Romania has been a quagmire of incompetence, stupidity, and corruption for many decades now, but two recent stories caught my attention because of just how scary they are.
First, the Writers Union in Romania did something really weird with Herta Müller:
Last week, Müller learned that she had been expelled from the USR [Romanian Writers Union] for failing to pay her annual membership fee. Several other writers of Romanian origin, some of whom live in Germany, were also expelled, including her colleague William Totok, who also originally came from Banat. After the news broke, the USR suddenly announced that the memberships had merely been “suspended.”
Müller initially wondered whether the news was a prank. “I was unaware I was a member of the Writers’ Union of Romania,” she told DW. “I was never asked to join. And nobody ever contacted me to say I had been — for whichever reason — accepted.” She had never been asked to pay membership fees, either.
Let’s review. The Writers Union isn’t a “union” in the western sense, i.e. a collective bargaining organization for writers. It’s a Soviet-designed institution that, during the Communist days, was responsible for censoring and controlling all published works.
Following the “fall of Communism” in 1989, the Writers Union continued, functioning, essentially, as the gatekeepers of “high literature” in the country. You might remember how proud I was that my wife was published in their literary review journal.
Today, you don’t have to be a member of the Writers Union in order to get published in Romania, and many prominent authors are not members.
Herta Müller is an interesting woman, particularly because she’s the only Romanian to have ever won the Nobel Prize for Literature. I’ve never read anything that she’s written, but my wife is a huge fan of her works, and Müller is easily the highest-profile Romanian writer alive today.
The “problem” is that Müller was a critic of the Communist government. Since 1989, she’s spoken openly about how she was harassed, stalked, and even tortured. But her harassment didn’t end in 1989. As late as 2009, she was being stalked and harassed in Bucharest.
All this is old news, but what’s new is that the Nicolae Manolescu, the current Writers Union president and PSD party member, suddenly decided to “kick out” several writers, including Müller but also Catia Maxim, Mugur Grosu, Dinu Adam, Ioan Vieru, and Adrian Lustig (there were 24 total). Their “crime”? Supposedly, not paying their Union dues.
Müller had, once upon a time in the 1980s, applied for membership but only on the condition that fellow author William Totok be accepted too. Since he wasn’t, she declined to join. And she’s never interacted with the Union since.
Officially, the reason why Müller was kicked out of the Union this year was that she had failed to pay her membership dues. But since she’s never been a member, obviously, she also hasn’t been paying her dues.
Even creepier, the move to kick out Müller and 24 other authors was done by the Union’s “Commision to Monitor, Supervise, and Exclude,” which many Union members say that they had no idea even existed.
Apparently, the whole thing was triggered because the Union is out of money. Authors who are retired get a boost of 5,700 lei ($1,400 USD) to their pension if they’re Union members, and over half of all Union members are receiving pensions (i.e. they’re old).
Why they suddenly thought Müller would want to claim membership (and collect that sweet 5700 lei per month?) is unknown. But what looks like what happened is that the Timisoara branch of the Union claimed to be the “only branch with a Nobel Prize winner” (Müller grew up in western Romania near Timisoara although she now lives in Germany) during an April 12 meeting, and this led to all the insanity that followed.
After a huge international backlash, the Union decided to “suspend” the removal of Müller, except, of course, that she’s never been a member.
Still a member of the Writers Union in good standing, however, is Gabriela Firea, the current mayor of Bucharest, who got admitted after writing a few shitty poems a long time ago.
If that wasn’t crazy enough, this also happened:
Romania’s anti-discrimination council on Wednesday fined the popular satirical publication Times New Romanian for an article insulting Social Democrat leader Liviu Dragnea’s partner who had accompanied the politician to a Social Democrat Party meeting in March.
The Council for Combating Discrimination fined the publication 16,000 RON [about 3,500 euros] for using inappropriate language with sexual connotations, “which created a hostile, degrading, humiliating atmosphere for women that are members of the Social Democrat party, is discriminatory and violates their right to dignity,” the council said in a statement.
If you’ve never heard of Times New Roman, it’s the Romanian version of The Onion. It isn’t a newspaper or traditional journalistic outlet in any way whatsoever. It’s purely a satirical website that pokes fun at everybody and anything.
Let’s review. Liviu Dragnea, the current mafia don of Romania and all-around crook, has a 25-year-old girlfriend named Irina Tanase. She isn’t a politician, but Dragnea invited her to a PSD party meeting back in March.
TNR wrote a joke piece about it (now deleted) and that’s what got them sanctioned. Luckily, the Wayback Machine still has the article.
Here’s my translation:
Dragnea’s Hussy, Assaulted by PSD Members. “All 4,000 of them gave me advice about how to better suck Liviu’s dick.”
Even though he tried to be the star attraction at the PSD meeting on Saturday, Liviu Dragnea’s hussy took center stage. She was seated in the front row near the big cheese idiots of the party, including [current PM Viorica] Dancila, [Bucharest mayor and “poet” Gabriela] Firea, Carmen Dan, and Olguta [former Craiova mayor and current Minister of Labor Lia Olguta Vasilescu]. Thus, she was in a position to receive advice from every single one of the 4,000 party members present.
“Every single party member present at the meeting came over to congratulate me and to offer advice on how to better suck Liviu’s dick,” said Dragnea’s hussy. “Of course, I paid close attention because many of them had this responsibility before I came on the scene. But, without trying to sound like I’m bragging, I didn’t learn anything that useful. Keep in mind that it’s no coincidence that I am now the only woman who sucks Liviu’s dick, and I know how to do that quite well – very well, in fact!”
The only person who didn’t offer advice was Gabriela Firea. It wasn’t because she [Firea] wasn’t jealous, but because she figured out, after exchanging a few glances with Dragnea’s hussy, that she knows what she’s doing and doesn’t need any advice.
“Gabi [Gabriela Firea] had the same job that Dragnea’s current hussy has 20 years ago, and she knows a top performer when she sees one,” said a source inside the party.
To be fair, I’m translating the Romanian word curva as “hussy” here, but it could also be translated as “prostitute” or “whore” as well. Technically, it means “an unmarried woman who has sex” or an “adulteress.”
Here is the National Council on Combating Discrimination’s ruling, which includes a 5,000 lei fine for the author of the article, a 3,000 lei fine for TNR’s editor, and 3,000 lei fine for the publisher’s administrator.
TNR responded to the the ruling on their website, which you can read here.
In reference to the National Council on Combating Discrimination’s ruling, in which [our website] was fined for discrimination against the women of the PSD party, we have the following comments to share:
First of all, we will appeal this decision, and we plan to figure out what was the real reason for the CNCD’s ruling. Officially, the CNCD has not told us anything, and we had to find out about their ruling from press reports.
TNR does not discriminate against anyone. Our job is to produce high-quality humor pieces, and we are opposed to any form of discrimination. Our large body of work speaks to this.
The article which triggered the CNCD ruling was a metaphor for the culture of servility that exists in the PSD party. All we were doing was lampooning the culture of the PSD party, referring to the entire party and all 4,000 members who were present at the meeting, not just the five people who were declared to have been discriminated against.
We also think it is a little suspicious that the CNCD’s ruling came so quickly, just 21 days after receiving a complaint. Be aware that this is after we requested and were given a delay of 12 days before the CNCD hearing, otherwise the ruling would’ve come even more quickly. Our impression is that the decision was already made beforehand.
All of this can be clearly shown at court, that is to say, that the CNCD wanted to rush to make a quick decision without giving us a chance to respond or defend ourselves.
On the same day [April 24, 2018], the CNCD made two rulings, one of which was our case, based on a complaint filed on April 4, 2018, and the other based on a case that was filed on August 21, 2017. Obviously, the only case adjudicated in such a rush was our own.
Furthermore, one person was fined who had no connection with our article. The fine was levied against the company that hosts our site as well as the director of that company. In this situation, the CNCD vote [to impose a fine] was 6-2.
They say that the CNCD is the guarantor of respect and the application of the principle to not discriminate. But their authority comes from “the government, specifically the Parliament.” It is hard for us to believe that a Parliamentary controlled body does not make politically based decisions, especially when those self-same politicians were involved in this case.
But we continue to believe that the Romanian justice system will treat this case seriously and will annul the CNCD’s ruling.
Freedom of expression is a fundamental aspect of a healthy society, especially under conditions in which politicians are attacking the democratic institutions of Romania. Therefore, it is our solemn duty to fight for this right!
To be clear, TNR used some rather offensive language in calling Dragnea’s girlfriend a “hussy” or a “whore”, but again, they’re a satirical website, and it is indisputable that the PSD party has always been run like a mafia. And, to be fair, Irina Tanase’s “career” has been more than a little weird.
Irina Alexandra Tanase was indisputably one of the top attractions at the recent PSD meeting, seated in the front row between PM Viorica Dancila and the Interior Minister, Carmen Dan. Thusly, the PSD leadership had to share the spotlight with the PSD chief’s “life partner.”
“Her being there was totally normal. It happens in all European countries. She’s a very good girl, very sweet, who sat near us and supported the PSD party, and I’m happy about that,” said PM Dancila, two days after the meeting.
“I’m so happy that Irina was with me at the meeting, it was really great. Look, I just decided that I wanted her with me at the meeting. There was even some talk about us getting married, but I haven’t asked her yet. There was also talk about a ring, and there is a ring, one that I gave her on March 1. I’m not a cheapskate, but it’s not an expensive ring. But it isn’t an engagement ring, let’s leave it at that,” said Dragnea.
Five years ago, when she was just 20 years old, Irina Alexandra Tanase was hired by the MDRAP [my note: see here for more on MDRAP and the PSD] as Liviu Dragnea’s personal assistant. Two and a half months later, according to journalists from the Rise Project, she attended a winter party in Brazil with Dragnea.
Christmas and New Years under the sunny skies of Brazil has become a tradition for Irina Tanase and Liviu Dragnea, having gone on vacation together several times in the following years. In 2015, Liviu Dragnea divorced [his wife] Bombonica Dragnea.
Again, I don’t condone misogyny, and I think TNR could’ve made their point without quite being so literal about women sucking Dragnea’s dick, but they’re a satirical website, for chrissakes.
When famous writers and humor websites are getting caught up in politics, this has a very chilling effect on the tattered remains of democracy in Romana.