florentina_and_masked_police3From the moment Florentina Cirstea was taken into custody on August 24th, I became painfully aware of the masked police 'cu cagule' omni-present in Roumania and began to wonder. In a democratic country, how can upholders of the law possibly be masked? They appear to be medieval executioners - all that is lacking is the axe.

The first time I noticed one was in a photo of Florentina in a corridor with a bottle of water in her hand, followed by a huge beefy figure in black - and masked. It was a shock and made my blood run cold.

Of course, I understand this kind of garb for special missions, etc, but notflorentina_and_masked_police within a penitentiary, during an arrest or a demonstration by the general public.

On asking around me why members of the force are masked, the answers were many. Firstly, because it is easier to intimidate. Secondly, because they can beat the crap out of you and not be identified. Oh my God.... what kind of police force is this? What kind of law and order does this perpetuate, for to me, it is an abortion of human rights if the above responses are true.

I have searched the web and nowhere else in Europe does this masking of police exist, except as previously mentioned, for special missions of the utmost secrecy (which is a bit strange since surely a bunch of masked_police3hefty guys dressed like Spider Man at Hallowe'en is hardly a usual sight and would hardly blend in and look normal!). So then why in Roumania is there a force of police working in prisons, on the streets, with riot squads etc, allowed to cover their faces. If Europe is ridding itself of the burqa (whether we agree with that policy or not is beside the point), then it should rid itself of this, too, right?

In British history, masks (notably in Elizabethan drama) the hood represents distance, coldness and trickery. In later, social history, it associates itself with the IRA bombers and other threats to our national security. Show a picture of a masked man to any western European and they would surely pale...

It is an image that emanates torture, fanaticism, the inquisition and all the oppression and terror it brought, a period in history that ended 600 years ago, and a certain amount of cowardice. To a western mind this is alien and very, very frightening. Surely to a people who have lived through and survived oppression and terror this cannot be acceptable. It associates itself with villainy and terrorism. It gives an excuse to be brutal, hiding behind the anonymity of a hood. That Florentina was escorted to prison by hooded men and then had them there, too in the place of her incarceration when she was neither dangerous nor a criminal (no verdict given neither at that time nor today as I type), then what was that about? To break her spirit? It sure as hell would have broken mine...