Sunday, 1 November 2015

Could something good come out of the bloodbath at Colectiv?

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Bucharest is a tiny place - despite its 1.9 million inhabitants everyone knows everyone or so it seems. Three friends of friends of mine were in the nightclub Colectiv on Friday night and two of them have died, one heroically on Friday, one today.

In all three victims died today, bringing the death toll to 30. The Minister of Health, Nicolae Banicioiu, said between 80 and 90 percent of the 140 victims in hospital are in serious or critical condition. Secretary of State Raed Arafat told Romania to be prepared for twenty or thirty more deaths, though "that does not mean that it will happen”.

This incident means more than it would in England, France or America because Romanians are not used to terrorism or the kind of mass killings America regularly experiences.  Let's hope Romania doesn't experience a terrorist atrocity, although it is more likely than not that she will. Still, Bucharest, even if it escapes the terrorists, are due an earthquake any time now, in which thousands, not dozens, will probably die. What will happen then? The accident and emergency units in the city's hospitals were stretched to breaking point on Friday night and Saturday morning.

What will happen now is that sorrow will turn to anger. The corrupt, inept state will get the blame for this massacre and deservedly so. A state run by corrupt, inept politicians and corrupt, inept civil servants could not ensure, despite its Kafkaesque bureaucracy and battalions of officials, that nightclubs and bars have fire escapes that work. Thirty fine young men and women died because of slothful, compromised, unintelligent middle-aged ones. 
Health and safety in Bucharest is a complete joke and we all know a terrible tragedy like this was inevitable. I'd imagine, at an informed guess, that most of Bucharest’s restaurants and clubs do not have adequate fire escapes. Colectiv had none at all and the same I am sure is true of many others.


Craig Turp, the Englishman who edits the invaluable restaurant and bar guide, Bucharest In Your Pocket, said today:
Perhaps we should add a ‘Fire escape’ symbol to our listings in Bucharest In Your Pocket, so people know if they are dicing with death when they enter a club.
He was probably joking but it's a very good idea.

I am always accused of seeing Romania through rose tinted spectacles and it is absolutely true that I do, so I was the more shocked when a friend of mine told me how he watched his son die, while the ambulance took almost an hour to reach him, even though the distance it was coming was not far. The emergency workers had told my friend not to administer the kiss of life to his son and he obeyed them.

Until the Colectiv tragedy, Romania had been talking very angrily for a week about a police motorcyclist who died when his motorbike hit a pothole in the middle of Bucharest. The dead man and a large cortege of police were accompanying the Deputy Prime Minister while he went shopping. Perhaps this one policeman's death, the thirty deaths at the club this weekend and the deaths of the people in hospital, that are to come over the next few days, will cause a moral revolution.


Or accelerate one rather, one that started with the work of the Anti-Corruption Agency (Direcţia Naţională Anticorupţie or D.N.A.). The D.N.A. is or has been prosecuting very many of the richest and most powerful Romanians for corruption, including four of Bucharest's seven mayors, who keep popping in and out of gaol, and even the incumbent socialist Prime Minister, Victor Ponta. This revolution received a fillip when Klaus Iohannis, an ethnic German provincial mayor, who is perceived as honest, unexpectedly defeated the same Victor Ponta to become president.


American politicians say that you should never let a serious crisis go to waste. I hope Romanians don't. I hope from this awful tragedy something good can be born. President Iohannis has not done anything very noticeable since he entered office last December. Now is his moment.

17 comments:

  1. I'm very sorry to hear about your friends Paul. I also lost one, an ex-colleague. I cannot believe it. I really hope you're right.

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    1. Thank you, Peter. These people were not people I knew.

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  2. What’s been great about the past few years is the explosion of bars and clubs in Bucharest. Unfortunately, so many things here can be tied back to communism and its lingering effects–people are opening up new places on a budget and are not about to pay for flame retardant materials or sprinkler systems.

    If you don’t impoverish a people to begin with, you don’t end up with all of the difficulties Romania has had–and continues to have–transitioning back to capitalism.

    So much of what goes on in Romania could be avoided if the powers that be were operating on all four cylinders instead of lining their pockets with stolen cash.

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  3. A thoughtful piece Paul, and as you say I hope only that something positive comes out of the tragedy. The legislation that would have avoided it is in place so I don't believe it's sloth, it's how rules, even safety related ones are frequently ignored ( I know you don't drive but how often have you seen a car coming the wrong way up one way streets? ) and this means that corrupt officials and those who bribe them/ provide substandard solutions often feel they are colluding together to beat the system. I did however add extra medical supplies to my Earthquake kit after looking at the lists sent out from the hospitals, as you say that day is overdue.

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    1. Yes I agree with you on all this though sloth and inertia are part of the mix too. I was hoping if you would comment on my two recent blog posts about Syria.

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  4. Thanks for your blog, P.V.E.Wood. As a Brit, I have often noticed gladly that in Romania some of the stupid "Health and Safety" rules in Britain, of which there are many idiotic ones, are not copied in Romania. However, at a large gathering of people, safety is MOST important and the greedy owners who failed to be thoughtful of safety, should be prosecuted for their greed far beyond the profits they made! The council should STOP these evil people opening another dangerous event. I also hope that Klaus Iohannis will force new rules on the brainless council.

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    1. I completely agree with everything you say including the stupidity of much of British health and safety rules. But is it British or EU? Most rules nowadays seem to be made by faceless men (persons, sorry) in Brussels.

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  5. What an awful waste, and so avoidable. I really sense that with the DNA and Iohannis there's some momentum in Romania now, momentum that I don't see elsewhere in the region.

    All best, Andy.

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  6. Good, interesting perspective Paul, but, honestly, I don't understand the relevance of "Thirty fine young men and women died because of slothful, compromised, unintelligent middle-aged ones".It was a tragedy generated by negligence, greed and corruption as you wrote very well. I think that the conflict between generations doesn't place here, even if the majority public employees there are middle-aged. By the way, have you seen how old are the Colective Club hosts ?
    Manuela G.

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  7. A well-written piece, Paul, that encapsulates so much of what is wrong in Romania. As you say, this tragedy should provoke a massive protest and demands for change from the people, but I fear it will not happen. As they say, the dogs will bark, but the caravan will pass ... In two weeks' time, this sad event will be forgotten, eclipsed by some new scandal.

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    1. I hope not - we shall see. Similar things have started revolutions. That poor man setting himself alight in Tunis has changed the Middle East completely (for the worse, unfortunately).

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    2. I love Flecker and am keen to visit Samarkand.

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  8. I suspect Craig Turp is joking: that rating would be a declaration of law-breaking & rather untimely. I can't imagine why you'd need such a brawl to interfere with the pervasive recognition that playing with fire is a straight NO [notwithstanding that a funeral is a stage ...]. Bureaucrats might as well experiment with the safety of their quarters. I'd wish to hear from stage directors at this juncture.

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  9. You're so right - it was an accident waiting to happen, or rather a tragedy.

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  10. I am quite thrown by the references to Flecker and Samarkand. Worthy subjects they may be, but what is their relevance to the Colectiv Club tragedy???

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    1. Sorry I was inattentive and thought the proverb about dogs and caravan came from Flecker's Golden Road to Samarkand but of course it doesn't. I misspoke.

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  11. nice article paul. as a long term resident who lost a very dear friend on friday i have been appalled by the pointless tragedy, yet energised by the reaction of ordinary people. i hope and pray that the indignation turns into action, but remain somehow exactly balanced between optimism and scepticism. time will tell.
    John Riley

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