This is 2010 Romania. I call it the Human Grinder. To most foreigners, Romania is a land of few, but blurry ideas: Dracula, Nadia, poor children, and probably the crappiest roads in all of Europe.
The best roads in the country are those the Romans built 2000 years ago. Yet on those roads, we drive the new successful cars of Dacia Pitești, while the chosen few ride in style, in cars that Angela Merkel and Jay Kay would hesitate to pay cash for.
The best thing to be in Romania is a foreign tourist. You get to see man-made Hell, plus a few great and perhaps touching moments, and then you get to leave and go back to a life where work pays the bills, buys you your dream car, sends the kids to college, and gets you healthcare when you need it.
When traveling to Romania, remember: nothing is as it seems.
Sad But True
It sounds blunt but this state is too primitive to even begin to care about discrimination and try to fight it. Most of us are a bunch of starved animals, ready to tear one another apart for a piece of food. Someone up there must find that very useful, since every four or five years, elections are won with food packages distributed to the voters … It is a whole other world and another perspective, which a Western European will refute and deny until the end.
The golden dream for most young people is to be given a chance to live somewhere else. But a “Get out of Hell Free” card never comes free for a Romanian. It makes me think who will be left, if most of us leave and those who cannot, die?
As a woman and a citizen of Romania, I have witnessed and experienced discrimination in many and surprising forms. I majored in Political Science and am quite familiar with concepts such as effective governing, minorities, empowerment… and discrimination. However, the most important thing I have learnt in the University was that most of these concepts do not fit us, because here everything is rotten to the core and covered in lies to make up the necessary appearances. We have European laws … but most people here invest their creativity in going around them.
Discrimination Under the Magnifying Glass
I won’t write about what discrimination means, because others have done it way better than I ever could. I will write about what discrimination feels like. The victim of discrimination is the Girl with the Matches from Andersen’s tale. It feels like humiliation and powerlessness, because someone else decides your fate and there is nothing you can do to change that. And all this happens while you see that the ones who make the laws keep the privileges, nay, the rights to themselves. FA Hayek and John Rawls would freak out if they saw us now …
Who Discriminates Whom?
Our country experiences various types of discrimination grafted onto a bigger, more widespread type: the income—and status-based kind. Here, money makes everything better, clears any name and criminal record and discrimination is no longer felt if you surround yourself with money. If you are dark skinned, illiterate and live on state support, you are called a Gypsy and condemned to live in extreme poverty and without access to a dignified, decent life. If you are dark-skinned and illiterate, but are financing elections from blood money, you are a worthy, honest citizen and get to live better than a German or British Doctor who spends his or her life to find a cure for cancer.
Last year, a forum user wrote to me asking what to do because her boss had fired her upon learning she was pregnant. Of course, there is a law banning business owners from doing that, but they have big law-firms, while the workers have babies to worry for … I directed her to someone who specializes in labor law, but she refused… probably knowing that our justice system will take until her baby is in secondary school to recognize her right to keep her job.
Perhaps the saddest example of discrimination I can think of is that against the LGBT community. While LGBT members are accepted to a smaller or greater degree in other EU countries, here they are still treated like a freak show. We are a church state, and almost everyone blindly believes gay people will burn in hell. Every year, for Gay Pride, people gather to watch a sad procession of colorful drag queens and throw rocks or insults at them. Gay Pride day is not a colorful vibrant day for Bucharest. It is a day when the Capital of Romania reverts to the Middle Ages and a bunch of men with baseball bats and other blunt objects chase a few men dressed in feathers and sequins. We do not even have the tact and kindness to let the other live as he pleases, not even in private. A good friend of mine invited me last year to go see the Gay Pride with him, and I had almost said yes, when he added: “It’ll be so fun to let those freaks have it!”, showing me one of those telescopic police issue bats that are made to break bones when they hit.
A Widespread, but Not Popular Experience
Unfortunately, the average Romanian experiences multiple instances of discrimination every day—at home and abroad. On foreign airports, we are singled out, questioned, and verified. When I fly to Germany, I am often taken aside, questioned about the duration of my stay, and asked to present the return ticket. On a shopping trip in France, my bags were turned upside down and their contents compared to the receipts, while a voice let the supermarket customers know, via the loudspeakers, that they should hold on to their purses because there are Romanians in the building.
I have never broken a law, never crossed the street at a red light, and never cheated on a test. Perhaps this is why I am not one of the privileged ones in my country. I gave up my job to be able to go to Art School, but my classmates with connections in the faculty staff and rich parents do not even have to be present in order to pass the exams.
Looking in on the Party, Standing Barefoot in the Snow
My best friend is German. She never bothered much with school, but the German state found her a job. She now has a ridiculously small paycheck, but is still infinitely wealthier than I am; she can afford anything she sees, while I have to ask my parents for money as my BA and Masters Diploma makes no difference. She does not go to bed wondering if she will have food on her table the next day. I speak three foreign languages fluently, am fairly good in another two, and have a double major in Political Science and Sociology, yet I have no income, and the prostitutes and pimps at the street corner laugh in my face. As a journalist, I made editor-in-chief in three years, yet now I am unemployed as media employers prefer under-qualified but low-cost people who can be easily controlled and replaced.
So yes, when my government refuses to do what we elected them to do, which is get us out of the crisis, yes, I feel discriminated, because (at least in theory) I am not worth less as a human being than someone who was born in Germany and didn’t work half as much as I have. Am I biased? Do I look into my neighbor’s yard with yearning and perhaps envy? Of course. Living in constant fear will do that to someone. Day by day, I lose even the little dignity I have left as my state tells me it has no use for me and though my rights are undeniable, it refuses to allow me (and many others in the same situation) to access them.
Discrimination Actually Spells Injustice
The sad and worrying part is that, even though our laws are harmonized with EU legislation, they are still ignored. And if prior to the admission politicians and businesspeople sometimes dared to bend the law, now they all make a pretzel out of it. Throughout the Romanian media, loud voices coming from the political parties and the state institutions demand that we show them proof that most people in key positions steal and favor their clans. Well, Romania has become an open-air museum of proof. Unimaginable amounts of money, supposedly directed towards investments, state money and sometimes even European funds, have vanished into thin air, because they have been spent and nothing has improved. We pay the highest price per built kilometer of highway, yet we have little next to no highways, and those become flawed from inauguration day. Even though Europe has paid good money in integration projects, policy packages and NGO financing so the Romanian state do something about the Romani population, they are still living by rules that have not changed since the Middle Ages and do not trust the state authorities or the rest of us. They refuse to play by the rules because they see that it is a losing game. That is why so many of them are committed to returning to France on foot.
As a Romanian who cannot and will not learn to break the law in order to survive, I and many people like me, older and younger, feel discriminated against. At the moment, someone at the top decides our future and condemns us all to disappear as a nation, while those with the power to stop it sit and watch. The Romania experiment is ending and it is ending fast.