Wednesday, December 22, 2004

15 Years of Freedom

On December 22, 1989, I was 7 years and 7 months old. Around noon, home alone in my parents' old apartment in Romania, I'm listening to some fairy tale on an LP, when suddenly the electricity stops; though not out of the ordinary, this is a terrible disappointment - the story was very exciting. A few minutes later, my mom walks in from work, 3-4 hours earlier than the usual: it was the first and probably the last time I actually saw my mom jump up, smiling and yelling something I didn't quite understand at the time: "The dictator has fallen!" ("A cazut dictatorul!"); it was the great day of Romanians - the Revolution, the fall of Communism, the Victory.

She hadn't heard from my dad in a while, so we walked to my aunt's house, pretty close by. December was extremely warm that year; I remember wearing a white T-shirt and a jacket, which for a Romanian winter is rather unusual. My dad's sister and my uncle were watching the "free" Romanian Television - a bunch of ex-Communists, poets, intellectuals and the director of the only broadcast station in the nation, all crammed against each other in front of the camera, shouting to the entire nation: "The National Television is free! The dictator has fallen!"

Back in 1989, my aunt and uncle were among the few people we knew who owned a car. Apparently, on the way home a small crowd on the street had asked them to drive over Ceausescu's portrait, in exchange for letting them pass. I remembered that portrait, it was on every wall in kindergarten; it was hanging in my 1st grade classroom; it was on the first page of every 1st grade textbook (I was pretty shocked when my teacher told us the following week we were allowed to tear out that page, that it's not a bad thing, that we're not destroying the books...)

Like many Romanians, I don't think I'll ever forget that day. We later gathered back at our apartment, still watching the "free" television, hearing continuous rumors about how Ceausescu flew the "People's House" (currently the Palace of Parliament building), about the increasing number of people killed in Bucharest and all over the country, either by the army or by the authorities, who opened fire against civilians. When some reporter on TV started to shout "The army is with us!", I couldn't quite understand what that meant, either, but my mom and my aunt and uncle seemed pretty happy.

Earlier that day we had gone downtown to look for my father; it was rather impossible to find him in the mass of people gathered in "Union Square." At 1 a.m. we finally got a call; he was alright. I later found out that on December 14th my dad and a few other writers had organized a meeting in the same Union Square, in light of other events that were happening all over the country. Their attempt never truly succeeded; someone had betrayed them.

On Christmas day, 1989, as much as it impacted me, I was happy to see Ceausescu shot on the same National Television. I'd never seen someone killed "live" before, or after that. It's weird how right it felt; it may be un-Christian to say it, but I'm glad he died.

Today, 15 years later, my dad is considered one of about 20,000 "Revolutionaries" in Romania. I've kept wondering for some time whether what they all hoped and risked their lives for has been accomplished. No matter the hardships, I believe Romania is by far better now than before; with all the corruption, despite the same ex-Communist we had as a president for about 10 years, with all the nepotism, bribes, discrimination and poverty - this is nothing compared to Communism. Yes, it was all worth it.

Here's to the 15-year anniversary of Romania's Revolution!

Monday, December 13, 2004

It's All Happening

Romania's New President:

Traian Basescu

Basescu Ahead in Romanian Presidential Run-off
8:59am (UK), "PA" [The Press Associaton]

"Mayor Traian Basescu was ahead in the Romanian presidential run-off, according to official partial results released today.

Basescu had 51.75% of the vote, to Nastase’s 48.25 based on 92.1% of the vote counted. He was 600,000 votes ahead, the Central Electoral Bureau said.

Basescu’s opposition Justice and Truth Alliance said that Basescu had 51.5% of the vote, compared to Nastase’s 49.5%, according to a parallel count of ballots carried out by the opposition."

If the U.S. 2000 elections taught the world anything, nothing is over till it's over. And which nation would be more likely to have fairer elections: Romania or the U.S.? Tough call on that one, for sure.

After the Nov 28th election, the opposition (Basescu) vehemently accused the government of fraud and manipulation of the results. In all truth, what's happening in Ukraine is no small game, and I don't wish that outcome to any country, especially my own. However, to be totally honest, I did see somewhat of an effort at the Romanian Consulate in NYC to insure the accountability of the electoral process. For example, this time I had to sign a "voting declaration"; it's pretty much a statement indicating my name, address and - most importantly - the fact that I voted in NYC on the respective date. I'm not clear on the effectiveness of these documents in matters of actually comparing the information they contain. However, it's highly possible that if anyone was inclined to vote twice, the simple fact of signing the declaration acted as a deterrent. Some effect is better than none, I guess.

Bottom line: OPPOSITION WON! I'm happy; after 15 years of post-Ceausescu Communist entanglement, I'm truly happy for my country. The urban voters, the middle class, the business men, the intellectuals, the new generation - they finally shifted the electoral demographics. Maybe mentalities can change after all.

What's to be expected? In a nutshell:
- some curtailing of corruption
- legal restructuring
- strenuous efforts to push for the 2007 EU adherence
- better taxation for private companies

Out of the endless hole of populism, Romania is finally stepping into the right direction. It's quite new territory; if it will be able to adapt - that remains to be seen.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

E Pluribus Duo

Another day of voting. Second round, just presidential elections. Unprecedented so far in Romania, almost all exit polls predict a very close call, 50% - 50%, give or take 0.5% That's pretty impressive, yet a huge burden on election officials; accountability is key, and - yes - every vote does count. I guess we won't know till they count the last ballot. All in all (what else is new?) I'm happy I had my share of it. Now I just have to keep my fingers crossed and hope that at least 51% of Romanians finally came back to their senses.

[English]: Associated Press

P.S.Intersting fact: absenteeism was significantly high in most of the regions where the Romanian Hungarian Democratic Union (UDMR) won the Parliamentary elections.