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Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Romania: More Than Just A Pretty Vampire

I had spent years being told by the Western media that Romania was a wasteland, peopled by criminals, beggars and vampires.
It was, I was informed, a country ravaged by the depredations of a Communist despot by the name of Ceausescu.
After many years of false starts, I finally managed to dedicate three weeks of my life to seeing all of those awful things for myself and, boy, was I ever a dupe to believe all of that crap.
Romania is a wonderful country; a visually stunning conglomerate of what are, in effect, mini-nation states contributing their own particular ethnic ingredient to a brew far too bewildering for a wide-eyed Aussie to absorb on a three week holiday.
(My inability to fully distil the essence of Romania may have something to with the fact that I spent most of my time imbibing Danish beer at 20 bucks a carton and the distilled essence of plums in the form of tuica at a cost of nothing, because it came from my friend’s freezer.)
Nevertheless, I stayed sober long enough to recognise that all was not as I had been led to believe.

If you read a travel blog’s list of ‘great European destinations’, Bucharest won’t often feature, but take my word for it: Bucharest is a truly magnificent city, albeit a sadly neglected one.
It has, as I said to an American tourist we happened to meet, a beautiful body, but an ugly face.
(This observation earned me an immediate rebuke and a stern warning to not repeat it to his wife. His wife had a body by Boticelli & Sons: Panel Beaters and a face by the Blind Plasterers Association and I told him so – damn tuica!)
I had read on a website that “Bucharest has many beautiful buildings, but you will also see many examples of the grey communist building style, the most prominent being the Palace of the People”.
Don’t you believe a word of it!
You can tell the difference between what was built pre-revolution (1989) and post-revolution by the fact that everything built by Ceausescu looks like an art deco gem fallen on hard times, while everything built afterwards has fallen down in record time.
In the central city district there wasn’t a house I wouldn’t have given my eye-teeth to own and the Communist-era apartment buildings would have yuppies tripping over themselves to fork out six-figure sums just to get in the door in Sydney or Melbourne.
Sadly, after Ceausescu was toppled, there was a period of mindless rage directed at destroying everything built during his reign.
Thankfully, common sense of sorts prevailed (plans to blow up the ‘People’s Palace were shelved), but much has been neglected – though the trashing of bronze and marble fountains bisecting the wide, seemingly endless boulevard leading to the Palace is just criminal.

Not everything has been neglected, mind you. After the revolution – much as in the former Soviet Union - the spivs (by and large, I was told, ‘loyal’ Communist Party members) moved in and divvied up some of the country’s juiciest assets and industries between themselves. They are doing very well, thankyou. With the right guide, you can even visit some of their mansions and check out the gilded statuary and Bugatti Veyrons.
I also had a look at Ceausescu’s house. Let me say that, for the home of a despot that apparently raped and pillaged the country, it isn’t much to write home about – Julia ‘the champion of the working class’ Gillard’s new beachside pile is the Taj Mahal in comparison.

Unfortunately, the people who used to work in those industries aren’t doing so well. As you travel through the magnificent countryside, you see a never-ending trail of huge industrial complexes, silent and decaying, shut down because they don’t tick some Brussels bureaucrat’s boxes.
Many of the people I spoke to were quite open about their yearning for a return of the Ceausescu era.
“Under Ceausescu, we had work. Romania was a net exporter of agricultural and industrial products. Now, we have to import everything, except our money. Ceausescu stood up to the IMF because he didn’t want to be held to ransom. Now, the IMF and the EU give our Government money, but they charge us interest for money that politicians have put in their pockets or the pockets of their friends for selling our jobs”.
(The Romanians, by the way, ‘accepted’ a 20b loan from the IMF/EU ‘loan’ in 2009. A consequence of the strings attached to that loan was the slashing of public service salaries by 25%, the axing of thousands of public sector jobs, tightening of welfare eligibility rules and an increase in VAT (GST) to 24%.
Ironically, one of the key factors in Ceausescu’s fall was his decision in the mid-1980s to repay Romania’s foreign debt (estimated then at US$10b) because he didn’t like the idea of strings being attached to it. Pouring money into the repayments led to domestic shortages/hardships.
I mention these figures for the benefit of those ALP/Greens cretins who think a projected debt of $667b is nothing to worry about. If they think this budget is “brutal”, imagine the squeals if an Australian Government was forced to cut public service salaries by 25% in return for an IMF bailout?

(For the record, I am not defending the Ceausescu regime in and of itself. The Romanian people themselves rose up and deposed him and they must have had very good reason to do so. I'm merely pointing out that the Government that replaced him may perhaps not be all they hoped for.)

The average Romanian wage is about A$500/month, an amount your average Aussie welfare bludger wouldn’t even bother staying in bed for.
The Romanian people – sorry, wowsers, but I don’t include the free-loading Gypsies in ‘Romanian people’ – reminded me of the Australians that I looked up to 40-odd years ago.
I left a country where small-holders use horses to plough their fields. Grass on verges is cut with a scythe to provide feed for the horses. ‘Street-sweepers’ are men and women using brooms to sweep the streets. Virtually every yard is a vegetable garden. I met people prepared to work 12 hours for A$10 and a meal/day, not because it is a wonderful deal, but because it is work.
I left a country where people, by and large, were proud to be Romanian.
I came home to a country in which the national broadcaster and a major commercial media organisation (Hi to all the guys at Fauxfacts) expend most of their energy making ‘individual responsibility’ a term of abuse and trying to make their countrymen feel ashamed of being Australian
I came home to a country recently Governed by a political party that could give tips to the very Government the Romanian people are so unhappy with, proclaims the Asian Century but embraces the European ‘debt nirvana’ model and – in Opposition - trumpets the value of welfare because there might be a vote in it.
I came home to a country in which people who lose a house to a bushfire or a flood no longer mutter ‘bugger’, then roll up their sleeves and reach for the tools, but demand to know what the Government is going to do about it.
I came home to a country in the midst of an angst-ridden storm stirred up by budget that dares to suggest that people accept a little less in welfare and put a little more effort into paying their own way.
I left a country saddled with a Government I suspect is unworthy of its people and came home to a country with a people unworthy of its Government.


Young Romanian professionals are, apparently, leaving the country in droves. I hope for their sake they don’t come here. The bludgers will drive them around the bend.

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