If you live here in Unicorn City or have even visited in the past couple of years you probably recognize the lady in the above picture. She’s an elderly woman who stakes out a spot somewhere near Piata Unirii (the main square) and sells flowers to passersby.
I saw that she was in the (local) news yet again and I’m writing about her today because her story is a perfect explanation of just how fucked up everything is in this country on so many levels. Literally every Romanian blogger in Cluj has written about her (sometimes multiple times) but there won’t be any links because their perspectives are all identical to that of a local news story written by the peerless Anca Banciu which I have translated below.
Note: All bolding and snarky comments are her doing, not mine. The translation is mine, which means all errors are mine, although I had to fix at least one spelling error in the original Romanian LOL
POLICE EVICT 92-YEAR-OLD FROM PIATA UNIRII JUST FOR SELLING SOME FLOWERS
An elderly woman, 92 years old, was assaulted by two Cluj police officers because she was standing at the entrance of Piata Unirii by Matei Corvin street, where she had been selling some flowers.
Maria Rusu sells bouquets of flowers in this pedestrian area ad hoc to earn a little money. At 92 years old it could be said that she’s no longer in the physical condition to do anything more strenuous, that is to say hold down a regular job.
Because she did not have an easy life and because she has to pay rent where she lives, the woman is trying to do something to earn some money. “I can’t believe the police did this to me when every day here in the square there are drunks and beggars. Am I hurting anyone? I stand here and sell flowers and I don’t even come every day. It’s difficult, extremely difficult, but do I do what I can so that I’m not a burden at home,” said the woman.
Meanwhile, after the police officers realized the woman wasn’t hurting anyone by standing in the square and selling flowers, they allowed her to remain there. Maria Rusu, the 92-year-old, then carried her bags back to the street corner where she had originally been standing.
Maria Rusu is originally from the town of Mohod in Bistrita County but “life wanted me to come to Cluj” she said with a smile.
The flowers that she sells come from her own garden where she grows them with tender loving care, she said, “as they are a source of income”.
The woman became a war widow at the age of 25 and has remained unmarried ever since. She has one daughter, who suffers from a heart condition. “She has a lot of problems, poor girl” said Maria sadly.
“Her heart hurts her a lot. But we try to get along as best as we can. Even she is getting old. She’s 71 years old. Oh well, you see that we do the best that we can. I get 400 lei [88 Euros] a month, which isn’t much. We’ve also have to pay for pills and the rent needs paying and we’ve got to live somehow. Even my daughter’s pension isn’t much. It’s difficult but we do what we can,” added Mrs. Maria.
“One bouquet of flowers costs 6 lei and it’s my pleasure to give them to people,” added Maria Rusu.
The official spokesperson for the Cluj Police, Ana Purdea, did not respond to telephone calls so that she could comment on this absurd situation. Purdea had earlier declared that she would not answer calls from Stiri de Cluj because the newspaper “has denigrated the public image of the police”.
As I said, this story has been “covered” several times by local news agencies as well as by local bloggers and literally every single time you see the same attitude, which can be boiled down to:
1) Here’s a poor old lady
2) Police are meanies
3) Let’s all go buy flowers from the old lady to help her out
Now I’ve spoken to this old lady myself a time or two and a good friend of mine has had lengthy conversations with her and as far as I can tell her story is always the same. She’s quite old, she lives with her elderly daughter and they’ve had a rough life.
Mind you, where I come from, journalists might go verify parts of this story, such as meeting the bedridden daughter with the heart condition, going and photographing the home grown flowers, etcetera but oh well, obviously that’s not going to happen so let’s just assume all of it is true. The lady is unequivocally old and she’s very nice so we’ll just go ahead and assume her entire story is true down to the last detail.
That still leaves us with several questions:
1) Why are the police harassing/questioning her?
2) What’s the right thing to do with this old woman?
3) Why is Ana Purdea refusing to do her job?
4) Why is Stiri de Cluj obviously using archive photographs of this lady?
5) Why do all bloggers/reporters have the same attitude?
Well let’s start and work our way through these, shall we?
Why are the police harassing/questioning her?
The police are questioning her and occasionally moving her on from her spot for two reasons. The first is that she is breaking the law. To sell flowers (or anything else) on the street corner requires that you have legal permission from City Hall to do so. Therefore unequivocally the police are actually enforcing the law whenever they stop the old lady from selling flowers.
But why aren’t they tackling the “drunks and beggars” as the old lady asked? I spend quite a bit of time downtown and I don’t see many drunks lingering around the square or anywhere else. The police actually do a pretty good job of dealing with them as far as I’ve seen. Mind you “drunks” means old homeless men of course, not university students in brand-name clothes, because they are the lifeblood of this city and their drunkenness is a vital part of the economy.
As for the “beggars”, well almost all of them are Gypsies, and I’ve written about this before. Their “role” in terms of the police is that the police shake them down for money, the Gypsies disappear for a bit and then they come right back. Unless you want to lock them up in jail there’s not much else you can do.
What’s the right thing to do with this old woman?
The fact that this old woman’s story continuously gets talked about in the local media shows just what utterly inept buffoons are running the city government. This “problem” could get solved in about 10 fucking seconds simply by the mayor granting this old lady legal permission to sell her flowers on such-and-such street corner. Bam, stroke of the pen and it’s done.
Instead, the city government continues to be colossally stupid and tone deaf despite this story cropping up again and again and again (and theoretically the police must have a stack of papers from all the times they’ve dealt with this lady) and yet like a broken record here they go again, the police see her selling flowers illegally, they move her on, bloggers and local journalists write angry stories about it.
Underneath this though is the fact that here is a very elderly woman who is forced to do something in order to make money to survive. Even if she had full legal authorization to sell flowers she’s still quite elderly and not relaxing at home or in her garden but having to work. This lady is actually somewhat famous but I’ve seen lots of elderly people (including men) selling flowers to try to earn a little money. Since none of them are getting rich by it (i.e. it’s not some get-rich quick scam) then clearly they are representative of the fact that many, many Romanian seniors are not receiving livable pensions.
Even if you don’t formulate the thought consciously, every single young(er) person walking past this old lady has to be thinking, “If I stay in Romania then when I’m old I might end up like that, forced to keep working even when I’m 92 years old just so I can survive.” Just to avoid that image alone, the government should be doing anything and everything possible. What is more demoralizing than seeing elderly people forced to work on street corners? Open a senior center. Set up some kind of program. Do anything because even a half-wit university student is going to realize “If I don’t get out of here, I’m fucked.”
Why is Ana Purdea refusing to do her job?
I spent a hell of a lot of time in 2011 and early 2012 trying to track down and work with the local tourism director here in Unicorn City. I’ve never denigrated this city even once. But still the guy was (and still is) paranoid and squirrely as hell. Good luck finding him because he’s got three layers of “me know nothing” hacks underneath him who purposefully mislead you as to A) who he is and B) where he works.
I don’t know anything about Ana Purdea but the concept of “public servant” is completely unknown here. Government employees get a paycheck and that’s all they care about. They do what the guy (or woman) in the next office tells them to do. Serving the public is not on the fucking agenda. If I literally published right here on this website all of the direct telephone numbers to the heads of local government departments you could call them as often as you like. But guess what? They’d all do a “Ana Purdea” and just refuse to answer the telephone.
Even official spokespeople are not responsible for taking calls from the public. Their job, just like every other government employee’s job, is to make their boss happy. And their boss ain’t you. Obviously “Stiri de Cluj” pissed off Purdea’s boss and so he’s having himself a little snit and sulking in the corner and now won’t allow anyone to talk to “Stiri de Cluj” anymore. The government does not care. They do not care. If they’ve got to lock the front doors of City Hall so they can get their work done without being “bothered” by the public then they’ll happily do it. The concept that the public is paying their salaries just does not ever penetrate people’s brains here.
Why is Stiri de Cluj obviously using archive photographs of this lady?
Because like all Romanian journalists they’re extremely lazy. Even though the old lady selling flowers is in the main square downtown nearly every single day, it takes too much effort to send a photographer down there more often than once a year, eh? So let’s use some old archival photos from summer!
Don’t misunderstand me – I read “Stiri de Cluj” precisely because of their motto that “no news is too small to print” and they’ll have stories about badly parked cars and all kinds of other minutiae. But they aren’t really journalists. They’re more like reprinters of the town gossip because most of their stories (and photos) actually come from the readers themselves.
Why do all bloggers/reporters have the same attitude?
Several reasons. One of course is to assuage guilt. Romanians feel bad that they’ve let their country turn into such a clusterfuck that old ladies are forced to hawk flowers on street corners to survive.
Since they’re too lazy to actually organize and DO anything, local bloggers/reporters buck up their bruised egos by “heroically” taking the flower vendor’s side and then tossing her a few paltry lei once in a while. And of course it’s taking the easy route by blaming everything on the mean old police who don’t even arrest or fine this old lady; just talk to her once in a while.
Plus let’s face it the local government truly doesn’t give a shit so why support them at all? The politicians who have to campaign for office are all greedy, bribe-taking swindlers and then all the department heads are appointed as a result of crony nepotism. And every other low-level government employee is just there for the paycheck and doesn’t give two shits about anything beyond keeping the boss happy.
So the best you can hope for is that the government stays off your back. Nobody wants them to enforce the law – if all the police just stayed in their barracks and read comic books all day long that’d actually be a better situation.
Mind you – this is how a single woman’s situation is being handled in this country so you can only imagine just how screwed things get up when you blow it up to a national level and have to deal with issues that affect millions of people.
I’m starting to get a bad Henry II vibe here because every day I have to ask, “Is there ANYONE here who can think outside the box?” If I were the mayor I could fix this problem in two seconds and turn it into a plus for this city so why is it so hard to get anyone to fucking THINK here? Really!