Romania took a great leap forwards this week when the country’s parliament finally voted to ban smoking in almost all indoor public spaces. The only exceptions to the law are airports (where a fully enclosed smoking section can be installed) and prisons (proof that a few politicians who enjoy a fag are no doubt thinking ahead). While a few reactionary, dissenting voices screamed about totalitarianism and being deprived of their constitutional right to kill others with the smoke from their cigarettes, the country by and large greeted news of the smoking ban with a huge cheer, seeing it very much as an early Christmas present. It’s rare that you find so many Romanians on the same page, and it’s all rather encouraging.
The law will be promulgated by President Klaus Iohannis on Monday, and will probably be published in the Monitorul Oficial the next day. As we understand it, the law will then take effect 45 days after that. We are therefore looking at having a smoke-free Romania by the second week of February (which is, in fact, perfect timing for the next issue of Bucharest In Your Pocket. We were rather concerned that the law would be applied immediately, making the current text we have about Romania being ‘a smoker’s paradise’ horribly redundant). When the great day does finally arrive, we will be celebrating by taking the family out to enjoy a smoke-free dinner, and will thoroughly relish having a few polite words with anyone we find breaking the new law.
Indeed, we would suggest the authorities set up a hotline so that venues which allow their customers to flaunt the law can easily be reported. We fully intend to name and shame them on these pages.
While inside Casa Poporului Romania’s MPs were voting to ban smoking, outside around 3,000 shepherds were protesting against another new law which limits – to three – the number of sheepdogs each farmer can keep per flock. The law – which is not without merit, given the damage done by Romania’s 10 million sheep to the environment, not to mention the thousands of wild animals killed each year by the sheepdogs, a notoriously vicious breed – was the next day temporarily annulled (until April) by the government, making use of an emergency ordinance. In the meantime, negotiations will be held and a compromise which we would hope benefits both sheep farmers and the environment reached.
Another protest, this time by truckers, minibus drivers, taxi drivers and other transport workers against increases in motor insurance costs brought central Bucharest to a halt on Thursday. (Well, a bigger halt than usual). The protesters claim that in some cases insurance premiums for vehicles used to transport goods or passengers have risen by as much as 500 per cent in a year. Insurers claim the price rises are justified given the high number of claims currently being made by the transport industry. A delegation of transporters met with government officials but failed to reach an agreement. Their leader, Vasile Stefanescu, said that he would allow the government ‘a couple of weeks’ to find a solution.
Four cities – from 11 which originally applied – were this week announced as final contenders to become Romania’s next European Capital of Culture, in 2021. The short list comprises Bucharest, Baia Mare, Cluj and Timisoara. The four finalists will now be vigorously vetted by a selection committee under the no doubt firmly objective and fully transparent supervision of the Ministry of Culture, and a final decision on which city will receive
tens of millions of euros of free cash the honour of being only the second Romanian city (after Sibiu in 2007) to be a Capital of Culture will be taken in spring.
The eleven cities which originally applied were: Arad, Baia Mare, Braila, Brasov, Bucharest, Cluj, Craiova, Iasi, Sfantu Gheorghe, Suceava, Targu Mures, Timisoara. We find the absence from the short list of Brasov and at least one city in Moldova rather strange. Most strange however – we would in fact call it disturbing – is the presence of Baia Mare in the final four.
Baia Mare is currently run by an openly racist mayor, Catalin Chereches. His notion of culture was revealed earlier this year to consist of little more than building a wall around one of Baia Mare’s less-salubrious districts, separating it from the rest of the city and in effect creating a ghetto. He then cynically invited students from a design college in Cluj to cover the wall in graffiti, calling the whole thing an urban art project.
Touted as being Romania’s best shot yet at winning an Oscar for the Best Foreign Film, Aferim! has been receiving rave reviews from far and wide for much of the past year (and indeed won its director, Radu Jude, the Best Director gong at the Berlin Film Festival). We finally got round to watching it this week, and can report that while being in parts very difficult to watch (kind of the point), it is a fine film of huge historical importance, addressing as it does the neglected subject of Romania’s past as a slave state. (Slavery was not abolished in Romania until 1856 – a decade before the US did the same, we would add – yet there is no formal mention of it on the school curriculum). Much compared to 12 Years a Slave we are probably not giving too much away by telling you that there is no 12 Years a Slave-style happy ending: far from it, in fact. This excellent piece published last week discusses many of the issues the film raises, as well as the negative reaction it has provoked amongst some of the more prejudiced and racist sectors of Romanian society.
The United States this week completed construction of its anti-missile defence base at Deveselu, in southern Romania. The unit will be fully operational early next year. While we have always supported the construction of the base (and indeed the presence of any Nato forces in Romania), we stick to our original rider that the US should – in exchange – make Romania a member of the visa-waiver programme. Failure to do so does rather negate American claims that Romania is a ‘trusted ally.’ After all, how much do you really trust somebody who you refuse to allow into your house without them being thoroughly vetted?
Tiberiu Ticlea, the new administrative director of Romania’s state-owned and loss-making national airline, Tarom, revealed this week that as many as 40 per cent of the carrier’s staff are related to each other. Curiously (indeed, ironically), Ticlea is the son-in-law of Anisoara Cornila, director of the legal department at the Ministry of Transport.
Finally, Romania’s girl handball team reached the semi-finals of the World Championships in Denmark, beating the hosts (and favourites) in the quarter-final on Wednesday evening. The achievement is all the more surprising given that Romania lost three of their group games, and only just scraped into the knock-out phase. They now play Norway – the reigning Olympic champions – on Friday night for a place in Sunday’s final. The game is live on Dolce Sport 1 at 21:45, or online here.