(Image source) The other evening, I was having dinner with friends and at some point, we got onto the subject of pălincă. As you do. When you're drinking it.
"Do you know the origin of pălincă?" Radu asked me. I thought I did in terms of the 'firey plum brandy claimed by the Hungarians as theirs which angers Romanians no end.'
"Nope," said Radu. "Pălincă comes from the word pelin, a plant - and the original drink was made from this."
Da? I didn't know. This calls for a blog, I thought, always a sucker for lesser-known facts. And so, a couple of hours ago (before I fell into a sleep induced by the heat here in Bucharest), I began goagaling. And goagaling... and goagaling. Pelin, says the can't-live-without-it Dex Online, is a horseradish leaf:
pălíncă f., pl. ĭ (poate d. pelincă, fiind-că se pune pe o frunză de hrean). Fc. Bulcă.
And this is where it gets REALLY interesting: according to my favourite online Romanian-English dictionary, the translation for pelin is wormwood ('Artemisia absinthium'), the active ingredient used to flavour - wait for it - Absinthe! When ground into a powder and used in small doses, it was an immensely popular treatment in the middle ages for all kinds of ailments including intestinal worms. Niiiice. In the Ancient world, it was strewn around the house to keep fleas and other unwanted beasties away. The Romans discovered that it promotes digestion by stimulating the gall-bladder and, when the leaf is chewed, it can calm nausea, vomiting and stomach cramps. Equally, when plague or cholera epidemics were rife in certain countries, houses were 'smoked' with dry wormwood since it is an excellent disinfectant. It is also efficient as a natural antibiotic. It should, however, be ingested in very, very small quantities otherwise it is a deadly poison.
The very thought that, once upon a time, pălincă could have been Central Europe's own ancient form of Absinthe is rather nice!!
Another ethymological suggestion: Could the name 'pălincă' have originated from the Romanian verb 'a păli' which means 'to hit over the head'? Considering the effect after a glass or three, I wouldn't be a bit surprised!
(Photo source) Pălincă is no longer made from pelin, but from fruit - plums, to be precise. If any other fruit is used (apples, pears, apricots...), then the drink is known as rachiu. If you google 'pălincă', nothing comes up in connection with pelin unless you specifically search for those two words together. Instead, one reads almost everywhere that the origin is Hungarian, spelled 'pálinka' (even Dex gives this definition as higher priority than pelin), see HERE and HERE as examples.
Did you know that a battle took place between Hungary (which even has its own palinka festival) and Romania ending up in a diplomatic stew in 2002 for the right to use the name as a brand and thus, the rights to sell it? Had both countries thought a little more carefully, this could have been an excellent opportunity to develop a symbol of shared culture. But nope. Romania lost. Once a product is registered under a certain name with the EU, no other country can produce it under the same name without permission from the nation that first obtained the copyright and so that means, I guess, that you won't be seeing any bottles of it 'made in Romania' anytime soon...
THIS site explains what happened:
'The most interesting anecdote regarding Hungarian pálinka is connected to the EU negotiations in 2002, when the Hungarian and Romanian delegates were debating over the rights to use the brand name 'pálinka'. They were asked to present an argument which proves that the name originates from the language of the delegate's country, so the right to use the word could be justified. Avoiding the long debate, the delegate of the Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs simply opened the Romanian Dictionary of Definitions and looked up the entry 'Palincă', where he found the following definition: 'Palincă is an alcoholic drink of Hungarian origin; it is made of fruits by fermentation and distillation'- This is how 'pálinka' became a genuine Hungaricum protected by the EU, and a brand name which can only be used by Hungary. Its manufacturing is regulated by The Pálinka Act which declares that pálinka can only be made of fruit or pomace grown in Hungary, the fruit content must be 100%, which means that no extra alcohol or other colouring, flavouring or sweetening agents are added, and the alcohol content is minimum 37.5%.'
(Photo source) And so, it turns out that pălincă is not just a strong apéro, a celebratory tipple or a way to warm the cockles on a winter's day but also a political weapon used by one country against another. Both Romania and Hungary are proud of their pălincă and pálinka and it has been part of the two nations' traditions since times immemorial. A shame Orban had to be greedy...
Frankly, as far as I am concerned, nothing beats the pălincă from Bistrița-Nasăud, and there's some wonderful stuff to be found around Bran, too. The best in Romania is said to be from Zalău, but I cannot comment as I've never had the pleasure.
So, voilà. Thank you, Radu, for the inspiration, and noroc!
In 1850, Barbu Dimitrie Stirbey, ruler (voivode) of Walachia (1849-1853 and 1854-1856), began to build his palace at Buftea as a stronghold with its two exit tunnels should a quick get-away have been deemed necessary. Such were the times. It was completed by Stirbey's son, Alexandru (1837-1895), in 1863.
But it is Alexandru's son, Barbu (married to Princess Nadèje Bibescu in 1895) who really gave romantic atmosphere to the palace through his gentlemanly escapades and historic adventures and, when I visited Buftea two weeks ago, it was he that I carried in my thoughts as I explored the beautiful grounds, and the parts of the house open to the public (very little, I hasten to add).
Known for his role as 'close confidant and advisor' to King Ferdinand of Romania's wife Queen Marie, this title was actually something of an understatement. King Ferdinand had never been a handsome man and following a serious illness (typhoid), Queen Marie perhaps needed a little more entertainment than he could offer. Prince Stirbey was probably the real father of Marie's youngest child Prince Mircea, who tragically died of typhoid fever aged three at Buftea, and also quite possibly that of Princess Ileana, too.
He was very discrete in his relationship with Queen Marie. As an administrator of the royal domains, he could pretty much come and go as he pleased, until, that is, the Queen's ladies-in-waiting started to gossip.
The Stirbey family had a great deal of property, not least the palace on calea Victoriei, the domain in Buftea and a third in Brasov which was sold off by the family's descendants to an Asphalt Bigshot several years ago. Barbu was certainly a very enterprising catch. Well mannered, good looking, an excelent businessman - a gentleman of his era. He was even Prime Minister of Romania albeit briefly, in 1927.
During WW1 the palace became a temporary home for Queen Marie and her children and, as a result, was bombed by German planes. The Ştirbey family, Queen Marie along with Carol I and the government all retreated to Iasi, leaving the palace at the mercy of the German army who looted and took possession of it. The German Military Commandment settled in Buftea in January 1917.
On March 5th, 1918, the Austro-Hungarian and German peace agreement was signed at the palace. Time passed, the German troops were defeated and the Știrbey family finally returned home to Buftea. Restoration was carried out to repair the devastation caused by the bombing. Between 1930 and 1940, Barbu Știrbey was forced to leave Romania for exile in Switzerland, but when he returned, he was part of the delegation that signed the Armistice of Moscow on September 12th, 1944.
He died under mysterious circumstances in 1946 after attending a reception at the Russian embassy in Bucharest, outliving Queen Marie by eight years.
So, you see, the aura of such a personality really made Domeniul Stirbey a tour of the imagination as far as I was concerned. For me, Barbu Stirbey was Buftea and vice versa.
The palace and everything in it were confiscated by the communist government, as you would well presume. Between 1949-1952, it was abandoned. Restored twice more - once in 1959, with the aim of transforming it into a diplomatic residence and again after the earthquake of 1977, it became a hotel in 1990 and the park opened to the public.
Built in Gothic style (more evident inside than out) with a Swiss châlet in mind, the palace interiors are richly decorated with vast carved wooden sections, with a magnificent interior staircase sculpted in oak and bearing the family coat of arms as the centre piece giving the atmosphere of a chic hunting lodge. The painted and/or sculpted wooden ceilings, the Neo-Gothic blazons above the doorways, very well-preserved original windows and doors with their wooden frames and oak gothic-like detail and the enormous white Carrara marble fireplace you can stand up in are all visitable on the ground floor and give wonderful insight into how it must have been in its heyday. It is not difficult to conjure up visions of parties, balls and dinners, ladies in their gowns, an orchestra over there perhaps... It really is a superb example of romantic architecture.
The surrounding park is full to the brim with heady gingko, magnolia and cypress trees, and huge oaks that date back more than 500 years. It was our Barbu, a passionate agriculturist, who founded the huge farm nearby having purchased neighbouring parcels of land.
The chapel with murals by neoclassic artist Gheorghe Tatarescu (a family relative) remains the final resting place of Voivode Barbu Știrbey and his wife Elisabeta, their son Alexandru Știrbey and his wife Maria, their son (our) Prince Barbu Alexandru Știrbey and other family members.
(Photo source) The former owners regained the property after 1990 following a long restitution battle and in 2007, a consortium of Romanian investors, Bucharest Arena, purchased it from the Stirbey descendants for nine million euros. At huge cost (at least 30 million euros is rumoured), the palace has been renovated once again and is today a restaurant and private events venue, popular for weddings and parties. It is a great pity that the rest of this beautiful house is out of bounds and cannot be visited in its entirety, for its architectural value alone is very much part of Romania's patrimonial heartbeat.
Palatul Stirbey: Str. Stirbey Voda 36, Buftea 070000, ILFOV / Phone: +(40)0730708828
Photos by Sarah In Romania unless otherwise indicated. Please ask before borrowing or hyperlink back here. Thank you!
36, Strada Ştirbey Vodă, Buftea, Ilfov
(Image source) Dumitru Furnica-Minovici (1897-1982) was born into an influential Aromanian family legendary for their crusade in the name of Romanian medicine. His Brasovian father was a merchant and his mother, Elena, one of the sisters of the famous Minovici brothers.
Dumitru had three fascinating uncles: The first, Mina (1857, Braila-1933, Bucuresti), founded the world's first morgue in Bucharest in 1892 (imagine the conversations at dinner!) and created the term "legal medicine" as a way of organising research, teaching and forensics in the Balkan region. His Institute, founded in 1892, was demolished in 1985 by the Ceausescu regime.
The second, Ştefan (1867, Ramnicu Sarat-1935, Pitesti), founded the Analytic Chemistry Department, The General Association of Pharmacists in Romania (1899) and The Romanian Chemistry Academy (1919), whilst the third uncle (my favourite), Nicolae (1868-1941), founded the first ambulance service in 1906 with his own capital (although this was the responsibility of the authorities) and established Romania's first hospital with a permanent emergency service - the second in Europe after Moscow. He was also mayor of Baneasa in the bygone days when mayors were decent, cultured and had love and respect for their country.
Nicolae was a forensic scientist (like his brother Mina) and criminologist, serving as head of the country's anthropometric service. He is known, says Wikipedia, for his studies investigating connections between tattooing and criminal behaviour, as well as his research on hanging and its physiological effects on the human body. His research on hanging included - wait for it - multiple hanging experiments performed on himself, each lasting for a period of approximately five seconds. Aoleu! I bet Nicolae was Dumitru's favourite uncle for that alone!!
(Photo source: Muzeul Nicolae Minovici, 1905) Nicolae was a remarkable researcher in the field of medicine, but also had an insatiable passion for art. In 1905, he built a house (architect - Cristofi Cerchez) in Brancovanesc-style to exhibit his collection of modern and folk art. He died from cancer of the vocal chords in 1941 and, a bachelor, bequeathed his estate which included money, villa and collections, to the city of Bucharest. It became Romania's first ethnographical and national folk art museum, and was also known as Casa cu Clopotei (The House of Bells) due to the forty bells that tinkled ethereally from its balcony.
In 2002, the museum was closed for renovation and its treasures transported elsewhere. During my visit to Dumitru's museum, I asked the knowledgeable guide where they had been taken, but she couldn't tell me. One thing is for sure though: they have not been lent to any other museum in Romania. Throughout its existance, the museum as well as the surrounding park and orchard suffered a wide range of tragic degradation, from the loss of parts of its collection to periods when it was closed owing to the political regime, structural damage and general neglect. After a couple of false starts over the last twelve years since its closure, work began in earnest two weeks ago. The villa stands stark and neglected as workmen beaver away. I pray that Nicolae's villa will finally be restored to its former glory and all its collections he loved so dearly returned safe and sound before too long. For more on the Nicolae Minovici Museum of Folk Art, please see HERE. (Just found more info on this - and it is worrying. Please scroll down to the bottom of this blog to the paragraph beginning ***)
Now you have some background in terms of the atmosphere and influence surrounding Dumitru as he grew up, let's get back to him.
From a young age, Dumitru seemed destined to follow in the footsteps of his uncle Nicolae. When he was eight, rather than opting to buy a kite, he chose a copy of a portrait of Lorenzo de Medici, the famous Mecena of the Florentine Renaissance! It was a gesture of a great future collector to be sure. After finishing military training, he left for France to study, supported by Nicolae, graduated in 1924 and returned to Romania to make his fortune in the oil business.
His beautiful house on land left to him by his uncle Nicolae, next door to the latter's villa, which was to become Muzeul de Arta Veche Apuseana "Ing. Dumitru Furnica-Minovici" (The Museum of Ancient Western Art or The Museum of Feudal Art, depending which guide you read) was built 1941-2 at the exorbitant sum of 7,032,182 lei-aur (the money of 1942) around his vast collection of medieval art by architect Enzo Canella following Dumitru's own plans. This red-brick XVc English Gothic Tudor-style jewel is superb both structurally and aesthetically.
Graduate of the Universities of Strasbourg and Toulouse and director of Miner Credit with a residence in Vienna, Dumitru assembled his superb collection of masterpieces during the course of his lifetime and whilst he was filling his home with valuable objects of art, his wife, Lady Ligia (died 2004 in Paris), was busy making it homely and welcoming. The atmosphere she created is still very much evident today. For more on Lady Ligia, please see HERE.
In 1945, the house was 'donated' (under pressure by the communist regime) to the Romanian Academy, as 'requested' by the then-prime minister, Petru Groza. The Minovici Foundation explains, 'The donation was made under the transfer of power to a Stalinist movement in an effort to avoid the devastation and confiscation by the new form of Government, but with firm clauses and conditions, most of them were violated by the current democratic government and its de facto owner, The Romanian Academy.'
The Minovici Foundation continues: 'For two centuries, this family of doctors, scientists, chemists, engineers and entrepreneurs built, maintained and contributed an exquisite cultural, educational, medical and social legacy to Romania and its citizens. This legacy battled and continued to fight some of the worst social conditions: war, famine and forced disinheritance by an oppressive regime, and, more recently, carelessness and obliteration of institutions and organisations that benefited for years from this inheritance.'
(Photo left - The entrance hall) Built on two adjoining properties, the houses/museums of Nicolae and Dumitru Minovici functioned as one until 1982 (when Dumitru Furnica-Minovici died. Incidentally, he and Lady Ligia were both buried at Bellu). The tour for visitors included not only the houses themselves but the park and orchard too.
In this masterpiece of the Tudor and Plantagenet periods with its many windows that flood the house with light throughout the day, Flemish, French Gothic and Italian elements are perfectly intertwined with the surrounding once-beautiful Italianate garden. A great shame that the building of a hideous block was permitted to spring up right next door and far too close, that has spoilt what must have been a wonderfully serene and peaceful park not so long ago.
The three-storey house itself, a true gem, begins with a long entrance hall filled with hunting trophies from Austria, Germany and Switzerland, old weapon pieces (a crossbow, old guns and rifles), medieval armour and stunning engravings from the XVIIc adorning the walls that take your breath away. Stained-glass windows align the right-hand wall bathing the hall in a gentle, warm and somewhat mysterious light.
(Photo left - the library) The museum, open to the public free of charge, is made up of three exquisite rooms downstairs: the vast living-room with its monumental Italian renaissance chimney, Chippendale chairs and marvellous French Gothic serpentine staircase (see left); the cosy, Neo-classical library with Cosimo de Medici’s portrait painted by Bronzino, nut wood furniture and Aubusson chairs and the Italian dining room complete with beautifully sculpted classical Austrian wooden doors. Entirely decorated with the most stunning European pieces, your jaw will spend most of its time on the floor: German and Austrian stained-glass; Flemish tapestries; Toscan renaissance, Louis XIII, Louis XV and Elizabethan furniture; works by Italian, Flemish and German painters; rare books; pottery from Meissen and Delft (XVII-XVIIIc) and XVIc etchings.... endless gasps, continual sighs - I was awe-struck from the moment I entered this other world, to the moment I stepped back out into the front garden. Although I was prepared for beauty, so much of it in such a warm and homely atmosphere clean rendered me speechless (that's quite a feat). The custodian, a formidable guide, must have taken me for a mutant goldfish as I opened and closed my mouth unable to find the words (in any language) to express such enchanted wonder.
She explained that the house had not been renovated, but needs to be in the foreseeable future. Due to a problem with the roof some time ago (now resolved), the wall of the enormous chimney suffered damage - traces are still visible as damp stains and peeling - as did areas on the upper floors. The Romanian Academy still partially owns the property as far as I know, and the upper floors are used for administration. They cannot be visited, though I was dying to climb the Gothic serpentine staircase.
Ligia and Dumitru Minovici’s passion for beauty takes us back in time to an old Bucharest when things were oh, so different. Here, beside Uncle Nicolae's 'Casa cu Clopotei', exists only art, history and pure perfection.
Muzeul de Arta Veche Apuseana "Ing. Dumitru Furnica-Minovici": str. Dr. Nicolae Minovici nr. 3, Sector 1, Bucuresti - Phone: +4021.665.73.34 // Bus stop: Gara Baneasa
***Some worrying news: Stefan A. Minovici, the Minovici brothers' great-nephew, sued Bucharest City Hall in January 2012 over the development of the renovation project affecting Muzeul Nicolae Minovici. He also asked the court to revoke the donation contract which handed the museum over to the City of Bucharest (ie. today's City Hall) in 1937. Only now do I see that, although the villa is state property, the current restoration work costing 5.4mn euros, is EU funded (typical) and was applied for in July 2011. Work was stopped at the onset of Mr Minovici's lawsuit by the Ministry of Development.
According to Stefan Minovici, the whole project is a cover-up for plans to actually destroy the museum by changing the layout with the adding of a new building, and thus breaching the original donation contract from 1937. This would certainly not be the first time City Hall were to abuse such a contract and neither would it be the first time it were to destroy a gem of Bucharest's patrimony. Construction work for a warehouse, a conference hall and a parking lot is ongoing on the plot near the villa that should actually host the museum’s garden and orchard as stipulated in the contract. Sound familiar? It does, doesn't it.
At the time, Stefan Minovici also complained about the degradation of the museum, which had 5,000 exhibits 75 years ago, but in 2012 had only 1,200. Again, it sounds horribly familiar. Please see more on this HERE, HERE and HERE. In addition, Mr Minovici also accused City Hall of misappropriating funds raised for Muzeul N. Minovici through donations which never reached the museum. As far as PMB were concerned, Mr Minovici was 'lying' and made his accusations without basis. Ha! One only has to know how the City Hall in Bucharest operates to realise that Mr Minovici has every right to make such accusations - and is probably bang on target. Please see more HERE.
Last February, the Bucharest General Council approved the decision to continue the renovation of Muzeul N. Minovici. The decision included a clause that funding must come from the City Hall budget as approved by the Ministry of Development and Tourism. If the PMB were to win the lawsuit, expenses would be reimbursed by the Authority of Management for Regional Operation Programmes. The next court hearing was for March 7th 2013, with the overall value of the project quoted then as 3.4mn euros. That's quite a difference from the 5.4mn euros obtained from the EU...
In an interview on 5th June 2013, Mr Minovici stated that a new will written by his great-uncle Nicolae had come to light in which the property had theoretically been left to Societate de Salvare din Romania. This radically changed the course of action taken by City Hall. He added that in the coming months, he was certain things would become clearer so that he could see about regaining these properties (did he mean the Dumitru Minovici house too?)
The latest news, 24th June this year, doesn't mention the lawsuit, but I'm presuming with dread that City Hall won the case. Why? Because oprescu has begun 'consolidation, rehabilitation and conservation work' with EU funds (after all) on three historic sites in Bucharest over the last two months - Muzeul Nicolae Minovici, the Arc de Triomphe and Casa Cesianu. oprescu said (and I can't believe I'm quoting him) that the museum would be back on the tourist circuit next year and, once complete, would house a museum dedicated to the Minovici family. Well, um... yes. That is because it IS Muzeul Nicolae Minovici and because that is what the contract stipulates. No need to say it like he's doing the Minovici heirs a favour, presumably by not destroying it completely....
That is all I can find to date. If anyone has any further info or can correct me if I have misread or misunderstood any of the above hyperlinked articles, please do not hesitate to let me know. In the meantime, I continue to worry. A lot.
Autoritatea de Management pentru Programul Operaţional Regional.
Bucharest General Council last week approved a decision to continue the implementation of the rehabilitation and strengthening of the Museum Nicholas Minovici placed on the agenda of the meeting to request additional Mayor Oprescu. - See more at: http://translate.googleusercontent.com/translate_c?depth=1&hl=en&prev=/search%3Fq%3Dstefan%2BA%2BMinovici%2Bprimaria%2Bmuzeul%2B2014%26client%3Dfirefox-a%26hs%3D6dX%26rls%3Dorg.mozilla:fr:official%26channel%3Dsb%26biw%3D1366%26bih%3D618&rurl=translate.google.com&sl=ro&u=http://www.b365.ro/muzeul-nicolae-minovici-va-fi-renovat-de-primaria-capitalei_186750.html&usg=ALkJrhgsjORVmDj0mVDylWlEuS2KiZUkEg#sthash.iYpe1Y6P.dpuf
3, Strada Nicolae Minovici, Bucharest
Photos by Sarah In Romania when not otherwise indicated. Please ask before borrowing or hyperlink back to this post. Thank you!
On 9th May this year, a permanent exhibition, 'Memory as a form of justice' of the Sighet Memorial to the Victims of Communism, opened in Bucharest. To many, it is unthinkable that there was nothing here in the capital to serve the purpose of memory and education for such a period in Romania's history up until now, but thanks once again to the dedication of Ana Blandiana and Romulus Rusan, it is finally here.
The Sighet Memorial in Sighetul Marmatiei, northern Maramures, was established in 1997 as a reminder of the crimes against humanity committed by the communist regime. An international study centre was also founded there. Of all the former communist countries, Romania's suffrance was certainly the longest and the most painful - from the agonisingly interminable years of oppression and resistance, to Ceausescu's grotesque Golden Age.
"The greatest victory of communism, a victory dramatically revealed only after 1989, was to create people without a memory – a brainwashed new man unable to remember what he was, what he had, or what he did before communism.
The creation of the Memorial to the Victims of Communism and to the Resistance in Sighetul Marmatiei is a means of counteracting this victory, a means to resuscitate the collective memory." (The Memorial of the Victims of Communism and of the Resistance)
It is a superb exhibition in a century-old house that has been nicely renovated. Twenty-three panels give a clear and concise summary in themes of the Sighet Memorial, including two interactive touch screens where you can follow the journeys of some of the hundreds of thousands of political prisoners. The front garden, too, reflects the Sighet museum with a reproduction from The Convoy of the Sacrificial Victims (sculptor Aurel Vlad).
With everything translated into excellent English, and thus accessible to tourists and expats too, there is no longer any excuse for those in Bucharest (whether Romanian or otherwise) to plead ignorance as to the terror, appalling brutality and dehumanisation that took place under communism, particularly throughout the 1950s. From Bărăgan to the Pitesti Experiment (a strangely unknown chapter in history for many Romanians), everything is carefully, sensitively and pedagogically documented. Books are available in Romanian, English, French and German and the lovely lady at the front desk bends over backwards to answer questions and search for information you may need.
If you can't get to the Sighet Memorial, the Sighet Memorial has come to Bucharest. Please take an hour or two to visit, and then take a seat (there are plenty). You'll need time to collect your thoughts before taking a deep breath and heading out into the street and another world, via the door from which you arrived....
For more on The Pitesti Experiment, described by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the 1970 Nobel Prize laureate for literature, as the "most terrible act of barbarism in the contemporary world", please see HERE. Further reading on the deportations to the Baragan Plain can be found HERE.
Str Jean Luis Calderon, nr. 66, open daily from 10h-18h
+40 21 313 7628
Photos by Sarah In Romania
(Photo source) Romania's Ambassador to UNESCO in Paris, Nicolae Manolescu, is under investigation for unexplained wealth. The ANI has stated the existence of a questionable difference of nearly 77,800 euros between his acquired fortune and the income he and his wife at the time came by in 2009.
Digi 24 says the ANI has ordered the Commission for the Investigation of Wealth as part of the Appeals Court to launch a full inspection into Manolescu's income and property whilst in public office. Manolescu has been notified of the specific elements under investigation, made aware of his rights and has submitted a statement for the file.
According to Mediafax, Manolescu has no idea what they're talking about and neither does he know about any ANI report (despite having issued a statement for the file) - he would love to have 78,000 euros to spend, he said... He did know there was a case in 2011, however, but he thought that had been closed.
Comments under the Digi24 article say that PM Victor Ponta may have been a source - one of them accuses Manolescu of refusing to publish a story on Ponta's plagiarism in Romania Literara for which he is director, suggesting that the amount in question was hush money. Other comments in the Mediafax article hyperlinked above allude to the nice cushy job he has in Paris with a rumoured 10,000 euros monthly salary as sinecura, ie. a choice position given for services rendered... He was appointed by President Basescu in 2006 and perhaps he is now trying to keep on the right side of PM Ponta to keep his luxurious lifestyle on par once President Basescu has exited this coming November.
Apart from his ambassadorship at UNESCO, Nicolae Manolescu is a well-known literary critic, historian and professor at the University of Bucharest from whence he obtained his PhD in Letters. A corresponding member of the Romanian Academy for 16 years, he was made full member last year. In addition, he is in his second term as Chairman of the Writers' Union.
The news of Manolescu's possibly ill-earned gains has spread like wild-fire throughout the media spectrum in Romania, particularly via the channels critical of Ponta such as B1TV, Hotnews and Revista 22 - there's very rarely this much smoke without fire. Watch this space for more...
(Photo source) It was with enormous sadness that I learned this morning of poet Anni-Lorei Mainka's passing - and I still cannot believe it. It is impossible to say that 'she died', because people like Anni-Lorei never do. Her enormous heart, immense compassion and empathy for every living thing, her humour and her courage will remain always and her timeless poetry, ever present, all-embracing, will outlive us all.
I never had the honour of meeting her in person. We became friends via Facebook several years ago - and it was as if I had known her forever. Anni was like that. She was an all-or-nothing person. Last March, for example, a package arrived in my mailbox from Köln. There inside was a gift from Anni - her book, Burgundia, which she called 'our world of dreams in a life of war'. On the inside cover, she had dedicated it with the phrase, "God bless your inspiration, dear Sarah - may it live forever...."
Born in 1958 and an interpreter, translator, journalist and author of both poetry and prose, Germanophone Anni grew up in Bucharest on Calea Rahova. She was a passionate student and went on to teach German and English in Ungheni, Arges, for a time. The poverty she saw in the villages there marked her deeply. Having to leave Romania (for Germany) at the age of 28 was a terribly mixed bag of emotions for Anni that gave her wings to soar but was accompanied by all the baggage that exile brings. She once told me that Romanian had become a sad language for her...
Visele doamnei Pachet 1
despre împachetarea/despachetarea unei vieţi
îmbrăcată şi ştii
în buzunare am pus bucăţi mici mici
şi lungi foarte lungi de sfoară
am împachetat fâşii de vis
le-am pus la uscat
cum ai spus
în zori le-am culcat sub copacii aceia bătrâni din dreptul cetăţii
cu timpul pe umăr
cu pielea scoasă din joc
fără să las urme de viaţă
totul în casă e stins
gazele lumina şi cerul le-am stins
am pus-o în cutia poştală
o cheie nu pleacă
ciorile nu mănâncă chei
ciorile mănâncă cercei
Visele doamnei Pachet 2
Crăciunul pe scaunul liniştii
Crăciunul se lasă peste lume
abur de prune în culori de crăciunică
pe marginea „liedului”
aşezată pe scaunul ales de la început
nu mă sperii – am vreme de stat cu faţa spre lumina verde
plină de smântâna din cer
mă ţin de degete
mă aplec spre fustele lungi ale gândurilor
nu-mi arde de stat pe pătratul de scaun
tivul adulmecă visul
Crăciunul cel mare pe jos prin Calea Lactee
acoperă lumea cu ploaia aceea de străpuns jaluzele
nici rugina nu le-a putut desprinde
stau pe scaunul liniştii
ale ploilor de vară cu miros de castan
Visele doamnei Pachet 3
Edith Piaf la pachet
trebuie să-ţi spun
în dimineaţa fără isme
în abur de frunze de India
cozonac încolăcit în trandafir
Edith Piaf trece pe la mine spre seară
deschide uşa altei respiraţii
am pus ceasul la colţul casei
să treacă alaiul de duminică peste el
pe seară porumbeii de oraş dau din cap
cuminţi secundele se zbat sub ciocurile
înfundate în grabă
nu mai încep cum ştii
şi nu sfârşesc în amin
frica încolăcită printre costiţe în congelator
bunătăţile din frigider
se strecoară printre noi
fără urmă de aer
fără urmă de sânge
sub plapuma înnodată a istoriei
Versuri de Anni Lorei Mainka
(nr. 5, mai 2013, anul III)
For some of Anni's books, please see Jurnal pe bilete de autobuz, Visele doamnei Pachet and Burgundia. Here she is in an interview with Mara Popa at Radio Romania in November 2012 and you can read more poetry HERE.
I did not know Anni. I never put my arms around her to hug her as I wanted to on oh, so many occasions. We never met near Calea Rahova after all and I never made it to Köln. I shall miss her with all my heart. I shall miss her comments on my Facebook wall, her voice of reason, her private messages with news and links on Romanian literature that she thought I would like (she gave up quickly with anything German since I don't speak a word of it!) and her comments about my blogposts (always pertinent - often funny)... I shall miss her just being there.
Dumnezeu să o odihnească în pace!
Tennis player Simona Halep doesn't shriek or grunt when she hits the ball, serving or otherwise. She doesn't sulk, doesn't stomp, wiggle or partake in court theatricals. She doesn't get involved in scandals. She isn't a sex bomb and neither does she have legs up to her ears. Simona Halep is the nice, respectful girl-next-door. She struggles with injuries. She is small. She is quiet. She is shy.
Simona's rise in tennis has been fast and brilliant, and yet she is STILL largely ignored by the international press. WHY? Ranked n° 47 at the end of 2012 and n° 11 at the end of 2013, she is now n° 3 behind Serena Williams (1) and Li Na (2). She is the only player to have won titles on clay, grass and hard courts during that stretch. Making it to the finals at Roland Garros and defeated by Maria Sharapova (5), she is now going great guns at Wimbledon and in to the 4th round. On 27th June, her rally with Ukraine's Lesia Tsurenko was Shot of the Day on BBC Sport.
'Every few weeks in tennis, an underdog bursts from obscurity to a breakthrough that nobody could have foreseen. But then a much greater challenge looms: building on the breakthrough. Most overnight sensations fail that test, becoming one-hit wonders and answers to trivia questions. And yet a handful of them have passed the test, taking crucial strides toward becoming members of the sport’s elite. Count Simona Halep among those who have passed.' - Tennis View Magazine
'In my opinion, it’s only a matter of time before Halep closes in on the top 10, and could ultimately represent a new style of play in women’s tennis – one that is neither the extreme of “big babe” tennis nor the defensive or crafty approaches of players like Errani and Radwanska. Watch out.' - (Aug. 2013) Mind the Racket
'It is unwise to ignore Simona Halep. She is on a run few others can dream of (Steffi Graf was the last player to win her first six WTA crowns in the same year)...' - (20 Jan. 2014) Australian Open
'It’s refreshing in this era of the blood-curdling shriek and the abuse of the clenched fist to see a player as basically undemonstrative as Halep. Like her rival Radwanska, she gives nothing away. She’s no drama queen or intimidator. What she is, though, is relentless, focused, multi-faceted, and mobile.' - (13 May 2014) Peter Bodo, Tennis.com
'A select band of players have the ability to make the game look effortless. Count Halep among them. She moves with grace, strikes with purpose and is free of the shrieks, tics and fist-pumps of her contemporaries. It is an enchanting combination....' - (24 June 2014) Michael Beattie, Wimbledon.com
These are just some of the commentaries about Simona and her game from sites online. See more HERE (in Romanian). But why aren't there more in the main-stream press. When one googles 'Simona Halep', the listings are still full of reports about her bust reduction surgery rather than her game and professionalism. The media's obsession with that has not gone unnoticed on social networks, where a vocal contingent has called for more focus on what she's done on the court. As far as I'm concerned, she's done all she can to make her tennis the topic of conversation. Now it's really up to the media to do the same.
her interviewer barraged her with incessant questions about Halep’s breast-reduction surgery. Halep responded that she felt it was a good decision with regard to her game. But the reporter didn’t stop there. “What about outside [itals ours] of tennis?” the interviewer pushed. - See more at: http://www.damemagazine.com/2014/01/22/congratulations-your-victory-now-about-your-boobs#sthash.7HdKU0wj.dpuf
Russian Maria Sharapova (5), also known as Shriekapova, Screechapova, The Wailer and The Siberian Siren, is the 'darling' of tennis. A superb player, she is also the undisputed queen of grunts with her climactic shrieks of 'the blue-movie variety'. She has been known to hit 105 on the decibel counter - louder than a motorcycle, lawnmower, or a small aircraft landing, about the same as an ambulance siren, and only five decibels quieter than a lion’s roar. She disappears off court for lengthy periods and takes ages between services. She sulks, she pouts, she flirts, is a diva to her bones, and gets mountains of press coverage for it all. Sports journalists (particularly across the pond) adore her. She also hits the headlines with stories such as THIS, THIS and THIS. Oh - and just recently, there's THIS one, too.
Simona Halep does none of that.
She is the only one of the top three seeded players to have won her matches and make it further at Wimbledon this year (Serena Williams ad Li Na are both out) though, and yet hasn't made headlines. Following her fourth Wimbledon win against Belinda Bencic 6-4 6-1, Simona gave a press conference. And guess what? Not a single British journalist showed up. Not ONE.
The Bleacher Report gives five reasons why they believe Simona to be so overlooked:
1) She isn't blonde. When it comes to tennis hype and endorsements, blondes may well get more funding, silly though that may sound. 'Perhaps it's mere coincidence that since switching from red to blond highlights late last year, Williams has scored an endorsement deal with Berlei sports bra company and appeared in a Beats headphones ad,' says the article.
2) She's not an Amazon. Halep is 5'6". That's average height. But Sharapova is 6'3". Ana Ivanovic, Venus Williams and Victoria Azarenka are all 6' or taller.
3) Her accent. 'Having an American accent has helped Sharapova, a Russian who has spent most of her life in the U.S. Bouchard is Canadian. Halep speaks thoughtfully and clearly measures her words when speaking English. You have to wonder: If she were an Americanized star on a meteoric rise, would we know more about her?' says the Bleacher. See her in an interview HERE.
4) No big wins in grand slams. 'Up until this year, she had never moved behind the fourth round of a Grand Slam. In 2012 she failed to advance beyond the second round and lost in the first round in all but the U.S. Open. She reached the quarterfinals at the Australian Open. If she performs better in the biggest events, that will go a long way toward winning some hype.'
5) She's still considered a minor leaguer. 'When Halep starts winning bigger matches and bigger events as she has this year, she'll garner the hype she deserves.' THIS site echoes the same reasoning as to why Simona has flown under the radar.
When I wrote THIS post during the Roland Garros tournament, I didn't think much of the Bleacher's suggestions, and I'm still not convinced. What Simona lacks in height she makes up for in timing, she made it to the French Open finals and is now wowing Wimbledon. She has also found ways to compensate for not being as powerful as other players through admirable speed and agility. Isn't that enough to 'garner' her some hype?
"It’s pretty obvious that Halep has become a significant force in the women’s game, yet nobody seems to know quite what to make of her. It would be easy at this point to condemn the media and pundits for ignoring yet another fine player whose greatest shortcoming is the failure to attract attention. But some of that is all-business Simona Halep’s own doing, and I’m not so sure she’d have it any other way," says Peter Bodo in an excellent article for Tennis.com.
Hmmm... perhaps. But I still believe that it really IS because, without a major Grand Slam win as yet, Simona just isn't 'interesting' enough to cause any noise for the moment. Unassuming, decent, scandal-free people (despite obvious talent) just don't make headline news these days. However, Simona is not some passing comet about to disappear back into the realms of obscurity. She is here to stay and at some point, the media are going to have to give her her due.
Tuesday 1st July: Et voilàààà! Simona breezed through her match on Court 2 today beating Zarina Diyas (72) 6-3 6-0 in 57 minutes. BRAVO SIMONA!!!! The press are buzzing!! See HERE, HERE and HERE for starters. She will face last year's Wimbledon finalist, Germany's Sabine Lisicki (19), on Centre Court tomorrow at midday for the quarter finals.
Maria Sharapova has been knocked out by Angelique Kerber 7-6 4-6 6-4. Great job, Angelique!!! I'm a little sorry not to see Simona play Sharapova once again - it would have been a spectacular match. But right now, I could hug Angelique Kerber to bits!!!
QF matches so far scheduled for tomorrow: Eugénie Bouchard (13) will be playing Angelique Kerber (9) on Court 1 from midday. Andy Murray (3) v Grigor Dimitrov (11), Roger Federer (4) v Stan Wawrinka (5) and Novak Djokovic (1) v Marin Cilic (26) are all programmed - the first two on Centre Court and Djokovic/Cilic on Court 1 (after Bouchard/Kerber). Milos Raonic (8) will face the amazing 19-year-old Australian Nick Kyrgios (who just beat Raf Nadal - incredible!), also on Court 1.
The forecast for SW19 tomorrow is 23° and sunshine all the way!
Wednesday 2nd July: Fantastic! Simona won her 11th match in a row today, beating Sabine Lisicki 6-4, 6-0. She will face Génie Bouchard, who beat Angelique Kerber 6-3 6-4, on Centre Court for tomorrow's semis. It promises to be a sensational match. The winner will play either Lucie Safarova (CZE)  or Petra Kvitova (CZE)  also head to head tomorrow, in the finals.
'Halep was rock-solid against the big-hitting German, tracking down countless Lisicki blows that would have been winners against other opponents, maintaining great depth on her ground-strokes, and rarely letting her level drop. From 4-1 down in the opening set, the No.3 seed reeled off 11 straight games to end the contest in 57 minutes,' says Matt Trollope for the Wimbledon website.
Here are some of the comments about Simona from readers on the Wimbledon FB page:
"Halep is so often forgotten about by commentators, but then this probably works in her favour. She can just get on with winning matches, without all the publicity." (A. Price)
"I think Simona is going to win it. She is quite a talent. She just keeps her head down and gets on with the business in hand. Love her demeanour." (R.M. Amin)
"No screams, no violent acts, no tricks to earn more time when she is in difficulty with the opponent. She's amazing!" (M. Ptr)
"I love tennis and I just want to play". That's simple but I love that spirit! (A-C Le Diot)
"This match was the first time I've ever properly seen Halep play. Over and over again, Lisicki was in command of the point, with Halep running all over the place... then in the blink of an eye, Halep is inside the baseline setting up for a winner... I have never seen anyone consistently turn defence into offence like that before." (H. Burke)
The press can ignore Simona Halep no longer! Please see BBC Sport, The Express, The Daily Telegraph, The Guardian, The Daily Mail and The Independent for articles in the UK press. There's plenty of international buzz, too - The Sydney Morning Herald, The NY Times, ABC Online, Deutsche Welle, Spiegel, Le Monde and Le Figaro for starters.
Other results of the day: Grigor Dimitrov (BUL)  has beaten Andy Murray (GBR)  6-1 7-6 6-2; Novak Djokovic (SRB)  has won his match against Marin Cilic (CRO)  6-1 3-6 6-7 6-2 6-2 and Federer (SUI)  has defeated Wawringa (SUI)  3-6 7-6 6-4 6-4. Milos Raonic (CAN)  has also made it through to the semis beating Nick Kyrgios (AUS) 6-7 6-2 6-4 7-6. I'm so sorry! I'd love to have seen Kyrgios continue to storm Wimbledon this year and grab the title.
For Day 10's schedule at Wimbledon, please see HERE.
Keep it up, Simona!! Not far to go now. Let's see you land at Otopeni with that trophy under your arm!!!
Friday 4th July: Ohhhhhh what a pity. SImona lost to Génie Bouchard 7-6, 6-2 on Centre Court yesterday, hampered by a twisted ankle caused when she caught her foot on an uneven bump in the court surface - probably from the previous match. You'd have thought they would have smoothed down the courts between matches at least... Poor Simona. What a way to lose - and not much of a win for Bouchard either, though she must be delighted to get into the finals.
This from the Independent:
Halep, normally a highly effective mover on court, had strapping applied and played on, but she could not twist and turn as smartly as normal. Sport at this level is ruthless and Bouchard immediately began aiming for the corners, working Halep’s injured joint.
"It was difficult to continue because I twisted my ankle," Halep said. "I felt a big pain in the moment. It was better with the tape but still I couldn’t push any more in my leg. My first serve was really bad after that."
(...) Halep’s injury was unfortunate because the match featured two of the new faces of the women’s game, the two who have won most matches on tour this year. Despite her handicap, however, the first set was absorbing and full of good tennis.
No worries, Simona - you have been absolutely sensational and we know you'll be back to sweep Wimbledon next year. Now, please take care of that ankle and let's see you storm the US Opens in September! Congratulations and bravo!!!
(Photo source: Mircea Basescu) Never a dull moment when it comes to scandals in the Romanian news. The latest polemic involves President Basescu's brother Mircea, who was placed under preventive arrest for thirty days last Friday for his alleged role in a corruption case. He is under suspicion of taking a bribe amounting to 250,000 euros in return for influence peddling to secure a reduced sentence for convicted underworld mobster, Sandu Anghel.
Sandu Anghel (better known as Bercea Mondialu') was convicted in May 2011 to 8 years and 9 months behind bars for attempted murder (he stabbed his nephew, Ionut Anghel, alias Mercedes), see HERE. His son, Florin also got a five year sentence for complicity.
Media sources say that some time between 20/02/11 and 22/02/12, Mircea Basescu received 250,000 euros from Florin Anghel (Bercea Mondialu''s son) via an intermediary, Marian Capatana (also now in custody for thirty days), for his promise to intervene with the magistrates hearing his father's case. Bercea Mondialu' was not released however, and Florin Anghel paid another 350,000 euros to intermediary Marian Capatana for another bash at it. Of the total 600,000 euros forked out by Florin Anghel, Mircea Basescu 'allegedly' received 250,000 euros, while Marian Capatana empocketed 350,000. It was all money out the window though, since Bercea Mondialu' was convicted and sentenced to a hefty time in jail.
(Photo source: Bercea Mondialu', his wife and son, Florin) And so, the Anghels are accusing Mircea Basescu of accepting hundreds of thousands of their euros in bribes, and Florin Anghel has filed a criminal complaint against him for influence peddling (or rather, perhaps, not peddling it well enough to curry favour for his father), embezzlement and misleading the investigators in a case where he himself (Florin Anghel) is accused of blackmail. Get it?
Bercea Mondialu's family members are meanwhile fast filling the prisons. His daughter (Izaura) and son-in-law (Marius Constantin) are in custody after being caught blackmailing Mircea Basescu in May. They wanted 280,000 euros for their silence on 'alleged' corruption acts. Also behind bars at the time of writing are Fanica Anghel (aka Stela - Florin's mother and Bercea Mondialu's wife) serving a year for perjury and extortion and Florin and Izaura's little brother Grinica Ion (a minor aged 17) accused of aggravated extortion.
On Wednesday, Florin Anghel released a controversial video (prompting Mircea Basescu's arrest) of secret recordings to Romanian TV station Antena 3, suggesting Mircea Basescu had indeed received cash for trying to sway magistrates. They also suggested President Basescu's knowledge of his brother’s dealings.
President Basescu, whose image has been seriously shaken both at home and abroad by his brother's adventures, has publicly denied any involvement.
"Being the president’s brother does not exempt you from being subject to the law. Let me assure you that between the need to consolidate the judiciary and the natural impulse to defend one’s brother, I choose consolidating the judiciary," he said. (Reuters)
President Basescu is having rather an embarrassing week when it comes to family matters. Being the president's son-in-law does not exempt you from being subject to the law either (though it helped for a while). Lawyer Radu Pricop (married to President Basescu's daughter, Ioana) and four others are currently being prosecuted for deception and fraud in a case of land restitution that involved trying to rip off the Bratianu heirs using forged documents to obtain multi-million euro damages for property seized under the former Communist regime. It turns out that a death certificate produced to support the claim for the 90 acres of land in Stefanesti (jud Arges) was total fiction. The Mr/Ms Bratianu featuring on the document is still very much alive and kicking. Oops.... Pricop told Romanian media that a "mistake" had crept into one of the documents, but that it had not influenced the outcome of the damages case. Yeah, right. Such a bloop doesn't only say a great deal about the kind of pondlife who would try to fleece an old, respected and admirable Romanian family, but also highlights the negligent, lazy and frankly useless defence (IMHO) who should have spotted the fraud before it went any further. Ugh. Please read more on this HERE.
Mircea Basescu’s wife, Doiniţa, publically apologized to president Basescu and his family for not having " lived up to the standards of dignity and rank they had reached”, and explained that she and her husband had been 'close friends' with Bercea Mondialu' and family to 'try to fight racial prejudice against gypsies'. Mircea Basescu is naş (godfather) to Bercea Mondialu’s granddaughter, named at a time when there was an impressive list of criminal allegations against him (Mondialu') and his family - which triggered much media attention.
Yesterday, Mircea Basescu admitted that he had accepted money, but it was in repayment of a loan and had nothing to do with getting a lighter sentence for Bercea Mondialu'. He also admitted to having met with Florin Anghel.
For PM Ponta, all this is like Christmas come early. He is having a field day and hasn't wasted any time in demanding President Basescu's resignation "to eliminate any pressure on the judiciary".
(Photo source: Radu Mazăre) The mayor of Constanța, Radu Mazăre (recently arrested on charges of corruption), is equally delighted. Just a little earlier today, he thanked the gypsies for having saved Romania. To celebrate, he is letting them sell pufuleți and other nibbles on the beaches tax-free. It's true. I swear. (so much for trying to write a serious post!)
But that's not all. Joking apart, it gets murkier....
Agerpres reported that while en route to the DNA for hearings on Thursday, Bercea Mondialu' told journalists through an open window of the police van that a sum of 2 million euros in exchange for his release had reached Judge Livia Stanciu (the High Court of Cassation and Justice), DNA chief prosecutor Laura Codruta Kovesi and Vasile Blaga, President of PDL. Ouch.
"Livia Stanciu promised me. We have info on Livia Stanciu", he stated.
Of course, Mondialu's accusations' were immediately grabbed by Voiculescu's media channels which launched a virulent media campaign against Kovesi. Only a few days ago, Voiculescu, charged with two criminal cases investigated by the DNA, accused Kovesi of being ignorant of the law and seriously wronging him.
On Friday, Kovesi filed a request with the Superior Council of Magistrates (CSM) asking that her reputation be protected against Bercea Mondial’s statements. She added that she would also be notifying the CNA of the "slanderous accusations" clearly designed to destroy her credibility along with that of DNA prosecutors.
Judge Livia Stanciu said the statements made by Bercea Mondialu' were a serious attack on the independence of the Justice system. Shortly afterwards, CSM chairman Adrian Bordea asked the Judicial Inspecting Body to carry out checks on judiciary independence following the media statements that threatened the rule of law.
I wonder if there are any more 'secret recordings' about to hit the air.
What a mess. Talk about 'dangerous liaisons'...
See more in Deutsche Welle, Euronews, US News, Washington Post, English Hotnews, Global Post, ABC News, Romanian Insider and Guardian News Website,
UPDATE 25th June: Laura Codruta Kovesi, head of the DNA, has announced that she is suing Antena 3, Mihai Gadea (its director) and journalists Mugur Ciuvica, Tudor Radu, Razvan Savaliuc and Bianca Nae for 1 million lei (250,000 euros). The decision was taken following the broadcasting of allegations that she had received an alleged amount of money from the family of Bercea Mondialu', along with other claims relating to her personal life. She has said that if she wins the suit, she will donate the money to humanitarian and charitable causes.
She also filed a complaint to the National Audiovisual Council for alleged violation of the Broadcasting Code (aired June 19, 2014) by Antena 3 and Gadea. See HERE.
Statements highlighted by Kovesi from the broadcast of June 19 at 21:30 as having "no factual basis" and being "doubtful they were made for defamatory purposes only" include the following:
"- Laura Codruţa Kovesi gave personal protection to Mr Traian Băsescu and his family ...;
- Kovesi should be arrested for having covered up this file for several days (...) ... Kovesi tried to hide this file, close it, bury it...
- Laura Kovesi, head of the DNA must stop lying (...).
- She is accused of taking bribes to intervene in favour of Sandu Anghel
- .... last November, she had a mysterious meeting with a judge of the High Court. The judge in question was none other than Valentine Horia Şelaru her former adviser .... the parking lot ... a mobsters' meeting between punks, mobsters, possibly from the Securitate exchanging information, but in no case was it a meeting between representatives of the highest independent judiciary in Romania."
If this IS all an effort on the part of Voiculescu and his media channels to discredit and undermine both her and the DNA, then good for her. If there's any truth in it however, then may she not be above the law.
Looks like Mircea Basescu's arrest has opened an even larger can of worms than anyone could have possibly imagined...
More news as it happens.
The news of the court's intial ruling against journalist Ondine Gherguț Tuesday in favour of a former prosecutor accused of corruption is so outlandish when it comes to truth and freedom of the press that it could have come from Putin's Russia rather than Romania.
Ondine Gherguț, one of Romania's most talented, decent and valiant investigative journalists (Romania Libera), has been ordered by the courts to pay a whopping 300,000 euros in damages because... wait for it... she dared wrinkle the image of a crooked former prosecutor, Marcel Sâmpetru.
The sentence is NOT final and can be appealed, but it says a lot about how justice works in Romania when a journalist is courageous enough to sound the alarm by digging up proof on the dirty dealings of an 'honourable' magistrate with a so-called 'unblemished' CV.
For those who don't know, Sâmpetru is a former General Prosecutor of Romania (along with a long string of other impressive titles) and was, at one time, plotting with another attorney and member of the CSM, George Balan, for two extremely powerful positions. Both Sâmpetru and Balan were indicted by the DNA (Romania's National Anti-corruption Agency), but later acquitted by the High Court. An appeal is in progress.
Bref, for exposing such 'sensitive' information and tainting the reputation of this upstanding member of society, Ondine Gherguț has been ordered by the District Court (Sector 3) in a first ruling to pay damages on a ludicrously massive scale... A sign to other journalists to shut up, perhaps?
(Photo source: Ondine Gherguț at the American Embassy, Bucharest) In April of this year, Ms Gherguț was received at the US Embassy, alongside Laura Codruta Kovesi (DNA chief) and poet Ana Blandiana, and awarded for her enormous courage in exposing criminal networks in politics, government, and the intelligence services. Back in the early '90s, she revealed the Ministry of the Interior's involvement in the mineriade and through investigations carried out between 2000-4, she exposed former Securitate officers working for the SRI who had stolen from state-owned oil refineries. During the 2012 referendum on the president's impeachment, her work uncovered conflicting documents that had been sent to the Constitutional Court on the census count of eligible voters. Ms Gherguț and her daughter have been victim of numerous death threats, mentioned in the State Department's Report on Human Rights. She is, in short, the Anna Politkovskaya meets Joan of Arc of Romania...
Here is my own paraphrasing of Ms Gherguț's explanation on FB:
"A foundation that I do not know has offered to defend me against Marcel Sâmpetru, the former General Prosecutor accused of corruption. I lost in the first ruling and the damages are immense. His claim, accepted by the courts, would cost me almost 300 000 euros. The court has asked me to pay 10 000 lei in moral damages because I have tainted his image, and 5 000 lei for his legal expenses. They have also ruled that I must publish the 24-page court decision in 4 other newspapers - not as publicity, but on the page where articles are printed. This which will cost me about 300 000 euros. I do not have a contract for authors' rights and so the responibility falls on me, making me liable to pay. (...)
(Photo source: Marcel Sâmpetru) I have been sued by Marcel Sâmpetru because I wrote about him being named advisor for the CSM in December 2011 despite being mentioned in corruption scandals. I am being sued for press crimes. The main accusation is that I reported on registered interceptions when he was being investigated for corruption. I published excerpts from the file of the SRI officers (who in the meantime had all been definitively sentenced). I also wrote about the role of Marcel Sâmpetru in the liberation of Omar Hayssam (who fled the country after being released from temporary arrest but was later sentenced to 20 years for his involvement in the kidnapping of Romanian journalists in Iraq) as initially related by prosecutor, Ciprian Nastasiu. Seven months after the publication of my three articles in RL about Sâmpetru, ie July 2012, the DNA 'caught' him (then CSM advisor), and his boss, George Balan (the former VP of CSM). From the interceptions I published, one could see the methods through which they tried to get their assignments from PM Ponta - positions of General Prosecutor for one and Chief of DNA for the other. The DNA also discovered that Sâmpetru was asking his former employee, the director of DGIPI Ilfov, Mihai Vlad, for secret and compromising information on the former Minister of Transport, Ovidiu Silaghi. In other words, my warning as a journalist, as a watchdog for society from Nov. 2011-Jan 2012, came to pass in July 2012 (the year of the coup d'état) with the prosecution of Sâmpetru, Balan, Vlad and the high court judge, Georgeta Barbalata - all sued by the DNA. In the first high court session, only Judge Barbalata was charged.
(Photo source: Sâmpetru, Balan, Vlad, Barbalata) It is likely that this coming autumn, the final sentencing in the DNA file will be ruled at the Supreme Court, decided upon by five judges. I, however, was judged and sentenced in the first court session for damaging the image of an 'unblemished prosecutor' with 'an exceptional professional background', as Sâmpetru mentioned in his complaint (as if he had never been accused by the DNA of anything). Sâmpetru forgot to mention that in 2006, Monica Macovei, former justice minister, asked for his dismissal as deputy general prosecutor of Romania. (...) He was careful to keep his 'unblemished' CV immaculate by resigning immediately, thus avoiding dismissal.
Sâmpetru also resigned in 2012 after the DNA started their case for corruption against him and his office at CSM had been searched. (...) He was unlucky, though, since Balan (his boss at CSM) did NOT resign. The legal investigation examined both of them because they were co-conspirators in the same DNA file.
With all the evidence I submitted, I was ruled against. Sâmpetru's main evidence was the deposition of Balan, who was himself indicted in the same corruption case. (..) Normally, the courts should NOT have accepted this testimony. In my file, there are other strange peculiarities. (...)
What have I got? A delay. The next hearing is on 20th October 2014. Until then, I hope that I can prepare my defence better. Who knows. Maybe in the meantime, others will come to join me."
[Just a little side-step: You may be interested in reading more HERE about Marcel Sâmpetru's wife, Mirela Plăpcianu, who is recorded in interceptions published by Ondine Ghergut. She is quite a character...]
The desire for truth and the freedom of the press were both trampled underfoot in Romania yesterday with the ruling against this exceptional journalist. She is being punished for daring to speak out against those in authority, by people whose job it is to uphold justice. It is pure intimidation for Sâmpetru has NO case against Ms Ghergut - except in a kangaroo court. Influence CANNOT be permitted to have the last word over truth unless we really are back to pre-89. This is a travesty in a country that calls itself democratic and supposedly out to fight corruption.
For more: see THIS from Hotnews, THIS from Romania Libera (both July 2012) and HERE is a publication of a pretty astounding interception between Vlad, Sâmpetru, Balan and Marian Petrarche (President of CJ Ilfov, and candidate for President of the Ilfov Town Council - he won the local elections on 10.06.2012) from 16th March 2012. Uff. After reading that last one, there should be NO doubt in your minds.
Should you want further insight into this nest of money-grabbing vipers, see HERE for the ruling on Georgeta Barbalata, and THIS on Mihai Vlad spilling beans on Sâmpetru (EVZ).
There is a petition online HERE in support of Ms Ghergut (initiated by Koles Attila) should you wish to sign it.
(Photo source) After my initial howls of helpless laughter, the news of Patriarhul Daniel and his holy roller-on-a-pole blessing technique (zic BBC) used to inaugurate the studios of church-owned Trinitas Radio and Television has left me with a terribly dismal feeling in the pit of my stomach. The whole silly charade has become a viral internet sensation both at home and abroad, leading to finger-pointing and lots of guffawing on an international scale - see the BBC, Gawker, Business Review, The Daily Mail, The Daily Star and VICE News to name but a few - and check out the comments for the full effect.
The Romanian Orthodox Church (BOR) has responded (for once) to the mocking press coverage:
"It’s not the first time Patriarch Daniel has used the 'sanctification rod', one of a number of tools of his trade, as it helps anoint rooms with higher walls and ceilings which would otherwise be difficult to reach", Basilica.ro (the Church’s press agency) specifies in an article entitled 'Sensationalism through liturgical ignorance'.
Yes, yes - and when it comes to tools of the trade, hands up all those who remember the Phillips screwdriver.
The Daily Mail, who clearly couldn't pass up such an opportunity, quotes Patriarch Daniel himself: "It might get people talking about faith and maybe move some to come to church more regularly. Then they can see my sanctification rod up close and I can explain to them how God moves in mysterious ways.’ Um...yes.
Sorry, but really, I am not convinced. It's a paint-roller. It may well be holy, but it is definitely a paint-roller.
(Image source) It's one thing to believe in the powers and miracles of moaste (holy relics), but this is something else entirely. It is such ridiculous fraud it's grotesque. If the Patriarch of the Romanian Orthodox Church thinks that his people are that gullible (some are, I grant you) to believe a paint-roller on a stick is in fact a 'sanctification rod', then either he is profiting from their naïvety, or he has no respect for them. Or both. And that is profoundly disturbing.
Such obvious guff is nothing short of insulting to a people continually bludgeoned by corruption, lies and injustice on a daily basis, disappointments raining down upon them more often than not. Everybody expects to be ripped off and disrespected by arrogant politicians and officials these days. But shouldn't the Patriarch have at least a modicum of decency?
Romania's reputation abroad is riddled with negative opinion whether true or not: The prime minister is a fraud, the hospitals are third world, the diplomas are fake, all Romanians are gypsies, the justice system is a joke and the corrupt politics are best avoided in general. Now there's a new opinion bullet point for the list - BOR is represented by stupidity and medieval wizardry, followed by impressionable idiots, and a reason to have a huge belly laugh. Marvellous. Why don't we just rip the stomach and heart out of an entire people, stamp on the mess and roar with mirth as we do it?
(Image source) This is all about one supremely rich, arrogant businessman in a position of enormous power who is as manipulative, as condescending and as lacking in respect as the politicians are towards his own people. And of course, he's answerable to nobody... To quote a friend of mine (who is Romanian Orthodox, incidentally), "if Dante were alive and writing the Inferno now, this caricature and travesty of "patriarch" would be placed where it belongs." Enough said.
For readers with a soft spot for the BOR, please forgive my bluntness.
There must be hoards of Romanians out there feeling deeply hurt/angered/humiliated/saddened and a host of other adjectives by this whole embarrassing episode. Thank God it is a people blessed with a sense of humour.