Romanian MP Tudor Ciuhodaru (PSD) yesterday submitted a draft law to parliament which would see public demonstrations that ‘challenged the constitutional order or prevented the powers of state from carrying out their duties’ made criminal offences, punishable by sentences of between six months and three years. Backed – we would assume – by the government Ciuhodaru’s bill follows more than a month of anti-corruption demonstrations which PSD spokesperson Adrian Dobre earlier this week said ‘had made it difficult for the government to run the country.’
Now, a number of commentators have said that the law is nothing to worry about, as it is clearly unconstitutional and would be declared so by the Constitutional Court (CCR). However, as Monday’s ruling in favour of the corrupt government (and against the anti-corruption agency, the DNA) demonstrates, the CCR appears to have been politically compromised and can no longer be relied upon to make the correct decisions.
Spot the problem?
Likewise, this week’s decision by
The Wicked Witch of Voluntari Bucharest’s Mayor Gabriela Firea to set up 19 commercial enterprises (all owned by the city council) which would carry out tasks currently done by the private sector may also be unconstitutional. These companies would control just about everything in the Romanian capital from the city’s taxis to its parks. Nothing would move without the council getting a cut. Often touted as the acceptable face of the PSD, Firea’s intention to create a state-monopoly on all sorts of services in Bucharest is proof that her mindset is pure Bolshevik: the party will provide.
Again, spot the problem: What if the CCR is now doing the PSD’s bidding?
Talking of the Wicked Witch, an anti-corruption NGO, Oameni Liberi, this week began collecting the signatures it needs to force a recall referendum. It is a tall order (a quarter of Bucharest’s electorate need to sign) but so strong is anti-Firea (and anti-PSD) feeling in the Romanian capital that there is a fair chance of Oameni Liberi getting the signatures it needs.
Shortly after she was elected last June, we predicted as much. We said that the capital’s population would eventually come to miss the corrupt former mayor Sorin Oprescu, who ruled the roost over the capital from 2008 – 2015.
What we did not anticipate was just how quickly Bucharest would fall out with its new mayor. Then again, few could have foreseen just how poorly Firea would perform.
Or could they? Let’s be honest: the clues were there. Firea has zero administrative experience, never having held down a job that involved more than reading from an autocue (be it as a newsreader or government/PSD spokesperson). Everything she knows about running a city was learnt from her husband (her second, we think) Florentin Pandele, mayor of Voluntari: the kind of godforsaken Bucharest suburb where (until the DNA began cracking down on them) PSD barons govern the desperately poor with impunity.
It is therefore not all that surprising to see how Firea attempts to run Bucharest: by playing to the crowd of naive idiots who voted for her, the kind of people who will vote PSD in exchange for a couple of mici on May 1st and regular free popular music festivals (such as that which is currently occupying Piata Universitatii). Bread and circuses the Romans called it: veselie si voie buna is what we think best describes the Romanian equivalent.
The rest of the capital’s population (those of us who actually pay for it all) can go hang.
One of Firea’s primary election pledges last year was a promise to do something about Bucharest’s infamous traffic congestion. We would see a difference within six months she said. Well, she was right: traffic is worse than ever (the Romanian capital is now the most congested in Europe).
Now, we are happy to admit that nobody will ever be able to solve Bucharest’s traffic issues in just six months. The city needs to radically rethink its addiction to the car: that will not happen in six months.
However, there is plenty of low-hanging fruit* which could have a positive effect, and which would at least make people feel as though the city council has acknowledged the problem and is trying to deal with it. Instead, there has been nothing. Some vague promises to by more buses and implement a series of bus lanes, but little else. We have been left thinking that congestion – even though it must cost the city millions in wasted time and lost production – is simply not a priority for Firea. Her electorate does not drive.
Not that public transport has seen all that much love either. At times Bucharest’s buses resemble those of the Ceausescu-era, so crowded are they. The metro likewise cannot cope with the number of people who now use it. And yet neither RATB (which runs the buses) nor Metrorex (which operates the metro) have had their budgets raised this year.
Bucharest’s hospitals (for which Firea is directly responsible) are failing. And yet Firea has put her own placemen in charge of them. When Daughter of Bucharest Life had a minor medical emergency last week, we decided against taking her to one of the ghastly children’s hospitals in the city and went to a private emergency room. In and out in 20 minutes. Cost 220 lei. We are not usually, on principle, fans of private healthcare but the alternative was a wait of several hours in an unsanitary state institution.
We have not yet mentioned the manner in which Firea runs council meetings: dictatorially, opaquely, threatening opposition councilors who do not conform with expulsion. Members of the public – once welcomed at council meetings – are now all-but barred: only loyal, carefully-selected PSD supporters gain entry. Fortunately, Firea’s abuses are often recorded by opposition councilors.
We have no idea if the campaign to get signatures will be successful. It will certainly test the organisational skills of the #rezist movement. We can’t help thinking that a chance was lost in February when there were 250,000 people in Piata Victoriei. Not one single person would have refused to sign. What’s more, even if a referendum is forced it needs to be validated, and a new mayor elected (and nothing would stop Firea from standing again).
Those who oppose the PSD need to start voting against it, else nothing will change.
*That low-hanging fruit in full:
1. Reducing the number of places on main streets where drivers can turn left
2. More one-way streets
3. Congestion charge for all cars entering and parking in the city centre
4. More roundabouts (which are also safer than traditional junctions)
5. Zero tolerance of cars parked on the inside lane
Top photo source: Kamikaze