(Photo source: Index) Bravo to Rumi Mestrovic who recently stood up to an offensive dose of 'nu se poate' in Zagreb... she was taking a photo of the first sunset of 2012 through a fence when a guard starting yelling abuse at her - threatening, menacing, way beyond offensive - apparently she couldn't take photos through a fence that wasn't hers. It wasn't allowed. Clearly he hoped to intimidate Rumi and her husband. Not so. He picked on the wrong person... Rumi Mestrovic, daughter-in-law of the sculptor Ivan Mestrovic, is not a person to be messed with. Having warned him that she would react to this outrageous attack, she then took his photo too just for good measure, and gave the story to Index.hr, one of the widest-read news portals in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Index were delighted and published it even before news concerning Prime Minister Milanovic. That 'bourreau' of a guard is now nationally infamous not only for being a bullying yob but also for yelling abuse at ohhhh so the wrong lady!! Bravo Rumi! BRAVOOOOOOOOO! Down with 'nu se poate'!
That was in Croatia, but how about Romania? Nobody who has lived in Romania, particularly in Bucharest, can say they have not met these upholders of 'nu se poate'. 'Nu se poate'? It is a national phrase meaning, 'it can't be done' or 'it's not allowed' and is usually a refusal based on 'I can't be bothered', 'I need to feel important by telling you no', or even, 'How much is it worth?'. Indeed, it was the first phrase I ever learned along with 'vai de mine' and 'nu mai pot'! If one stands one's ground and insists (as a westerner usually would), fairly often these bullies will back down for they know perfectly well they're being absurd. However, Romanians rarely argue back or stand up for themselves - decades of being trained to keep heads and eyes down leave their mark. They are saturated with abuse from these mitocani, small nobodies in positions of a little power - creations of the communist regime... Those who usually snarl 'nu se poate' are, in general, members of an 'underclass', a legacy from Ceausescu straight out of Orwell's '1984'. Robert Kaplan describes them in his magnificent book Balkan Ghosts as "badly urbanised peasants who, according to a local proverb, were neither 'horse nor donkey' - uprooted from villages where their ancestors had lived for decades or even centuries - away from every tradition they ever had - and moved to factory dormitories where everything was in short supply except alcohol and regime propaganda."
They, their off-shoots and descendants are also those who insult King Mihai of Romania, accusing him of betrayal and treason. Because King Carol died in 1959, King Mihai was always the immediate threat, and consequently, the communists began long ago to blame King Mihai for Carol's crimes, manipulating and falsifying history to suit their purposes. The shameful recent attacks made by president Traian Basescu are an echo from those days not as distant as one would like to believe, and a clear portrayal of the accuser's background. In addition, these 'nu se poate' are also often those responsible for destroying Romania's patrimony, her history and her architecture, too, supposedly in the name of 'progress' (but actually in the name of lining their pockets since that is all that truly matters to them) whilst leaving the hideous monstrosities constructed under communism alone.
Half-starved, frozen and/or often worked to death in many cases under Ceasescu, think of the miners from the Jiu Valley who bloodied the students in Piata Universitatii in June 1990. They, too, came from this 'societal substratum'. With the miners, says Kaplan, Iliescu demonstrated how, if you provide such men with just a little bit more food and self-confidence, they make a chillingly effective praetorian guard.... Today we see carbon-copies working in administration, government positions, or as security guards, perhaps in hospitals... nu se poate.
Travelling in my beloved Romania is rather like being thrown slap-bang into a Dostoievsky novel - blurred ignorance, the cunning of the smecheri and tigani, the sadness and despair of so many... but never was there such frustration as that caused by members of the 'nu se poate' brigade. Isn't it time that this particular legacy came to an end and Romania arrived in the 21st century? Isn't it time that 'nu se poate' became, 'Da se poate!' - it has been said elsewhere across the Atlantic, after all.
When I saw Rumi's article this morning, my heart leapt for a moment. I thought how wonderful it would be if EVERY time this happened, it could be publically recorded, mediatised and that person loudly named and shamed - they deserve to be. With their nonchalance and attitude of 'merge si asa', their 'on s'en foutisme', these members of the 'nu se poate' brigade continue to hold Romania for ransom, dragging its people back into the time-warp from which the lovilutie of 1989 strove to free them, however much of a mis en scene it may have been both then and in retrospection. They are as much to blame as the corrupt government and the crooked officials - if not one of the same.
May 2012, the year of the dragon, also be the year for standing up to indifference and one's long collaboration of silence. Nu se poate? Only if you allow it....
La multi ani fericiti!