The Week in Bucharest Life

Bucharest's next mayor

Bucharest’s next mayor

Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta, currently on trial for 19 counts of money laundering and falsifying documents, easily survived a no-confidence motion in parliament after his PSD party abstained from voting. Ponta then went on TV on Wedensday evening to state that he intends to remain prime minister at least until next summer’s general election, and perhaps after. Embarrassingly for the PM the interim PSD leader Liviu Dragnea (who was sitting next to Ponta in the TV studio) was heard to utter the words: ‘no, that would be too much.’

The Romanian Anti-Corruption Unit (the DNA) claimed that Apa Nova, the nominally French-controlled company which has a 25 year monopoly on supplying Bucharest with water, has been illegally raising consumer water prices with the knowing and willing approval of the city council, to whose members it has been paying huge bribes. The DNA went so far as to claim that every single Bucharest councilor was corrupt and on the take. Meantime, the first heavy rains of autumn on Monday saw many of the city’s main streets once again flooded, the result of a lack of investment in drainage by the same Apa Nova.

Bucharest’s mayor Sorin Oprescu remains in police custody following his arrest for taking bribes, although illness meant that he spent much of the week in hospital. It really is amazing how often otherwise sprightly Romanian politicians suddenly find themselves in shockingly poor health the very moment they get caught with their hands in the till.

You can read more about Oprescu (and some of Romania’s other dodgy city bosses) in this rather good Reuters piece.

The Romanian Vehicle Registry (RAR) announced on Thursday that it would no longer be issuing registration certificates for any cars affected by the Volkswagen emissions scandal, in which the German car maker manipulated software that deliberately gave false pollution readouts. As many as 105,000 cars are thought be fitted with the cracked software in Romania.

A PSD senator, Sorin Iliesiu, proposed the construction of a 25 metre high cross in the middle of Piata Universitatii. Really. The cross is actually part of a wider project to set up a National Museum of Totalitarian Communism. Nice idea perhaps, but we do have to ask why the museum can’t simply be a National Museum of Totalitarianism? In making it merely a communist museum, the fascist Legionary State of 1940-41, as well as the military dictatorship of Ion Antonescu (1941-4) are excluded. Both regimes committed atrocities often in excess of anything the communists managed, not least the scumbag, devil-worshipping legionnaires whose pogroms were amongst the most brutal in all Europe.

Finally, Traian Basescu refused to rule out running for mayor of Bucharest in next year’s local elections. He previously held the post from 2000-4, before being elected president. Given the other options, the city could do a hell of a lot worse.

File Bucharest under water

Bucharest in the rain. Click for source

Bucharest in the rain. Click for source

As if Bucharest didn’t have enough problems, with its mayor Sorin Oprescu currently on remand facing a raft of corruption charges, the Romanian Anti-Corruption Unit – the DNA – announced at the weekend that the city’s entire council (that being, for the avoidance of about, every single councilor) was on the take. Of course, to anyone who has lived in this remarkable country for more than five minutes such news will not come as a huge surprise. Romania’s politicians are in general thought to be highly approachable, and local politicians are known to be the most accommodating of all.

Even so, for the DNA to issue a statement which in no uncertain terms accuses the entire Bucharest city council of taking bribes for one thing or another is nevertheless startling in its sheer bluntness.

According to the DNA, a large number of those councilors have allegedly been on the pay roll of Apa Nova, the nominally French-controlled company which has had a monopoly on Bucharest’s water supply since 2000. The price paid by consumers for water in Bucharest has risen by 125 per cent since 2008, something which the DNA claims has been possible only with the knowing, and utterly illegal compliance of the city council. What’s more, Apa Nova is alleged to have operated the most sophisticated industrial espionage network Romania has ever seen. Staffed with former members of the secret services, Apa Nova spied on its own employees to ensure that they did not reveal – unwittingly or otherwise – any of the company’s illegal activities.

The total value of bribes paid by Apa Nova to members of the Bucharest City Council apparently tops €12 million. Much of this went to Oprescu’s former advisor Costin Berevoianu, and to Vlad Moisescu, leader of the PNL members on the council the former right-hand man of Andrei Chiliman (erstwhile mayor of Bucharest’s Sector 1, currently awaiting trial for corruption). Moisescu is perhaps best known for a fictitious loan of €670 million his mother-in-law made his wife. Both Berevoianu and Moisescu were arrested last week, along with Ovidiu Semenescu, Apa Nova’s ‘unofficial’ representative.

Part (or indeed all) of the above might go some way to explaining why the Bucharest floods every time it rains. The city’s drainage system is old, decrepit and has seen little investment in decades.

Now guess which company has a 25 year monopoly on drainage and sewage in Bucharest?

Answers on the usual postcard.

Romania & Migrants: The Numbers Don’t Add Up

Romania – alongside the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia – predictably went rogue yesterday and voted against the EU’s proposal to allocate quotas of refugees to each of the Union’s countries.

Poland, much to the chagrin of its Eastern European neighbours (and a fair percentage of its population no doubt), sensibly broke ranks and voted in favour. Romania’s disgraceful stance made not a jot of difference, however, given the EU’s qualified majority voting system.

As such, Romania can now expect to receive a modest 6,500 refugees in the very near future. Unlike Slovakia, which has already said it will not take a single refugee (and may be penalised by the EU accordingly), Romania has hinted that while it will continue to oppose the quota system, it will not refuse to take its share of refugees. If this is the case, it will go at least some way towards repairing the country’s reputation as a hospitable place, which has been hurt by its rather knee-jerk reaction to the refugee crisis.

That the Romanian government voted no yesterday did not come as a surprise. As easy at it is to condemn Romania, it should be remembered that the vast majority of the population is right behind the government’s stance. Indeed, only yesterday – shortly before the vote in Brussels – an opinion poll appeared which made for shocking reading (particularly if, like us, you are an immigrant in Romania).

Asked if they would welcome refugees, just 35 per cent replied positively. More than 56 per cent want not a single refugee on Romanian soil. And here’s where the figures stop adding up.

Earlier this year, another opinion poll found that more than 90 per cent of Romanians consider themselves to be Christians. And yet only 35 per cent are willing to help those in need (at no actual cost to themselves, we might add)?

Something’s not quite right there…

Oh, and another thing: we keep reading about how Romania has ‘nowhere to put the refugees.’

Bullshit. There are currently more than two million refugees in Lebanon (from Syria, Palestine and Iraq, as well as some Kurds from Turkey). Lebanon is only slightly bigger than Timis county. Think about that the next time you hear the ‘we’ve no room’ argument.

Update: Iohannis confirmed on Wednesday that Romania would accept the refugees it had been assigned. What’s more, he said that the number of refugees Romania was expected to take ‘is not big’ and that Romania would cope easily enough.

The Week in Bucharest Life

Victor Ponta yet again failed to resign as prime minister of Romania, despite the decision on Thursday of the Romanian Anti-Corruption Unit (DNA) to send him for trial on 19 counts of corruption. The trial begins on Monday, at 12pm.

Having refused to resign when first accused of the offences, and then again after being formally charged (even surviving a parliamentary vote to lift his immunity) it is no real surprise that Ponta has again proven to a stubborn little git. Indeed, far from resigning, Ponta went on Facebook to state that the case against him was nothing more than ‘the obsession of a totally unprofessional prosecutor to assert himself.’ The comment could end up seeing Ponta in even more hot water.

Yet perhaps we should be grateful that Ponta has yet to resign.

After all, his most likely replacement is current vice-premier Gabriel Oprea, a career nobody with an unhealthy uniform fetish. Oprea’s party, the tiny UNPR, is equally insignificant and made up of refugees from across the Romanian political spectrum, including more than a few nutcases first elected as part of the PPDD, the populist party created by former chat show host Dan Diaconescu (currently serving a long prison sentence for corruption). That it could well end up running the country is frightening.

Earlier this week the PPDD got its hands on Bucharest: with current mayor Sorin Oprescu suspended, his replacement is Dan Stefanel, currently a member of the UNPR but formerly a member of the PPDD. If the UNPR had actually planned all of this, it would be entryism of the highest order. As it is, it is more down to blind luck, and the sad, simple fact that, well, this is Romania.

Corneliu Vadim Tudor: a xenophobe, racist, Holocaust denier and all-round scumbag, died on Monday. A poet who once wrote odes to Nicolae Ceausescu, he had been the leader of the neo-fascist Greater Romania Party (PRM) for more than two decades. Buried – amazingly – with full military honours, Vadim was, along with Ion Iliescu and Adrian Nastase, one of the main reasons for Romania’s hamstrung post-communist transition. This brutally honest obituary by Tom Gallagher portrays Vadim exactly as he should be remembered: a total shit who did great damage to the country he claimed to adore.

President Klaus Iohannis softened a little on the subject of refugees, stating on Thursday that while he continued to oppose the EU’s quota system, and that Romania could not take more than 1,785 people, the country would show solidarity with the rest of Europe and take as many refugees as it was asked to do so.

UEFA ordered the Romanian national football team to play their next home match, against Finland, behind closed doors. The reason? The racist behaviour of some Romanian fans. Again.

The first official Apple Store opened in Romania, a partnership deal with the online retailer Emag. Despite the location for the store being a couple of tables in a warehouse in the less than salubrious Crangasi area of Bucharest, the queues were predictably long.


Sing, or else!

There was much kerfuffle in the UK yesterday after the newly elected leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, failed to sing the national anthem God Save the Queen during an event to mark 75 years since the Battle of Britain.

Well, good for him. We are not Corbyn fans, but the idea that somebody has to sing anything is utter nonsense worthy of the 19th century. Corbyn is a republican, so singing ‘God Save the Queen’ (a bizarre dirge whose first verse – the one which is sung – makes no actual mention of Britain, remember) would have been to betray his principles (which are about all he has going for him).

By complete coincidence, Daughter of Bucharest Life was yesterday tasked by her teacher to learn the rather more rousing and generally superior Desteapta-te Romane, the Romanian national anthem written by Andrei Muresan in the 1840s. We of course told her to do no such thing, instead telling her that national anthems are outdated relics of a dark, nationalist past which have no place in modern society.

She learnt it anyway. So much for parental authority.

Anyway, here’s the only version of God Save the Queen we are happy to sing: