Since buying an apartment in Bucharest in 2006, I spend summers in Romania.
Note: My extreme sport is buying and selling property in a language where I am not a native speaker and the currency has an enormous amount of zeroes. I sold my original apartment in 2007, bought another, sold it the next year, bought a new one, and now plan to stay in it for a while – especially after the fevered real estate market of 2008 tanked. Moral: those who join a panic make a panic (H. G. Wells 1916).
When I’m in Bucharest, where I am at the moment, I keep the television on when I’m at home, mostly to have the language in my ear. I’m always riveted by Romanian news. I tend to surf between Antenna 3, Realitatea, and B1.
I used to have a check list: “I know I’m in Romania when ….”
- Some old guy comes on the news and says the Danube overflowed because the Romanians killed Ceauşescu on Christmas Day.
Note: It’s true. The hated dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu and his wife, Elena, were executed on December 25, 1989. It’s also true the Danube overflowed in 1988, 1987, 1986 ….
- There’s a story about şpaga la bac – a bribe involving the baccalaureate exam.
- There’s a story about spălarea banilor – a money-laundering scheme, often involving not-very-smart bank employees.
- Someone – usually a gypsy and always a woman – gets into a fistfight with someone official, like a police officer or a hospital worker.
These quaint stories are now distant bygones. Bagging big game is afoot. In 2012 Adrian Năstase, the Prime Minister of Romania from 2000-2004, was convicted of corruption. As the police were coming to take him away, he attempted suicide. It was a very lame attempt, BTW. After a two-week psychiatric evaluation he was deemed fit for jail. He served 2 years and is now out.
That same summer Victor Ponta, who had been in the post of Prime Minister for all of two months at the time, was accused of plagiarizing his doctoral thesis in law. After some dodging around the findings from different committees, Ponta acknowledged he should have better attributed sources. Q: Who was Ponta’s thesis advisor? A: Năstase. Fun facts: Ponta’s PhD was not revoked, and he remains PM to this day.
Before 2014 I already knew the words închisoare ‘prison’ and zdup ‘can/pen’. Last summer I learned după gratii ‘behind bars.’ Yesterday, a chatty taxi driver gave me the phrase beciul domnesc to refer to the prison where people like Năstase are sent. It means something like ‘the princely hole in the ground.’
După gratii remains the phrase of the day. And I do mean ‘of the day’, because last summer and now again this summer it seems that every day a new public person is convicted of some sort of corruption and put behind bars. Two notable cases from last summer: Dan Voiculescu, who among many other things owned Antenna 3, and Mircea Băsescu, the brother of then-President Traian Băsescu.
Note: The current President is Klaus Iohannis. He ran against Victor Ponta last fall on an anti-corruption platform.
This summer I arrived in Romania on June 3. The friend I went to dinner with that night greeted me with the news of all the new people who were now după gratii. I expressed admiration for the work of Laura Codruţa Kövesi who is the head of the DNA.
Note: DNA = Direcția Natională Anticorupție = National Anti-Corruption Directorate. It was formed in 2002 with the purpose of going after the big fish. Until then the only people convicted of corruption were the likes of schoolteachers and various low-level employees. The DNA first went after Năstase in 2006. It took the next six years to get him convicted.
I was fully amazed when, two days later on June 5, the DNA accused Victor Ponta of forgery, tax evasion, money laundering, and conflict of interest. Iohannis called for his resignation. Ponta refused. This past week the Parliament rejected the prosecutorial request to lift Ponta’s immunity. So he still has some shelter. But it promises to be an exciting summer.
Last night I happened to catch a news segment critical of Ponta – there are many. The final image of this one was memorable and perhaps prophetic: Ponta’s head popping out of the end of a Looney Tunes cartoon and saying, “That’s all, folks!”
See also: All My Romania Blogs
This post was written by Julie Tetel Andresen