representatives in the local council of Sector 4. Piedone has gone, but the rest must follow suit.
HERE is Initiativa Romania's manifesto. Members include Claudia Postelnicescu (jurist), Edward Dumitrache (economist) and Mircea Serdin (software engineer). The group - see FB page HERE - has written to President Iohannis explaining who they are, what they want and how they can be useful. Cotroceni are yet to give a time for the civil society and protester representative meeting tomorrow, which will include Initiativa Romania. See more about the group in Hotnews and Revista 22.
Expert Forum (including names such as Sorin Ionita and Laura Stefan) has sent an open letter to the president and parliament also in advance of tomorrow.
(Photo source) What is the atmosphere in Bucharest, friends abroad have asked me. There is hope. For the first time in 25 years. People are hopeful that the moment really has come for possible change. A taxi driver told a friend of mine today, "if we miss this train, it'll be the last one." The voices from Piata Universitatii echoed all around Romania know what they want and their demands are clearer with each rally. The amplitude of protesters seen is proof that the end of tethers has been reached. The terrible tragedy at Colectiv was the straw that broke the camel's back. Iohannis's openness towards civil society and those in the streets has been welcomed. This is the first time that a Romanian president, much less a politician, has cared two hoots about their views and wanted to actually spend time listening to what they have to say.
"I have a message for protesters. I saw you, I heard you, I will take your demands into account," Iohannis noted in a statement. "I will meet a group which represents civil society and the street. It is important. I want to hear their wishes and opinions," he added.
(Photo source) But it isn't enough. There's a new slogan on the streets tonight: "Klaus, we're not rushing. We're here and we're thinking." It's a rhyme in Romanian and sounds a lot better in VO, see left. The president who never seems to hurry anything has been far too quick in choosing his interim PM. Cîmpeanu, they say, is a mistake, for he comes from the very same pack of rats that has been toppled. Although Cîmpeanu isn't expected to be there long, this is not a good sign for the change so desired.
Calls tonight also include Ombudsman Victor Ciorbea's resignation, and for the president's presence at Piata Universitatii.
Protests will continue until all demands are met, says word from the square.
Please be wise, President Iohannis.
(Image source) One simply cannot comprehend (or stomach) reactions of insensitivity in the face of last night's appalling tragedy here in Bucharest - a nightclub fire that killed 27 and injured over 180.
Ana-Maria Roman, a so-called 'journalist' for Antena 3, posted the status you see left on her FB page today, deleting it a while later but not before it had been grabbed and shared agogo by disgusted readers and published by Adevarul.
It reads: "Since Gigi Becali's arrest when I spent 24 hours on assignment, I never thought I'd get another working day like that one. Yesterday, I began with Udrea and ended at 8 o'clock in the morning with the fire. My colleagues are at the scene of the tragedy. Although I'm tired, I cannot help smiling at the thought that I have the coolest job in the world."
She should be removed from the list of Romanian journalists for such an unbelievable lack of sensitivity. What an egocentric jerk. Shame on her.
Hundreds of medical staff were mobilised on Friday night in frantic efforts to save as many lives as possible, prompting Bogdan Oprita, a spokesman for the Floreasca Urgenta, to comment that it was the worst bloodshed since the 1989 anti-Communist revolution.
"It was like a war," he said. "Dozens of surgeons were called from home and asked to operate."
Meanwhile today, a surge of people queued at the various blood transfusion centres here in the centre of the capital to donate blood urgently needed for the disaster victims. The hospitals were not prepared in any way for such a catastrophe. Friends and families of the injured had to go to local pharmacies to BUY the necessary treatment for burns and other wounds, for the hospitals didn't have any. They didn't have enough available beds either, leading to the injured being sent to ten different institutions throughout the capital and wasting valuable time. This has shone a spotlight on the government's massively dangerous failure to provide a decent healthcare system for its people - the one we all pay a great deal of money for but pray we will never have to use. Abyssmal for an EU member state in 2015.
A shocked President Iohannis visited Floreasca Urgenta today and spoke to some of the casualties' relatives. Most of the injured were unconscious, their condition critical, he told the press. He has demanded that investigations be carried out swiftly and carefully, adding that regulations at the nightclub seemed to have been ignored. According to various press sources, the club didn't have ISU authorisation to host an event featuring pyrotechnics nor any other activity for that matter. Furthermore, pillars in the club were covered with sound-proofing foam (toxic) that caught light almost immediately, engulfing the walls and ceiling in a matter of seconds. In a confined space packed with around 400 people, there were only two exits - and one of them was locked. Desperate survivors had to break it down to get out. Horrific.
PM Ponta cut his Mexico visit short and declared a three-day mourning period for the victims effective immediately. That's a bit like dropping a bomb on a village and then distributing elastoplast. Clamping down on the ISU, stamping out officials on the take and resuscitating a necrotic health system long before now would have been ultimately more helpful.
There are hoards of clubs in Bucharest working without authorisation and/or little to no safety measures: knackered electrical systems, flammable materials and decor, inadequate exits, no fire alarms or water sprinklers... If nothing else, perhaps this appalling loss will be the wake up call to incompetent, corrupt authorities required to act and TAKE SOME RESPONSIBILTY instead of constantly passing the buck. This was nothing short of an act of criminal negligence.
Bucharest has been covered by what can only be described as a blanket of stunned silence today. Families continue to search for their children, their spouses, their siblings on hospital lists or via Facebook and Twitter; many of the victims were underage and had no ID on them. Several of the deceased were so badly burned it will take some time to identify them. The terror of Friday night will haunt us for months to come. May families and friends grieving tonight find the strength to get through what lies ahead, may they be spared heartless, self obsessed comments from 'journalists' such as those cited above and may those who died so young and so needlessly as a result of incompetence and indifference rest in peace.
I'll close with a quote from an excellent article by Ronnie Smith published today in Romania Insider:
"Everyone knows about the extraordinary levels of corruption that exist amongst those known as the ‘political class’ and their friends and partners in business. The long-suffering population’s collective shaking of heads is no longer a viable reaction because good people are being killed doing perfectly normal every-day things like going out at night to have fun and driving along the road. They are being killed by the greed and carelessness of those who continually ask the people to vote for them.
Seriously, this corrupt culture of deadly chaos cannot be allowed to continue in Romania."
UPDATE 1 November:
The death toll has now risen to 30. Of the 184 injured, 140 are reported to be serious to critical and 10 are 'unconscious' (by which I guess they mean in a coma whether it be induced or otherwise). Terrible...
There has been an enormous outpouring of generosity from residents, institutions and companies in Bucharest in support and solidarity for the victims of Friday's tragedy and their families. People have come forward to open their homes (primary and secondary) to those stranded in the city; psychologists and psychotherapists are giving free treatment as are several medical centres; hotel and hostel owners are offering free rooms; Uber and Black Cab companies will drive blood donors to their destinations without payment and there's even an undertakers who will offer emotional support as well as organise and carry out funerals for the victims free of charge. It is truly wonderful to see so much selfless coming together in the name of compassion and humanity.
(Photo source - flowers and candles at Colectiv) President Iohannis visited the scene today stating that the disaster was a result of corruption and must be dealt with through compassion and admission of responsibility. He was followed by the American Ambassador Hans Klemm, and then French Ambassador François Saint Paul, who lay flowers and gave a speech in Romanian promising that France would be sending medics to assist Romanian surgeons, among them top specialists Vincent de Broucker (Burns Unit, CHRU, Lille) and Professor Marc Chaouat (Burns Unit, Hôpital St Louis, Paris). A team of plastic surgeons from the Israeli Tel HaShomer Hospital have already arrived. Also present to pay their respects were Princess Margareta and Radu Duda. Prime Minister Ponta was notably absent.
(Photo source) Meanwhile, 8,000 people made their way through Bucharest this afternoon in a Silent March from Piata Universitatii via Piata Unirii to Club Colectiv in memory and hommage to the 30 lives lost. The leader of the group organising the march was amongst the injured but did not require hospitalisation. Thousands left flowers and candles at the scene of the tragedy. A second march is programmed for 17h30 this evening.
A photography exhibition showing the works of journalist Teodora Maftei (ProTV), seriously injured in the blaze, will take place on Monday at The London Street Atelier here in Bucharest from 7pm. Teodora remains in intensive care in critical condition at Spitalul Clinic de Urgenţă Chirurgie Plastică, Reparatorie şi Arsuri.
A game of indecent Blame-Ping-Pong has broken out between the ISU (which depends on the Ministry of the Interior - today Oprea) who say they didn't know Colectiv existed as there isn't a single document in their possession relating to it so how could they have carried out regulation checks or given/refused any authorisations, and Cristian Popescu Piedone, mayor of Sector 4, who claims it's all down to ISU, the club owners and nothing to do with him.
The investigation is well and truly underway. The Prosecutor's office has stated that those responsible for the tragedy are looking at 25 years to life behind bars. An in rem jurisdiction is being exercised for manslaughter, and the main hypothesis is fire, not explosion.
A representative of the company who worked on soundproofing the walls of Club Colectiv reported that the club owners refused to buy decent quality fireproof material because it was too expensive.
George Gaman, director of the National Research and Development Institute for Mining Safety and Explosion-proof Protection investigating the cause of the fire, has so far confirmed a great deal of what we already knew: the club had only one exit (an 80cm-wide door); the walls and ceiling were coated with an extremely flammable sound-proofing material; no sprinklers; no system to cut electricity; a single fire extinguisher, too small to deal with such a blaze.
Bearing such findings in mind, it seems preposterous to just about everyone that George-Alin Anastasescu, Paul-Cătălin Gancea and Costin Mincu (the club owners) are still at large and that Piedone hasn't resigned. Nope. Instead, the owners are busy avoiding the press and getting their stories straight whilst the incompetent, corrupt officials chuck blame anywhere they can except at their own front doors. It feels like the Giulesti Tragedy all over again. Let's just hope this will not be pinned on some scapegoat (an electrician? A doorman?) letting the true scumbags walk away scot free. It wouldn't be the first time...
Piața Universității - Piața Unirii - Budapesta - Club Colectiv - See more at: http://www.b365.ro/mars-comemorativ-astazi-pe-traseul-universitate-club-colectiv_240211.html#sthash.8NPbBR1n.dpufin a Silent March dedicated to the 27 victims. Many of them stopped at the scene of the tragedy to leave flowers, messages and candles. Another march is programmed for 17h30 this evening.
(Photo: Sarah in Romania) After a quarter of a century, the Libraria Ioan Dalles (Diverta for the last seven years) is no more.
Intent on visiting my very favourite bookstore in all Bucharest this afternoon, you can imagine the shock to find it gone. Libraria Ioan Dalles, yesterday's gloriously dusty bookworm's paradise is now nothing more than a mousehole (a tiny one) of mostly second-hand books. I couldn't believe my eyes. What had once been a fabulous labyrynth of books old and new, cultural events, venue for fairs and festivals, book signings, antique gems and language classes is but a fond memory. What on earth happened? I truly can't believe it.
Once home, I dashed to Goagal and entered 'Ioan Dalles s-a inchis'. When? What? How?! Seems as though the news passed vastly unreported which seems impossible for a space that was such a symbol of the capital.
(Photo source) The only site I can find to have given the closure decent coverage, albeit brief, was Metropotam (translated by yours truly):
'Dalles bookshop, one of the oldest in Bucharest, has closed after 23 years of cultural and editorial projects important to the capital and beyond.
'We say ,, Goodbye'' with regret after almost a quarter of a century of bringing together a thirst for both reading and culture. We wish to remain unchanged,' bookshop representatives wrote on the Facebook page [no longer in service - Sarah's note].
Evidently, there were immediate comments. The Dalles team returned with additional information.
"The decision is not ours. We were forced to leave. However, we can assure you an opportunity to relocate has been found as a legal entity with the same team. The new space will be opened in Piata Romana."
Soon afterwards, a notice appeared on the door with the new address: Cladirea Bastiliei, Piata Romana nr. 5. The space will be opened in May, though the exact date is not yet known.'
There are other short articles to be found online, but none are particularly informative, see Radio Romania BucurestiFM (copied/pasted from Metropotam) for example.
(Photo source - The Ioan Dalles Foundation) Wealthy heiress Elena Anastasescu Dalles, daughter of a well-established family of grain merchants in Wallachia for generations and married to land-owner Ioan G. Dalles (Romanian of Greek origin), bequeathed her immense fortune then estimated at 20 million to the Eforiei Hospital in Bucharest, the Romanian Academy and the Ministries of Culture and Public Education. In her will, she left clear instructions that the Romanian Academy establish the "Ioan Dalles Foundation" as a place of culture in memory of her youngest son.
(Photo source) The "Ioan I. Dalles" Foundation building owned by the Romanian Academy was constructed by Emil Prager, designed by architect Horia Teodoru and inaugurated on 27th February 1932 according to Wikipedia, with exhibitions of fine art by George Oprescu and Jean Alexander Steriadi. As her will stipulated, The People's University was founded to form Romanian citizens through 'nurturing and education of the mind'.
In 1958, the Communists built a block known today as blocul Dalles in front of Sala Dalles.
(Photo: Sarah in Romania) For seven long years more recently, Sala Dalles was the subject of a legal battle between the Academy, the PMB, MNAC (Muzeul National de Arta Contemporana) and the People's University "Ioan I. Dalles". In 2000, the Romanian Academy demanded restitution of Sala Dalles, thus suing the aforementioned institutions, claiming it had been arbitrarily stripped of the building in 1948. Many of its properties were turned over to state institutions, said the Academy's General Secretary Ioan Paun Otiman, amongst them Sala Dalles. The case was suspended since no one could decide whether the property belonged to the PMB or the Ministry of Culture. The MNAC owned 40% at the time, including both the hall and the bookshop. The case was reopened in 2007. Gabriela Stanescu, lawyer for The People's University "Ioan I. Dalles", stated the Academy's demand unjustified, insisting it was not subject to Law 10/2001 concerning buildings taken abusively between 6 March 1945 and 22 December 1989. Read more about that HERE. I don't know what the outcome was athough it appears MNAC still owns B-dul Balcescu 18.
Diverta took Dalles over in 2008 and the bookstore changed from the oldy-worldy universe it was to a sharper, trendier hub of books, music, film, toys, video games, IT and stationery. Still lovely, but it lost its Alice in Wonderland air. Once upon a time, you could sit on the floor with piles of books for hours and no one would bother you. After 2008, it seemed somewhat misplaced to find a corner and spend time crosslegged with a hand-and-heart-chosen folley of books hiding you from the rest of the world.
(Photo source) ZDF reported Libraria Dalles was closed in April after the MNAC notified the team they had to vacate. They moved to a new Diverta space at Piata Romana in May as a result of the mounting rent. "The lease expired in April and we were simply let go," said Amalia Buliga, Diverta's CEO. THIS blog reports on the opening of the new Diverta store at Piata Romana 5, Bastilia Bookshop's former home.
How terribly sad. Yet another little bit of this dear city that mattered gone, and it didn't even cause a ripple. Bookshops don't seem to be a priority anywhere much these days.
(Photo source) Woke up to the vertiginous news that Bucharest's mayor Sorin Oprescu was taken into custody by the DNA in the early hours (see video here) on suspicion of taking bribes between 2013-15. He was filmed receiving a nice fat back-hander last night, basically caught en flagrant delit. Had to pinch myself several times to believe it.
AP report: 'The anti-corruption prosecutors' office said in a statement that from 2013-2015, firms which had contracts with Bucharest city hall were obliged to pay up to 70% of their profits from work they did for the city hall to high-ranking officials. Of that, 10% allegedly went directly to mayor Sorin Oprescu.'
According to the DNA whose investigations are supported by the SRI, Oprescu is part of a well-established and equally well-organised group in public administration 'that asked companies to pay bribes to get public contracts from various authorities subordinated to Bucharest’s City Hall.' Why doesn't anyone just call it a 'state criminal organisation'? That's what it is. Far worse than the mafia who at least 'helps' others soit-disant, this kind of 'organisation' exists only in the name of pure self-interest.
Despite a large number of city hall officials (including his personal advisor Solomon Wigler) done for bribe snaffling over the last few months, Oprescu has kept going, seemingly convinced he is beyond the law. Greed obviously knows no bounds. Little by little, the DNA are battling to clean up the quagmire in place for so long. Vanghelie and Mazare are just two mayors now in the slammer, but they are small fry compared to the almighty Oprescu.
(Photo source) Oprescu 'allegedly' took a 25,000 euro bribe (part of a total of 60,000 euros) from four people yesterday who denounced him to DNA prosecutors. The mayor was questioned last night and then taken into custody for 24 hours.
Arrested early this morning and carted off in handcuffs, some of the bribe amount was found on him whilst the rest was unearthed at his home. DNA prosecutors also swooped on 13 other locations belonging to or connected with people involved in the case including the PMB itself, the Cemetery Administration, the Cultural Centre for Brancovian Palaces at the Gates of Bucharest, the HQ of certain companies and homes of other city hall employees today.
One of Oprescu's lawyers, Alexandru Chiciu, has denied his client ever "asked for money from anybody, directly or indirectly" - wasted breath since this particular transaction was captured on film for all the world to see making the evidence somewhat overwhelming.
A further preventive arrest warrant of 30 days has been requested. If approved, Oprescu's mandate will be suspended. Deputy Mayor Cornel Pieptea has stated that, as far as he is concerned, Mayor Oprescu 'no longer has the legitimacy to occupy the position of Bucharest General Mayor.'
See more opinions of Oprescu's arrest here.
With a bit of luck, he'll also be stripped of his outlandish Légion d'Honneur along with the Order of the Crown bestowed by Romania's Princess Margareta and the ‘Dr. Alexandru Safran’ medal from the Federation of Jewish Communities in Romania. All these honorable distinctions (and many more) awarded for what? Undying dedication to the destruction of Bucharest perhaps? Or his exceptional displays of lying, cheating, illegal construction, demolition and eviction? Today's corruption case is just the tip of the iceberg.
The 30-day warrant should also mean he cannot be candidate again as Mayor of Bucharest. Enough is enough. Oprescu has been an unholy catastrophe for Bucharest in terms of both the economy and urbanism.
President Iohannis has stated that if the court approves the warrant for Oprescu's arrest, then it's clear his resignation from office is mandatory. PNL will call for him to resign today out of honour in any case. Unfortunately for Bucharest, he said, the position has been compromised. He added that although it was a sad case of affairs, it was a strong sign that the fight against corruption was going from strength to strength. The way forward was with a new administration. "We must look ahead," he said, "and to do that we must ask the Mayor of Bucharest not to taint the image of the institution he has lead for so long any further." Nicely said, Mr President.
(Photo source) The news of Oprescu's detention has been greeted with unbridled joy here in Bucharest. This afternoon, several dozens of Bucharest cyclists met to celebrate. Announced on a FB event page entitled Alături de primarul nostru hosted by Comunitatea Bicicliştilor din Bucureşti, they started in Piata Universitatii and rode to the DNA headquarters to sing the Romanian traditional birthday song with slightly changed lyrics. "May he live many years" (Multi Ani treasca!) was beautifully transformed into "May he live many years in jail!" (Multi Ani primeasca!) You've gotta love it.
Awaiting news of the much-desired 30-day arrest warrant, I sit glued to the TV as more and more of Oprescu's dirty deals get plastered all over the screen. Out they leak, one by one. One of the informers admitted he'd given Oprescu 1mn euro in bribes over the last two years (news at 20h). 80% of the sums given in 2013 had come from bribes collected from businessmen for contracts concluded for the paving of alleys in the Brancovian Palaces Cultural Centre, he stated, whilst those of 2014 had come from "water and sewerage" work carried out at the Administration of Cemeteries and Human Crematories. Looks like Oprescu has well and truly cooked his goose. With champagne ready in the fridge I'm hoping against hope that Bucharest will soon be free of this bully, which can only mean brighter days ahead for patrimony, heritage and true, realistic urbanism. Go DNA!!!
UPDATE 00h16: YES!! The judges of the Bucharest Tribunal have approved preventive arrest for a further 30 days. The decision, taken just before midnight, may be contested at the Bucharest Court of Appeal. At once, Viorel Mocanu (another of his gaggle of lawyers) announced the decision duly contested, insisting on his client's innocence see here.
Meanwhile, Mircea Octavian Constantinescu (Economy Director at the PMB), Ruxandra Petroi Avasiloae (General Director of Brancovian Palaces Cultural Centre) and her partner Florin Șupeală were hauled in on preventive arrest accused of taking bribes this evening, along with Oprescu's chauffeur Cristian Stanca (known as Grenadă) who is accused of aiding and abetting the taking and giving of bribes and influence peddling, and businessman Claudiu Bengalici accused of money laundering. It's getting pretty crowded isn't it. Bogdan Popa, director of Cemetery Administration, and Romeo Albu were put on house arrest. Read more about what these crooks (particularly Grenada - what a colourful character he is) got up to HERE (in Romanian). It's truly mind-boggling.
Basescu had to have his say of course, and did so with a surprised "in 10 years at Cotroceni, I don't remember a single example of illegality committed by Oprescu." His memory must be dreadful... He couldn't believe, he said, that either Oprescu or Chiliman (suspended mayor of Sector 1) could possibly be involved in taking bribes.
Earlier this evening, Mr Mocanu, who seems to have become the spokes-lawyer, said that Oprescu was physically very tired after the 19h marathon he had undergone. Poor thing. He had been at the authorities' disposition all day long, except when driven to the DNA, from 00h30 this morning. His client hadn't had time, he said, to rest. You can almost hear the violins...
(Photo source) UPDATE 14th September: Oprescu's appeal for release fell on deaf ears at the Court of Appeal this evening. Judge Camelia Bogdan (I love this woman) denied the request, meaning he'll remain in custody for the full 30 days (and beyond, we hope), suspended from office within the next 48h. The decision is final and cannot be reappealed. His duties will be taken over by one of his deputies. The PMB General Council must now choose between Cornel Pieptea (PNL) and Dan Darabont (PSD). Five days ago, Hotnews reported that Pieptea didn't want the position of interim mayor for personal reasons, so the most likely outcome will be Dan Darabont.
Following the decision tonight, Alexandru Chiciu (one of Oprescu's lawyers) insisted that his client had nothing to hide and thus took no precautions, had done everything out in the open and corruption had nothing to do with anything.
According to sources, Oprescu is sharing his cell with 6 others, amongst them Mohammad Munaf who's doing ten years for the kidnapping of journalists in Iraq. The ex-mayor's roomies are not considered dangerous criminals (what a pity), most of them arrested for crimes relating to money...
I'm sure a doctor pal will soon show up to state Oprescu's insulin-dependent diabetes is all messed up due to the hard prison regime, lousy porridge and dreadful stress, recommending that he be released on health grounds at once.
More news as it happens.
For more in English, please see Bucharest Life, BBC, Romania Insider, Euronews, Voice of America, Agerpres and The New York Times.