Lost in Romania

Bringing down the House of Cards

February 6, 2017
Corrupt politician

Recent weeks have ushered in historic change here in Romania:

  • 1 January– The populist Social Democrat Party (PSD) assumed control of Parliament under promises to continue the fight against political corruption, increase wages, and reduce taxes. As an interesting aside, the leader of the party Liviu Dragnea, is serving a suspended sentence for electoral fraud and 2 counts of embezzling approximately $24,000.
  • 6 January– Netflix became available in Romania; and I became unavailable.
  • 31 January– Using arcane parliamentary loopholes, an emergency decree w
    protesting corruption Bucharest

    Largest crowds since the fall of communism assembled to protest decree decriminalizing corruption.

    as passed without debate or full vote to decriminalize corruption. The decree will free hundreds of government employees previously convicted of using their office for personal gain if damages were less than $48,000. Ongoing trails (over 2,000), which impact several prominent members of the Social Democrat Party, will be dismissed.

1 February

  • Record setting crowds protesting corruption in Bucharest and most major cities throughout Romania.
  • Leaders of the European Union cautioned that this decree would cause lasting damage to Romania’s standing as a member of the EU.
  • Romanian President Klaus Ioannis formally challenged this decree in Constitutional Court (the highest court in Romania).

 

If you were to peek into my apartment here in Bucharest, you would see that my budding relationship with Netflix occupied far more of my interest, and attention, than these incredible political events. Yes, I have Romanian residency status, but I’m an American citizen. This isn’t my fight.

Besides, I still have 3 seasons of House of Cards to catch up on.

House of Cards

House of Cards, a clever political drama hosted by Netflix

Frank Underwood (played by Kevin Spacey) is a ruthless and corrupt politician that will stop at nothing to enforce his will on others, and the country. The show is so dramatic it strains the willing suspension of disbelief necessary for good fiction. No way. That can’t happen in real-life, I think to myself. Yet, I’m binge watching my way through show after show to see how he weasels his way out of the latest self-generated crisis.

Early in the 3rd season, I need a break. Frank manipulated his way to the presidency, appoints his wife as UN ambassador despite Senate opposition, and abuses power of Executive Order to fund a program that clearly falls under the jurisdiction of Congress. This guy doesn’t care about the people he is appointed to serve. He looks to his own interests, and those closest to himself, but no further.

 “It’s still fiction,” I tell myself. Then, “This could never happen in the States… Right?”

 

February 3

  • Crowds of protesters have grown even larger, despite sub-zero temperatures.
  • Social Democrats insist that the media has distorted the facts. “We will not change course.” The decree will be enforced.

 

  • Back in the States, Senate republicans use similar parliamentary procedure to quietly repeal a rule that requires oil companies to make public “payments to governments in exchange for developing resources.” Oil companies (i.e. Rex Tillerson’s Exxon mobil) are no longer required to announce bribes given in exchange for drilling rights.

At the same time, Trump is having a lunch with business leaders where he shares:

“We expect to be cutting a lot out of Dodd-Frank, because frankly, I have so many people, friends of mine that had nice businesses, they can’t borrow money.” (Dodd-Frank Act is the series of regulations designed to curb abuses that led to the Great Recession.) “They just can’t get any money because the banks just won’t let them borrow it because of the rules and regulations in Dodd-Frank.”

Among the friends he was speaking to, and about: Jamie Dimon (JP Morgan Chase), and Stephen Schwarzian (Blackstone Group), two architects of the housing crash in 2008.

 

****

I have never participated in a protest before. Being surrounded by large groups of angry people terrifies me. My presence wouldn’t make a meaningful difference. Besides, the fight I had a stake in was 5,000 miles away, in Washington D.C.

Nonetheless, I couldn’t remain silent in my cave any longer. Somebody had to remind our political leaders that their primary responsibility is to serve its citizens, above and beyond their own interests.

Over the course of the 6km walk to the nucleus of the protest at Piata Victoriei, I tried to prepare myself. I would be jostled by crowds. There would be chants in Romanian that I’d have to translate before joining along (protesting a political decision is exercising a right, but I won’t condone treason or violence). How would I avoid getting caught up in a crowd that tried to charge the police barriers?

I mentally rehearsed tactical maneuvers to avoid these traps. Stay on the periphery, preferably without exposing my back. Keep constant connection with Chopin and George Winston’s message that life is beautiful and worth protecting through my headphones. Prepare to don my buff to reduce the effects of tear gas.

Despite careful planning, I was completely unprepared for what awaited me in Piata Victoriei.

I was greeted by families with toddlers. Puppies on leashes. Chalk Hop-Skotch outlines that I carefully avoided lest I interrupt important games. Traffic was rerouted by cordial, unarmed police to provide an enormous space for us to roam. Television crews lounged, uninvolved and uninterested, on the periphery. There was no drama. No tension. The largest concentration of the crowd centered around a Gypsy family that was selling fruit. Romanian flags everywhere. Children carried most of the homemade protest signs.

protesting corruption bucharest

Protesters gathered playfully in front of the Prime Ministers offices.

This was not what I was expecting at all. Rather than angry activists refusing to back down until their demands were met, I was welcomed into a community of concerned citizens. Families and middle-class workers that knew this was important enough to sacrifice an otherwise busy weekend. I had to turn down the classical music playing through my headphones  before I could hear the conversational banter.

 

The crowd was quiet and peaceful, but even I could tell the message was deafening.

 

February 4

After 5 days of protests, PM Sorin Grindeanu, leader of the Social Democrats, admitted the error in attempting to pass this decree and agreed to repeal it.

 

I won’t delude myself into thinking that my presence at the protest was a deciding factor.  However, it felt good to step outside my comfort zone, to stand alongside others who will not tolerate selfish (and immoral) behavior from their elected leaders.

 

N.B. I’m not a journalist. However, I’ve curated a few links if you’d like to read more:

 

Trump Moves to Roll Back Obama-Era Financial Regulations -New York Times

Romania: government retracts controversial decree after protests -Guardian

Romania protests: ‘Race against time’ for corruption fighters -BBC

Over 200,000 people light up Bucharest’s Victoriei Square in biggest protest Romania has seen in years -Romania Insider

Donald Trump curbs Wall Street regulations so his friends can borrow money -The Independent

After Trump moves to undo financial regulations, Sanders calls him ‘a fraud’ -Washington Post

56 Comments

  • Reply Barb Knowles February 6, 2017 at 3:55 am

    I’m so glad that you wrote this! Forget Netflix…That’s a no-brainer that you would be MIA and probably will be for .months. Yesterday I noticed the news coming out of Romania (sorry I haven’t sooner….Trump either has me glued to the news or avoiding it for days). I know nothing about the government in Romania, it as soon as just saw the breaking news sroll on the bottom of the screen I wanted to ask you. And here it is. Is it just me or is the world going crazy with politics and protesters?

    • Reply Gabriel February 6, 2017 at 9:41 am

      I completely relate to the fixation/aversion with respect to political news. It’s difficult to parse out what is sensational (for the sake of publicity, or as a means of distracting from other sensitive issues) and what is truly alarming. And I’ll admit, binge-watching House of Cards may have super-sensitized me to the potential for political corruption.

      However, the events of the past few weeks (both here in Romania, and in the States) have forced me out of my cozy cave and into the open. If you listen real close, you might even be able to hear my squeaky voice shouting my advice for our elected officials:

      “Enough! It’s time for you to start serving the people you were appointed to protect. Not your friends, or your family, or your own interests, but US. Do it now, or step aside so that other, more capable leaders can.”

      And… would somebody PLEASE bring back Swiss Cheese Crackers!

      • Reply Barb Knowles February 6, 2017 at 4:13 pm

        lol!! I agree with your sentiments exactly! Including the crackers….

  • Reply Steve Adams February 6, 2017 at 4:07 am

    That’s an excellent bit of social observation, Gabe. I think it is also an indication that social media and access to truth (after substantial filtering) is going to make it tougher for our leaders to remain unaccountable. Freedom can be a heady drug once you’ve tasted it and feel that it is being eroded. I suspect that Trump will have the most opposed first 100 days in history. Bloody good job, as far as I’m concerned.

    • Reply Gabriel February 6, 2017 at 9:46 am

      Good points Steve. Social media is a double-edged sword, capable of disseminating information quickly and broadly, but that “substantial filtering” implies a lot of individual responsibility (ultimately, WE are responsible for separating meaningful facts from misleading exaggerations.

      A skill that I really need to learn is how to not only RECEIVE good information via social media, but also how to share it.

      Wouldn’t it be great if an expert would swoop in to offer to teach us?

  • Reply the incurable dreamer February 6, 2017 at 7:00 am

    Thank goodness for you, and all those participating in protests around the world. Everyone must keep fighting for what’s right and let the Trumps of the world know that this is NOT okay and that they will face resistance every step of the way. I sit gobsmacked most days wondering wtf is going on because it just doesn’t seem real. Sadly, it is. But I have faith that good is going to win in this battle against evil.

    I was watching House of Cards but had to stop, it suddenly was all too real, and my heart couldn’t take it. But honestly, what a fantastic show – Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright nail it.

    Great post, Gabe!!

    • Reply Gabriel February 6, 2017 at 9:54 am

      Thanks Tanya, you’re too kind (to me… but you are dead-on with Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in House of Cards).

      And yes, it’s beginning to feel like we are approaching an explosive tipping point. More so here in Romania than in the States, but I see too many parallels to ignore the possibility that events here are a prelude to larger, more cataclysmic events in “first world” countries.

      Guess that’s really why I joined my first protest ever. I know it’s anticlimactic for most (the most “agitated protester I encountered was a puppy that was tired of being played with by several children), but for me, in the middle of huge crowds… That was big.

      I’m proud of me.

  • Reply David February 6, 2017 at 7:27 am

    Gabe first of all this is a great synopsis of the kind of protests that America should be engaging in, there is so much hatred and vitriol here. Secondly I continue it be amazed at your skills in so many areas, and how they must be impacting lives for the better. Your purpose becomes clearer each day bro:)

    • Reply Gabriel February 6, 2017 at 9:58 am

      Thanks Brother! Both for the awesome words (I’m gonna find a way to work vitriol into a future post. Love that word), and for sticking with me as I grow from a crawling baby blogger into the triumphant, semi-ambulatory toddler blogger that I’ve become.

      Won’t it be fun to imagine what I’ll be like when I’m all grown up!

  • Reply katiebell318 February 6, 2017 at 7:29 am

    Cheers to you, good sir! It seems our world has been going through some unprecedented changes lately, I know it’s woken me up! I didn’t hear about the news from Romania until earlier this week and have been trying to follow it since. Thank you for bringing it up. Much like you, this year marked the first time I have ever attended a political rally and a protest. Likewise, I was terrified going in, but what I found was just like yours- peaceful, respectful people who are concerned and want to make a difference. And it felt so good to just be around them, surprisingly restorative in spite of everything that’d been happening. Keep up the good fight.

    • Reply Gabriel February 6, 2017 at 10:01 am

      I’m glad to hear your protesting experiences were also positive. I wonder, does this mean we, as society, are getting better at it?

      I sure hope so. And I hope that your efforts continue to bring about meaningful change Katie.

  • Reply usathroughoureyes February 6, 2017 at 7:35 am

    There must always be a storm before calm can be embraced. I have found through experience that its always difficult to change a “yes” to “no” verses a “no” to “yes”. Now people don’t like “no” because they were use to the “yes”. There is a tremendous book we just finished “The 5000 Year Leap” by Skousen. It has helped me to step back and look.

    • Reply Gabriel February 6, 2017 at 10:03 am

      So interesting, I’m used to the cliche “calm before the storm.” But I like your perspective more.

      There’s a lot of hope in this notion.

      • Reply usathroughoureyes February 6, 2017 at 10:13 am

        Thank you. Sometimes I wish the storms would blow somewhere else sometimes, lol, lol.

  • Reply cracTpot February 6, 2017 at 10:42 am

    saw this on twitter and thought of you…”Have you recently participated in a march or protest for the first time? Tell us about it. Email @WencyLeung: wleung@globeandmail.com

    • Reply Gabriel February 6, 2017 at 4:44 pm

      Thanks! I’ll send off an email, but feel free to share the link via Twitter if you’d like. (I’m still Twitter illiterate, but I’m working on it 😉 )

      • Reply cracTpot February 7, 2017 at 12:36 pm

        I am so twitter illiterate I don’t even know how to find you on there :S We should definitely be illiterate together…what are the chances of you finding me on Twitter @Cractpot?

        • Reply Gabriel February 7, 2017 at 6:21 pm

          Found ya. Now I need to learn how to use Twitter…

  • Reply restlessjo February 6, 2017 at 1:17 pm

    Well done for showing up! 🙂 Glad it wasn’t as painful as you expected.
    If only protest could produce the desired effect in the US. It’s starting to make House of Cards look like pure fact. And our lady PM has me somewhat worried too. She could choose her friends more discerningly. I’m not at all political- more of a head in the sand person, but you’d have to be deaf, dumb and blind…

    • Reply Gabriel February 6, 2017 at 2:05 pm

      Well said Jo. I’m not political by nature either, but come on now… enough is enough.

  • Reply dave ply February 6, 2017 at 8:40 pm

    I wasn’t aware of the Romanian situation. It’s a good reminder that as bad as the corruption and misinformation is in the US these days, it’s even worse in other places.

    • Reply Gabriel February 7, 2017 at 8:00 am

      Very true Dave, and also ominous to think that events all the way over here on the other side of the world are indicative of the type of practices that may occur in the states if we aren’t vigilant.

  • Reply delrowbeatrice February 7, 2017 at 1:09 am

    Oh, wow, awesome!
    I read somewhere recently that one of the things young people should do before they turn a certain age is join a rally. But joining a rally simply for the hype of the moment is so different from joining one because you really believe in the cause. So I think it’s awesome of you to go stand up for what you believe in! And to hear that the decision was made in your favor, is incredible! Thanks for writing this post, Gabe. It was a good reminder that every voice counts. 🙂

    • Reply Gabriel February 7, 2017 at 8:05 am

      yay! Go introverts!
      I never would have participated if I weren’t passionate about the abuses. But, now that I have, I agree with you. Definitely worth leaving my cave.

      Thanks Beatrice

  • Reply Robin February 7, 2017 at 6:36 am

    I’d read about the emergency decree in Romania, but have been so focused on our own falling house of cards here in the States that I didn’t really get a good grasp on what it was. I admire your bravery in going out to protest. It’s amazing how peacefully people have been coming together to have their voices heard. I hope it continues.

    Great post, Gabriel. 🙂

    • Reply Gabriel February 7, 2017 at 8:12 am

      Robin!

      It makes me smile every time I see words from you. I’m a big fan. Your blog has become such a joy to me, and a much needed reprieve from the chaos outside our doors.

      Your words and photos serve as a reminder that we can make the world a better place by adding our squeaky voices to the frustrated protests over political abuses… but we can also work to draw attention to the things we’re fighting for, like nature, and family, and morning walks, and our inalienable right to engage in Great Bathroom Renovations.

  • Reply The Hook February 7, 2017 at 5:02 pm

    Pleased to meet you, Gabriel!
    It’s good to know there are some things that bring us all together.
    Namely, concern for the future.
    Take care, my new friend.

    • Reply Gabriel February 7, 2017 at 5:03 pm

      Come by anytime! I’ll leave the light on

  • Reply candidkay February 7, 2017 at 5:28 pm

    You had me at puppies who protest:).

    • Reply Gabriel February 7, 2017 at 6:25 pm

      hehehe. I’m also convinced that the peaceful protest from the core constituency (which of course includes the puppies) was the tipping point that caused the government to reverse its course. Incredibly moving experience.

      But now… Monica is telling me I better get back in the kitchen. Those dishes aren’t gonna wash themselves, no matter how peacefully I “protest.”

  • Reply Petra February 7, 2017 at 6:20 pm

    The most heartening things in these crazy times is to see peaceful protest. People are not going to just stand by.
    Great perspective! I look forward to hearing more about your journey. I might also have to binge on House of Cards in solidarity.

    • Reply Gabriel February 7, 2017 at 6:26 pm

      Yes on all counts! Thanks so much for stopping by and following.

      I suspect we both have some amazing stories to share…

      • Reply Petra February 7, 2017 at 6:46 pm

        Absolutely!

  • Reply Miriam February 7, 2017 at 8:59 pm

    I take my hat off to you Gabe (if I was wearing one) and so admire you for taking a stance. There comes a time when we can no longer just stand back and watch without letting leaders understand how their actions are affecting the masses. Although I’m not an American and not very politically minded with what’s happening in Romania but what’s happening now has repercussions everywhere. Crazy world we live in.

    • Reply Gabriel February 8, 2017 at 4:34 am

      Thanks Miriam! And your right, it IS a crazy world.

  • Reply When Stories Attack February 7, 2017 at 9:02 pm

    2017 will get better, I’m sure. Look on the bright side, we might get hit by an asteroid.

    • Reply Gabriel February 8, 2017 at 4:35 am

      Ha! Ummmm is it a bad thing if our new “bright side” is the dark side of the moon?

  • Reply Bun Karyudo February 8, 2017 at 6:42 am

    I’m glad to hear that things in Romania seemed to take a turn for the better at the end. It’s a small victory, but I can’t help feeling that in the bigger picture, the world is going in a more corrupt, less just direction. I hope I’m wrong, of course.

    • Reply Gabriel February 8, 2017 at 3:26 pm

      It looks like you’re right again Bun. I hate dealing with all this political garbage. Would much rather be writing and sketching and playing out in Nature.

      Hate being a grown-up. I’m not very good at it.

  • Reply jan February 8, 2017 at 11:55 am

    Howdy Gabe! Nice to meet you. I like your art. Look forward to getting know you – Jan

    • Reply Gabriel February 8, 2017 at 12:42 pm

      Hi Jan! Thanks for the compliment, and thanks for stopping by!

  • Reply karenlee February 8, 2017 at 3:51 pm

    Unbelievable. Yes, I am in the please do the job you were elected to do or move over camp. The anxiety is so great at times I have to back away. I cannot scroll through my social media page any longer as it’s too filled with anger. Trust isn’t there now for me. It’s pretty frightening. Never before have I felt fear after an election. I do now. Great piece highlighting what is happening in your corner of the world. Sending peaceful wishes across the miles.

    • Reply Gabriel February 8, 2017 at 4:07 pm

      I know what you mean Karen. Scrolling through Facebook usually requires a whiskey chaser, and I don’t want to learn how to use Twitter.

      I was very reluctant to share this post for just those reasons. This is a place to get away from the craziness (or at least enjoy the fact that MY craziness makes most other peoples craziness seem more tolerable).

      In the end, I thought that the inspiring (and meaningful) family oriented protest was such a positive message that it outweighed the ugliness that provoked it.

      Thanks again for the comment and following Karen. It’s going to be a bumpy ride, but I hope you find a few bits of the good stuff while your here. (If not, PLEASE tell me to get my act together 😉 )

  • Reply midihideaways February 9, 2017 at 10:03 am

    Great article, Gabriel!! It got me thinking, could a TV series such as House of Cards have desensitised people to such an extent that they think corruption and lying amongst politicians is the norm? Is that what contributed to the outcome of the recent US elections?

    • Reply Gabriel February 10, 2017 at 4:14 pm

      What an interesting question Andrea. In the past, discussion about the role of TV (and video games) centered on it’s possible influence on the incidence of violence. There is a lot of well-researched data to support both arguments, so I guess the jury is out.

      However, I can say that for me personally, my exposure to an AWESOME political show like House of Cards had the opposite effect. It got me out of my cave and on my feet to protest what I felt was inexcusable behavior from elected officials.

      Thanks so much for stopping by!

  • Reply mydangblog February 9, 2017 at 5:31 pm

    Wow! What an experience–and what a great post, especially for us in North America who are dying to hear what the rest of the world is doing to make it a better place.

    • Reply Gabriel February 10, 2017 at 4:20 pm

      Glad you liked the post Suzanne. While I think we have A LOT of work to do to make the world a better place, its definitely a project worth pursuing right?

  • Reply RMW February 11, 2017 at 10:02 am

    My condolences to you for having access to Netflix. It can become addictive especially as the tendency is to binge-watch which can lead to avoiding real life if one is not vigilant. But I congratulate you for taking part in the demonstration. I too cannot abide large crowds so I didn’t participate in any of the demonstrations or marches in LA. However, it’s nice to know people can demonstrate and remain civilized with no violence on the part of the participants or law enforcement. That’s how it should be.

    • Reply Gabriel February 12, 2017 at 5:01 am

      So true. Netflix, like crack and Snickers, are pesky obstacles that threaten to throw us off the path to becoming that better version of ourselves.

      You sound like my kind of people! I don’t do well with crowds (and consider any groups larger than myself and an immediate family member a crowd). but some things are just too important to hide from.

      Thanks for your comment, and for following along!

  • Reply Ann Coleman February 11, 2017 at 9:34 pm

    Thank you for this post! I had no idea what was going on in Romania (part of the problem with the news outlets in the States is that they rarely inform us of what is going on in the rest of the word, but if some celebrity is pregnant, hey, that’s front-page news!) I think that peaceful protests can have a profound effect on public policy, and are one of the few ways that most people can make their voices heard!

    • Reply Gabriel February 12, 2017 at 5:12 am

      The news is slanted towards the scandalous and trivial here in Europe as well. For every insightful, well-researched article, you can count on at least a dozen “fluff pieces” to dilute it. I’ve limited my subscriptions to New York Times, and Washington Post.

      Fortunately, I have shifted much of my attention to reading wonderful blogs such as yours. Feels like I’m sharing a relaxing conversation with a new friend. And I think life is all the better for it!

  • Reply Di March 16, 2017 at 3:41 am

    Hi Gabriel!
    I learnt a lot here on many fronts… we don’t seem to hear l lot about Romania down here. I think the whole Trump thing must have taken precedence. But you said early on your presence wouldn’t make a difference but it certainly sounds like you were a proud participant anyway and that’s the main thing… you did your bit for what’s right.
    …I learnt you live in Romania and if I’m reading between the lines correctly, you got married on Jan 6? Or else it was due to Netflix arriving? 🙂
    An important and educational post, thank you Gabriel 🌟🌟💐

    • Reply Gabriel March 16, 2017 at 4:00 am

      hehehe Yup- Netflix became available here in Romania on Jan 6. Monica and I have been married for just over 2 years.
      While the the addition of Netflix was amazing, I’m still gonna say that talking Monica into marrying me was by far the most exciting 😉

      • Reply Di March 16, 2017 at 4:11 am

        Sweet! Hello to Monica from Di in Melbourne🙋
        Enjoy your Netflix too. I’m just re watching ‘I’m not your guru’ doco there of Tony Robbins while my hubby is in Sydney for work tonight. Bye for now 🙋🙂

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