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What Normal Means in Romania

Everything's back to normal, Base's back again for the fourth time. Won two elections and survived two impeachment referendums. You gotta give the man some credit.

"Thank you for not voting" 
Before you take this endorsement too seriously, just know I'm not trying to incite any ill-will, just to establish a dialogue. Basically, I'm trying to figure out why so many Romanians are so set on this 'Jos Basescu!' thing. And believe me when I say I'm not asking because I think he makes a great president of Romania and that he's a great leader who deserves to be there. I'm asking in light of the reason this whole referendum scandal has come about to begin with, and the alternative that we are/were facing.

Here's how I see it. I came here hating them all, they're a bunch of hyenas feeding off a carcass as far as I'm concerned. It doesn't matter what colours they wear and  on which side of the political spectrum they are sitting. They are nothing but opportunists at best. All the same, I can't point to any particular political event(s) prior to May 2012 that worried me. I mean really worried me as far as the stability of this country. It was the first time since coming back that I thought maybe it wasn't such a good idea after all. Sure there are things with which I didn't agree, there was a lot of Rosia Monatana stuff that infuriated me, particularly Basescu's outspoken support of the project, but it was more or less day to day bullshit politics. Then in January there were the protests. I supported the SMURD cause, largely in part because I wanted to show my support for the guy who had started the organization, Raed Arafat. That's a man who should be held up to all Romanians as an example of  the success one can have in this country through sheer hard work, determination, and perseverance.

I really hated Basescu at that time, but I still didn't think it made sense for people to go out and protest en masse asking for his resignation. Why would he do that? Decisions he and his government made over the last few years were legal (notice I'm not saying they were correct, merely legal) and nobody had bothered to protest when the laws that were now biting everyone in the ass were being passed in Parliament. It was then that it just hit me: Romania's politicians are a mirror image of the people. Unsophisticated in all matters of public affairs, backwards, and completely ignorant as to what 'Democracy' really means. When I wrote this post I had this crazy fantasy in my head that I'd just given everyone the secret to success and that, armed with this knowledge, people would start to change and that, in turn, so would the country.

But there is a problem here, and having looked at it with outsider's eyes, I'd like to explain it.

When you see two political parties, ideological opposites, joining forces you can't help but raise your eyebrows and wonder why. When you see that this new union creates a parliamentary majority that is now busy decimating the other party's leadership you have your answer. And when you see that despite this politically comfortable situation for the new party, it continues to focus on political battles rather than the socio-economic issues plaguing the country, your eyebrows can't go any higher. You realize that the governance system of checks and balances is clearly inconvenient to the new coalition and again you wonder why, because in every democracy a system of checks and balances is set precisely for this very reason: to inconvenience any one party from getting too carried away with their mandate.

I was very objective in my analysis, I have nothing to gain from supporting either side. More to the point, all of us Romanians can only lose as long as we continue to support any of the existing political parties.  But what I've been observing is one party's quest for absolute power over all branches of government; executive, legislative, and judiciary. That this would happen in Romania is not the most surprising thing of all, what is surprising (and pathetic) is that a person like Basescu is the one to assure those checks and balances are kept in place. What can I say, if that's not a prime example of "Only in Romania", nothing is.

Now, it seems as though Romanians have acquired a taste for protest and are gathering up all over the country to demonstrate that 7.5 million voted to kick him out. Let me tell you that if I went to [any other country] to look for people who want [insert leader name] to leave, I'd also find them in millions, no problem.  "So what?" you say, "the 7.5 million Romanians who want Basescu out voted in a referendum!" Very well, without even going into the legal basis for that referendum, tell me how 46% of voters meets the required 50% + 1 quorum to validate it. They don't and it's not valid, period. But here's what I really want to ask, why are you protesting instead of doing something? Why don't you fight the daily battles with lazy functionaries and inefficient laws. Go protest in front of every government building that opens late, closes soon, and has annoyingly long lunch breaks.  Fight those little battles and together they will have a far greater impact than useless protests.

As always, I have a little story about how persistence in Romania does pay off.

A few weeks ago, I wrote this post about the Silicon Valley initiative in Cluj. Maybe. Someday. If. I said that I'd let you know when somebody from the Ministry gets back to me. They did! Initially I sent the email in English, briefly outlining my interest in learning more about the project and willingness to provide any consulting experience. Then this is how I followed up:

Buna ziua, 

I wrote a couple of weeks ago (message below) and have yet to receive a reply. I assumed that anybody working in the business environment in Romania would have a reasonable understanding of English precisely for such communication. If I assumed incorrectly, I apologize, the remainder of this message will be written in my own brand of Romanian.
 As vrea sa vorbesc cu cineva din ministerul vostru ca sa pot sa discut in mai multe detali planul pentru centru de IT in Cluj. Am experienta in acest sector si mi-ar place sa ajut unde se poate. Daca puteti sa trimiteti niste date de contact, as fi recunoscator. 

I got a reply from a Deputy Director the next day. It was in English and a bit painful to understand, but reasonable- so I guess I got what I asked for. I was thinking of posting the contents here, but they're not relevant. What is important is how I got somebody in the Romanian government to write back with the info I needed. By following up. I'm convinced that if enough Romanians took advantage of all the resources at our disposal to engage with the people who are working for us, we'd be a long way away from bickering over electoral lists after waste of time and money referendums. But hey, that's just me. I'm sure it's just because I can write emails in English and then I can send follow up emails, and no other Romanian can...(I think I just got a business idea).

I'd like to hear back from anyone who is planning on attending these protests. Why are you going and what are you hoping they achieve. I want to hear from those who think that a USL legislature and executive is a good idea for Romania, and why. I'm most curious to hear from people who approve any of the silly things Ponta and Antonescu have done this summer and who can tell me why. I really do want a dialogue. My assumptions could all be wrong, but you'll have to prove it.


  1. Alright, big boy let's dialogue. Basescu is the best president that can honestly come out of this country. Wow - did I just say that? Yeah I did. By no means am I a Basescu fan - I'm actually anti-B but what I mean is that there's no possibility - ever - for a president to come out that DOES NOT represent the people. The people chose him. He is a product of this country and of this generation.

    Does he have any idea of what democracy means? Of course not. But who does in this country? Who stays up at night wondering what else they can do tomorrow to be a more responsible citizen? Civic responsibility anyone?

    What we need is MASS AWARENESS of what THIS COUNTRY COULD BE.

    That means: let's get to work buddy! Our country needs us.

    PS. What's your business idea? I think I just got a business idea too. Wouldn't it be cool to have in-context comments? You know when you reply to an email and add comments in-context, by weaving it them with the original message?

    1. Well said my fellow immigrant, why don't we go in business together?

  2. Hi Matt,

    Got to admit, I haven’t been a fan of Basescu, left the country too long ago and haven’t monitored his path close enough to qualify myself for a decent and accurate evaluation.

    However…I suggest before we get down to the very people that makes up what’s called Romania let’s get some common ground.

    My worse concern is Romania’s external position within the EU and NATO. We are so fucked up I couldn’t believe the level of damage those two clowns were capable of doing in few weeks – Ponta and Antonescu.

    I hope you’ve seen the “speech” Antonescu gave the IMF delegation: it went public, it was broadcasted and he made a foul of himself. No need to go through Ponta’s shameless insults towards EU’s high officials (Merkel, Barosso, etc).

    Please take your time and carefully watch the 37 min interview The Voice of Russia has taken mer. Basescu. The topics are extremely hot, threatening and important for Romania’s geo-strategic position in Europe. Basescu’s performace was flawless: the guy is smart, he’s got balls and you can tell he’s a very experienced and shrewd diplomat.

    Here’s the link:

    Matt, I sent you an email on your gmail account.
    Drop a line whenever you feel like.


    1. Without getting into too many details, I'll say this, Rares: Compared to Ponta and Antonescu, Basescu is Henry F***ing Kissinger.


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