We saw in the New Year in Petresti, Satu Mare, one of few villages in the world which can boast its own amphitheatre. On the way back we discovered the world’s smallest ski resort. Hardly had we returned to Bucharest than the city was witness to some of the worst violence it had seen in years, although we did at first suggest that it was much ado about nothing. We then found ourselves in something of a quandary as to whether we should say anything about the protests or not in Bucharest In Your Pocket (BIYP). In the end we did, and we think that we got it just about right.
The protests led to the resignation of prime minister Emil Boc, who took his limited talents back to the pretty little provincial town of Cluj-Napoca, where he was elected mayor in June’s local elections.
Boc was replaced as prime minister by the nominally independent Mihai-Razvan Ungureanu, erstwhile head of the Romanian secret police. We once knew Ungureanu and initially had high hopes for him. Alas, as we half suspected, his many academic gifts did little to help him in the world of Romanian politics. He lost a confidence vote not three months after being elected, forcing president Traian Basescu to appoint the USL’s Victor Ponta as prime minister. Ungureanu would further blot his copy book by subsequently becoming the head of the PDL-front organisation Forta Civica.
But we are getting ahead of ourselves.
In February, Romania was hit by the heaviest snowfall the country had suffered in decades. This photo-essay by Bogdan Cristel of Reuters was our pick of the snowy reportage. So bad was the snowfall at one point that schools in Bucharest were closed for three days and we were even forced to defend our car parking space while Mrs. Bucharest Life went shopping. A less conscientious driver made an early claim for Dickhead of the Year by blocking the pavement outside our son’s school.
March saw the closure – finally – of Europe’s worst airport, Baneasa. We visited the Romanian Peasant Museum for the first time in years, found an old Romanian textbook and decided that of all the problems facing the Romanian education system, the teaching of religion was not the most serious of them. We also remembered the 35th anniversary of the 1977 Bucharest earthquake.
We celebrated five years of Bucharest Life in April, a month in which we took in some more museums, the best of which was the much-overlooked Museum of Bucharest. As the local election campaign got underway we set our own agenda for Bucharest, and took a closer look at outsider Nicusor Dan, an independent candidate and darling of the social media-set who ended up taking just under nine per cent of the vote: a credible score yet not as high as he or his supporters had hoped. (By the way, the A Closer Look at Nicusor Dan post was the most commented of the year).
As the Bucharest mayor campaign dragged on into May we had a look at some of the comedy candidates, in the race and focused a little on the mayoral battle in our own sector, Sector 3. We spent a day without electricity, although it did offer us the opportunity to do some spring cleaning, during which we discovered a gem on an old bookshelf: a 1962 guide to Bucharest. Speaking of Bucharest city guides, we were asked by a reader of BIYP why we publish such an extensive round up of the Bucharest adult entertainment scene on our website and in our print guide. We explained ourselves here.
June was dominated by politics, and set the tone for the rest of the summer. The USL won the local elections by a massive margin, with Sorin Oprescu being reelected mayor of Bucharest. Robert Negoita was elected mayor of Sector 3. Victor Ponta – installed as prime minister early in May after the collapse of the Ungureanu government – found himself at the centre of a plagiarism scandal that continues to haunt him to this day, although as we wrote at the very end of June, the real scandal is that so few people seem to care whether he copied or not. And that wasn’t even the biggest scandal of the month either. Oh no. That accolade went to Adrian Nastase, the former prime minister who – after being sentenced to two years in prison for corruption – allegedly tried to shoot himself.
July was an equally chaotic month, which began with Romania’s government making friends around the world by removing the speakers of both houses of parliament before suspending Traian Basescu. The USL’s Crin Antonescu – newly installed as head of the upper house of parliament, the senate – took over as interim president. Though in hindsight a rash move the suspension was not, we argued, a coup (as some parts of the Traian Taleban tried to portray it).
The referendum itself was a farce. With a turnout of 50 per cent needed in order to make it valid, the result was never in doubt: Romanians would vote in huge numbers to get rid of Basescu, but not in the kind of numbers needed to do so. And so it was thus: while more than 80 per cent voted to boot Basescu out of office permanently, turnout was some way below the 50 per cent required. Then came the revelation that the electoral roll was in fact wrong and that if data from the 2011 census had been used then turnout would have been over 50 per cent. After much deliberation, the Romanian Constitutional Court (CCR) ruled out such a hypothesis and Basescu eventually returned to office. (Basescu also featured in this post about which Romanian president past or present speaks the best English. We gave the award to Ion Iliescu).
We defended the Romanian education system from the charge on the Economist’s Eastern Approaches blog that it produces idiots by issuing a simple challenge: take 100 random 9-year-old kids from London’s state schools and set them the maths homework a 9-year-old Romanian kid is expected to do. Then we will see which country is producing the idiots. The Bucharest metro raised its prices but remained a bargain, while outside our apartment a huge hole appeared. And then another. In entirely unrelated hole news Bucharest City Council announced it would spend €14 million on hi-tech public toilets. As far as we know, they never did.
September in Bucharest’s six sectors (which, we wondered aloud , might be better off with proper names) was hotter than ever, forcing us to decamp to the Romanian seaside. We found little there we were impressed with, apart from the speed at which cash disappears. Far more enjoyable was our weekend hiking in the Bucegi. We also in September attended a Romanian second division football match, a surreal experience we wrote about here.
In October a newly-built apartment block in southern Bucharest caught fire, causing much damage and making many families homeless. It subsequently turned out that many of those affected did not have home insurance, still seen as an optional extra by far too many people. This pile of rubble we found on Bulevardul Magheru was not fire damaged, but might have been, and probably should have been. The joys of living in one of Bucharest’s blocks were further explored in this post, while, with the general election approaching, this guest post by Barbu Mateescu explained Romania’s stupid electoral system as best as anyone can.
The new head of the Romanian Cultural Institute Andrei Marga promised to clamp down on journalists using ‘denigrating terms, cliches or any other form of tendentious comment about Romania and the Romanian people which diminish, minimilise or distort traditional Romanian values,’ threatening our very existence. The same Varga also declared – to much derision – that the radiator was a Romanian invention.
The disabled population of Bucharest – and how they cope – was on our mind in November, a month which should have been all about the general election campaign but which ended up being something of a damp squib. Indeed, this was the non-election of all non-elections. On Romania’s national day we published a list of five great things we love about Romania, a post which ended up being (so far) the most viewed page on Bucharest Life this year (closely followed by this piece on Bucharest and Romania souvenirs).
On election day itself we declared that we had nobody to vote for, and after the election went much as everyone expected we came up with eight early conclusions – all of which we would modestly point out have proven to be more or less spot on.
It was another good year for the day job, In Your Pocket, as we continued to publish the only half-decent guides to Bucharest, Brasov and Sibiu. We also did rather well hawking this presentation on the challenges facing those of us in the travel publishing industry around a few travel conferences – anywhere that would give us a good dinner and a nice hotel room, to be honest – and it always appeared to go down quite well.