Don’t follow leaders

As someone who maintains a site (nearly) exclusively focusing on Romania, it’s certainly incumbent upon me to mention that 2014 is a presidential election year in this country. After two turbulent 5-year terms in office, Basescu is required by law to step down this year.

Who will replace him is anybody’s guess but yesterday I saw that Emil Boc, former Prime Minister and current mayor of Unicorn City, floated the idea of his candidacy on Facebook. Very 2014, I say. Mind you this is what Americans call a “trial balloon”, Mr. Boc using the Facebook announcement to see if enough “likes” get garnered that he will then officially declare his candidacy.

Mr. Boc is certainly a personable guy, very charming in person and far less loathsome than either his racist predecessor (G. Funar) or the idiotic and criminally corrupt Sorin Apostu. But the truth is that Cluj-Napoca is the second largest city in the country, ostensibly wealthy and situated in the beating heart of Transylvania and yet generally this city is left to decay and founder.

and watch your parking meters
and watch your parking meters

I took this photo myself just yesterday in Piata Unirii, the main downtown square in this city and you can above both a) a non-functioning parking meter and b) that it is marred by graffiti. Not pictured just a couple of meters away is a car illegally parked in a handicapped-designated spot. I watched with my own eyes as an able-bodied driver pulled into the spot and hopped out, having no authorization decal to allow him to park there.

The longer I live in Romania, the more strongly I believe in the broken windows theory, which essentially states that governments that permit small violations (i.e. breaking windows in abandoned buildings) leads to a wider disrespect for law and order.

It’s not exactly like Unicorn City is a hotbed of crime and chaos but despite all of Mr. Boc’s personal charm, just about everything in this city is falling apart. True, generally this slide into disrepair and neglect has a genteel and peaceful nature about it, but when one of the most capable and energetic politicians in the country (Boc) can’t even maintain basic order in the city’s central square, I sincerely doubt he’d be very effective as president.

Even if it had to be restricted to a tightly defined central zone, I truly do wonder what this city would look like if the police and other regulatory agencies “cracked down” on such small violations as illegally parked cars and graffiti’d parking meters and other such things. I wonder if buildings were not allowed to have falling bits of plaster and paint, if there weren’t broken or overstuffed garbage bins and if everything was maintained in shipshape order, whether morale would improve as well as higher forms of civic pride and responsibility, such as saying no to bribes and other forms of corruption.

In other words, if downtown Cluj looked like someone cared about it, instead of being a sloppy, muddy, rundown mess interspersed with a few nice statues and churches, would the citizens of this city start to take pride in their town? Would they then apply moral pressure on each other not to litter, not to park illegally, not to let things “go”? Would seeing a well-maintained city give people more confidence in the city administration and thus have more respect for legal and ethical behavior instead of just saying “fuck it, everyone does it” when it comes to being a scofflaw?

My guess is yes. But I have no “facts” to prove it, only my hunch. And as for the next president of Romania, whomever he (yes, he) will be, we all know he’s going to have his work cut out for him.

3 thoughts on “Don’t follow leaders

  1. I’m originally from Romania — lived there 23 years — so I find this opinion interesting. I sure hope the land of good-hearted people (my people) gets a good new president.


  2. Sam, I was in downtown Cluj for the first time in mid-September.
    The Transylvania Fair was in progress and things looked orderly
    despite crowds. Traffic was moving smoothly and graffiti, if
    there was any, wasn’t as noticable as it is in Bucharest, or as
    it is here in San Francisco. There were no intoxicated people
    screaming obscenities, overturning shopping carts in supermarket
    driveways and breaking soft drink bottles onto the pavement, as
    I experienced here last night on my way to buy groceries. To a
    casual visitor from abroad, downtown Cluj looked pretty “cool”.
    Twice I had lunch at the Toulouse Pub and Brasserie across from
    the central plaza, because their sign advertised Chicken Fajita
    in English and I knew what that was — and it was the best ever.
    That place was packed with students on Friday mid-afternoon; the
    waiters and bartenders were all student-aged; they impressed me
    with their professional efficiency in a noisy, semi-chaotic, but
    high-spirited atmosphere, working together smoothly as a team.
    On Sunday morning there was a marathon footrace starting at 10.
    Judging by the numbers on runners’ neck-signs, it appeared there
    were at least 300 folks competing, men and women of all ages.
    What impressed me, as I watched their half-hour of preparations,
    was the teamwork of the mostly 20-something organizers, particularly
    one young man who noticed that wind had slightly twisted the banners
    of some race-sponsors, such as Bank of Transylvania, and he took
    it upon himself to walk out into the street and straignten up the
    canvas. No one told him to do it, and probably few people would
    have noticed if those signs had gone unadjusted, but he noticed
    and took it upon himself to fix that minor problem. A metaphor
    for Romania’s future, I thought! My theory is that Romania’s
    problems will get fixed in due course by the initiatives of young
    people. If they show the same collective spirit that I observed
    in their Rosia Montana demonstrations, I believe Romania will get
    a new President in 2014 who is more than just a nice man, but who
    has a track-record of getting things accomplished for the country.
    Just my outsider’s perspective.


  3. I agree with the “Broken Window” theory. I have never been to Cluj, but I’ve been to Bucuresti, and it seems to me there is a beautiful city hiding beneath some easy to fix maintenance problems–not to mention the creative parking :)


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