Lay on, Macduff!


I have to admit that yesterday my curiosity was greatly piqued by the way certain information was transmitted.

The big “super immunity” story, by which the Romanian Parliament re-classified themselves as private sector employees in order to escape jurisdiction by the anti-corruption agencies, was a hot topic all over Romanian media yesterday. What surprised me though was that Alison Mutler and the crew down at AP headquarters in Bucharest failed to write about this as usually they jump at a chance to blast Romania.

Furthermore, no other wire services have carried the story (yet) and so only a handful of foreign media outlets made any mention of it. What shocked me however was that it was the diplomatic missions of a few countries that picked up this story right away (even before I wrote anything, so they weren’t getting it from me).

The American Embassy struck first, saying this (Romanian version available at the link):

A basic tenet of democracy is that all people are equal under the law.

The amendments to the penal code passed yesterday in the Chamber of Deputies would represent a step backward for Romania.

It is very discouraging that these revisions were passed with no consultation, no debate, and no opportunity for judicial authorities or civil society to respond to the proposed amendments.

This move by the Parliament is a step away from transparency and rule-of-law and is a discouraging sign for investors, which will negatively affect Romania’s economy. Transparency, predictability and stability are critical factors for all investors, domestic and international, when they consider where to invest.

That is very strong language for official diplomatic channels. What’s also surprising is that there currently is no ambassador, only a charge d’affairs, and yet such an unequivocally damning statement was released this rapidly. This means that 1) somebody in the embassy reads and understands Romanian and was observing what happened, 2) they translated it into English, 3) it was kicked up to the State Department for review and 4) somebody high up in Washington approved this message, all of it in less than 24 hours. Amazing!

Later in the day yesterday the German, Dutch and British embassies also released similar statements. I cannot remember the last time diplomatic missions were ahead of the curve of the press, especially in this 24-hour internet world that we all live in. I’d give my eyetooth to know who it is is down at the American embassy that’s paying such sharp attention to the Romanian press because they are evidently one sharp cookie. Palarie jos, sir or madam.

In a serendipitous twist to this whole “super immunity” monkey business, a member of parliament belonging to the ruling PSD party, Nicolae Vasilescu, was just yesterday found guilty of influence trafficking and sentenced to two years. Luckily for Romanian justice, he was picked up at the airport where he was apparently headed to China. Needless to say, not a single member of the USL has criticized Vasilescu or distanced themselves from his actions.

And if all of that weren’t proof of how fucked up things are in Romania, here are just a few examples of all the other crazy shit that’s been going on in literally the last 24 hours (it’d be a full-time job for me to write about all of this on a regular basis):

A few months ago, Ioana Basescu, the daughter of President Traian Basescu, secured a 1-million euro loan from the CEC Bank (which is owned and operated by the government) to buy a large parcel of agricultural land in Calarasi “County”. Despite the fact that she’s an accountant, and never held political office in her life, for some reason the opposition USL coalition loathe and hate this woman (I remember idiots screaming at her on the street this past summer) and spontaneously decided something was fishy about the loan.

The head of the CEC Bank went on television and said the loan was in order. Then the Romanian Central Bank (BNR) went on television and said the loan was in order. Nonetheless, yesterday the parliament officially formed the “Calarasi Committee” to investigate Ioana Basescu’s loan. The only problem is that the first witness to “testify” in this farce, the director of the CEC Bank, said that he couldn’t reveal some details of the loan because of laws on banking secrecy, which apparently are so strong that not even duly authorized members of parliament are allowed to know certain things.

I should note here that Ioana Basescu had to borrow money from the CEC Bank precisely because there’s not a single other bank in Romania that provides agricultural loans. This is because the “dear Americans”, who are so beloved and adored in this country, sold off and privatized (for their own personal profit) the previous state-owned bank that offered loans for agricultural purposes.

In other news, I completely forgot about the other legal shenanigans that the parliament was up to this week concerning the criminal statutes, in which they made it illegal again to “insult or libel” anyone:

An old bill 2011 (Pl-x 680/2011) proposed the repeal of a single article of the Criminal Code, namely Article 74/1. Under very suspicious circumstances, this bill was radically changed the night before being adopted by the Chamber of Deputies during the plenum of 10 December 2013 (“The International Human Rights Day”) by introducing, among other provisions, the offenses of libel and insult.

This decision, taken without any public consultation made useless ten years of efforts made ​​by the society for the decriminalization of insult and libel. It eliminates Romania from the democracies who reject the idea that a man can be imprisoned for his words.

Although the linked article is poorly written, essentially now it’s once again illegal to “insult” or libel anyone in Romania. The actual word used in the Romanian text is calomnie, which in English is calumny, a concept that began long ago in which casting spells (by saying someone’s name) was thought to have the power to confuse or trick a person and was often punishable by death. Very lovely in a sick medieval way. For details in Romanian about the change in the law, click here. The penalty is anywhere from 500 to 13000 lei if you “insult” someone.

I’ve been on television a couple dozen times and have been explicitly warned (long before calumny was re-criminalized!) not to say even the slightest thing bad about any public figures such as politicians. Why? Precisely because they’re scared to death to be slapped with a fine (from the CNA) or charged in court by the “victim”. Self-censorship is so bad here that journalists are left with no other option but to rely on quotes from other people and can never, in an editorial context, say anything directly negative about anyone.

As I’ve said before, I only get away with what I write about on the blog here because I do it in English and nobody here gives a rat’s ass about English. If I ever dared to start writing things in Romanian you’d see them come down on me like a ton of bricks.

In other news, the speaker of the parliament, Valeriu Zgonea (who holds his position because the last speaker was illegally removed in last year’s coup), has re-tabled the proposed amnesty bill for next week. Despite all the furor about pardoning convicted criminals (especially bigwig former politicians), Zgonea’s reply was, “Hey, the prisons are too crowded.” You literally cannot make this shit up.

Another genius, Daniel Barbu, currently the Minister of Culture, went on record last week saying that Romania spends “too much money” on treating patients with HIV. Instead he thinks Romania should spend more money on Shakespeare festivals. Again, you just can’t make this up!

I'm not a greaseball mafia don but I play one on TV

I’m not a greaseball mafia don but I play one on TV

Ovidiu Silaghi, who looks like he belongs in a Sopranos episode, and who was nominated for the post of Transportation Minister (after the last one, Fenechiu, was convicted of defrauding the government of millions of euros), is now being investigated by the DNA (anti-corruption agency) for taking a 200k euro bribe. The only “problem” is that, as a member of parliament, Silaghi has immunity and the parliament would have to vote to remove that immunity in order for the case to go forward.

They just voted themselves “super immunity” from DNA prosecutions so what do you think the likelihood is of the parliament allowing one of their precious members to catch a DNA case? Hmm.

Iulia Motoc, who I’ve been following for a long time on Facebook, is an urbane and educated judge and thus took the opportunity to leave her post on the Constitutional Court (the “Supreme Court” of Romania) and work for the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). So who will the hideously corrupt parliament nominate to replace her?

Why none other than Lucian Bolcas, the scumbag Communist-loving lawyer who defended former PM Adrian Nastase in his corruption trial (which he lost), who promised to appeal Nastase’s conviction to the self-same ECHR because the judges in the trial were “going to convict Nastase no matter what, regardless of the evidence”.

This guy Bolcas was a loyal member of the PRM (headed by nationalist nutbag Corneliu Vadim Tudor) until 2010 when he was kicked out of the party for being a “traitor”. He then called up some journalists so they could watch him sign up with the PSD party, saying he wanted to be “useful” to the party and help defend against Basescu bringing “complete anarchy” to the country. Again, you just cannot make this shit up.

And then some idiot on TVR3 (the “cultural” state-run channel, recently revived) let a bunch of Christmas carolers sing an incredibly racist song that calls for “burning kikes in the oven” because of what “they did to Jesus”. I’m not making up those lyrics, which you can read in Romanian here.

Apparently TVR3 has failed to even apologize for letting such a thing happen and said that the Cluj “Center for Preservation of Culture” (CCPCT) was in charge of the playlist and thus let this particular Christmas carol get through and be broadcast on air. Except that Tiberiu Groza, the head of the CCPCT, opened his fat mouth and said anti-semitic Christmas carols do not even exist (!!!) and that he chose the fun-loving one about burning Jews because “it was a short one and hasn’t been presented on TV before and we wanted to broadcast something new instead of all the same old Christmas carols that they sing every year”. You think I’m making this up? Because I promise you I am not. Meanwhile the CNA (like the FCC in the USA) is investigating this incident.

And if that weren’t enough, the “Ionut Law”, which permits the mass slaughter of dogs, is now in effect. Any street dog not adopted within 14 days will be euthanized.

This law, supposedly in response to the death of a little kid back in September, does nothing to address the fact that the poor child was left to die by his stupid drunken grandmother. Nonetheless, on a weekly basis in the British media and every hour on my Twitter feed, there have been a barrage of reports on just how cruel and senseless the Romanian dog slaughter has been. I can only imagine things will get worse now that local governments have the green light to go ahead and euthanize even more dogs.

Again, as I’ve said many, many times before, there are humane and VIABLE options for handling the stray dog population here in Romania, such as have been done quite successfully in Oradea. There is no need for this mass execution of innocent animals and it’s going to cause a storm of negative publicity for Romania in the months and years to come.

Furthermore, although it is a bet I wholeheartedly want to lose, I wager that in a year’s time the stray dog population in Bucharest won’t be reduced but on the contrary it will be increased. How do I know this? Because I know Romania and I know that if there’s money to be made in killing dogs, more dogs will “magically” appear. It’s happened before and in fact it’s called the cobra effect. Fifty bucks says I’m right.

Aside from all of the malarkey listed above, I’ve been keeping an eye on news in the region, with one window permanently dedicated to Kanal 5‘s live stream of downtown Kiev. Obviously things are tough there but I saw a bit of good news as one raion in Ukraine has authorized Romanian as an official regional language. The link says it happened in Teceu raion but I bet almost no one in Romania has any idea whatsoever where that is, including the journalists who wrote the article because they failed to mention it. In case you’re interested, it’s in Zakarpattia Oblast which sits between Maramures (in Romania) and the northeastern tip of Hungary and is home to both Romanian and Hungarian speakers.

And funny enough, with Ukraine having a meltdown at the moment and Romanian politicians continuing their slow-burning coup d’etat, it’s been nothing but good news out of (the Republic of) Moldova this week.

Starting January 1 they can sell their wines in the EU without any custom duties, effectively giving access to a huge market and no longer being dependent on Russia (which briefly banned the import of Moldovan wine earlier this year, allegedly for health and safety reasons but clearly as a warning). For all of the pro-EU factions in Moldova this will be a huge boost.

And last but not least, I saw with surprise that the Communist Party (yes, it still exists in Moldova) attempted to censure the prime minister, something they regularly do whenever they want to spike the guns of any pro-EU (and pro-Romania) legislation, but failed to get the necessary votes. Not earthshaking news but still rather surprising if you follow Moldovan politics, so overall a win for the “good guys” in my opinion.

Are you exhausted yet? Because I’m exhausted. And every single day this country keeps cranking out more weirdness like this. Frankly it’s a wonder we’re all still sane! :)

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5 Responses »

  1. Nice post, Sam!

    A few corrections and remarks:

    ”Despite the fact that she’s an accountant…” Actually, Ioana basescu is not an accountant, but a notary public.

    ”Ioana Basescu had to borrow money from the CEC Bank precisely because there’s not a single other bank in Romania that provides agricultural loans.” This is nothing but a lie and originates from… who else, but Ioana’s father, Mr. basescu. In fact, there are 14 (fourteen) other banks in Romania (with higher performance than CEC Bank’s) offering agricultural loans, and the president’s daughter could have gone and requested the loan to any other of these banks (by the way, the interest offered by CEC Bank isn’t even advantageous as compared to any of the other 14 banks). One could easily ask oneself why would Ioana make the worst choice? Simple, because her decision was made based on other criteria – let me remind you that CEC Bank is the only state-owned bank and the president didn’t have to worry that the loan would have been denied.

    Nothing fishy here? Come on, you can smell the rotten traffic of influence from far away. Do you mean to say that if another (any other) private person in a similar position as Ioana basescu would have requested a similar loan in similar conditions, the approval would have been granted in less than 2 weeks? I doubt it would have been granted, period. Oh, and how about basescu’s phone call to the Ministry of Finance requesting that the CEC Bank president’s mandate be extended? I can’t stand the smell…

    ” Valeriu Zgonea (who holds his position because the last speaker was illegally removed in last year’s coup)…” Would the last speaker be Roberta Alma Anastase? I know she has a special place in your heart (I remember you wrote so nice about her), but you shouldn’t rewrite history just because you like her so much, after all this is not Orwell’s 1984, it is USL’s 2013 :) Let me remind you that your beloved Roberta was the one who counted 270 votes when there were only 80 deputies present in the September 2010 session when they voted the Pensions Law. Now, certainly nobody would ask 100% on a mathematical aptitude test from a former Miss Romania, and I assume that she didn’t learn a lot of mathematics (if any) as a former student of Sociology. But really… to count 270 instead of 80 would mean serious problems in the intelligence department… or in eye vision… or, who knows, maybe in honesty! In any case, Caragiale would have loved Roberta, this present-days Pristanda :)

    Oh, and by the way, Roberta wasn’t “illegally” removed, she was replaced following the new majority’s democratic vote. Of course, this all happened after the coup d’etat took place, so I’d say that her removal took place legally during an illegal situation which continues today…

    But overall, as I said, a great post! It is, indeed, difficult to keep up with all the weird stuff going on here. Well, you know what they say: Romania, always surprising…

  2. Fascinating Sam…and thanks to Rocky’s Dad for the clarifications. You do a wonderful job at keeping the likes of me up to date with the always surprising Romania. Multumesc!

  3. The super-immunity story was on the news at BBC Radio 1 on December, 11th.

  4. You are tuned in, thanks for the perspective! I did not know “ionut’s law” was in effect. No matter, like anything else it is not enforced. There are as many maidanezi as ever In Bucharest, at any rate.

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