Fear Itself

I got to tell you that beyond some personal projects (which are going smashingly well and more details on those soon when they’re 100% ready to be revealed) I have been increasingly devoting my time to two subjects: fear and poverty.

The poverty angle I’ll leave for another time but today I will speak about fear, especially after this lengthy report (video and text) from Al-Jazeera (in English). The video does not mention Herta Muller although the text goes into some detail about her (she’s quite prolific on the internet if you want to know more) but she and the other principle figures, Laszlo Tokes and Marius Oprea, are all well-known to me.

The end summation is that former Communists, particularly Securitate (secret police) officers and high-ranking collaborators, run most of this country today, up to and including the political power structure (including even possibly President Basescu). And the Communists were brutal, keeping records on basically everyone, and use their power and documentation even today to keep a grip on power.

Before getting into all of that however, I am reminded of an old post I once wrote called 20 Million Snowdrops. Here lately, completely unconnected with the higher powers that be, I’ve noticed example after example of ordinary Romanians cowering in fear under the demands of others.

I spoke with someone who worked for a private company (a multinational one actually) who was in tremendous fear at work because they are constantly downsizing (firing people) and pressuring the remaining employees to work harder and longer hours, many of them “off the clock” and unpaid. God knows I’ve worked in enough corporate “slave mines” like this myself.

But in this particular case, when this Romanian (branch of the) company does want to get rid of you, instead of firing you properly, which would activate labor law protections in the form of unemployment payments, they instead intimidate you into signing a piece of paper that states that you “voluntarily” resigned. If you don’t sign this paper, the level of harassment increases with unpleasant work assignments and they threaten you with putting (essentially) an unfavorable assessment in your work record to try to discourage any future employers from hiring you.

Speaking with other people here lately, I’ve met several people who been incredibly jittery about even having conversations with me about who owns what property here in Cluj (where I live), warning me not even to film the outside of storefronts, all because of a shadowy “Mafia” who might get angry and exact some sort of revenge (on my “informants” of course because I’m untouchable).

Just the other day I got a message from some poor Romanian soul on Facebook who was worried that if they “friended” me then somehow the Securitate would get wind of this and cause problems for this person. I have no clue if the Securitate can infiltrate Facebook but I really cannot imagine how it would cause anyone the slightest problem just because they know me. I’m on television all the time (and newspapers, etc, etc) and have thousands of “friends” on Facebook and I’m really not a criminal or something. But what’s at issue isn’t necessarily what’s “real” but that this fear is in itself very real.

Mind you, these examples (and many more) are ongoing right now when every single Romanian with 200 lei in their pocket can board a bus and legally travel to and work or study in Hungary or Austria or 20 other EU countries, all of which are far outside the reach of any neo-Securitate officials here in Romania.

So where is all of this fear coming from? Why do so many ordinary people I know constantly live in a state of terror in Romania in 2012 when the borders are open? Why do ordinary Romanians I know do so much unpaid work, get intimidated into signing false resignation papers and succumb to pressure on many levels far, far below anything that might have the slightest link to ex-Securitate officers?

The fact that the Communist regime here in Romania did many evil, awful things is not really in doubt. But I really do think the way forward from this is unclear. Obviously Herta Muller and Marius Oprea (a fascinating Q&A with Oprea in Romanian can be found here) are staunch advocates for certain things but clearly the collective, societal will to change does not exist in Romania. It really doesn’t.

I mean it’s a well-established and simple fact that the current Prime Minister of Romania is a raging plagiarist. So why is he still in the position? Why aren’t thousands of people agitating for his resignation? Why does it seem like his political coalition still has the best chance to retain control over the parliament in the upcoming elections on December 9? It’s an open and shut “case” wherein the documents are online and his own university that granted him his degree officially declared he plagiarized. So why is he still around?

If (virtually) no one has the guts to get rid of an obvious fraud in a case as clear as this, where can we find the collective will to get rid of high-ranking members of power with shadowy pasts? I don’t think it can be done. If the “average” Romanian on the street is afraid to resist their own (multinational!) employer, afraid to film a corner shop while standing on a public sidewalk and afraid to Facebook an innocent person who is guilty of nothing (me) then how in the world are people going to resist a network of former secret police officers and torturers? They’re not, obviously.

And the list of examples of fear in ordinary life goes on and on. I’ve had journalists fearfully beg me to please not mention certain subjects on the air. I know students who are afraid of their professors. I know bloggers who become afraid and anxious every time the slightest bit of criticism occurs. I know untold legions of Picayune Rule Enforcers whose actions are always motivated by fear. I know numerous people completely paralyzed with fear of driving in this country when in many other places (as I know firsthand quite well from experience) it’s far more chaotic and dangerous. I know people who are afraid of curses and pay money to “make them go away”. I know people who are afraid of being physically assaulted by uniformed police officers. I’ve already documented extensively the cowardly tourism director of this city who lives in fear of little old me! And the list goes on and on.

This culture of fear really has to stop. I realize that there are people who have incredible power and control over others and that the intimidation is very real. I am not denying that. But this collective “snowdrop” mentality (in Romanian celebrated! by the Miorita poem) has got to come to an end. It simple has to.

And I realize I have a unique role to play in all of this. The first, obviously, is because I am American and therefore immune to many things. God knows if I were ever arrested (although I can’t imagine it would be for anything truly legitimate) my citizenship would make it a big affair and therefore my passport shields me from a lot of petty harassment. Likewise none of my family live here so it’s not as if my elderly grandma (who is dead anyway, but you know what I mean) can be harassed when someone is pissed off at me.

But the second is because I’ve been a “troublemaker” all my life, including in America where my citizenship and English skills meant nothing out of the ordinary. Hell, I was fired three times from the same job, all of them for stupid and trumped up reasons by people who hated me (probably for good reason hehe) and then “un-fired” when someone higher up realized I wasn’t going to go gently into the good night. I’ve been yelled at and screamed at by different employers, one of which even threatened to throw me in jail, and every single time I told them to fuck off.

I wasn’t born rich. I needed a good job and good references the same as anyone would. You already know I didn’t have a degree documenting formal education so believe me, I was always quite vulnerable. But I’ve tangled with lots of people, including when my livelihood and income was on the line, and every single time I did it was because I was speaking the honest truth. Every. Single. Time.

When something was wrong, I didn’t sit there and say or do nothing but instead caused “trouble” and you damn right it made some people angry. But I truly believe in my heart, even when no cameras are filming me, when no blogs are there to witness my life, when it’s just me and my persecutors and perhaps a supernatural higher power, that it’s always better to die for what’s right than to live for what’s wrong.

Does this make me a radical? Yes of course. But unlike a true terrorist, I have no interest in physically harming or killing anyone to defend what I believe is right. Unlike say Herta Muller or Marius Oprea I also have very little interest in seeing people put in jail (it’d be nice if they were, but that’s not MY mission). No. I believe that the rampant criminality and “mafia” style corruption that is utterly gutting this country on every imaginable level, physically, spiritually, morally and ethically, ultimately stems from this fear.

When you are made to be fearful, you are conquered and the person or thing which made you afraid now has complete domination over you. And everything else stems from that.

Well I got bad news for those in power – I am not afraid. Maybe I was born that way or maybe after being screamed at, threatened, harassed, punished, fined, fired, defrauded, lied to, robbed, burglarized, illegally arrested, handcuffed, thrown in the back of police cars, shot at, stabbed, poisoned, electrocuted, drowned and run over by a truck I just stopped being afraid anymore. So anyone gunning for me better get on their job because I am greu de ucis and I ain’t sat down yet, motherfucker :)

This country is too beautiful with too many good people to sit by and do nothing. Once these next two projects are batut in cuie then I’m going to step it up a notch. It’s been fun chasing after tourism directors and criminal mayors and all of that but I really do think it’s time so misbehave some more. After all, why else did I bother to learn the language?

Just so it’s crystal clear, not just today but in the months and years to come for people looking back at this, I’m not a journalist. I’m not doing this for money or for notoriety. I’m doing it because I know a secret, one that works on the very smallest level all the way up to the very biggest level: when others see you are unafraid, they lose their fear as well. And while a handful will oppose you, almost everyone else will support you.

And when you’re not afraid and isolated by your fears anymore, very many beautiful things become possible.

25 thoughts on “Fear Itself

  1. Probably you do realize that you just have underlined the reason for your, ah, your “unfearfulness” (no idea whether the word exists): basically, you have nothing to lose. In your own words, you don’t have any elderly grandma to worry about in the case you stepped on the wrong toe. “grin” But you do have an American passport and, usually, Uncle Sam is known to care for its citizens, especially the IRS, you know. :))

    As for fear…well, we who used to listed “Europa Libera” from under the blankets and refrain from doing confessions because Securitatea was likely about to ger its own confessions from the confessor, we can understand each other. Such fear doesn’t disappear overnight, let alone when you see “la cinquieme colonne” rising again to the surface under your own eyes. Those who don’t understand are free to pick up and throw the first stone.


  2. Sam writes: “I mean it’s a well-established and simple fact that the
    current Prime Minister of Romania is a raging plagiarist. So why is
    he still in the position? …”

    Could it be that a majority of citizens do not think this allegation
    is credible, nor that it’s a sufficiently grave disqualification?

    Besides his doctoral dissertation over a decade ago, while he was a
    grad student, are there other instances of his alleged plagarism?
    Saying he’s a “raging plagiarist” seems to imply that his plagiarism
    is habitual and ongoing — but has that really been demonstrated?

    Who has been injured by the improperly attributed quotations in his
    long ago dissertation? And what was the extent of those injuries?
    Was the damage enough to warrant removing from office a person who’s
    now showing the courage to confront the country’s big problems? Are
    there so many energetic leaders presently on the scene that no loss
    to the country’s future would result from this PM’s removal?

    Considering the complaint about “everyone” being too frightened speak
    up for themselves, and considering what it takes, in effort and luck,
    for any individual to become a top-level leader in the dominant
    governing party, maybe it would a good idea for alleged “sins” from
    one’s student days to be seen in some kind of balanced perspective,
    for the sake of future progress on more substantial matters.

    Having the national railroad go bankrupt because over a hundred
    train conductors were accepting bribes instead of enforcing fares
    seems to me to be doing a greater injury to Romanians than a law
    student neglecting to fully cite some scholarly sources.

    Just my two cents. :-)


    1. Absolutely right. Ponta is not the PM because we’re afraid. I for one do not care one bit if he plagiarized the paper or not, all I care what is he doing as PM.
      Sam, let me be blunt: your mind can’t comprehend how little I care about these allegations.


      1. One of the reasons corruption is flourishing in places like romania (or greece) is because of the sick mentality of people like mihai c. The willingness to associate with scum in return for a favor, and the lack of respect for virtues such as honor and self worth denote a sick society. Maybe communism did succeed, by destroying the aristocracy (and its values), and by leaving behind a populace with a slave mentality that doesn’t expect anything better from its leaders/servants than to be thrown a meagre crumb once in a while.


      2. I think you’re completely right. Whatever Victor Ponta did or didn’t with his degree is strictly a business between him, the person from whose work he supposedly copied parts of his paper and the university that granted him his diploma. As far as I know, plagiarism doesn’t technically mean a breaking of the law and subsequently, it’s not punished by the Penal Code (you know better these things!). I don’t have a problem with traian basescu because he went to brothels when he was a sea captain, it’s his personal business and, if it’s not illegal, I don’t have any right to judge him for what he did in his spare time. I’m far more interested in their activity as President of Romania and/or PM. But to see people like traian basescu, for instance, and others condemning Ponta for his supposed plagiarism makes me every time to burst into laughter. “Rade dracul de porumbe negre” is our saying for things like these and yours may be “The pot calls the kettle black”.


    2. There is a Romanian saying, which Sam might be able to translate for you: cine fura azi un ou maine va fura un bou. That’s why a plagiarist is doing more than “neglecting to fully cite some scholarly sources” (by the way, he “neglected” to cite more than 1/4 of his thesis). In a country where the PM is not punished for stealing why would anyone expect a bribed conductor to be punished?!


      1. Oh, and just for the record, I get no favours for my opinions. I work in the private sector, always have been and I never had any contracts with the state.
        I’ve just never met a bunch of bigger thieves than Basescu & Co. By comparison everyone looks honest.


      2. Whether basescu and his ilk are thieves has nothing to do with ponta’s character. And I have no faith in a population who sees somebody like ponta in favorable light and is willing to excuse and minimize his lack of character. Couldn’t the anti-basescu crowd find a less shitty messiah? Ps I don’t suppot basescu so this is not a political rant. It’s a moral one.


      3. Probably they could have found someone better. But the choice is between those who are involved in politics, not between one and moral perfection. Is the same everywhere. In USA people had to choose between Romney and Obama not between one of them and Mother Teresa. Maybe she would have been better but since she never ran for presidency it does not matter.
        So the comparison is always between those involved. And in my book copying some paper which nobody actually reads is far far far less important than stealing a fleet, factories and pretty much everything else.


      4. As for the plagiarism itself, let me explain how these things work.

        First of all, with the exception of people who had a great carier and obtained their diplomas prior to having a political carier (and that is usually before 1989) almost nobody has actually earned his/her diploma honestly. Basic logic: if you were busy being a politician, when did you have time to spend countless hours studying for obtaining doctorates etc.? Anyone who has any idea how much study that requires knows that is impossible. I’ve graduated the Faculty of Law myself and I personally know five people who obtained the title of “doctor” and out of them only one has actually earned this title by working. And I’ve heard about so many others…

        Usually it happens like this: the one who has a political position or money or both pays some poor guy who has brains but nothing else to write the paper for him. Most of them (the politicians) never even read the paper they supposedly written. And when you are that poor guy writing it you won’t care about the quality of the paper because you know everything has been arranged and nobody will read what you have written. So you might plagiarize as much as you could.

        And this is the method used by many. I know politicians from all parties (some of them who have or had high positions) who obtained their doctor title this way; I know the people who wrote the papers in their stead. That is why I said that I don’t care about these allegations. Everyone is doing it, those accusing have done it themselves, the system is known by most people that is why they knew where to look! After Ponta was accused he accused Codruta Kovesi too but her paper was never verified. Not really. And you know what? Neither one of them deserves their academic titles.

        So technically Ponta is right: he didn’t plagiarized the paper, it was the poor guy who was paid to write in his place. :-))


      5. Actually I’m more concerned over the fact that, if he can’t manage to think up and write a simple thesis by himself (and let’s be serious, getting a Phd in Romania is like a walk in the park compared to other places, especially in non-technical fields), how can you expect him to run a country?
        That’s my only issue with his plagiarism. It’s not that it shows lack of character but it shows incompetence.


      6. The only reason it’s so easy for someone with money to get a Phd in Romania is exactly the system I’ve explained.
        If you DON’T have money and want to get the title just based on your brain is not easy at all. In fact is harder than abroad. Don’t believe me? Try!


  3. What is it that makes you a radical exactly? You live an ordinary life in an ordinary city in an ordinary country. You do the same things as millions of others. Jeez, that’s radical man.

    As for everyone in Romania being afraid except you, is it fear that prevents Romanians from driving on the pavements, and fear that stops them parking where the hell they like? Is it fear that makes them get the right planning permission before they build office blocks next to churches? Is it fear that makes them pick up their garbage after a day out in the country?

    The average Romanian is afraid of very little. And you my friend need to realize that you are not some great savior.


      1. Love the blog. I could not draw a straight line with a ruler eetihr until an old retired art teacher told me to use the opposite hand. I am right handed, so I switched to the left. He said the myth was, if you can draw a straight line with a ruler using one hand that is the hand you were born to use. And I know that. Was left handed until I went into the First Grade at elementary school and the teacher didn’t know how to teach a left handed student, so she made me write right handed.


  4. I wanted to add that I’ve read “The Land of Green Plums.” I enjoy reading a great deal. This book actually hurt to read. I finished it in one sitting and was shell shocked for several weeks.


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