Democracy, long on critical life support, is now officially dead in Romania.
Yesterday, President Klaus Iohannis ordered the mobilization of 10,000 soldiers onto the streets of Romanian cities.
Just as in Chisinau the day before, these soldiers were deployed in military vehicles and were all heavily armed.
Officially, they were supposed to be “helping” the police, but they did nothing of the sort.
Instead, they just posted up at various key intersections (such as Bucharest’s “Unification” Square, the beating heart of the city and a major shopping district just adjacent to the parliament building) and sat there, doing nothing except scaring the shit out of people.
Online, a few people protested, but these were mostly either survivors of Ceausescu’s reign of terror in the 1980s or Romanians who have been living too long in Western countries.
The vast majority of Romanians inside Romania, however, did not protest. In fact, they did the opposite. Most of them were wildly supportive of the measure, not in spite of the fact that the soldiers were armed but because of it.
To an outsider, that may seem confusing. I’m sure quite a few heads are being scratched at this very moment in the upper echelons of the European Union administration.
After all, why would the people who fought so bravely against heavily armed soldiers in 1989 be enthusiastically cheering the return of those selfsame soldiers in 2020?
The Mask Has Been Lifted
Romania, on paper, is a sovereign nation. There are no border disputes, and the government is a participating member in democratic bodies like the United Nations and the European Union.
But just as a shell corporation obfuscates the reality of financial misdeeds, so, too, has the idea of Romania as a nation been a polite fiction for a long time.
Ceausescu, for all of his many, many faults and evil deeds (and there are so many still being kept hidden away in the dark, perhaps never to be discovered), did do one thing right.
He knew that Romania was a vast land populated by very, very different people, and he united them as one with a combination of an iron grip on the border and a constant stream of mythmaking propaganda.
But after he died, the borders were no longer sealed, and millions and millions of Romanians fled.
The artists, the doctors, the writers, the engineers – they all left as fast as their feet could carry them. And after Romania joined the European Union and integrated its educational system with the wider world, the next generation of intellectuals, scientists, and artists quickly followed in their footsteps.
The economy expanded, again, mostly on a mountain of fiat paper known as credit, sucking the villages and small towns dry. Entire regions with centuries of history and tradition withered and died. Farmers, too, were not exempt, pressured to sell off their lands to giant multinational companies that used tax loopholes to export the food that Romanians then had to pay to import from somewhere else.
And a group of not particularly intelligent but extremely greedy people expanded like a cancer to take over the government, placing it increasingly under central control in Bucharest.
Ministries spawned sub-ministries, agencies, and directorates until one-third of the entire (legal) workforce is now receiving a paycheck from the government.
In some places, there are government agencies that exist solely to collect rent from a different division of the same agency, and the majority of those positions are filled by friends and relatives, in one giant mass of unbridled nepotism.
To keep the miserable masses who hadn’t yet or weren’t smart enough to leave from revolting, the government began instituting policies that would’ve been familiar to an Ancient Roman colonial governor – divide and conquer.
The flames of racial tensions and religious bigotry were regularly fanned, and strict libel and defamation laws meant that only those in power were ever allowed to criticize those in power.
There Are No Neighbors in Romania
Romanians still stuck in Romania, whether due to misguided patriotism, greed, or plain old stupidity, are regularly encouraged not to think of their neighbors as, well, neighbors.
In Romania, your neighbors are not your fellow brothers or sisters, but always some kind of alien Other, whether it’s a Gypsy other, a Moldovan other, an Oltenian other, a Bucharest other, a “manelist” other, a “pitipoianca” other, a Hungarian other, a corrupt government official other, or some kind of other Other.
In Romania, you either steal from your neighbor or else they will steal from you. Institutions are not to be trusted. Companies, police officers, government officials, doctors, and even teachers will lie and defraud you.
Bribery is the only way to get anything out of the antiquated and sprawling bureaucracy that has its tentacles in every aspect of your life. Hell, former President Traian Basescu ran on a campaign of stamping out “big” corruption but made it extremely clear that he would do nothing against the “little” corruption that everyone has to engage in or else be shut out of society.
The only solace left to Romanians still stuck in their country is to go on credit-fueled binges, spending money that they don’t have on food festivals, bars, music concerts, video games, or material obscenities like luxury cars and high-end mobile phones, all this in a country where schoolchildren literally drown in shit or live in burning garbage piles.
Volunteerism, donating blood, and other acts of random, unrewarded kindness, are kept to a bare minimum. The news is filled only with narcissistic navel-gazing.
And if a celebrity like Daniela Militaru, a woman who sacrificed her body just to please her fans, is assaulted and beaten to a bloody pulp, the ravenous masses in Romania cheer and bark like seals, little different than their Ancient Roman ancestors who clapped for the death of gladiators in the arena.
And so, when the coronavirus came, it started with a tinge of xenophobia and racism but quickly devolved into a nationwide witchhunt against the villainous scofflaws who broke the rules about social distancing or self-quarantine, your so-called neighbors who are masquerading as a fellow Romanian.
When patients with a confirmed case of the virus began jumping out of hospital windows or hiding from the police, nobody ever asked why they were so distrustful of the selfsame authorities who have been proven, time and time again, to be liars, thieves, and spectacularly incompetent idiots.
No, instead, these terrified victims were vilified and jeered and scorned, blamed for preventing people from being able to continue stuffing their fat faces were more fried food and craft beer or zooming down the country’s crumbling roadways in their heavily polluting automobiles.
Ask any Romanian who it is who is to blame for the current problems in society, and they’ll all be eager to point the finger and say, “Yes, it’s him! It’s her! It’s my neighbor, but definitely not me!”
And that, dear outsiders and confused people, is why Romanians are celebrating the arrival of heavily armed soldiers on the streets. Every single one of those cheering peons is now thinking, “The soldiers aren’t here for me, but to scare my idiot neighbors who refuse to follow the rules, the rules that I’ll break the second that I think that I can get away with it.”
And when the army does end up shooting someone, which they will, or mass arrests are effected without a warrant during this period of martial law, the flat, dead eyes of Romania’s sociopathic president (a man so callous that he forged paperwork to rob his own literal neighbor from inheriting his family’s home) will shine, knowing that the more harshly he deals with the public now, the more they will love him and throw flowers at his feet.
Over and Out
I started this little jimmy of a blog almost 10 years ago exactly.
At first, it was a place where I could share some amusing anecdotes. But my inner instincts and deep love of political anthropology took over, and soon, this website became home to long-winded investigations into what, exactly, was really going on in Romania.
The cute and funny anecdotes were popular. The truthtelling was most certainly not. After suffering through the truly awful austerity of Ceausescu’s final decade, Romanians only wanted bread and circuses.
After 1989, the crimes of the Communist era were partially destroyed and the rest buried. A grand total of two elderly men are the only people who have ever been convicted for their acts during the Communist regime.
When Cicerone Ionitoiu died, nobody but me even noticed. When the government simply ignored a 2009 referendum to downsize, people just shrugged. When the police brutally teargassed women and children in 2018, the people responded by sharing some angry emojis on Facebook.
When I stood up in Cluj’s City Hall and told the mayor to his face that he was a corrupt bastard, absolutely nobody backed my play. When he was arrested and convicted of corruption months later, everyone just wanted to forget about it.
When I spent months getting to know the plight of the homeless and mentally ill in Cluj, putting together a documentary on it, I submitted it to the local TIFF film festival, but it was quickly rejected, supposedly on technical grounds. And the winner that they picked was a harmlessly nonsense piece of surreal bullshit that not even Fellini could make sense of. But hey, at least it didn’t force anyone to think.
Over the years, I’ve done more journalism, more real journalism, as in exposing the misdeeds of those in power and bringing them to light, than 99% of the journalists in Romania. But it was always met with a gigantic yawn or quarrelous pushback from poseur fascists.
When I tried to speak about the abuse of Gheorghe Funar on TV, a mayor so fucking and racist that he sent his (ethnic) Hungarian opponents’ real butchered pig heads, I had my mic cut. When I filmed children covered in rat bites living across the street from Cluj’s gleaming airport, nobody cared.
And when I was snatched off the street in 2014 by thuggish cops without a badge, radio, or warrant and illegally spirited out of the country, no one said anything, not even after the head of Cluj immigration went on TV and told vile lies about me, saying truly ludicrous shit like I was a drug dealer and a pimp.
But all along, I kept an ember of faith burning. I kept it alive for those brave Romanians whom I met who had suffered under Communism, people who were tortured, abused, and thrown off of bridges by the Securitate for the sole crime of wanting to be free. I kept it alive for people like Doina Cornea, whom I never had the fortune to meet but whose brave writings inspired me to move to Romania all those years ago.
I kept it alive for the business owners who were railroaded by the government mafia. I kept it alive for the homeless, the single mothers, and all those who struggled to make ends meet. And I kept it alive for the Westerners who lived in and invested their blood, sweat, and tears in Romania, believing in its future and potential just as much as I did.
But no more. I am, as they say, done.
This will not be my very last post on this website. There are still more things that I want to say, and some of them are about the Republic of Moldova, which despite, or perhaps because of, their deeply fractured political system, have retained a stubborn desire for justice, fairness, and freedom.
Moldovans may be crude. They may speak the “wrong” way. They may be old-fashioned and superstitious. They may be largely uneducated, at least formally, but their necks are unbowed. There was no one fucking cheering the arrival of the military on the streets of Chisinau this week, that’s for sure.
And last, of course, is Pridnestrovie, the perpetual “bogeyman” in many people’s eyes.
It’s far from a paradise, but here, there is a truly pure strain of the culture that spawned Romania still miraculously alive. Consider it the einkorn wheat of the pyramid builders as opposed to Romania’s GMO devil wheat that was concocted in a multinational corporation’s laboratory, if you will.
The tiny but still flourishing remnants of that culture here is so ancient that it looks almost alien compared to its modern cousin. But Pridnestrovie is the last place left where people can still speak the language of Stefan cel Mare.
Those people deserve to have their story told.
But Romania? You’re on your own.
If you do, somehow, manage to survive being drowned in this tsunami of shit that your decades of incompetence, greed, and indifference have created, let me know. I’d love to celebrate your victory with you. But I am done trying to use my tiny spoon to help bail out your boat.
May God have mercy on your souls.