If you’ve been a fan of this site for a long time, you know that I call my former town of Cluj-Napoca Unicorn City.
Here is yet more proof of why it keeps on deserving that nickname:
Cluj-Napoca’s Avram Iancu International Airport is the first airport in Romania that hosts a free library. The library, which was opened on Thursday, June 30, and offers tens of volumes in Romania, English, and French which the passengers can read while waiting for their flights.
Obviously it’s pretty cool that there’s now a free library in the airport. They say it’s for passengers who are waiting for a flight but I imagine that it’ll be extra handy for people like me who spent a lot of time waiting around for flights to arrive.
So what’s wrong with something as cool as a free library in the airport?
Well, first of all, Romania Insider (source of the English-language article above) is just incompetently rewriting a story from Agerpres, the media outlet controlled and paid for by the Romanian government.
And guess what? Cluj’s airport library is definitely not the first airport in Romania to get a library.
December 21, 2015 – The airport in Craiova has become the third airport in Europe to get a library. Passengers can get a book from the library in the waiting room in the departure lounge and return it when they return [to the Craiova airport].
Yep, Craiova’s airport library started six months before Cluj’s. But Cluj is the magical rainbow city, isn’t it?
Furthermore, the decision to put the library in the Cluj airport was quoting as being the idea of the Association for Cluj to become the European Capital of Culture in 2021. Sure it was. Hey, I support that group and its mission but let’s not make it into something that isn’t.
But what really gets my goat is what you won’t see at the Cluj airport unless you know what to look for, and that’s the enormous garbage dump of Pata Rat.
Hell on Earth
Way back in 2011, I had a chance to go see Pata Rat for myself after hearing about it from many foreign sources. To understand what this place is, you’ve first got to know a little bit about the complex political forces at work.
The Cluj airport is technically not inside the city limits of Cluj and is therefore under the jurisdiction of the judet (“county”) of Cluj even though it’s located on the principal road that goes right into town. Since the majority of passengers are coming to/from Cluj (the city), the city has a lot of influence on the airport (including the new library) but ultimately it’s the judet that runs it (under the astute leadership of David Ciceo).
Literally just a few hundred meters from the airport is Pata Rat, an enormous garbage dump that mostly handles the city’s waste. Once again though, the county is technically responsible for the site although it’s administered by the city.
Pata Rat is far more than just an ugly site where trucks regularly unload raw, unprocessed garbage. It’s also home to over 1,000 gypsies. But you can’t get there by any direct means as it’s completely hidden from sight from the main road. The only way to get there is to take a long and winding path that adds a full two kilometers to what could be reached on foot in 10 minutes were there no obstructions.
Way back in the year 2010, the city illegally evicted several hundred gypsies and effectively forced them to move to the Pata Rat garbage dump. The city has both violated the gypsy’s rights (in a way that’s complicated to explain) and is dumping garbage there illegally.
Beyond just the political expediency of keeping gypsies “out of sight and out of mind”, Cluj (and the rest of Romania) has an enormous problem with recycling. Basically, nobody sorts the trash in Romania, something that’s mandatory in the European Union. So the Pata Rat garbage dump solves two problems at once: it keeps gypsies locked away in a hideous ghetto and it effectively forces the gypsies to comb through the garbage and do the recycling for the city. The gypsies earn a pittance by pulling out plastic bottles and other recyclables while they and their families are forced to live in the most horrific place I’ve ever been to in Romania.
That’s not hyperbole. When I was there in 2011, rats were biting infant children as they slept, to say nothing of the ungodly stink of living right next to enormous mountains of trash. I shot some video there but a lot of it ended up being too shaky to use. Nonetheless, here’s a tiny fragment:
April 29, 2016 – The move to make a decision concerning amending the county’s budget did not garner enough votes at the latest meeting of the County Council on Friday. This delay will cause a further setback for the bill to authorize 800 thousand euros from the reserve fund to clean up the issues at the Pata Rat garbage dump that have been causing fires.
The bill was proposed by 16 county councillors but only four voted for it when it came up for authorization. Why? Because nobody wanted to explain to the voters ahead of the great election why they’re spending 800k euros to clean up a garbage dump and gypsy camp.
No problem! Unicorn dust will solve the problem. Or not.
May 9 – Once again the Cluj garbage dump of Pata Rat caught on fire, requiring firefighters to use six vehicles to quench the flames, an action that took 12 hours to accomplish.
Here’s the Cluj’s ISU director Andrei Biris explaining what happened:
Because of the nature of the material [that was burning], unmixed garbage, it was highly dangerous.
And how did mayor Emil Boc respond, the same guy whose administration forced gypsies to live in this garbage dump?
The RADP [a department of the Cluj city government], the administrators of the garbage dump, have filed a criminal complaint with the police to identify the individuals who started this fire because there are suspicions that the fire was intentionally set.
Or maybe when you’ve got an uncovered mountain of garbage, fires occur “naturally”, many of which burn for days and sometimes even weeks. But it sounds better to blame some gypsies, doesn’t it?
But hey, don’t focus on the children choking on toxic smoke. Focus on the good news that you can now read a free book at the Cluj airport just a few hundred meters away from a mountain of garbage in the wannabe “cultural capital” of the country.