Wednesday 27 June 2012

Bombo, Bombo, te duci la Congo!

"For God's sake, let us sit upon the ground. And tell sad stories of the death of kings."   Richard II, Act III, Scene II

'Bombo, Bombo, te duci la Congo' (Bombo, Bombo,  - homophobic nickname for Adrian Nastase - go to the Congo) shouted the crowds in the streets before Mr. Nastase was defeated by a whisker by the current President Traian Basescu in the 2004 Romanian presidential election. But now Mr. Nastase is at last actually in Rahova prison, for a crime everyone is sure he was guilty of, after a failed suicide attempt that looked like a bizarre ploy not to go to gaol, many people do not seem as pleased as you would think.

Most people, except foreign diplomats, believed former Prime Minister Adrian Nastase's suicide attempt was a sham to avoid prison (I am by not sure but what do I know?) But wonders never cease and I realise Romania has changed, thank God. As of last night, Adrian Nastase is in Rahova, after all, despite all the people, myself included, and it was all the people i spoke to, who expected the Government to use his psychological condition as a reason to keep him out of gaol. His party, the PSD, after all has just come to power. And - mirabile dictu - the doctors who attended him after the putative suicide attempt are being investigated by the authorities for their part in the strange story. 

And now Romanians are feeling sorry for him, even substantial political commentators who loathe the PSD, like Dr. Alina Mungiu-Pippidi. Why? 

To answer that would be to understand much. I can only try.

Romanians expect all their politicians to be corrupt and they are right to do so. Since at least the Greek Phanariot rulers in the eighteenth century, who purchased their thrones from the Sultan and got the money back from Romanian tax payers as quickly and unscrupulously as possible, most politicians go into politics to enrich themselves.  In any case, many of the Romanian public are corrupt too. In Romania, everything is seen in almost purely human terms rather than in terms of abstract principle. Abstract principles are so bloodless and ....well, abstract. I am sure this is how Mr. and Mrs. Nastase and their friends and enemies see things. 

And Romanians are very soft-hearted and sentimental, something that sometimes goes along with brutality. Goering wept effusively when his dogs died.

I remember teasing PSD princess and TV starlet Raluca Badulescu, spendthrift daughter of a senior PSD politician, about only donating 2 million old lei ($60) to the flood victims at a telethon and she said 'Yes and I wish I hadn't given them that much. They don't need my money. Other people give them money and anyway I don't care about them. I just don't care about them.' Here spoke the true Phanariot spirit. But when we turned to discussing the Nastases and whether they might go to prison - this was years ago, but the court cases had already started against the couple - she asked me, wide-eyed, 'You don't think they could go to prison do you? That would be horrible.' Her heart was soft where the Nastases were concerned even though she had gleefully told me incredible estimates of their defalcations. Some Romanians - quite a few - mostly, it is true,  with connections with the PSD - told me admiringly about the amounts they believed the couple had made. What belongs to everyone belongs, in post-Communist countries, to no-one. Someone else, an academic who dislikes the PSD,  explained to me in a matter-of-fact tone, 'They have to make provision for Andrei', meaning the Nastases' son.

My own reaction to the news about Adrian Nastase?  I am put in mind of the words of Viscount Whitelaw, Margaret Thatcher's long-serving deputy, who said at one point in the sorry life of the Callaghan administration, which preceded hers,

We should certainly not gloat. This is no time to gloat. But I can tell you, I am gloating like hell.

Nastase is the seventh former Prime Minister to go to prison since the war. I wonder if any went to prison before Communism. I am sure many ought to have done and that most politicians in Romania ought to now. Five Prime Ministers at least, by my count, were killed (Iorga, Duca and Calinescu by the Fascist Iron Guard, Antonescu and Maniu by the Communists) as was of course Nicolae Ceauşescu. King Michael was forced to abdicate at gun-point. 

Alison Mutler, the AP's woman in Bucharest, put it well when she told me:

Last night's shooting shows us that it has not been anaesthetised, globalised or gobbled up by the EU. It is still the raw, dramatic, painful Romania that has lured many of us over the years.

She thinks Monica Macovei, former Justice Minister and now MEP, chose the wrong word when she said the alleged abortive suicide (which she thinks was a set-up) was 'soap opera'. The correct description says Alison is simply 'opera'. Yes, quite, and Romanian history, whether recent or longer ago, is very operatic.

Going back to the eighteenth century, seven in all of the Phanariot princes of Wallachia or Moldavia were executed. I particularly remember the story of Constantin Hangerli, briefly and unhappily Prince of Wallachia.

In February 1799, the Sultan issued a firman or decree to execute Hangerli and an emissary was dispatched to Bucharest, accompanied by a negro servant who was, in fact, an executioner. Hangerli, after being read the firman in the Royal Palace, in the centre of Bucharest, was attacked by the two as he was attempting to call his guards. He was strangled by the negro, shot twice in the chest, stabbed once and finally decapitated with an axe that the negro carried for that purpose in his bagAccording to  R.W. Seton-Watson's magisterial History of the Roumanians:
'When some of the boiars rushed in, they found that the prince's head had already been hacked off and the room was deluged in blood. His naked body was then thrown out into the street and left there till evening.'
In the same winter, in Hampshire, Jane Austen was completing Northanger Abbey.

Many more Romanian monarchs were executed before the Phanariot period by order of the Sultan [1] or for other reasons, including such famous figures as Vlad the Impaler and Constantin Brancoveanu, whose martyrdom for the Christian faith was extremely operatic.   Being ruler of Romania is not a very safe job viewed in actuarial terms. And this is probably part of the reason why some misguided Romanians are now saying imprisoning former Prime Ministers is 'un-European'.

[1]This reminds me that one seventeenth century Sultan so disapproved of smoking that he would personally execute smokers on the streets of Constantinople if he caught them in flagrante delicto. This is much more extreme than the recent EU inspired legislation governing smoking in public places.


  1. I have also always been baffled by the psychology of people feeling sorry for the powerful who have fallen (whatever their misdeeds), but not for the genuinely oppressed. I believe it is because the powerful are considered “one of us” (hence the empathy) whilst the oppressed are the “others” (hence no empathy). This applies to most developing countries: India, Africa and the Arab world spring to mind…Less so in western Europe, and even less so in the US.


  2. Mr. Wood, you are one of the persons that I appreciate very much - and I suppose that you wrote the article in good faith... but let me tell you something:

    I'm amaised that people living in Romania since long time (and that I was sure that they understand well Romanians) still make confusion - or simply, they doesn't want to deeper consider... :(

    Me (and lot of other prople) are not sorry for Nastase AT ALL!!! I hope i'll NOT forget what PSD did, during 2000 - 2004 - and (me and other) will be awake, now!

    I am simply sorry that the "justice" in RO is as bad as before! Nastase in jail after an INCORRECT trial for me means WORSE, not BETTER!

    Also, doctors being harrassed (I don't see any reason that they wouldn't be investigated later) doesn't mean AT ALL sometihig "good" for Romania! Starting from now, any doctor is aware that "if they doesn't do what authorities want to impose to them, they are in risk to be investigated"! Not even PSD, in its worse time of governance, didn't do it!

    As I said: if Nastase would be put in jail for, as example, Bechtel (where the evidence were clear) it would be EXCELLENT for me!!! But... neahhh... an investigation about Bechtel should involve also Boc (and other people who made presure for Bechtel and had diferent benefits) and the dear americans supporting Basescu - so... you'll NEVER see such investigations or such a trial!!!).

    So, please, don't try to deturnate the things. A VERY big part of Romanians do NOT "feel sorry" for Nastase - they feel sorry for ROMANIA!!!


  3. As Saul Bellow put it, 'Sentiment and brutality, always together like oil and fossils'. Tom Wilson

  4. Fascinating – your normal lyrical lilt is not so present, Paul: you must feel strongly about your subject ;-)

    For every Codruta, there may be two negroes with axes – watch out, I don’t want any of your blood in my buttered chicken


  5. Dragutza Codruta, Al Capone a fost bagat la tzuhaus cu fiscul.
    Erau probabil mii de Codrute care l-ar fi vrut bagat in pirnaie pentru altele, dar in final a fost bine si asa.
    Lumea a scapat de el si a fost o victorie.
    Cit priveste tagma medicilor, multi criminali in Romanika au facut pirnaia prin corespondenta pe baza diagnosticelor puse de asa-zis medici. Spun asa zisi, pentru ca atunci primesti banutzi de la interlop sa il scapi de pirna, esti asa zis medic, nu mai esti medic.
    Si poate te-a surprins ca medicul speriat de DNA, era taman Bradisteanu, un dragutz anchetat pentru o spaga de vreo 4 milioane de dolari. Ce coincidenta!
    Privitor la Bechtel, dezinformezi cras. Incerci sa diluezi doar golania facuta de guvernul Nastase. Dar asta e, cea mai veche meserie din lume, nu mai imbraca aspectul fizic....:)

  6. I also don't feel sorry for Năstase, and I think a man of his standing should have accepted his cross in a more dignified manner.

    Nevertheless, I feel sorry for the Romanian judiciary and for all those who believe the 'orange' (or 'băsist' if you prefer) propaganda that Năstase's sentencing was a victory for justice.

    The former PM could have been tried and sentenced for more serious crimes, based on solid evidence...

  7. "And Romanians are very soft-hearted and sentimental, something that sometimes goes along with brutality."

    Ha !

    I've heard this only once more, in the company of third generation Italian Americans deploring the misguided locals that still saw their staunch old country principles as brutal sentimentality as well. I suppose their principles were not exactly off the shelf abstractions either...