Friday, November 21, 2008

The Romanian election is approaching, and I, for one, am as baffled as ever by the shifting allegiances in Romanian politics.

The election will take place on November 30th, which is next Sunday, and frankly an odd choice for an election day. You see, that's a long weekend, as December 1st is Romania's national day. Thus many people (one assumes) will actually be away from home (and hence the place in which they are registered to vote) either visiting family or enjoying the first of the winter snow (which I'm reliably informed is just round the corner), and not really looking to spend Sunday at home so they can vote.

This is the parliamentary election to elect a new government (but not a new president). This, at least, will presumably stop the endless bickering between the current government and the current president. Unless of course the current government get reelected (though this seems unlikely at the moment). So, here, basically is a quick primer on which parties stand a chance of having seats and being involved in coalition speculation.

Let's start with the PSD. The PSD (Social Democrats) are essentially the ex-communists. I presume by now there are some young and thrusting members who were never in the Communist Party, as they were not yet adults in 1989, but it seems like most of them were. The grand puppet master of the PSD is Ion Ilescu who was Ceausescu's right hand man, before positioning himself handily at the revolution and ending up as president following Nic's unfortunate violent death. I'm not sure what he's up to now, but his presence is still very strong around the party. The PSD are nominally of the left, but who knows what that means these days. Most confusingly they've allied themelsves at this election with the Conservative Party (PC). Obviously it's a tad confusing being English and finding an electoral alliance between the ex-communists and the conservatives, but I'm coming to terms with the idea that names don't mean a great deal (as if to prove this the conservatives were formerly called the humanist party). But the Conervatives seem to me like a trad right wing party - anti gay, in favour of "family values" whatever they are, and basically you're run of the mill bunch of rightists. No idea what the thinking behind the coalition is.

The other two major parties were allies four years ago, but now seem to hate each other's guts. There are the Democrats (PD) from which party comes the current president Traian Basescu (he's the bald bloke you see on photoshoots of EU leaders). They are kind of centrist (but to me what these days counts as "centrist" really is soft right. The party they fell out with the Liberals (PNL) who currently head up a minority government without the PD because they are not friends any more. They are to the right of the PD. Most of the last two years of Romanian politcis has been about the feud between these two, with each attempting to ridicule the other, and especially the most visible face of each party - Basescu(PD) and Tariceanu(PNL), the Prime Minister. Nobody I have spoken to thinks this election will change anything much, but at least, presumably, we'll see less of this soap opera for a while.

Those three will get most of the votes, but other parties that might get above the 5% threshold needed to get seats are the UDMR (The Hungarian Party who are big fish in my small pond), the PMR (extremist right wingers, who are thankfully on the wane) , and that's about it. Thankfully Gigi Becali's PNG party who are just a bunch of mad far right extremist "christians" are unlikely to make it.

The voting system has also changed this time. Before it was a party list system, but this time it has been changed into something called the uninominal system. This means, I think, that you actually get to a vote for a person rather than a list, which I suspect will serve to make Romanian politics even less interesting to the electorate since the candidates are so often such faceless nobodies, At least if you voted for a list you could choose policies, now they're being asked to vote for a sack of white potatoes or a sack of red potatoes. I could be wrong though, and maybe turnout will floruish with excited voters all wanting to vote for their man.

On which note, the final point for now (and I certainly hope that I get some comments here correcting what I expect to be a litany of errors), and that is the gender of the candidates. The last word of the previous paragraph was chosen carefully. Because you see there are no women. Well obnviously there are 1 or 2, but really this is about the most male election I can imagine. Today I drove from Miercurea Ciuc to Bucharest and passed loads of election posters. Tons of the things, and I saw one woman, One woman in 250 km of election advertising plastered over every billboard. It's a tad depressing. The one successful woman in the last parliament, who was elected woman of the year in the European parliament, Monica Macovei, got kicked out of the justice ministry in Romania for trying too hard to stamp out corruption.

Monday, November 17, 2008


Every now and again, the stuck-in-the-pastness of Romania* catches my attention. I've learned to overlook the horsecarts and the dingy little shops selling communist era tinned goods, and now I more or less forget that they are there. But once in a while I'm jolted back to reality.

TV Comedy in Romania is pretty ropey, and mostly of a sub-Benny Hill style slapstick, but there is one show which has always seemed to me to be a cut above. That show is called Cronica Carcotasilor. The hosts seem to be quick witted, and they lampoon most things that they see in Romania (and as an added bonus, they really rip the piss out of Gigi Becali). It does have this sort of gratuitous scantily clad dancing girls thing going on, but I figure they have to do that just to get the show on TV.

But then yesterday I caught a part of this week's show. Which they did blacked up wearing afro-wigs, and with the name cards Oblada and Obladi in front of them, and occasionally punctuating their lines with 70's style jive talk. What decade are we living in here?

Don't believe me?

The house band: The guy here appears to be, yes, I'm not joking, doing a monkey impression.

For fuck's sake.

(The really sad thing is that they probably felt they were doing this in some kind of spirit of celebration and empathy, and were not attempting to make just a bunch of cheap racist jibes)

*Because I seem to have acquired something of a reputation of being anti-Romanian among some people, I want to make it clear that I don't think this kind of thing is confined to Romania, and I'm guessing similar "jokes" have been made all over Eastern Europe this week. Which doesn't in any way excuse it.

My Day in Court

Last week I went to court. I wasn't in the dock, you'll be sorry to hear, but instead I was there as a witness. I realised that I'd never actually been in a court before, not even as a heartless gloater/ghoul/audience member (is there a word for people who just go and watch court cases?) so this was a vaguely exciting moment.

I had received my summons in the post telling me to be in Court room 100 at 8.30am in Miercurea Ciuc's impressive Palatul Justiţie, so I duly showed up there right on time, wandering through the empty hallways until I located room 100 (sadly not Room 101). The only people visible in the entire building were four members of the Jandarmerie (Jandarms?). I'm not entirely sure of the function of the jandarmerie - like many European countries Romania has a lot of seperate police forces who all seem to have slightly different responsibilities, but what those responsibilities are seems a bit vague to me. In this case the jandarmerie are obviously charged with policing the courthouse building. Anyway there were four of them hanging around, a bit bored, and three of them looked about 18 (though obviously the usual proviso applies that as I'm knocking on a bit these days, nearly all police-type-people look about 18). Since there was nothing to do they were pissing about a bit, pretending to throw one another off the balcony, until finally the older one told them to stop it as the bloke sitting on his own outside room 100 (that's me) was watching. Eventually he obviously gave them all permission to go and sit in the jandarm room or whatever it was since they all disappeared into the room opposite 100 and started listening to manele.

I had peeped into the courtroom to check I wasn't supposed to go in, but there were just two people in there looking stern, and anyway, there was a paper posted up which listed the 6 cases that morning and mine was number 3 so I figured I just had to wait. Occasionally an announcement came over a speaker which was in the corridor I was sitting in, but despite the fact that I was the only person in the area it was still entirely indecipherable. Partly this was because of the manele emanating from next door, but partly it was because it just sounded like there was some kind of mysterious and geographically misplaced peat bog lying inconveniently between the microphone being spoken into and the speaker transmitting the sounds.

Eventually the one remaining jandarm came over and asked me what I was waiting for and when I explained, he told me to go and wait in the court room (it quickly became apparent that whenever anyone bothered to go into the courtroom their case was just taken up, and then left again when they were done). So I sat down, listened to some bloke telling some long complicated story and be excused, and then it was my turn. Then of course we had a problem. This was clearly a process that had to be dealt with in Romanian, and while I can understand a fair amount of Romanian, I rarely have to use it and so my productive Romanian is, for want of a better word, shit. The judge (I think she was the judge, she was the woman behind a big desk, though she wasn't wearing some stupid wig as I have been led to expect is de rigeur for the judging profession) asked if I spoke Romanian, and I was forced to reply "nu" (I would rather have said, "well, I know a bit, and I can kind of get by in a restaurant or bar, and you know I can stick Spanish words in whenever I don't know the Romanian, but in general my Romanian is not really at an acceptable level for courtroom interaction" - but of course I didn't know how to say all that in Romanian, so I stuck with "nu").

Somehow, though, within about two minutes, and with seemingly no action on the part of either the judge or the stenographer/assistant/other woman, a third woman appeared who did in fact speak English. I can only imagine there is some kind of hidden language panic button which someone pressed and it made some kind of English language bat sign in the building, which brought her running (either that or the jandarm realised that she'd be needed and had gone off and found her)

So, we were all set - first question "Do you believe in god?" Again, I could have gone a for a long winded response to this, which would have gone all round the houses of agnosticism, but I again plumped for a simple "nu" (showing willing by not relying on the translator for all my utterances). This foxed them a little, and everyone looked uncertainly for a moment at the bible lying there, and elected not to pick it up. The interpretor (channeling the judge) then started to ask me to repeat the lines "I promise to tell the truth..." at which point I took over and finished the sentence for her (since it is well established that 62.7% of all TV programmes take place either entirely or partially in courtrooms, my lack of actual experience was more than made up for). When I finished, there was an awkward little silence, before the judge asked the interpretor to ask me to finish with the words "So help me God". Which seemed a little weird, since I'd just told them I didn't believe in him/her/it. They obviously realised this, because the next thing I was told was "and you know not telling the truth is a felony, right?", which I assured them I did.

Finally we got to the questions pertinent to the case, which were all very easy (a few months ago, I was in a small car shunt, with another car which had come from my left at a crossroads in the back alleys near the flat. As he had come from the left, I was completely exonerated since there is automatic priority from the right. He faced having his licence suspended for three months and was arguing that because the junction was a blind one, being at a buliding site, and with a van parked on the corner, he hadn't been able to see. I'm not convinced of this as a defence, to be honest, but I had been called by his lawyer to confirm this van and the building site at the corner. Which I was able to do, since they were in fact there.)

After a couple of minutes, it was all over and done with. the stenographer printed out the statement, I signed it, and I was on my way. I sort of missed the whole drama aspect of it - no defendant, no opposing counsel (in fact no counsel at all), no jury, no wigs, no dramatic summing up statements, no nothing really. Just a large and fairly impressive room, with three people in it. I think even John Grisham would struggle to make a good story out of it.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


It has been brought to my attention that I erred in my last post. Apparently, I did in fact attend a wedding when I was a child - when I was 3 or 4 in fact. While the organ was playing I was heard to ask loudly "When does the film start?". I have no recollection of this wedding, though I can't think why I forgot it since it's not like I haven't heard the above story on about 329 occasions.

Friday, November 07, 2008

6 Random Things

I've been tagged, which hasn't happened for a fair few years. See what happens when you start posting again. Anyway, for those unfamiliar with the practice, someone else with a blog (who has also been tagged) then passes on the tag to 6 other people. It's a bit like toxic debt only less likely to bring the banking system to its knees. In this case my tagger was none other than Gadjo Dilo, who like me is a Brit living in Transylvania, though he is in the fancy cosmopolitan metropolis of Cluj rather than small town Hungaroworld.

Anyway, I'm charged with revealing 6 random things about myself. No idea where this will take me, but here goes...

1. I knew JK Rowling when she was at her lowest ebb. I was living in Porto, Portugal and teaching English - as was Joanne (as I knew her). There's a long story in here involving an abusive husband, her daughter and a desperate need to get some papers together to leave Portugal and move back to Scotland, but I won't bore you with the details. Except to say that the story of how somebody at what must have been more or less rock bottom could bounce back and become the richest woman in Britain is a reassuring one.

2. I once had to fly across the Pacific changing planes three times with a broken leg. At each stop (in Guam, Hawaii, and Los Angeles), I was met by a member of airport staff with a wheelchair to take me to my next gate. in each case the person meeting me was from the Phillipines.

3. I don't like cheese. Really. I know many people find that hard to imagine, but there it is. Can't stand the stuff - smell, taste, texture. Makes me want to vomit. As I like to say, oh so humorously, "all cheese is sajt".

4. I didn't attend a wedding until I was about 21, and the first (and only) funeral I went to was about ten years ago. I'm not sure what this says about me, possibly that I have no friends, and a very small family.

5. I once spent the night in a police cell in Bruges, but not because I'd done anything wrong, but because I'd been locked out of my hotel and the police felt sorry for me, and let me sleep there. (At least that's my story, and I'm sticking to it)

6. I was a vegan for 6 years and in that time I didn't have a single illness, not even a cold or a minor snuffle. Nothing. I suspect the two things are related, though I can't prove it scientifically.

I don't actually know 6 people I can tag, because I am antisocial and not really a very active member of the world of blogs, but I will endeavour to sneeze this blogovirus in the general direction of Rob at A New Habit, Marshall at Marshall Arts, Spangly Princess, and her man, The Liquidator (a fellow cheese hater), Julie, and ... well I really can't do anyone else, because it's just too unBritish to start prodding people who you don't know very well (I only really know- in the traditional pre-internet sense - two of those 5 people), and I am already feeling very resistant to the whole concept, and desperately worried that I'm going to start annoying people with this tag ("Errr, terribly sorry to bother you, but, errm, I've been tagged and the rules are that I'm supposed to tag someone in return, and, well, I don't really know you, but well, would you errmm, y'know, be tagged by me?")

The following are the rules, which I am contractually obliged to share with you, like the list of side effects at the end of a medicine advert. You need read no further, unless you feel compelled to read to the end of any document you have started.

Link to the person who tagged you. Post the rules on your blog. Write 6 random things about yourself. Tag 6 people at the end of your post and link to them. Let each person you have tagged know by leaving a comment on their blog. Let the tagger know when your entry is posted.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

A Peach of a Result


Never mind that in reality he won't be that much different from any other Democrat president. Never mind that millions upon millions of people voted for a ticket that included the complete barking-mad nutter Sarah Palin. Never mind that anyone who speaks even a small amount of Hungarian can look at his first name and not mentally pronounce it borotsk. Never mind that he'll be taking over a country in the middle of financial meltdown, with a horribly tarnished global reputation, that has occupying armies in two separate countries (Bush called Obama last night and said "Congratulations and go enjoy yourself". Gee, thanks George.) Never mind all this, for now. The important thing is that he won, and the Bush years are over, and the USA has elected a black president, and surely nobody could fail to be moved by the sight of African Americans who lived through segregation crying with joy and disbelief at this. Even if this just proves to be nothing more than a symbolic victory, it's a damned big symbol.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Please, please, please

Let us, let us, let us, let us, get what we want this time.

After the last two hideous nights of pain in 2000 and 2004, I cannot bear to watch it, despite all the signs pointing to a monumental, historic, fantastic victory. I don't trust the exit polls, I don't trust the Republicans to not cheat again. I'll only believe it when it's confirmed. Please. Please please please. Good times for a change.

Meanwhile, in completely-off-the-wall-nutjob news, signs are that the Rapture is approaching. But don't worry, because
The Rev. Tim LaHaye, co-author of the millennial Left Behind series, told the Wall Street Journal that he recognized allusions to his work in the ad but comparisons between Obama and the Antichrist were incorrect.

"The Antichrist isn't going to be an American, so it can't possibly be Obama. The Bible makes it clear he will be from an obscure place, like Romania," the 82-year-old author told the paper.
So, Obama is not the antichrist, who will instead come from "an obscure place, like Romania". Obscure my arse, we have two teams in the Champions League for christ's sake. That's about as high profile as it gets.