Off the grid


Invisible-man

Yesterday I read an article in a Romanian newspaper which left me grinning for the rest of the day.

It was entitled There are people who exist that don’t exist, about people who have no IDs and don’t “exist”. My partial translation:

Are there people who exist that don’t exist? The subject was brought to our attention by Ciprian Necula, a sociologist and activist working for Romano Butiq, an organization that works for gypsy rights. He spoke to us about a woman who doesn’t any official identification paperwork. She isn’t alone. In her village there are approximately 20 people who also “don’t exist”.

…paradoxically, a woman that doesn’t exist produces more people that don’t exist. The woman [in question] has three children. Because she doesn’t have a birth certificate, she can’t get birth certificates for her children either.

God, I love it.

Mind you, the tone of the story is tragic, that these gypsies can’t get the necessary paperwork because they don’t have the money. Without a birth certificate, you can’t get an ID card, and without an ID card you really and truly don’t “exist” in any government systems so you can’t get a job or any welfare assistance.

Firstly, I love Romania precisely because the system is so backwards that its the citizens who have to pay for a birth certificate. In America and most other countries, you could be a penniless illegal alien who doesn’t speak English and yet your children would still get a birth certificate (if they were born in a hospital).

Secondly, I just love the fact that there are large numbers of people living in Romania who, for one reason or another, are totally off the grid. The gypsies in the article put Ted Kaczynski to shame. They don’t exist in a single database. They can’t be spied on by the NSA. They don’t exist in public records. They aren’t in police files. They can’t have a credit check because they have never once interacted with the banking system. And yet somehow they continue to live.

Out of sight, out of mind

The guy in the article is working with gypsies from Bucharest but I know several people who also “don’t exist” right here in Cluj. In 2010 Emil Boc, the perennially grinning mayor of this town, got his police goons to forcibly evict 76 families (approximately 350 people) from Coastei Street in a dawn raid. The majority of these displaced people were bused over to the town dump and left there to fend for themselves on a bitterly cold December morning.

Recently, a local court ruled that the city would have to pay 2000 euros per person for some of the people who were forcibly evicted over three years ago.

While that sounds like justice has been served honorably, it must be remembered that 2000 euros is a rather small sum of money considering what these people went through and furthermore, none of it has been paid out yet. That’s because Emil Boc is completely unrepentant and has said that the city will appeal the ruling.

The evacuations served the city well though. Firstly, they served to forcibly remove hundreds of gypsies from within the city limits and transfer them out of sight (and therefore out of mind). Basic services such as road maintenance, sewage and gas connections and snow removal don’t exist at a garbage dump and therefore save the city a lot of money. Last but not least, the gypsies serve as an unpaid (and unregulated) recycling crew, combing through the daily deliveries of rubbish and pulling out plastic, metal and other items. The gypsies then sell these items to recyclers, earning barely enough money to survive.

I’ve been to the town dump and seen this horror with my own eyes. I once interviewed (and filmed) a Canadian man who has a ministry there and he introduced me to children who have their arms and legs covered in scars from multiple rat bites. A couple of years ago, a young girl (age 5) was crushed to death by garbage while she was “working” as a recycling scavenger.

Meanwhile Emil Boc keeps on smiling and the people of Cluj keep on not giving a fuck.

Papers, Papers

But by far the worst insult to these evicted people was denying them their official identification papers. When they lived on Coastei Street, they had a legal residence. Despite the assumptions of most Romanians, some of those gypsies had (regular) jobs. Once they got evicted to the dump, they no longer had an official address and thus could not renew their identification cards. The kids could not then go to school and the families could not receive any kind of social assistance because they too “no longer existed”.

Romania has a dysfunctional system where you need far more than a birth certificate in order to “exist”. You also need what’s called a “legal residence”. Someone who owns property must vouch for you that you officially “live” there. They can’t even do it by proxy and must show up in person, not just once, but every single time you have to renew your ID card.

If you don’t own any property and don’t have someone to vouch for you, you cease to exist. A birth certificate and a passport and a job will do you no good. Without the police (whose job it is to regulate these lists) being able to tie you to a piece of property, you’re just as non-existent as a gypsy exiled to the city garbage dump.

Furthermore, almost all government paperwork is tied to your “official residence”. If your only surviving relative lives in Bucharest but you’ve spent the last 10 years as a student and employee (who rents an apartment) in Cluj, you still have to coordinate all your paperwork via Bucharest.

There’s no way to calculate it but I bet that millions of euros are spent annually by people traveling to and from their “official” residences just to take care of bullshit paperwork because of this requirement.

Freedom

If you want a job and a birth certificate to be part of the system, these rules are frustrating. But something good must be acknowledged about this little bit of chaos, a glass raised to toast the failure of a system that once employed 750,000 snitches to monitor and track the tiniest details of people’s lives.

In countries like Germany and Denmark, the Orwellian super-state is everywhere, the government not just registering all births but actively telling parents which names they can and cannot give to their children.

I, for one, don’t wish to live in the Panopticon. I’ve been to England with its millions of CCTV cameras (which do nothing to reduce crime) and have no wish to live in a country like that. Nor do I want to live in the United States with its thousands of helicopters and drones and spy agencies using GPS and other means to track everyone’s movements.

No thanks. I’d rather live in Romania, where hundreds (if not thousands) of people are wandering around without even a single identification document, without a single entry in a government database, without an online history, living their entire lives completely and thoroughly off the grid.

You may not be able to get a welfare check or hire on at a company without existing in these databases but you know what? You’re still a living, breathing, beautiful being. You’re still a human even when the government and corporations say you don’t exist.

And that’s a thought that warms my heart.

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9 Responses »

  1. Don’t worry, I will enlighten you:

    “Mind you, the tone of the story is tragic, that these gypsies can’t get the necessary paperwork because they don’t have the money. Without a birth certificate, you can’t get an ID card, and without an ID card you really and truly don’t “exist” in any government systems so you can’t get a job or any welfare assistance.”

    - Don’t worry they are not knocking down doors for jobs (as per your own rationale, they cease to be gypsies once they “integrate” into society), the assistance is another matter

    “Firstly, I love Romania precisely because the system is so backwards that its the citizens who have to pay for a birth certificate. In America and most other countries, you could be a penniless illegal alien who doesn’t speak English and yet your children would still get a birth certificate (if they were born in a hospital).”

    - WRONG! While a record of birth is free if born in a hospital in the US or Canada, getting an actual copy of that record, i.e. a birth certificate, costs anywhere from 20-90 dollars depending on the state or province.

    “They don’t exist in a single database. They can’t be spied on by the NSA. They don’t exist in public records. They aren’t in police files. They can’t have a credit check because they have never once interacted with the banking system. And yet somehow they continue to live.”

    -Of course, that’s just the way the gypsies want it, that way if they get caught committing various petty crimes, they can’t be identified

    “Romania has a dysfunctional system where you need far more than a birth certificate in order to “exist”. You also need what’s called a “legal residence”. Someone who owns property must vouch for you that you officially “live” there. They can’t even do it by proxy and must show up in person, not just once, but every single time you have to renew your ID card.

    If you don’t own any property and don’t have someone to vouch for you, you cease to exist. A birth certificate and a passport and a job will do you no good. Without the police (whose job it is to regulate these lists) being able to tie you to a piece of property, you’re just as non-existent as a gypsy exiled to the city garbage dump.”

    -WRONG! My husband doesn’t own property and just goes to the local police station and gets his id card renewed all by his lonesome! I on the other hand have to go to the county capital because I am a foreigner, but that’s not what you are talking about.

    “While that sounds like justice has been served honorably, it must be remembered that 2000 euros is a rather small sum of money considering what these people went through and furthermore, none of it has been paid out yet.”

    -Wow, you constantly insist that you don’t come from a wealthy family, but 700.000 euros (or approximately 985.000 USD) is a rather small sum of money to you? Especially when rural areas don’t have money for adequate medical Why don’t you ask the average Romanian if 3 million 150 thousand RON is a rather small sum and if they want that rather small sum to be given to gypsies? (to make it easier, the math is 2000*350=750.000 euros, 750.000*4.5= 3.150.000 RON)

    NOW YOU KNOW…AND SO WILL EVERYBODY ELSE READING YOUR BLOG!

    • ‘just another expat’

      spewing this kind of racist bullshit, you’re surely in the right place.

      I recently had to renew my Romanian ID card and I very damn well had to prove my place of residence, in my case it was my parents that vouched for me, while for others it must be their landlord showing a legal contract. Obviously renting in this country is 90% illegal and I think you’ll find that while being poor it is rather difficult to find someone who wants to rent to you at all. Do read the law before making such claims. Here, I’ll help you out: http://depabd.mai.gov.ro/eliberare_CI_schimb_domiciliu.html . ‘- documentul cu care se face dovada adresei de domiciliu, original si copie;’

      About that 700 000 Euros.. they wouldn’t have to pay it out if they didn’t fucking evict the people to a garbage dump in winter in the first place now would they? All so the church could build a student residence so we can have more priests on the state payroll. It could very well have been used to fund those schools and medical facilities in the countryside.. maybe even for the same gypsies the evicted (you know, gypsies being Romanians and all, not some evil pest).

      For a foreigner your logic is worse than our very own home grown racists..

    • “If you don’t own any property and don’t have someone to vouch for you, you cease to exist. A birth certificate and a passport and a job will do you no good. Without the police (whose job it is to regulate these lists) being able to tie you to a piece of property, you’re just as non-existent as a gypsy exiled to the city garbage dump.”

      -WRONG! My husband doesn’t own property and just goes to the local police station and gets his id card renewed all by his lonesome!”

      I don’t live in Romania and even I know that your statement is WRONG WRONG . Your husband is unique and unlike any Romanian I know. Perhaps he has a close relationship to or was a child of a former high official of the Secretariate and doesn’t have to do what every other Romanian is required to do.

  2. As a citizen of an EU country,I can travel ,live and work in any member country,and officially exist in all of them,all I have to do is pay any taxes I owe wherever I am,and of course obey the law,not rob or steal from anybody,beg when I dont need to but just because I am to lazy to earn a decent living,I dont have to report to police stations because I dont do any of the above so they have no interest in me,nobody cares about my ethenticity or gender preference,because EU law forbids it,(if your interested I”m Anglo,Irish and married to a Scot,so only causes a problem during Rugby 6 Nations competition when I decide to be English),so therefore I legally exist in 27 countries and do so all without making a nuisance of myself in any of them,nor do I bring disgrace to my home country (as the Gypsies do re Romania) by my behaviour and anti social attitude,as you have stated before anybody has the right to live the way they want to,but there is a proviso,you can only do so if you do not at the same time completely ignore the rights of your fellow citizens to do so as well,and if you do do that the rest of us are perfectly entitled to exclude you from our lives (or as you put it :not give a fuck:),I have also noted that in your many blogs,whenever anybody takes you to task on inaccuracies or calls in to question your somewhat nihilstic ,everybodies wrong but you attitude,you never reply or defend yourself.

  3. And cue the racists in their nice apartments saying how the gypsies deserve it and that they should try harder. Something like this would never happen to them because well, they’re rather well off and think they deserve it.

    Sam, we may differ on the views on how the gypsy poor should be considered from a cultural point of view, but thank you for bringing attention to the DETERIORATING situation of the gypsies in Romania, which is supposed to be developing. The authorities aren’t even saving that much money through these kind of actions, it’s more about getting voted in again and again by this sad bunch of hypocritical social-darwinist racists.

    I might have linked this before on your blog: http://www.criticatac.ro/18247/rampa-de-gunoi-spaiul-marginalitii-urbane-avansate-rasializate-romania-de-azi/

  4. Mr Andrew let’s be 100% frank about the documentation needed for an ID card.
    There’s another link on the same website you provided: http://depabd.mai.gov.ro/dovada_adresa_domiciliu.html

    You can just go to the local police station and give a statement regarding where you live.
    Which I think is exactly what “just another expat” was saying.

    Sam – since you usually pride yourself on documenting the things you’re writing about -
    please have a look into obtaining the temporary ID card (specifically HG 1375, Art. 73) and you’ll see these can be obtained by homeless individuals. These ID cards will state the owner does not have a residence.
    Similarly the requisite for a birth certificate can be bypassed for purposes of a temporary ID.

    If you truly wish to receive various forms of aid there’s always a way to do it.
    You would, however, have to show a modicum of interest in something other than what you’re taught at home.
    And I believe that, sadly, that’s the issue here.

    • The police station sent me home because in addition to the signed and notarized statement from my parents that I live with them I only had the legalized copy of the deed for the apartment.. they needed the original. At no time there was question of a simple statement sufficing.

      But thanks for the info on the temporary ID, that does seem like a step forward for the homeless: http://www.dgepmb.ro/_docs/legi/HG%201375-2006.pdf

      “Domiciliu” se completează după cum urmează

      b)”lipsă locuinţă” – pentru persoanele din categoria celor lipsite de adăpost, care nu pot declara
      adresa unui imobil cu destinaţie de locuinţă;
      c)”lipsă dovada adresei de domiciliu” – pentru persoanele care locuiesc într-un imobil cu
      destinaţie de locuinţă şi nu pot prezenta documentul cu care să facă dovada adresei de domiciliu

  5. Do you exist, Sam?

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