Here is our take on Romania's current crisis
Tuesday, October 20
Bucharest, Romania. A policeman is on duty on his motorcycle, in a hurry. Rain, 10°C, low visibility. He falls in a pit and dies. The first press reports show that he was on his way to a traffic-control activity. One day later, policemen around Bucharest give anonymous statements, revealing that he was in fact leading a motorcade for Romania’s Deputy Prime Minister, Gabriel Oprea, on his way home from a restaurant. By Romanian law, the Deputy Prime Minister is only allowed to use a motorcade in extremely urgent situations.
Friday, October 30
Goodbye to Gravity, a metal band, is having a free concert in Colectiv Club, Bucharest. Indoor fireworks are part of their show. A spark ignites the acoustic foam on the ceiling. The building catches fire. Spectators rush through the only fire escape door in the entire building. 27 people die inside, more than 150 are injured. The next day, Romania is faced with news that the club’s authorisation was given by the mayor in illegal circumstances.
Tuesday, November 3
Romanians take to the streets of Bucharest. 25.000 of them occupy Victoriei Square in an impromptu gathering. They are asking the Romanian Prime-Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Mayor of Sector 4 in Bucharest to resign. Some of the phrases on their placards are Goodbye to Gravity’s lyrics: “We’re not numbers. We’re free. We’re so alive. Cause the day we give in is the day we die.”
Wednesday, November 4
Prime-Minister Victor Ponta resigns, together with the rest of the Romanian Government.
From the outside, it all does not seem to make much sense. Why would people ask a country’s Prime Minister to quit if a club caught fire? How do these things connect?
Ever since the Revolution in 1989, Romania has been considered a democracy. Its citizens are free to elect their leaders, start their own companies, attend religious ceremonies regardless of their faith – all of which were impossible during Communist times. This sounds great. However, there is a hidden side of the story. Every single day, Romanians are dealing with a “creature” which intervenes in each interaction with the public sector. A creature called Corruption.
Whoever goes to see a doctor stops by a flower shop and a supermarket first, to buy something for the nurses – before, not after they have been treated. The same applies to going to any institution for paperwork. Sometimes people get angry and ask Corruption: “What if I don’t want to bring anything?” And it answers: “That’s fine! But get ready to have to take a day off work and queue for hours, before being sent back and forth for different approvals and signatures. Get ready to be fined by policemen for nothing. Get ready to watch your son be denied a spot in the classroom of high-performance students, or your daughter be denied an internship even though she was first in her class”.
Before the fire at Colectiv Club, there was this mentality of “Yes, things are bad, but at least they are better than before ’89. We just need more time. Eventually, we will work our way out of corruption. Let’s be patient”. 26 years after the Revolution, patience led to a policeman dying because a politician was hurrying home and did not feel like being slowed down by traffic. It led to a guy being allowed to open a club which had one fire exit. The death toll from the fire rose from 32 to 50 in less than a week. Many victims are still in hospitals. Hundreds of others have suffered mental trauma.
Romanians took the streets because they were shocked, saddened and frustrated: shocked at watching friends or relatives or simply co-nationals die because of a situation which they themselves could have easily been in that night; saddened because there was nothing they could do to change what happened; frustrated because they had been living with Corruption for so long, they had ignored it for so long, and had allowed politicians to feed it and accommodate it among them.
They have had enough. We have had enough. Corruption is deadly, and we know that now more than ever before. The Prime Minister was only one of the many politicians who have been known to be corrupt, but were “tolerated” on the presumption that “there was nothing we could do”. Romanians are ready for a change. Not tomorrow, but right now. The President, Klaus Iohannis, invited leaders of the protest to consultation sessions with him. He even risked his safety and came to the protests himself to talk to the people, to find a solution, together.
There is no turning back now. Romanians will not rest until Corruption is eradicated, one politician at a time. As impossible as that may seem, where there is a will, there is a way. But the change starts with us, Romanians. The fire in Colectiv burned out our ignorance and lit up our desire for change. Bloggers have been writing about differences in people’s behaviour for the past two weeks. They are impressed by the queues for blood donation centres, by the people who are bringing pizza and sweets to doctors instead of coming to A&E with minor issues. There is a general attitude of compassion and optimism.
Friday, November 6
6:30pm. Manchester, UK. 80 Romanians gather near University Place, lighting candles, lifting Romanian flags, holding a minute of silence, then singing the national anthem in solidarity with people from home. Politics is not on their minds. All they wish is to offer their support to the victims and their loved ones. To end the night, the names of the victims are read in Holy Name church. A woman in the choir starts singing a mourning song in Romanian. There is hope. TMM