Towns and cities across Romania have been testing their Cold War-era emergency/air raid sirens this morning. Most people (including us) heard absolutely nothing. Instead of being woken up by the impending doom of Russian nuclear weapons we slept through the whole thing, as did the Bucharest Life kids. A quick glance at Romanian social media would suggest that the rest of the country heard nothing either. Romania’s disaster warning systems are, predictably, a total disaster. Perhaps that’s why half a million euros has just been spent on Europe’s largest bell. At least we might be able to hear that.
Most countries ditched their air raid sirens in the early 1990s after the end of the Cold War, when the threat of nuclear conflict was no longer relevant and warning systems no longer warranted the cost of their upkeep. A couple of countries kept them, notably the Netherlands which tests its system monthly. However, the primary threat there is not bombs but floods.
Why Romania kept its sirens is a mystery. The only natural disaster most of the country is susceptible to is earthquake, and there is no prior warning of those. Maybe the sirens are one of those Cold War/Communist-era relics which Romania simply can’t bring itself to get rid of, like military parades, collectivised heating, May 1st, shit fonts and the need to go to a certain post office in a certain part of the city to pick up certain parcels sent from abroad, and another to send them.
Talking of collectivised heating, our glorious mayor Gabriela Firea (freshly returned from her Easter break) this morning deigned to turn Bucharest’s radiators back on, given that nighttime temperatures have been approaching zero, and it will get colder as the week progresses. It is doubtful that she would have done so had the carefully planned interview she and her husband Florentin Pandele gave to RTV and broadcast at the weekend not been such an utter fiasco.
Part of Firea’s campaign for 2019’s presidential election, in which she is likely to be the main challenger to incumbent Klaus Iohannis, the fawning interview was conducted in a church in Voluntari (the godforsaken Bucharest suburb of which Pandele is mayor), recorded at some stage last week before being broadcast at 21:00 – prime time – on Easter Sunday. It was supposed to show a pious couple devoted to the church, each other, their family, city and country at this holiest of times. Had it been done with a bit more good taste and decorum, it might not have been quite so bad. As it turned out, Romania’s would-be royal couple appear to have made the entire country laugh at them, as well as pissing off a couple of key allies (nationalists and the church).
For a start, the patriotic couple who would give everything for their church and country were not actually in Romania for Easter (as the interview insinuated). They had been busted on Friday, spotted getting on a plane for Greece. Nothing wrong with a foreign break at Easter of course, just don’t try to pretend you’re somewhere else.
Firea’s stunt also appears to have gone down badly with the Romanian Orthodox Church, which she would otherwise consider a key supporter. While it did not directly criticise the brazen use of one its churches for political purposes, the church issued a statement on Monday which suggested it was most upset with Firea’s behaviour throughout Easter, not least her ridiculous giant Easter bunnies which it said ‘trivialised’ the suffering and sacrifice Easter is supposed to represent.
If you have a very strong stomach, you can watch the whole sordid thing, complete with traditional costumes, music and gratuitous use of children here.