Romania's Red Plague

"Jos Comunistii!" "PSD, Ciuma Rosie!"

Why are there now, as I'm writing, protesters out in the streets chanting, "down with the communists" and "PSD is the Red plague"? Hasn't it been nearly thirty years since a bloody revolution rid us of the Red plague? It had poisoned our minds and imprisoned our souls for nearly fifty years. Globally, Communism has killed more people and lasted longer than any historical plague. Yet here we are, still fighting this insidious disease, as if it never went away.

Judging by much of the Romania around me, it hasn't.

Without a doubt, the Romania of '89 and the Romania of today are two different countries - at least on the surface. Cars are not all Dacias, people aren't toting worn-out raffia bags wherever they go (even if Luis Vuiton has made them fashionable in the West), there is more colour, more glass alongside the concrete, more neon, more music. Roads are flatter, (some) sidewalks wider. Supermarkets abound. Rationing is a foreign concept. I won't go on. The differences, at a glance, are dramatic.

But there is an underlying tension running through the country. Paradoxically it serves both to unite and to divide us. It unites only as a pandemic can unite and it divides in the exact same way, by fostering an instinct of avoidance among the populace. It drives wedges between us, dissipates our energies, and stifles the boundless potential of Romanians, generation after generation.

There is a name for it: Communist Culture.

I'm afraid that the damage produced by fifty years of Communism will take at least as long to reverse, in any tangible manner, at a social level. It's a pervasive culture; entrenched in our institutions, in our mentality, even in some of our traditions.

This list, in no particular order, is by no means exhaustive, but I'd stamp the 'Communist Culture' label on any society where the average person routinely upholds or applies five or more of the following 'principles' on a regular basis.

  1. Loudest is the strongest.
  2. True leaders don't need consensus.
  3. Leadership is a title not an attitude.
  4. Control over collaboration.
  5. Know your place, stay in your place.
  6. Speaking your mind is dangerous.
  7. Apologies are an admission of guilt and to be avoided at all costs.
  8. Groveling pleases the displeased (even if they remain displeased).
  9. There is no such thing as an "honest mistake".
  10. "I don't know" is not an acceptable answer; 
  11. As a result, a wrong answer is often the 'right' answer.
  12. Facts are malleable if they satisfy the powers that be.
  13. If it's "not your job" don't lift a finger and don't even think about it.
  14. Power/Influence/Money make up for lack of knowledge or experience - and even for stupidity.
  15. Always say your last name first,  and your first name last (even in casual interactions).
  16. Bureaucracy equals efficiency.
  17. Words speak louder than actions.
  18. Degrees and credentials speak louder than work experience (especially PhDs).
  19. Transparency is weakness.
  20. Trust is vulnerability.
  21. Politeness is earned, and given, according to social class.
  22. Help yourself, not others.
  23. It's not stealing if everybody you know does it, too.
  24. Threats and ultimatums are efficient negotiation mechanisms.
  25. Anger always proves a point: pound fists,  raise voice, be dismissive, deride others, storm out.
  26. Show displeasure by humiliating others; personal attacks are welcome.
  27. No decision is always better than the wrong decision.
  28. The boss knows everything, employees know nothing.
  29. Accept no responsibility, always looks elsewhere to assign blame.
  30. Avoid giving a straight answer at all costs (it's too much responsibility).
  31. Any appeal to popular opinion is valid reasoning.
  32. Complaints are more relevant than solutions.
  33. Humiliation is a state of being, not just a temporary feeling.

Maybe this final point is the most relevant of all. I can concede that  individuals the world over may embrace many of these tenets without any particular pre-disposition towards communism, but, when these  transgressions are tallied, especially inside the collective mentality of an entire society, the outcome is a state of perpetual humiliation. It's the kind of humiliation which feeds on and propagates this vicious circle. It's humiliation masked by resentment, frustration, and, ultimately, capitulation.

If you look at these closely, you'll notice the telling elements of Orwellian newspeak, where the reverse of commonly held assumptions are now 'true' or 'right'. That is what communism was all about. It was satire come to life; a parody of human values and of classical liberal thought, institutionalized and made whole. That is what modern cultural Marxism is all about as well, and it's easy to see it in action in most Western democracies - but that's another discussion.

Suffice to say that Communist Culture still holds Romania in its grip. This is why the current socialist government thinks that 3 million votes (cast by 16% of the population) is a mandate to legalize theft and bribery. This is why they're happy to appeal to unity when it comes to the massive protests but not when dissenting opinions are presented. This is why they have the audacity to lie, blame, and complain without ever shouldering responsibility for their actions. This is what the PSD has done in the twenty-some years of leading post-revolution governments in Romania. But, in truth, this has been going for the past 70 years.

This is a system devised to reduce people to insignificant cogs in a monolithic apparatus too large for us to challenge.

Why build highways and make life easier for Romanians? Isn't it more convenient to maintain rage-road inducing traffic conditions? Why empower people to own and operate businesses, and why 'teach a man to fish'? Isn't it easier to make sure everyone is a wage slave or a welfare recipient? Why invest in education and develop strategies that could place our universities in the world's top 100 when our ill-prepared graduates help ensure the status quo? Finally, why work, when we can steal? Why be transparent, when we can lie? Why encourage, when we can humiliate?

This is why Romania can't reach it's potential. This is Communist Culture. This is the PSD platform.

This is why, and what, we must all #rezist.


PSD, The Owner Has Noticed

In Chinua Achebe's, A Man of the People, the narrator, Odilli,  describes an incident between villagers and a greedy local shopkeeper, Josiah. While disliked by many, the villagers could tolerate his greed as long as the shop remained well-stocked and convenient. But one day Josiah is caught stealing a blind beggar's walking stick. He was planning to use it for a medicine that would "turn [the villagers] into blind buyers of his wares." This act epitomizes Josiah's greed and turns the entire village against him. "Josiah has taken away enough for the owner to notice," a villager says.

"I thought much afterwards about that proverb, about the man taking things away until the owner at last notices. In the mouth of our people there was no greater condemnation. It was not just a simple question of a man's cup being full. A man's cup might be full and none be the wiser. But here the owner knew, and the owner, I discovered, is the will of the whole people." 

If you're wondering why people in Romania are going out to protest, night after night, barely a month into the new government's four year mandate, it's because the owner has finally noticed. 

We all knew about the kick-backs, the graft, the petty bribes. Every city hall and institution in Romania has their share of scandals. This was initially tolerated because, "that's Romania", and, more recently, because Romania's National Anti Corruption Directorate (DNA) are prosecuting more corruption cases than just about anyone else in the world.

The Josiahs in the PSD* think they can use legal loopholes as medicine to immunize themselves against prosecution, while simultaneously blinding the people into acquiescence. 

But, "within one week, Josiah was ruined." Odili tells us.

Let's hope it won't take much longer in Romania.

See you out there

*The PSD is Romania's Social Democratic Party, the heir to Romania's Communist Party, who governed the country during most of its post-communist era. PSD leader, Liviu Dragnea, was convicted of electoral fraud and many of its top members are involved in other corruption related cases.


Romania: 2017

Gotta be honest here, a 5-month break wasn't what I expected when I wrote about Untold Festival back in August. There are plenty of reasons I haven't been writing, but as I list them off, I can see that none are particularly good...

Work - Yeah, everyone works
Felt like doing other stuff - Don't we all
Ran out of things to write about - No I didn't
A little bit blasé about my Romanian life - Welcome to any life

It does seem we're at the cusp of something, and maybe I just don't know quite what it is nor how to approach it. Maybe it's not "we", and it's just me, but I doubt it - we're all in this together. 2016 was weird for everyone.

In spite of the absence I didn't feel all that disconnected from my Romania blogging. Email has come in fairy regularly from blog readers, and -although I'm hardly going crazy with it - I've been keeping my Instagram updated with Romania themed images.

But, this absence has been nagging away at me.

So much so that I have several unfinished posts. Unfinished for silly reasons, obviously. There's the one about going to the ER on a Sunday, with my American friend. There's one about all the traffic incidents I witnessed over the course of one day. One about the abject lack of scandals in this country. Another about the abject lack of engaging marketing. Both of the latter have their positives though.  
If I were to stick to tradition, so far as my first post of the year is concerned, I'd go on about the writing and reading resolutions, and about my themes for the year. But I'm going to leave that open-ended this time; I'd rather surprise you.

Happy New Year ;)


Untold Festival: Days 2, 3, 4

I took a 9 minute long video of the streetcar party on day two and  thought it was the greatest thing. Then I watched it on the computer the next day. As with every day at Untold it's about 4 or 5 in the afternoon before I'm ready to face the world. Another day of Untold at this point is not only difficult but almost a punishment. Yet we persist.

Eat, Sleep, Untold, Repeat. Never have I lived a more accurate t-shirt cliché.

Friends come by and we sip some tea. Three shots of it. Start feeling better and call an Uber. Oh yeah, Uber finally made it to Cluj. It's been the same pre-festival ritual four days straight. Eat, Tea, Uber, Untold.

A Brazilian marching band welcomes us in past the security gates. Nobody knows how to Samba but the beat is intoxicating (which is fitting isn't it?). The crowd follows the band through the park. To the spectators on the side it must look like Rio's take on the pied piper.

We said we'd explore but it's hard to stay away from the lure of the Arena. Plus it fills up fast. Too fast. The pit is now packed in by 9 pm, regardless of who is on stage.

______________________________start rant________________________________________

On Sunday night we catch Lost Frequencies and I fall into a deep depression. I can't take the chaotic combination of pop intros, genre switching, and hard, EDM drops. It's soulless and meaningless. It demeans the original work, it makes a mockery of remixing, and it's not even true to electro house.

It's the musical equivalent of a finger painting or trash art (I realize that's insulting to trash artists and finger painters alike, but the analogy sounds right). The drop maddened crowd seems to love it though and that makes me even more depressed. I feel like Seth Troxler at Tomorrowland and anyway, my whining is nothing new, even electro-house DJs have pointed it out.  Nonetheless, rather than kill everybody's vibe with my analysis I try to avoid spending too long in the Arena.

______________________________end rant_________________________________________

The tram and its exuberant atmosphere is a refuge from the Arena. So is the aptly named Stormkeep stage, where the DJs play real house music. It may not be to everybody's liking but at least it's coherent. The Galaxy stage is mostly a bore, as I may have mentioned already, and neither the sounds nor the names call out from the other stages.

More drinks, more dancing, more bumping into friends, more burgers from the Big Red Burger Bus, and a walk among the hammocks wrap up the experience. Kind of, there's one other thing...

Untold was all about Flag Hunting.

I could tell you all about chasing down flag bearers for pictures, but, since pictures speak many more words, the Instagram account created specifically for the purpose will tell you all there is to it.


Untold Festival: Day 1

I didn't think I'd write about Untold but I was there and started writing about Untold. Here it is, from the trenches.

The bass is bumpin'. Tiesto is making us sing along like it's kindergarten for adults. I don't know any of his new songs although he was top dog when I was coming of age in club land. He still is apparently. That was like 15 years ago. He's old. I'm old. Fuck it. 

I'm drinking this nasty cocktail called Beton- Concrete. The name does it justice even if it tastes mostly like cinnamon. Should've got the hint when the barkeep told me I'm only the second guy to order it tonight. I can't wait to finish it. The cup is getting soggy.  
Thinkin' back to Route 94 who has melodic house tracks with millions of views yet he built up and played the exact same beat for half an hour. Maybe only the headliners are allowed to get the crowd going.

Meanwhile the place is twice as crowded as last year. Looks like people think it's the real deal. Cluj Arena is rammed and so are the food stalls. The only place that's got some breathing room is the  Streetcar. And man is it a party. It's bouncing on the tracks and on the inside too. Best party so far.
Tiesto giving it a run for its money though. Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike will too. Fair enough that's what this festival is about.

We left after Tiesto. I ended up waking up well into the afternoon.

Key takeaways after day/night 1:
  • Galaxy stage (Polivalenta) is a disappointment so far (musically speaking)
  • The tram is bumpin', the addition of the second car is good for space 
  • Line ups look worse than they are
  • Don't order drinks that sound weird
  • Explore more


Childhood Memories: International Relations

When we were kids, my brother and I spent all day playing outside with the other neighbourhood boys. When it wasn't soccer, it often meant the 'ștrec',  a deep embankment on either side of the train tracks that crossed Blaj from one end to the other. The ștrec was headquarters. That's where most of our games started or ended. We were soldiers, cowboys or indians,  hunters, explorers, and, best of all, we were spectators to one of the greatest spectacles of all: the thundering passing of trains.

The ștrec today is smaller and more overgrown

The Rapid (now InterCity), especially, was a joy to behold. It would fly by in a blur of grey and blue, holding the promise of far away places that were as inaccessible as Coca-Cola or Juicy Fruit.

Three of us (my brother and I and another kid) were practicing karate moves on the embankment a little ways from our usual spot. We had just finished watching Bruce Lee's Fists Of Fury and today we were all Bruce Lee. We practiced high kicks, roundhouse kicks, flying kicks. We play acted the most spectacular scenes, trying not to kick each others' heads off. Then, alongside our Bruce Lee yelps, we heard the shrill horn of an approaching train and stopped to watch as the Rapid locomotive came into view.

Maybe we waved as it flew by, maybe we didn't, but from the last car there came a hail of colourful objects that landed at our feet and in the grass around us. It was candy. Candy that we'd never heard of, or seen, or tasted before. I'm fairly certain there was a stick of Juicy Fruit, and there was caramel, and some hard candy that tasted like real fruit. We were so excited that I can tell you what winning the lottery feels like. We split the loot into three and ran home to show our parents.

My mother thought the train might've been from Czechoslovakia. I don't know and probably never will. But in case you're reading this and you remember throwing a handful of candy to three urchins playing on a railway embankment, your gesture will never be forgotten. It was one of the best days of my life.

I'm sharing the story because it was the first thing that came to mind when I saw the cover photo of this PressOne article (very much worth the read). And although we didn't live on an isolated mountaintop, far from the basic conveniences of city life, we were far from taking for granted the all the things that we have now. What's more, it's a good reminder how, in time, all past difficulties (or triumphs) become little more than a blur, much like the trains I used to watch.
I hope that the little boy in the picture gets the opportunity to reach the same conclusion some day.


The Prophet of Lyon

The little time I spent in Lyon left me with the impression that it resembles Cluj - maybe a Cluj 100 years into the future, but nonetheless some sort of Cluj. The city's topography, with its perched 5th Arrondisment, and the Place Bellecour, which bears a striking resemblance to Piata Unirii, down to the mounted horse statue, helped cement that notion.  But this is not what this post is about.

On the 19th of June we made our way to the fanzone located in the aforementioned Bellecour. We walked down from the 5th on the Avenue Point du Jour to the Rue de la Favorite, and finally, somewhere in a little street, we ran into some kids playing in an alley on the side of a small building. We were dressed in Romania fan attire; jerseys, flag, clown hair, and good cheer. "Allez les Jaunes!" I chanted. But I was wearing the red Romania jersey and that probably didn't make much sense.

One of the kids eyed us suspiciously. "D'ou etes vous - where are you from?" he asked, his eyes narrowing. When I told him he said, "You're going to lose, Romania is going to lose! Portugal is going to win the Euro! Le Portugal va gagner!" I did what any sane person who'd watched Portugal play, and struggle with ties, against Iceland and Austria in arguably the most accessible group of the competition would do. I laughed in that little bastard's face. I laughed and went on my merry way, chanting "ROOO-MA-NIII-AA!"