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.
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.
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.