Posts Tagged elderly

Why I left Romania

If anybody asks me why I have left my country, Romania, I think the best answer I could give is by showing them the following video. It all happened in Bucharest just a couple of weeks ago, on the 10th of August, and if you are not a Romanian you won’t, of course, understand what they say. Be patient enough and watch it through, pay attention at what age group the people in this video are, the aggressors especially, and you might get a good impression on what I am also going to tell you.

The video is filmed at the so-called “Sunday walk” initiated by the most popular journalists (they do not really deserve to be called such, but never mind) of the television channel Antena 3. They had been broadcasting like mad hours and hours of a talk show after the owner of the media trust had been found guilty of fraud and prosecuted to go to jail, on the 8th of August 2014. They were inciting people to go out in the streets and protest because their beloved mogul is being condemned on political reasons and without real grounds, of course while being clean as a new born baby’s mind. They were clearly stating that this was all the work of the Romanian President, that the court was acting as a puppet and there was no justice in what they ruled.
In other words, one of the major television channels in Romania was making serious accusations regarding the Romanian President and the Romanian court. I wonder if any of them made a formal complaint to any superior forums, such as the European Court of Human Rights. If not, I wonder why.

The news about this Romanian mogul has made it even into British media, as far as I know in one newspaper I would not like to link to. His name is Dan Voiculescu, his wealth rising to approximately 350 million euros, and he is now in jail for the fraudulent purchase of the Romanian Institute for Food Research. He was prosecuted to 10 years in jail, for money laundering and buying the institute for 60 million euros under its worth, by fraudulent side agreement and paperwork, thus causing the Romanian state to lose these money.

Now let me tell you a few things about this “charming” pensioner, a media mogul with such an impressive fortune, and the founding president of the Conservative Party, who twice initiated the procedure for the dismissal of the Romanian President. Both attempts failed, as not enough Romanians came to vote. Anyhow, I am not a supporter of any of the current political parties in Romania and I am certainly not a supporter of any particular politician there. The only thing I can say in this matter is that, while they have tried twice to cause the dismissal of Traian Basescu, the still acting President, they have failed.
Also, Voiculescu is not the first wealthy Romanian politician to go to jail during the President’s mandate. A prominent figure in the Social-Democratic Party (the old Communist Party with a new name, a political group which has ruined Romania after the hasted execution of the former dictator), the named Adrian Nastase had been jailed for the first time in 2012, as being found guilty of acts of corruption while being the Prime Minister. He got out of jail under parole just a year later.
Then, at the beginning of this year, according to the Romanian media, another case was built against him, regarding bribery, usage of fake documents with the Romanian Border Agency and blackmailing. He got another 2 years in jail, but funny enough, got out of jail again just last Thursday, on the 22nd of August, as he had served a third of his sentence.

The good part is that these people have been jailed. The bad part is they are getting out of jail so soon. It really enrages me to know that a friend of mine, from my parents village, has spent about 2-3 years in jail (if I remember correctly) for helping some of his mates transport and sell big bags of flour they had stolen from their work place. The story is that these boys, all in their late teenage years or early twenties, were working at a food depot. Their employer was exploiting them, failing on a continuous basis to pay them their salary. Meanwhile, they were struggling back home, as they all came from families facing financial difficulties. The employer and owner of the depot kept saying that they will get their money next week, when next week came he never paid them their whole salary, so the boys decided to take their part by stealing and selling some flour bags.
While I do not commend what they have done, I do understand the circumstances. I had visited this friend when he was in jail and after he got out I understand he did well. Now we are not in touch anymore, he started working as a lorry driver and I think currently lives in Italy. I knew this boy and he is not your common thief. He came from a family struggling, with a drunkard father whom his mother finally divorced, had to pay him his part of the flat so that she can still live there with the two boys, and then lost her job due to the factory she worked in not doing so well.
To see that the wealthy and corrupted people in Romania, leading figures in politics, get out of prison in no time while young boys from struggling families get to spend years as inmates does enrage me.

But now let’s get back to Dan Voiculescu.
I am blessed to have amazing friends back in Romania, whom I miss, but whom I am also very glad to know. Nowadays Facebook and blogging helps us keep in touch and, while we are miles apart, I can still appreciate their friendship, all that I learn from them and all that we share. One of them is Mugur Grosu, an amazing artist and Romanian journalist (a species in peril) who has worked, with a whole team, on investigating what happened to Ceausescu’s money. While it was known that the dictator had an impressive fortune for himself and his wife, it has never been truly found and claimed back by the Romanian government. That money should have come back to the people, as they have been gathered through the people’s work and misery.
Guess what: as evidence suggests, evidence investigated by my good friend and amazing journalist and artist Mugur Grosu and the team he worked with, Ceausescu’s money has never been deposited in personal accounts with foreign banks. The accounts were opened under the name of the trusted Securitate officers (political police) or other high ranked officials working under the command of the dictator. One of the most trusted and most successful ones was Dan Voiculescu. He led the operations of the Romanian company “Crescent”, which was responsible for massive exports for the construction industry, and apparently made a profit of 1.5 billion dollars.

Now it really becomes clear why Ceausescu was shot after a very rushed trial. He had to be put down before he could talk about the money. His trusted directors, such as Dan Voiculescu, had to be able to keep the fortune and live happily ever after, as successful businessmen in a country where people like me could not work as journalists anymore. A country where the elderly go to protest in the streets against the “unjust” prosecution of the media mogul, and they attack the young journalists from other television channels. What the young lady in the above video asked the pensioners was why they protest against the prosecution of a person found to have stolen from the Romanian state. Have they been with him when he did it? Have they shared his fraudulent profit with him? And then a disgustingly coward man with grey hair kicks the journalist from behind. And later in the video we see an old man lifting his clutch as if to hit the cameraman with it.

Yes, Romania is unfortunately a very young country with no real set of values at the moment. The older generation either regrets Ceausescu’s time, or support today’s big thieves, successful businessman who have profited from the money they got into accounts for the old Communist regime. These are the people who vote massively and whose vote can be bought with a bag of flour and couple of bottles of oil. These are the people who have voted for the former President Iliescu, after he summoned the miners from Jiu Valley to come and restore order in the capital, where young people, mainly students and intellectuals, where PEACEFULLY protesting in the University Square against the government composed mainly of ex-communists. They voted for Iliescu again after people were killed in the streets by these miners, after the opposition parties head offices had been raided and destroyed by these brutes, some of which were suspected not to be real working class after all. And the older generations still voted for him.

And, after all, they are the generation who brought up many people my age, who have learnt the same lesson: know your place and, if you have the opportunity, go on and make your fortune with monkey business. Everybody does the same anyway. What, do you think these journalists and intellectuals are not being paid to claim they mean what they say? Come on, don’t be a fool, they are paid and they just do what they are told to.

Yes, my generation and the younger ones had their own University Square protests, against the government austerity measures and against mining with cyanides for big foreign profit in the Western Carpathian Mountains. They have won, so far, but who knows for how long? Meanwhile, people like me are not needed, after all, how many young intellectuals who don’t like or practice monkey business can one corrupt country accommodate? And not to forget that you might get attacked by enraged 50+ men if you dare do your job and report on how people ask for one of the wealthiest man in the country, with communist money, to be released from prison. Or for part of his wealth not to be confiscated, so that their beloved television channel can still broadcast and fill their empty lives with filthy circus.

I think this kind of sums it all up why I am no longer in Romania, but trying to live a peaceful life while earning a decent salary, travelling, doing my writing and getting ready to help my parents when they have to retire on pitiful pensions. However, I intend to write more about the matter and even, in a future article, explain the cultural and historical differences between the provinces, which make the whole country not to stick well together. These days I have read a very good material about how Transylvania, where I come from, was brought down and has not benefited at all from being part of Romania, and, in a way, my feelings agree with it.

 

 

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The Lost Europe

During my last University years, I joined two cultural studies groups, led by members of The Third Europe Foundation in Timisoara. One of them focused on literature studies, while the other carried on social study to achieve an anthropological view on history. With all the debate today in the UK regarding immigration and countries like Romania, my home land, I’m not sure of how The Third Europe sounds, but for me it has a lot of meaning. Let’s see if we can decipher it together.

How many Europes do you know today? Yes, of course, we can think of Europe as being a big book with so many pages of history, culture, social changes, economy, geography and so on. But generally we speak of Western and Eastern Europe. Well, apparently this leaves things out and the people who started the named foundation were aiming at filling the gaps. This “Third Europe” is actually what has been torn apart by the two wars of the XX century, and ever since the whole world seems to have forgotten about it. It is that part of the continent which has been more or less covered by the Austro-Hungarian Empire, one which many of the people living in the countries nowadays considered Eastern Europe are still praising in their memories, even if only for the cultural heritage. It’s Central Europe.
While some people might have heard or known of it, most haven’t, not even in the countries politically transferred behind the Iron Wall after WWII. Ask a Romanian which countries are part of Central Europe and the chances are very slim they would pick out their own.

To tell you the truth, I have to admit myself that I had no idea whatsoever before attending these two cultural studies groups. Then I had the chance to learn from people like Mircea Mihaies, Adriana Babeti, Smaranda Vultur, most of them professors I’d known from the University, about the heritage of this lost Europe. It was then when I understood where the high esteem people in Banat (Western part of Romania) had on German ethnics came from. And at the same time I could see that this lost Europe was never, in truth, found, ironic as it may sound. The paradox of Central Europe is that it has always existed, but never fully acknowledged until it came apart, was wrapped and buried. People from the countries which became part of the communist block were indeed looking with high esteem towards Wien and the “Kaiserlich und Koniglich” (Imperial and Royal) power, simply because it brought a lot of good investment in their lands. At the same time, apparently the Austrian Germans and the Hungarians, the two ruling nations, were not so happy anymore, looking further on the map.
The world I’ve studied about more than ten years ago and to which my thoughts go back now was as such the heir of an Imperial and Royal dream, a Utopia in which people worked in a joined effort for the benefit of all nations living and prospering together. Ordinary men and women from Timisoara and Praha and Warsaw, be them locals or German colonists, played their part in this world built on the music of Strauss and the image of a benevolent ruler, emperor Franz Joseph, as Encyclopaedia Britannica states: “ he was to his civil servants an unequaled model of exactitude, devotion to duty, and justice”.

Timisoara Unirii Catalina George

(lamps in Union Square in Timisoara, probably not the first ones in Europe, though they might as well be)

Born and raised in Banat, a region which was highly colonised with Austrian Germans, and with the colonists came investment in the mining industry, as well as agriculture, tourism, education and infrastructure, I grew up praising this heritage. I have as well inherited that sense of pride all people in Banat had, summarized by the saying “Banat is the crown” (“Tot Banatu-i fruncea”). One of the last regions to be incorporated into the Austro-Hungarian Empire, taken back from the Ottomans, who have conquered it from the Hungarians (complicated, isn’t it?), Banat saw some of the best projects in Europe of those times. How many people know today that in 1884 my home city, Timisoara, was the first city in Europe, yes, in Europe with electric light on the streets? There were about 731 lamps to start with. And this is not the only premiere in Timisoara that gave local people that sense of pride and of being the chosen ones, as well as the ones capable of bringing the Imperial and Royal dream to life, in peace with all their neighbours, no matter if they were Serbian, Hungarian, Jewish or German.

By joining The Third Europe groups I could now base my pride as a Banat born and raised person on something certain, on historical facts, as well as understand the ups and downs history has brought us to. Funny enough, it wasn’t the literature studies I was most drawn to and most involved in, but the anthropological ones.
The main project going on at the time was based on collecting stories from the elderly locals about how life was and how things happened. We were using the “life story” method, encouraging people to tell us about their lives as they pleased, with little to no intervention from ourselves, not to alter their stream of thoughts and memory. All we did was to politely start a conversation and briefly explain that we’d like to know how life was for them, and then just use our active listening skills, encourage them to keep telling whatever they wanted, and politely support their effort. Of course we would record what they told us, with their permission. In the end books were published about Germans in Banat, or other ethnic communities. The study was based on recurring things in people’s stories. What they thought was important and mattered and was worth sharing in their lives spoke about the thinking of their time, about how people experienced history first hand, what made a great impression on them, what their traumas, dreams and disappointments were. This was history from live memory.

Now I remembered all these because I’m about to write about my life story, in a way that maybe can help other people see more in me and other nationals from the same home country than just a Romanian dreaded as the poorest of Europe, unskilled and ready to do anything to get a piece of the cake, involving mostly crime, milking the British benefits system or stealing a job of a worthy Briton. Maybe my life story can tell more about these Romanian people without a face, “vermin” as some say, coming from a “rat hole” as others claim, maybe it can show that Romanians like me have a lot to offer to whoever wants to learn from other’s experience, history, hopes and dreams and, in the end, their humanity.
Saying stories are like windows to the world is probably a cliché. But maybe when visualising this cliché sometimes we don’t grasp all its meanings: a window is an opening to another world/side/image, but at the same time it’s a mirror. We might not always consciously see our reflection in it, but it’s always there and we do grasp it, even if just with a glimpse we don’t even realize dangling at the corner of our eyes.  

 

 

 

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