Silence speaks when words can’t. 39 dead. 130 seriously injured. 80 hanging from a thread of life. A nation floored by grief, anger and disbelief. A tragedy that could have been avoided. Twenty-six years after the fall of communism, Romania is still playing a dangerous game. And this game, by its name Corruption, is fatal.
It’s been 13 days since a fire that started at Colectiv Club, in center Bucharest, during a free concert by heavy metal band Goodbye to Gravity killed 39 people, and injured some 130 more. Thirteen days of mourning for my native Romania. Thirteen days of gruesome accounts of how a generation of young, creative, full-of-life people died suffocated and burnt alive in a safety hazard establishment. Thirteen days in which tens of thousands marched down the streets of Romania’s capital asking for change. CHANGE, not empty promises. The resignation of politicians in charge, the retribution of those responsible, the end to a society sick still with the corruption syndrome. The end once and for all to bribe, greed and carelessness for what’s right.
Far from being a simple accident, this horrendous tragedy was brought upon by a classic case of corruption. A venue deemed “completely unfit” by Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, improper fire safety measures, and no permit allowing a large group of people or use of fireworks. Hell unleashed in a matter of minutes. No extinguisher, no sprinklers, and no more than one measly exit door for more than 400 people. His skin was falling off. She had no more hair. There were shedding tears of blood. People stepped on each other, crawling their way out. With each testimony that I hear, I am stunned and petrified. The cries for help are unlike anyone has ever experienced, calls for donations: money, blood, skin. Skin! The worst tragedy that has hit Romania in the last decades has left us, Romanians, numb. The blaming game is playing – it’s corruption, it’s the politicians, it’s the church, it’s the medical system. It’s all of the above. But more so than that, this tragedy should speak to each one of us. With every bribe and every tolerance of a fouled society mechanism, death and injustice will forever creep in at close distance.
Ten years after leaving Romania for New York, I went back to Bucharest this summer, as I do every year. This time, I stayed for a few weeks. As I played tourist in my own hometown, I noticed things I hadn’t noticed before: landmarks reborn, tourism initiatives, healthier lifestyles and a new generation brimming with enthusiasm. Once blasé, I was surprised to see motivated young people with big smiles on their faces, forming new tribes and cultural offerings, talking about the future of their country, my country, promoting the good of a society previously few decades asleep. Equally so, I sat in disbelief watching the news exposing politicians in jail, one after another, finally accounted for bouts of corruptions and abuse in power. I thought to myself – things are changing. There is hope. It’s just a matter of time.
And yet, much remains the same. On that fatidic night of October 30th, it wasn’t the sleazy club owners that got injured; it wasn’t the greedy politician, or the hypocrite priest claiming for false absolution. It was our future that burnt to smithereens. It was the 15 year-old Olympian that died in his mother’s arms, the two heroes that perished saving others, the girl with the pink hair, the talented architect, the relentless photographer, the journalist, the passionate guitarists, the bloggers, the students emeritus. It was those same people I had admired few months prior. Those that had inspired me and made me proud to be Romanian, those are the ones that perished; along with them, the hopes and dreams for a brighter future. “Corruption, greed and indifference are killing Romania,” one banner reads, splattered all over the news.
“We have 18,000 churches and only 425 hospitals, but we watch our brothers die on sidewalks,” another says during last Sunday’s silent march in honor of the victims lost. In a nation in which the Orthodox Church holds more money and power than both the medical and education institutions combined, civic outrage can no longer be ceased. After Tuesday’s massive turnaround of 32,000 citizens marching down the streets of Bucharest, November 4th 2015 marked the resignation of Prime Minister Victor Ponta and its long disgraced government. A significant first step and yet, just a tiny stride in what needs massive cleaning. After days of continuous protests, representatives of the civil society are now calling the shots. Invited for discussions at Cotroceni Presidential Palace, this symbols a second step towards more viable solutions. Just in, a technocrat, clean Prime Minister has taken over the reins. What’s next? That’s up to you, and me.
It could have been me, it could have been you! CORRUPTION KILLS. As a new Revolution is on the brinks of ignition, what can we all do?
Nobody should die on the dance floor.
In writing this op-ed, I’ve had to update the number of casualties three times. The number of victims has now reached 53, and is continuously expected to rise. I have stopped updating it …
Photo courtesy of Urban.ro