A Velvet Fist In a Steel Glove


Every single morning I rise from my bed, face the rising sun and give a little short prayer of thanks that I live in a country as free as Romania. I truly do admire and respect and indeed cherish how free people are in this country, myself included.

Yet the irony is that, in some respects, Romania is about 3/4th Communist with a sometimes massive presence in people’s lives, controlling and curtailing your freedom.

I was reminded of this the other day when I was on my way into town for a mission when I passed through the gathering crowds at the local stadium, everyone excited for a big game between (Cluj-Napoca’s team) CFR and “Methane Gas” Medias.

And everywhere you looked were dozens and dozens of jackbooted agents of the Ministry of the Interior, many of them arriving in enormous blue battlewagons complete with anti-rioting shielding over the windshield. These paratrooper looking guys, most of them quite robust, hale and hearty men, are part of the jandarmerie, the branch of the national government whose main function is to control the public.

Utterly creepy. And yet I’ve known some of those guys, some of them quite intimately over many, many drinks. I live by this stadium and what I just described occurs at every game. In fact, for some more heated and celebrity matches in the future I’m sure there’ll be even more jandarmi and roadblocks. If I went out and filmed it and dubbed in English and said I had filmed it in America then Alex Jones would have a heart attack.

And the weird thing is that it always seems to go down so smoothly. Yes the crowd shouts and screams and gives you Nuremberg Rally-esque shouts of bloodlust but nonetheless there never seems to be any, you know, actual violence. I see the federal cops standing there, spitting seeds and jabbering on about their wives and girlfriends. I see kids waving scarves and shouting their slogans (? sorry, not much of a sports expert) and then the old cop just yells at ’em and they move along.

As I’ve linked on here before (from other people’s blogs), there are guards here everywhere, many of them from the private firms. Every bank has an old guy in a purple or blue uniform, sitting on a chair, sighing and playing with the hairs in his nose when he thinks no one is looking. As the Flemish girl said, they are “not strong”.

In fact, due to a regrettable incident a few years ago, I actually chased a security guard out of a bank. Luckily the situation was resolved shortly thereafter and no one came to any disadvantage.

Likewise, there are rules and laws and regulations and signs posted everywhere telling you this, that and the other thing are forbidden (interzis) and don’t do this and don’t do that. For years every single trash can in this city exhorted me to “maintain cleanliness” (pastrati curatenie). There’s a few still left in the botanical gardens and I sure hope someone photographs them before they’re all gone.

Legally I and every single person around me is not allowed to go out of the house to sneeze without carrying identification and yet I almost never do. Lots of Romanians don’t as well. And really there’s no reason to. I’ve gotten right through police road blocks simply on the strengths of my verbal charm alone.

And for every rule there’s a dodge, a crook, a bend, a detour, a way to get around or over or under or way past. And so it becomes a self re-inforcing “only the worthy may pass” kind of deals, where ingenuity, charm, willpower and yes of course material success make a difference.

But the point is with all this heavy-handed government presence, from the petty laws to the outright corruption to the riot battlewagons outside an ordinary sports game never seem to actually do any hands-on “cracking down”. Oh yes, of course there have been games here with violence and of course a few batons have been used. But it’s all very restrained, at least to me, coming from a country where every major city’s police department regularly kill people “in the line of duty” and taser them and all the rest.

There are remarkably few people in prison here in Romania, much less for violent crimes. Of course some do exist – I’m not describing some kind of flower-filled meadow here. But the police aren’t kicking down doors and splitting skulls for the most part, they’re standing around in their polished leather boots and smoking cigarettes.

Same for the bank guards. You walk into a bank where there’s a guard posted right at the door and thick glass between you and all the tellers and you start to wonder whether there’s going to be an “incident” at any moment. And then you see it’s all just prop dressing. It’s a Romanian’s idea of what a bank should look like from watching too many movies. The guard’s uniform says “SWAT” and yet you know he doesn’t even know what SWAT stands for. The teller glass is thick but a crowbar would easily pop open the latch on the door to get in the cubicle.

It’s an interesting paradox, living here, where there are 10 million laws and rules and regulations on paper that dictate what I (and all my neighbors) can and cannot do. One example of this is the flotant, which is a rule that you must always inform the police of any deviation of your permanent address.

In the Communist era, you had to have permission to “temporarily relocate” to a city, and that was the flotant. Now if you are “temporarily living” in a different place than your permanent address, you’re theoretically supposed to tell the police this information.

And yet because of how Romania is, we can all live on here, largely unmolested and untroubled. I can get right through a cordon of riot trucks and people can scream their lungs out at a sports game without anyone getting injured. And bank guards can sit there and bite their fingernails to their heart’s content without actually contemplating, you know, doing anything in case of an actual situation.

What can I say? It works for me.

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3 Comments Add yours

  1. Silviul says:

    “…the jandarmerie, the branch of the national government whose main function is to control the public…”

    Sorry mate, but you’re wrong. Their function is to protect. P R O T E C T. They have military ranks and obey military regulations but they act only on request. Some public institutions or schools use the jandarmi as security guards, also they patrol the streets in mixed teams with one or two police officers. Their role on the the football stadium is to protect the normal people who want to watch the game from ape-minded hooligans ready to beat the crap out of anyone not a fan of his fav team. Belive me, I know. I live in Bucharest right between Steaua and Rapid stadiums and every time those two teams meet, cars get smashed, innocent people end up in ER, tram cars or metro trains get vandalised. Brute force is the only language those neanderthals understand.

    About the part with the 10 million laws and rules, I have to tell you, you’re wrong again. In Romania there are no laws or rules…. just guidelines that you may follow or not. Everything is flexible.

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