Wednesday, November 06, 2013


How many politicians in Romania does it take to change a light bulb?  

One or two to sign the contract handing over billions of dollars of taxpayers money to a massive multinational corporation to do the actual work of changing the lightbulb, many more to be paid off to not question the deal, and some others to make trouble and change the subject if anyone in the media ever challenge it.

(oh and at the end of the process the lightbulb hasn't actually been changed)

In the interests of balance, though I was careful to specify that it was politicians in Romania in the joke/reality above, rather than Romanian politicians

How many Hungarian politicians does it take to change a lightbulb in Harghita County?

It really is appalling that the government in Bucharest have not changed this lightbulb already.  it's just another example of the anti-Hungarian bias shown by this country.  If this lightbulb were in Craiova it would have been changed months ago.  

Friday, November 01, 2013

A 100 year old mirror

Recently, I started reading what seems to be widely regarded as "The Great Transylvanian Novel", which is Miklos Banffy's Transylvanian trilogy (or Banffy Miklos's if you prefer). Period literature is not really my thing, usually, and especially period literature which features as its main context the lives of aristocrats and the privileged.  But, so far, (I'm mid way through book 1) it's an absolutely cracking read. I'm - to my surprise, actually - really enjoying it.  And so many things are familiar to me, in a way which I could never have expected. (Which is precisely why everyone tells me that I shouldn't overlook such novels. So, I have been foolish.  As usual.)

So, anyway, I'm guessing I might write again on this subject as I devour the 3 books, but yesterday I came across a passage which was just so perfect I felt I had to share it.

The hero, Balint Abady (I'll just stick with the translated version's ordering of names rather than the original Hungarian), who is a count and a politician (and one assumes not a million miles from Banffy himself), is travelling on a train from Maros-Ludas (Luduș) to Kolozsvar (Cluj) where he meets a Romanian lawyer, Dr Aurel Timisan.  They start talking and...

It was all such nonsense: Romanians were Romanians and would remain so eternally, no matter what new names were invented for them. "Nobody expects anything else," said Balint, "but you must admit that the country in which you live has a right to demand that you learn its language!"

"Naturally, I'm not against that," said Timisan, and once again a barely perceptible mockery lurked in his smile, "That's to everyone's advantage. As you see I've learned it myself, even becoming a Doctor of Law at a Hungarian university and serving in the Hungarian army, both with tolerable success, though I say it myself. [...] "But you must admit, too," he went on, "that it is most unjust that the public notaries, high sheriffs, tax-collectors - indeed all public servants - are not obliged to speak the language of the people they serve. It is really absurd that the people cannot explain themselves in court in their own language, but they have to use an interpreter.  the Nationality Bill was supposed to grant us this...but of course it's been drawn up by Hungarians without us being consulted!"
This passage actually made me laugh out loud because I feel like I've had this conversation over and over, or overheard it time after time.  Except now of course, the roles are reversed, and Romanian and Hungarian have changed places. This part of the novel is set in the early part of he last century, around 1906 I believe.  100 years later and we have exactly the same conversations about more or less exactly the same things, just in reverse.  First time tragedy, second time farce?

Abady changes the subject at this point, and sounds a bit like a more erudite version of me..
"It's my view," he said, "that we should try and find the means to draw closer spiritually and economically.  here in Transylvania we are both at home. It is your country and it is my country. It is common ground to both of us. We could learn a great deal is we paid more attention to what really matters, and did not allow ourselves always to be sucked into the whirlpool of Budapest politics"
(Here you have to replace Budapest with Bucharest, but you knew that)

plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose

It's a great book.  I'd really recommend it.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Romanian Vignettes

There is a system of heating and hot water in Romania, whereby for the (many) blocks of flats, there is a centralised building where they heat the water and pump it around the buildings, providing hot water all year long and heating in the winter. The heating gets turned on round about October 1st and turned off again in April.  (Round here anyway, down in some of the warmer parts of the country these dates may be different).

Now this system would actually be quite a good one, were it not for the fact that the facilities and infrastructure are old and they've never been updated since the communists built them.  So there is massive inefficiency, and loads of leaks and so on.  So the amount of money you pay each month for your heating and hot water is not related that closely to how much you've used.  Because of this most people try to get off the system and install their own gas boiler water/heating system, so that they only pay for what they use.

Our apartment was already off the grid when we bought it, and has been for something like 10 years, but because the pipes run through our flat we still have to pay something.  (When we first moved in they were all clad in insulation so we didn't pay that money, but then the law changed, so we took off the insulation - since we were paying anyway.  But I digress).

Last week, the one remaining apartment on our side of the building that still used the central system, installed their own system, and someone from the building came round telling us that we could finally get rid of the pipes and stop paying the (ridiculously large) monthly amount of money.  As ours is the lowest apartment in the building (one floor up above some shops), it was decided that it made sense if the pipes would be cut and capped in our apartment.

So, last week the blokes came around and sawed off all ten pipes that ran through our apartment, bottom and top, and welded them shut.  It was a surprisingly quick and not too disruptive a job. Until another resident of the building from some floors higher up on the other side, came in to see what was going on and got very upset because she said that the system went up one side of the building and then back down the other side, so when the heating was turned on (a) they wouldn't get any; and (b) we'd all get flooded by all the water going round the system.  

Now, it is at this point that the story becomes a truly Romanian* story. Because when we asked the workmen if it was possible that she was right, their answer was not "No, that's not a problem, we would never have cut these pipes if that could happen", but instead.  "Hmm.  We have no idea.  I guess we'd better check". 

(*By which I mean a story that takes place in Romania, rather than a story that is Romanian in its ethnicity :-) )

[Turns out that they did need to do some work up on the top floor to ensure that this problem didn't arise, but it wasn't the absolute clusterfuck that it would have been if they'd needed to re-install the pipes that they had just removed.  But it is a good job that the neighbour checked]

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Democracy and Rosia Montana

There has been a big story in Romania for years now - that of the proposed gold mining operation at Rosia Montana.  Anyone in Romania can skip the beginning of this since you all know the ins and outs of this question, but for people who are not familiar, here is a very brief summary of what has been happening and especially the last few days:

The basic background information

In Transylvania, Romania, in the Apuseni mountains, an area of stunning national beauty, there is a small village called Rosia Montana. it is a village built on mining, where mining - for gold mostly - has been going on since Roman times. Indeed under the village there are excellently preserved Roman gold mines. 

The village has been at the centre of mining operations ever since, though mostly on a very small scale. As with most such industries at the end of communism the mine shut down (inefficient, dangerous, polluting, needing tons of investment to continue)

14 years ago a Canadian company called Gabriel Resources acquired the rights to develop the mines and mine the gold. They set up a company called Rosia Mountain Gold Corporation (hereafter RMGC) which is 81% owned by them (Gabriel) and 19% by the Romanian state.  Since then there has been an incredibly long and convoluted process to finally get this mining under way. RMGC's plan was basically to relocate most of  the villagers to nearby town Alba Iulia, and knock down 4 mountains in the largest open cast mine in Europe. It's a massive operation. they bought up much of the land, with the majority of the villagers - desperate for work - happy to go along with the plan and to be employed. Some, of course , did not go along and held out, refusing to sell their land.

The environmental movement is also, obviously up in arms, since not only does this plan pretty much trash a massive area of extremely beautiful countryside, but it also involves the extensive use of cyanide. Cyanide is used in gold mining as standard, and the plan would create a large toxic lake of cyanide which would pretty much stay there for ever.  15ish years ago in northern Romania, a much smaller cyanide lake burst its banks and entered the river system, killing fish all the way down the Tisza and eventually the Danube in Hungary. RMGC argues that they have modern methods and there is absolutely no danger of this happening again, and that even in environmentally conscious countries like Finland this kind of thing goes on. (This conveniently ignores the fact that this project will on its own use about ten times as much cyanide per year than is used per year in the whole of the rest of Europe.)

Then of course there is the ever present suspicion of corruption. Nobody in Romania trusts any politician not to be on the take. And in the case a huge multinational corporation trying to make a bunch of money, there is widespread (universal) assumption that there are some dodgy dealings in the background.


So, the whole project has been tied up for years in legal and political arguments, with successive governments trying to push through laws to make the whole project start (like forcing people to sell up etc). The President has been in favour for years, and the last government (of the same party as the President) doing the same. But they couldn't get it through in time, before they got voted out last year. The new prime minister was on record in opposition as being against it, so it seemed like it might be finished. Last month however, his government put forward draft legislation to approve it (he claimed that as an MP he was opposed,but as the leader of the country he was for. The best flip-flop argument ever).

This brought people on to the streets in protest and all major cities, especially Bucharest, have seen ongoing demonstrations since that date (Aug 27th). Yesterday the PM flip flopped again saying he would vote against the legislation as would most of his government. The project is assumed to be dead in the water and the Gabriel share price has dropped like a stone (amid threats from Canada to launch legal action). 

Other links

Those are basically the facts.  It's a bit of a brief outline of the situation by necessity, and therefore there will be bits that I have omitted, but essentially the salient facts are as above.

If you want to read further then the wikipedia page is pretty good, though obviously as this is a hot issue, I'm guessing that page is in the front line of the different points of view, so it might change fairly regularly.

This Reuters article from last year is also very good and puts both sides of the story well.

And to give a well-argued counterpoint to my view (below) on this, Craig at Bucharest Life has written a good post (a number of the commenst below that are excellent too) 

My view

Not that it matters to any degree, and I've gone back and forth with this question anyway, but my gut reaction, backed up by stuff I've read since then is to side with the anti-RMGC side of the debate.  I haven't been to Rosia Montana, so I can't really comment on the town, but I have been to some villages fairly nearby, and it is a stunning area and incredibly beautiful.  I have also been to Balan, a town not far from here, which I guess is similar in some ways - a copper mining town which grew under Ceausescu, and which now is home to just over 5000 people (very similar to Rosia Montana), most of whom live in the concrete blocks beloved of communist architects.  In the time that I've lived here, Bălan has gone from being almost a ghost town when the mine closed down, to actually finding its feet again.  Despite the architecture there is something attractive about the town, over and above the stunning scenery that surrounds it. That scenery does attract people with it being the starting point on the climb up to Egyeskő / Piatra Singuratică, and the mountains around.  Other small industries have been set up, including large scale collection of wild mushrooms to be shipped off to Western Europe, which seem to be enough to make the town self-sufficient.  That's not to say that it's an easy life for people there, but it does seem to have turned the corner.  The mine entrance building looms over the town, closed and silent, and when you climb up to the the mountain it is then that you can see the area of the valley that has been stripped bare and the toxic lake left in the middle from the mining operations.  I am sure there a large number of people in Bălan who would like the mine to reopen, thus providing work, but in the bigger picture, the town has a more sustainable economic future ahead of it, even if it takes a while to really build up.  

So while I haven't been to Rosia Montana itself, and I am fully prepared to believe that a large number of its residents are very much desperate for this mine to go ahead, my feelings lie with the desire to not destroy this area, and leave a huge scar across the middle of Romania.  In addition, when it comes to large multinational corporations making vast amounts of money, I have no faith that these deals are above board and fair.  Nobody knows what the contracts are between the State and Gabriel Resources.  Nobody knows whether RMGC will pay much in the way of tax.  Nobody knows what kickbacks and deals have been done behind closed doors.  RMGC say they will clean everything up, that they will make everything incredibly safe, that they will offer good wages, and so on.  But why would anyone believe a massive company whose main aim is to make as much money as possible as quickly as possible? They could very well be a hugely ethical company who are less interested in their shareholders than they are about the villages  and villagers of rural Romania. Or not.


And so to the ultimate point of this post. The people who have come out on the streets to protest against this, have, it seems, won.  The government has backed down and the deal seems dead (though one should always be cautious).  People power has won out, and the scenes of young Romanians out on the streets standing up for what they believe in have been powerful.

But, is this democracy?  That's the question that thoughtful people are now posing.  Tens of thousands of people demonstrated, in a country of nearly 20 million.  Is it democratic to give in to their demands?  It's a fair question, i think.

Those who are appalled by the government's change of direction, refer to these people out on the streets as "hipsters".  It's a cheap shot, immediately downplaying them, giving them a name with negative connotations, to lessen then, make them seem like they don't really care.  In truth they are a wide range of people, mostly young, mostly well-educated, mostly middle class, it seems at least.  But not only these groups.  Its a fairly broad protest.  But while the hipster label is unfair and demeans their efforts and their motivations, they are still a fairly small group of people.  So, again, is this democratic?

Well, it is worth turning this question around and looking at the other side.  Who supports this project?  A majority of residents of the village of Rosia Montana.  And then a massive wealthy well connected Canadian corporation. And possibly some politicians.  That's it.  Beyond this there is a large swathe of the country who probably don't know much about it and who in the long run don't really care. So, is it democratic to build this mine in order to satisfy the shareholders of Gabriel Resources?  

Democracy itself is in some danger.  Corporations and governments work together to subvert it all over the globe.  Is it democratic to change policy based on tens of thousands of protestors?  Not in the traditional model of democracy, where everyone has an equal say in who governs.  But we don't live in that world any more, we live in one in which large corporations and the 1% drive policy that suits them with the aid of bought off governments and compliant media.  

So, frankly, I'd rather trust tens of thousands of well educated, well read, thoughtful young people to fight for the right things than a massive corporation and some corrupt politicians.  Perhaps this is what democracy will be in the future.   I for one welcome it.

Monday, August 19, 2013


What can you learn from a single line on a menu?  Well, at times, quite a lot...

The picture is the specials at the "grill" by the swimming pool at a hotel in Hungary.  Each day a different location is represented (though actually the US managed to get on twice in the 7 available days).  On Saturday (Szombat) as you will see the region of choice is Transylvania (Erdely)  Now the first thing to notice is that to represent Transylvania they've chosen the Szekely flag, which  neither sums up Transylvania as a whole, nor even the Hungarian element of the Transylvanian population, but never mind, let's move on.

The first item on the menu is "Csevapcsicsa", which anyone who has ever been to anywhere in the former Yugoslavia will recognise as a Hungarianised spelling of a word from Serbian/Croatian/etc.  Ćevapčići, are small turds (frankly the most descriptive word) of minced meat with herbs and stuff which are barbecued or otherwise grilled.

Now it is very true that in Romania a version of Ćevapčići are indeed eaten.  They are called mititei or more commonly, mici. You see them absolutely everywhere, at every outdoor event.  Occasionally on a Hungarian language menu or board you might see "mici" written as "miccs" to phonetically render this Romanian word in Hungarian.

So what we glean from this word is that (a) mici are being sold as a Transylvanian speciality.  From a Hungarian perspective this may not be far removed from the truth, I suppose, since the average Hungarian traveller, brave enough to enter Romania at all, is never likely to venture south of Brasov; (b) they are implicitly (with the flag and all that) being sold as a Szekely food.  Even the most hardened psychotic Szekely nationalist would not think of suggesting that mici were anything other than Romanian;  (c) it is assumed that a Hungarian clientele would not recognise the word miccs (or mici), and so they are offered the serbian/croatian word instead.  This is probably because most Hungarians seem to have been on holiday to Croatia at some time or other, but have probably not dared venture into the wilds of Erdely.

Onwards. These mici are being served with kemences burgonya, or ( I presume) roast potatoes. Literally "oven potatoes", anyway.  Could be jacket, I suppose. Anyway, the only time I've ever eaten either roast or jacket potatoes in 9 years living in Transylvania have been the times when I've cooked them. So, again, not an especially local speciality.  Mici, as everyone from here knows, are served with a massive glob of mustard and some bread.  If potatoes are involved at all, it would be as chips.

The final part of this very Transylvanian dish is tepett salata. That translates literally as "torn salad". No, I don't know either.  I have two possible theories here - one is that in the quest for your authentically rustic, peasant, and hence Transylvanian, experience, they have elected to make a salad that involves the lettuce being torn, authentically and rustically.  The other is that in Hungary they believe that the poor Transylvanians, can't actually afford knives.

This restaurant wasn't actually that far from the border either. Still, I guess this happens all the time, and Hungarians would likely point to the weird things called "goulash" on menus worldwide, or what passes for "chicken paprikash", in similar establishments as being proof that no-one is immune from this sort of thing.

This has been today's textual analysis lesson. 

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Anthem for my Romania

In my ideal world, the one in which multicultural traditions and roots are recognised and celebrated, rather than fought against and rejected, this would be the national anthem of Romania.

Romanian folk music collected and arranged by Bela Bartok, a Hungarian born in what is now part of Romania, and played here so amazingly by Taraf de Haidouks, a band of Rroma musicians from Romania.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013


(Posts on this blog are like buses, you wait months for one and then two come along at once)

This weekend (the weekend recently completed, if my use of "this" is confusing), Csikszereda suddenly became a cosmopolitan metropolis out of nowhere. From being a sleepy backwater in which nothing ever happens (two weeks ago there was a "come along and meet a bank robber" day at a local shop - that's how quiet we are*), we suddenly rocketed into a weekend starring as the cultural capital of the Balkans, Romania, Transylvania, Harghita County, the Csik Depression, before we have come back to our proper station as the land that time forgot.

How, you may be asking, did we make this dramatic shift? Well first of all the town became a satellite of the very successful TIFF film festival.  TIFF (Transylvania International Film Festival) runs every year in Cluj and has gained a really significant reputation.  This year they decided to have a part of it here called TIFFSzereda. This (as far as I can tell) has been a huge success, with the culture starved intelligentsia of the town flocking to see the various films on show. You can read all about it here. (or at least you can if you read Hungarian or Romanian).

Backstage at Harry Tavitian and Cserey Csaba
(well I say backstage but I mean "by the toilets")
Simultaneously was the 5th annual "Mini-jazz" festival.  I believe the "mini" refers to the festival rather than the jazz, which seemed to be perfectly normal sized jazz to me.  This too has grown into something fairly reasonable over those 5 years, and it's (weather permitting) a very enjoyable event, since it takes place in the courtyard of the castle, which is a not unpleasant place to sit around and listen to jazz and drink wine and/or beer. Somehow they even managed to tie these two events  together and have a film following on from the Saturday night concert in the same place. for details.

And that was it.  Well, that's a lot.  Really.  No actually there was another big event this weekend - the opening of a huge Dedeman superstore, but it wasn't terribly cultural. For anyone oustide Romania, Dedeman is a very big hardware shop, which as far as I can tell actually seems to be a Romanian owned business, which makes it more or less unique among the various urban-sprawl-based megastores that surround towns here these days.

[*To be fair the bank robber was local boy-made-bad, Ambrus Attila, star of the book "Ballad of the Whiskey Robber", so it wasn't entirely as weak as I'm painting it, but it's close]

Hay ewe

This article from National Geographic is excellent and tells a very good story of what life is like and how things are changing around here.

Csikborzsova is just up the road, and Gyimes is the valley I've talked about a few times on this blog, leading across the mountains into Moldova, where the Csango people live.

The article also talks a lot about the situations for farmers I mentioned here.

Anyway, read it and enjoy.  I love the paragraph about making hay in particular.

By the way, it's probably good that National Geographic doesn't allow comments, given that I get enough shot from nationalist tossers just for using both the Romanian and Hungarian names for places - this article doesn't even bother with the Romanian names.  

Friday, June 14, 2013

International fame

Video from the Trans World Sport programme about HSC Csikzereda hockey team.  Some bizarre pronunciations and some very weird historical errors (1947?), but worth watching all the same:

Friday, May 31, 2013

Climb down

Sadly, Csikszereda's most famous son, Zsolt Erőss, (or Erőss Zsolt technically) died last week on his way down from the summit of Kangchenjunga, the 10th mountain of over 8000 metres that he had climbed.  The last two of those he managed to climb with a prosthetic leg after losing one of his in an avalanche in 2009.

It's worth reading his wikipedia entry, so here it is.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Romanian Education System (brief reprise)

I thought I had finished with this series, but every now and again something comes along to remind me of what a bunch of useless cretins run education in this country.

In two weeks time it is May 1st.  We've know this for quite a long time.  Not long after that, in fact at the weekend, it is Orthodox Easter. Again, this is not a new piece of information.  People have know about it for a long time.  Centuries in fact.  So, Wednesday May 1st is a public holiday (because May 1st is always a holiday, every year, without fail).  And Orthodox Easter Monday (May 6th this year) is a public holiday (because it always is, etc etc and so on).  Now given all of this, you might have thought that someone, possibly at the beginning of the school year, could have put those facts together and wondered whether it might be worth making this into something of a longer holiday.

But no, this has only been thought about now.  And yesterday, yes, yesterday, a directive was issued from the Ministry that there would be a 6 day holiday from May 1st-6th, and that to make up for it there would be two Saturdays of classes. The first of these Saturdays is this coming one. Two days from now.

If you had plans this weekend? Fuck you, we've changed the timetable.  If you would possibly have liked to have used this 6 day break for a holiday of some sort? Fuck you, you've no time to organise anything.

Now I could speculate that some parent who is high up in the Ministry has decided that he (it will be a he) would like to take his family away for a long weekend then, and he has nothing on this weekend, so there is no real problem with rearranging the nation's timetables for that. But that would just be baseless speculation, so I won't.

Last one on this subject

Ok, my last comment on Thatcher (probably)

It was good to see that the news has finally recognised that there are people who are not really sad that she's died. They're still presenting us as a small minority, but at least we now seem to exist. Though last night I heard some bloke talking as if the main problem we had with her was that she was uncompassionate and uncaring. 

Now the fact is I think this is looking at it the wrong way. The people we are told she "seemed not to care about" were actually the targets all along. She famously didn't believe in society, but she also hated community, she hated groups of people banding together for mutual support. It didn't fit her Raynian worldview where everything that was worth anything was achieved by individual endeavour. 

So the mining communities of South Yorkshire for example, the members of the NUM, the families of the miners, were not some kind of collateral damage in her fight with Arthur Scargill. They were the targets. In a sense Scargill was the collateral damage. It wasn't him she wanted to finish, it was them, the communities, the families, the unions. This repeated throughout Britain, wherever working people dared to organise, dared to support one another. They didn't fit the model so they had to be stopped.

She's dead, but this mad hatred of community and society, is unfortunately very much alive. It was perpetuated by Blair, and is now being attempted to be finished by Cameron and Osborne. We're being pitted against each other to fight from the few scraps that fall from the table.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Video about this region

This is worth a watch if you want to see where I live. Though obviously, as with all YouTube clips, avoid the comments like the plague.  They will depress the crap out of you.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Fire and Traffic interface excitement

A small coda to my recent post on Vietnamese traffic.  While in Danang, on a couple of occasions I sat at a riverside bar and watched as they tested this flame-throwing dragon out. Now it has officially opened for business. I mean, what could possibly go wrong? A dragon breathing out tongues of fire over the traffic.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Good riddance

Predictably there's a lot of bleating about how one shouldn't speak ill of the dead, or a plea for some decorum in the response to what effectively is the death of an old, senile woman. But Thatcher was not just an old lady, she was a symbol, a symbol of hate and extremism, and an all out war on the poor and the working class that goes on to this day. Her death changes nothing, but to not celebrate it would be to somehow legitimise this view of her regime as a statesmanlike one, when in fact she (and her government) caused more harm, caused more damage, caused more hate and divisiveness than anyone before. Thatcherism, sadly, is very much alive and well. But to celebrate the death of Thatcher herself is just and right and true. Good riddance you vile inhuman beast.

My friend David Stubbs provides a better obituary:
What needs addressing as a matter of absolute urgency right now, however, is that Thatcher 's legacy is one of gross, almost comically staggering inequality. We are not all in this together. We are heading down shit creek while a tiny few of "them" are up on the clifftop holding all the paddles. Inequality, inequality, inequality, stupid. If there's good to come from her death, beyond a few street parties, it's that we realise that Thatcherism never died, was never truly even un-elected. It's time to shake ourselves, and others, out of the daze into which we were collectively not so much handbagged as headbutted back in the early 80s. Thatcherism was the worst thing to happen to this country since the Second World War and it'll carry on happening to us unless we do something about it.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The beauty of traffic

Ha Long Bay. You know the one
I've been in Vietnam for the last two weeks, my third visit in the last three years.  It's a great place, with nice people, some really wonderful sights (this time I went to Ha Long Bay, which is that bay that you've all seen in various films, including what seems like 50% of all James Bond films), and absolutely superb food.

But the thing that tourist guides don't tell you, is how utterly compelling the traffic is.  Now I'm not a big city person for the most part, as you might be able to tell from the fact that I've chosen to live in non-thriving metropolis Csikszereda (and, well, now we've even retreated from the lack of hustle and bustle of there and gone to live in the tranquil village of Bankfalva). Traffic in big cities usually bothers me. A lot. But traffic in Vietnam is different.  It's worse.  And yet, somehow, much much better. Standing at a major intersection is to marvel at the wonder of humanity, to see how people can exist without rules, without limits but still respectfully, working together, somehow creating order out of chaos.  Now this sounds like hippy bullshit, and I've obviously done that deliberately, but while the language may be all a bit unnecessary, the fact is that it's true.

Danang, where I spent the vast majority of my time is, to all intents and purposes a new city, so the roads are on a grid system and are pretty wide.  So there you get these swarms of motorbikes, interspersed with some cars, a few trucks, buses, bikes, rickshaws and people pushing food on carts and barrows.  With pedestrians crossing.  But there are very few rules (or at least there is very little enforcement of rules.  There are a few red lights which people more or less obey). So at intersections (especially ones without traffic lights), you get these incredible mingling of traffic, crossing and turning and intermingling and somehow there are no accidents.  Sometimes you'll see someone trying to turn left across the traffic, and on their own they really have no chance, but then they are joined by one or two or more and suddenly the weight of numbers open the flow and allow them to turn.  Seriously it's absolutely riveting to watch.  You know how you get these huge flocks of starlings flying over a city at dusk twisting and turning and changing direction, forming patterns in the air?  Or how you see huge shoals of fish darting and shifting?  All the time miraculously not having any collisions?  It's like that.  A bit slower, but almost as amazing, just because,'s traffic.

Crossing the road on foot in such a situation at first seems like an absolutely impossible task.  You can see the tourists who have just arrived because they spend up to 10 minutes trying to step into the traffic. After a while though you realise that just like with each other the vehicles will adjust, flowing around you.  The worst thing you can do, in fact is to be hesitant - stopping as you cross, and generally behaving unpredictably. After a while it actually becomes enjoyable to cross the road - a sort of 99% safe adrenalin rush.

An alternative is the old quarter in Hanoi, which has the same type of traffic but on narrow streets.  The pavements are crammed with motorbikes, parked (it seems that's what pavements are mostly used for in Vietnam). So the honking flowing traffic squeezes along these narrow dark streets, while the food vendors and the pedestrians weave in amongst them.

Soon, this phenomenon will be dead, though.  As the Vietnamese middle class grows, more and more people are buying cars.  The numbers have visibly and radically increased in the 30 months since I first went. At some point there will be a tipping point at which the number of cars on the road will mean that the flowing amazing mass becomes just gridlock

I'll miss it.  Vietnamese traffic, is weirdly, a thing of almost endless beauty and fascination.  I've dug up some youtube clips of the traffic so you can see it, but even these somehow don't do it justice.  You need to see it up close.  And the Vietnamese tourist office needs to promote it.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Don't tell me...

I've been away for two weeks, and am currently writing from an airport on my way home.  Please tell me this flag bollocks has blown over?

It hasn't has it?

Can we form two new countries - an autonomous region of normal well-adjusted people who can live together in harmony, and a place where all the nationalist cretins (of whatever nationalism) can all live together in disharmony?


Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Notes from the new front line

The flag debate drags on and on and ...

Political capital is made by both sides in perpetuating it. Easy to whip Romanians into a fury over this treacherous irredentist piece of cloth, and easy to whip Hungarians up into a fury over attempts to ban it.  It is, obviously, a complete non issue, especially at a time when people have far bigger problems to worry about.  But, hey, it's an easy distraction for politicians and media to indulge in.  In both countries.

Yesterday I saw a job advert from the US Embassy in Vienna asking for a Hungarian/Romanian media analyst.  A full time position to monitor the media in both countries and report. If the CIA* are now taking an interest in this, it must mean they are at least slightly worried.

(*It wasn't technically a CIA job, but this hardly seems like a consular need)

This is how it starts though.  Times of great economic stress lead people to seek an easy outlet for their worries/fears/concerns/anger.  In some countries it's immigrants.  Here it's Hungarians (and in Hungary it's dragging up Trianon again).  It will probably blow over, but it's as depressing as fuck though.  Depressing that the electorate in both countries can't just say to their political leaders "No, for fuck's sake, they're not the problem.  You are."

See? Incontrovertible proof
On Tuesday there was a Szekely flag raising ceremony in the main square here.  We've never had one there before, but there are more Szekely flags flying now than there ever were before, and whoever is making them, is doing a tidy business.  Oddly they scheduled the ceremony for exactly the same time as the start of the biggest and most important ice hockey match of the season. And as you will from this scientifically accurate venn diagram I've just made up there's a pretty big crossover between people who would like to attend a ceremony raising the flag and local ice hockey fans. Anyway, the mayor (who I may have mentioned before is something of a  dick) made some speech saying that Hungarian ought to be mandatory in this town.  Which I guess means I need to leave.  This blog will probably have to be closed.  Nonsensical bluster of course, but he managed to get the Romanian press up in arms, so I guess he feels it was worth it.

Anyway, HSC Csikszereda (the ice hockey team) won, you'll be glad to know, and are now in the playoffs and about to face Nove Zamky of Slovakia, with either DAB or Miskolc (both from Hungary) awaiting the winner. It's been an excellent and highly competitive season for the MOL league, and I've thoroughly enjoyed it.  The final of the Romanian championship will follow, and given all this flag and attendant other nonsense, I fear that is likely to be less fun as it will imbued with lots of heavy meaningfulness and the whole sporting contest element will be somewhat lost.

Finally, here is a video aimed at helping Romanians speak Szekely.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Emigration (brief reprise)

There's a weird new thing connected to emigration.    Let's call it voluntary superficial auto-Magyarisation.  It works like this:

Under the new Hungarian constitution, people who can prove Hungarian ancestry can obtain citizenship and a passport.  I suspect I've mentioned this before. In the 2011 census, there were 1,237,746 people who identified themselves as Hungarian in Romania, and the law is basically aimed at them, should they want to claim "their" Hungarianness. Now there are some people who were very enthusiastic about this, and went ahead and did it pretty fast.  There were others who were entirely unenthusiastic about it, and think the whole thing is ridiculous (most people I know fall here, to be honest).  And of course there were those (lets face it, almost certainly the majority) who sort of couldn't really be bothered to form an opinion and certainly couldn't be bothered to go through the process of doing it.  I'd honestly be surprised if as many as 10% of Romanian Hungarians were in the first category there.

But, aside from some form of desire to have a document validating your own imagined national identity, there is, it turns out another reason to get a Hungarian passport.  And that is that it is a great aid in emigration.  Firstly it circumvents certain country's restrictions - the UK for example, allows Hungarians to come and look for work, but does not allow Romanians the same rights.  The UK is not alone in this.  Secondly, and increasingly importantly, as borders are opening to Romanians at the same time as anti-Romanian sentiment is building, it confers a certain neutral identity.  Meaning that it's easier to get by in a Western European country if you have a Hungarian passport than a Romanian one. Romanian looking for a job/place to stay/etc? Tough.  There may not actually be signs saying "No Romanians" but they are there inside the Daily Mail addled brain of some.

So, pretty much everyone from these parts who wants to go abroad (or has to - see previous post) will first go through the motions of getting their Hungarian passport. It's relatively easy to do and it makes life easier once they leave. It's not right, but it's a fact.

But now the odd bit. There are increasing numbers of Romanians who are doing the same thing.  By Romanians in this context I mean people who would identify themselves as Romanian, who have Romanian names, and who speak Romanian as a first language.  They would not have featured in that 1,237,746 mentioned before.  But they come from Transylvania, and pretty much everyone from Transylvania has both Hungarian and Romanian ancestry. So, they look back through their family tree, find a Hungarian ancestor, go to the consulate (which is here in Csikszereda, hence how I find all this out), and Bob's your uncle.  Or Laszlo's your uncle.  This trend seems to be on the rise, as news reaches us here of all the Daily Mail headlines and horror stories about how Romanians are treated filter through.  So there we are: voluntary superficial auto-Magyarisation. I sort of quite like it.  It somehow serves to subvert both (a) the racist attitudes of some in the West; and (b) the motives of FIDESZ in Hungary in making this constitutional change in the first place.  I mean I wish people didn't need to do this, but as a way around the fact that the world is ultimately a bit of a shit place filled with some shit people, it works in quite an amusing way.  

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Who are the Székely? (2)

Some time ago (by which it seems I mean 7 years.  7 bloody years!) I wrote a post entitled "Who are the Szekely?", which was an attempt to fill in a bit of the back story of the Székely people who inhabit this area.

Anyway, I'm not about to update that one, but I thought that now, having lived here for a while now, I could add a little, which is to say to give you a bit more on the less historical, more opinionated front. It's also going to be packed full of generalisations, so hopefully you, the reader, can take this with something of a pinch of salt as a matter of course rather than me having to suggest you do so at every paragraph break

Here are three reasons why you may have heard of the Székely:

  1. In Dracula, the eponymous anti-hero is a Székely. Albeit a dead one. An undead one, I guess.
  2. New king of comedy in the English speaking world, Mexican American stand-up Louis CK, is actually named Louis Székely   He chose to go by CK as an approximation to the pronunciation of Székely. It's a pretty loose approximation. But closer than Zek-kelly or whatever i imagine he got called a lot.
  3. They have a flag and it's suddenly got everybody upset and zzzzzzzzzzzzzz
4 Yorkshiremen Szekely bacsi
That's about it.  But actually they are an interesting bunch. They're kind of hardcore Hungarians who see themselves as somehow more than just Hungarian, and better than just Hungarian and purer and more down to earth than just Hungarians.  And on some level other Hungarians see them in this way as well.  They are, in short, the Yorkshiremen of the Hungarian speaking world.  (I realise not everyone will get that analogy, but trust me it's spot on). Go through the following list and tell me its not a great analogy. 


Food and drink: They enjoy their food. And their drink. And food in this case is pig. There are other foods, but essentially if it's not pig it's not really food.  Pig and potatoes. The attitude towards food can be summed in the common name for Hungarians from Hungary - Tápos Magyarok. Google translate doesn't work on this - I've just checked.  Essentially it means "Hungarians who eat processed food" (or even more specifically, "Hungarians who eat those pellets you feed to chickens")

The drink that goes with this food is mostly palinka.  Double distilled, "tiszta" (clean) hard spirits. Harghita county in particular is awash with mineral water, but it's sort of a side issue.  People do drink beer a fair amount too, but again, beer is not really a drink.  One popular Székely saying goes:
"Egy sör nem sör, két sör fél sör, három sör egy sör"
or, translated: A beer is not a beer, two beers is half a beer, three beers is a beer. Which obviously makes no sense, but basically, as I'm sure you've gathered, it basically means drinking one beer is a waste of everyone's time.  You need to drink at least three.

Another popular saying which goes even further is the following:
A sör nem ital, az asszony nem ember, a medve nem játék
Which translates as "Beer is not a drink, a woman is not a man, and a bear is not a toy".  The second bit could also be translated as "a woman is not a person".  Whichever it is it brings us on nicely to our next sub heading:

A bicska, yesterday
Sexism:  The Székely culture is, let's say, a pretty macho one.  Like all macho cultures women basically run everything, just by doing all the actual work while their menfolk talk about how hard as nails they are. Basically speaking though it's a fairly old-school sexism, whereby the man of the house is the man of the house, and the whole system is very patrilineal and patriarchal.  Rather than an aggressive woman-hating sexism. All real Székely men carry the famous "bicska" a pocket knife, which is used for absolutely everything.

Also, on the plus side,  as the previous saying will point out it's quite a place for...

Self-deprecation: The whole "a bear is not a toy" line is quite knowing in its own way.  "We're real men.  But you know, don't try and take on a bear".  Hungarians in general tell jokes about the Székely as the people with the different logic (in the way that Brits joke about the Irish, the French about the Belgians, etc etc).  But no-one tells more Székely jokes than the Székely themselves.  About 50% of all jokes told here (and trust me there a lot of jokes told here) begin with the words "Székely bacsi..." ("The old Székely man...").  They are proud of this alternative view of the world.

Strong accent: They have a really thick accent, especially in villages. The other day I saw an item on Romanian TV about which places in the country were cheapest for certain things.  Harghita County was named as the place where (surprisingly) potatoes and pig meat of all kinds was the cheapest.  They interviewed some bloke in the market here as part of the show, and he spoke Romanian in one of the thickest Székely accents I've heard.  It was superb. (I hear Hungarian spoken in a Székely accent all the time, but hearing Romanian in the same accent was brilliant. )

Careful with money: There is a certain amount of caution when it comes to matters financial round these parts. Lidl is seen a luxury outlet here and people don;t shop in it because it's too expensive. While there is a strong sense of self-hood, of "national" identity, to the point where people (especially now this whole flag farrago has blown up) are talking the talk about buying locally and supporting Székely businesses and producers and not buying stuff from beyond - but when it comes down to it, they will end up getting whatever's cheaper.  (Though that doesn't mean just the cheapest, they are sticklers for good value, so it is more like some kind of mental calculation of an equation which takes in longest lasting as well as price. A calculation which seemingly comes naturally.)

Conservative: New stuff is treated with suspicion. Occasionally I will find to my excitement that there is something new in the shops, something exotic like basil, for example, or tofu. I know that it will be there for a short time only before the shop stop bothering to sell it as nobody buys it. If it's not from here and part of the deep rooted culture it is regarded with deep suspicion, and eventually, if sampled it may -in certain cases- be pronounced "good, but not as good as (something from here)". Politically they're dead conservative too. All the various Hungarian parties that come and go have as a common feature an inherent conservatism (with variation coming in the level of Hungarian nationalism)

"Pure Hungarians": They tend to see themselves as both slightly separate from Hungarians and also as a sort of pure Hungarian, somehow carrying the ancient traditions of the Magyar tribes and retaining them. Some can still write and read in runic script, others will tell you that they represent the heart of Hungarianness (that Tápos Magyarok thing is not just about food, it has a deeper symbolic meaning). To some degree, this view is shared by Hungarians who sort of revere the Székely (while at the same time looking down on them as peasants).  It's a curious thing.

The only big differences I can see between the Székely and Yorkshirefolk is that while Yorkshire is in England and is therefore central or peripheral (depending on whether you come from Yorkshire or not) to the whole concept of England, Székelyföld is not in Hungary, and is therefore not quite as integral to Hungary. Also, because the Székely have this strong sense of nationhood, which is possibly even greater than the sense of Yorkshirehood, they not only have the flag (which, contrary to current Romanian news reports, they have had for donkey's years) but they also have a national anthem.  Yorkshire does not (unless you count On Ilkley Moor Bar T'at). God knows what's going to happen when the Bucharest media get hold of the fact that there is this anthem, but I guess we'll see.

Now, just one more time, before you reach angrily for the comment button, I know this is a horrendous set of generalisations.  Obviously not all ... blah blah etc etc and so on and so forth.  If you are a Székely, I'm not being critical.  If you are from Yorkshire, the same. My own parents are from Yorkshire (though my dad also has some suspicious Derbyshire connections that we don't like to talk about), and my own children are from Székelyföld. I like you and your ornery, curmudgeonly, tight-fisted, conservative, self-important, self-deprecating, "real salt of the earth" ways.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Imaginary horses

A bit of road where horses are actually banned
Yesterday I read a number of articles in the British press stating, without doubt, that a new law in Romania had been introduced banning horse (and donkey) carts from main roads. This, apparently, is the reason that everyone's rushing to get their horse slaughtered and subsequently sold on to British supermarkets as burgers.  Then I drove home, along a main road, passing two horse carts as I did, before arriving home turning on the BBC news and discovering that I must have been hallucinating since there are no longer horses and carts on Romanian roads.

I have no idea who is feeding this story to the British media but it's about as dependable as a Tesco value burger. 

Monday, February 11, 2013

Flogging a dead horse

Spot the difference
Britain is in crisis mode with shock and disgust being expounded in equal measure, over the fact that a large amount of cheap meat products (burgers, frozen lasagnes, etc) have been found to contain horsemeat. Now the trail of this meat is being followed and it is (as far as I can tell from this weekend's revelations) being laid  at the door of Polish and or Italian organised crime syndicates, or Romanian abattoirs who've been mixing meats together. Either way, it's obviously about foreigners or foreign meat.

Now the two main angles that this story seems to have taken so far are (a) the horsemeat thing; and (b) the foreign meat/crime thing.  I would argue that there is actually an interesting and even shocking story waiting to be told, but it remains to be seen whether we actually get told it.

But first, let's look at the stories that are being told.  The first one, the disgust at eating horsemeat is a bit odd to me.  Now I don't eat meat, so I'm a little biased here, perhaps, but I've never really understood why it is that some animals are food and some animals are not. If you're going to eat mammals, what's the big difference between horse, cow, pig, dog, lamb, cat or aardvark? I don't get it. Obviously a lot of people do eat horse, and I'm sure it tastes fine if you like that sort of thing.  Why it's somehow disgusting and inedible to people who were happy imagining that their burgers were made purely out of cow, is sort of beyond me.

The crime angle is a bit more interesting, I suppose. The idea that the mafia are able to make so much money out of substituting horse carcass for cow at some point along the supply chain is quite intriguing. But you know organised crime gangs are responsible for a lot of stuff, most of which is significantly worse than this (and I imagine significantly more lucrative than this)

But what should be of interest to people (and I'm guessing it won't ever really be the main story, because there are too many vested interests) is the fact that meat has this complex a supply chain in the first place. Broadly speaking if you buy cheap meat, whether it's in burgers, sausages, frozen ready meals, or whatever other form, then you're buying something that comes from an unknown source.  It might be loads of bits of meat from various different places - from a Polish abattoir, mixed with something from Romania, for example and which is mixed up and sold on through various different middlemen before it ends up in Tesco or McDonalds or wherever.  I'm also using the word "meat" loosely here.  It's not the kind of meat you'd be eating if you could see what it was anyway.  Those cuts of meat are sold as they are, because people will buy them.  Your burgers and so on are made from the bits of meat they can't otherwise sell. The bits of carcass and skin and offal and hair and feet and arseholes and everything else that is otherwise unsellable.  All of that ground up (or "mechanically reclaimed") and then formed into your big mac or whatever else it is.  If you're eating that stuff, that is indeed what you are eating.  Complaining that it comes from a horse is missing the real point spectacularly. You should be complaining about which bits of the horse are in it. 

As a vegetarian I tend to be painted as some kind of hair-shirted evangelical nutjob.  I don't think I am one of them at all. I do get that people enjoy eating meat. But if you are going to, really, I think you need to pay a little more attention where it comes from and how it's been processed

(Supply chain udpate: "It came from abattoirs in Romania through a dealer in Cyprus working through another dealer in Holland to a meat plant in the south of France which sold it to a French-owned factory in Luxembourg which made it into frozen meals sold in supermarkets in 16 countries." That comes from this article which also makes the shocking claim that horse carts have been banned from the roads in Romania. Despite all evidence to the contrary on the actual roads themselves)

Friday, February 08, 2013

Nothing to see

Romania this week has been rocked by scandalous and shocking internet & media based inter-ethnic conflict.  Or so we are told.

Regional flag in Neamt. Somehow not so scandalous
What actually has happened is that because the country is in a total mess, the government have decided that they need a distraction to take people's attention away from the fact that they have no money and no food, and have thus manufactured these scandals to this end. Firstly Antena 3, a TV news channel which is actually a simple mouthpiece of the ruling PSD party, was shocked and traumatised to discover that if they visited the website of the Covasna County Council, and clicked on the button marked "Hu" (and didn't then click back on the one marked "Ro") that they could pretend that the site was only available in Hungarian.  Then later, someone somewhere complained about a regional flag that was being flown over some city hall or other.  No matter that every city hall or public building in the country tends to fly 2 or 3 flags - the Romanian one, occasionally the EU one, and more often than not the one representing the county or city. When this happens in Neamt or Golj or somewhere, nobody obviously cares, but when it's in a predominantly Hungarian area its a clear and terrible indication of irredentism (this is the favoured word of Romanian nationalists who think because they have committed a 5 syllable word to memory they have gained some kind of intellectual gravitas).  Then, apparently the Hungarian ambassador made some private comment regarding autonomy, which he frankly should have kept to himself, but there we go.

Unfortunately the Hungarians tend to respond to all this dog whistling and also are up in arms and happy to keep the story going.  I presume the PSD/USL were banking on this when they started all this shit up.  Anyway, there is genuinely no story and all these angry people on both sides need to just realise why it is that these stories are in the press at all.  That is to (successfully it seems) distract people from actual real important issues.

Meanwhile, a long article has appeared in the New York Times about Sport Club, the hockey team here, and how it represents some kind of "Mes Que Un Club" FC Barcelona style hold out against Romanian cultural imperialism or some such shit.  Massively overegged, and I assume will serve to offer even more ammunition for Ponta and co in their efforts to take the country's attention away from anything that actually matters.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Hard ideas in simple language

Explaining complex ideas in the thousand most common words in English. It's not easy. But here you can try

Here's my effort:

Some people live here. They have been living here for many many years, but they speak a different tongue from the other people who live here. This causes many problems, though it is not really clear what the problem is. Somehow the people from the big group which has the power find it very bad that the other group speak their own way. In the past, the smaller group of today were the bigger group and they had the power and they also got angry with the people who speak the other tongue. Maybe in the days to come people might even be nice to each other. 

But I doubt it.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Emigration - the flip side of the coin

It's been a week of bile and attempted humour about immigration.  Specifically Romanians and Bulgarians coming to Britain  They are apparently lined up in their hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, suitcases packed, just ready for the moment when Britain is forced to open its borders by the dastardly EU.  On that fateful day (which is still a year off, so I guess the stories are only going to ramp up as the year goes on), they will flood* over the channel, a tsunami* of people, desperate to bask in the eternal sunshine of England.

News was extensive (both in the UK and here) about the government's ideas to try and reverse advertise the country to discourage this tide* of Balkanites.  In retaliation a newssite here, Gandul, slightly missing the point, issued a series of mock ads trying to persuade Brits to come to Romania instead. Most of these were shit, focussing on  how Romanian women were as hot as Kate Middleton (managing to be both sexist and obsessed with royalty at the same time, not exactly my cup of tea) or the fact that the dickheads off of Top Gear liked the Transfagaras highway.  There was one good one, which is repeated here.

(* It's apparently de rigeur to refer to the movement of people with water based metaphors.  So I shall be continuing to do so as often as possible).

Anyway, while the articles in the UK press themselves were bad enough, I was foolish enough to venture "below the line" on occasion and see the real bile and vileness emanating from the keyboards of some of Britain's self-appointed guardians of Englishness and bigotry.  Even in the Guardian the comments were for the most part pretty vile stuff.

But I thought it might be worth putting this in a little bit of context. The media in the UK bangs on and on about immigration (and obviously it is a topic that affects people, so there is a good reason for it being on the agenda. Though, having said that, immigration is something that primarily affects the working class communities in which immigrants invariably end up, and not the lives of people in the media, who instead are content to stand on the sidelines and whip up anger and fury, without presenting the whole story).

But what of the immigrants themselves?  Where's their side of the story?  What of the effects on places like Romania?  This is something we rarely see, because , I presume, those in the media simply don't care to discuss the humanity or choices being made by those emigrating.

Talk to people in this country and ask them if they know anyone who has emigrated, and everybody, without exception, will tell you of close friends or family members living somewhere else.  They will tell you with a kind of pained, sad, wistful expression on their faces. For a country in which relationships - both for family and friends - are so key, the break-up of the individuals, of families, of friendships is a social pain at the deepest level. The vast majority of people do not want to leave, and yet, according to the most recent census, the population of Romania has shrunk by something close to 2.5million in the last ten years, or well over 10%.  There are more than 750,000 Romanians in both Spain and Italy.

So why? Why do people leave?  The UK media presents everybody as some kind of freeloaders desperate to come to Britain and live high on the hog, ignoring the fact that those who do end up coming work in low paid service jobs, and stay in cramped conditions in an attempt to send at least a little money home. The majority of those in Spain or Italy work as agricultural labourers, or in construction , or caring for old people.  They are not exactly living it up.

But here, here there is nothing that even compares to an agricultural labourer's job in many cases.

Two stories

Two anecdotes concerning friends from here who've left, which hopefully will illustrate a little of this desperation.

Sandor had his own business, repairing and offering technical support for computers. He and his partner built it up from nothing and were doing relatively well.  Come the crisis and his clients - companies themselves - started going under, or not paying their bills. They tried and tried to keep the company alive against the odds, but eventually they could do so no longer.  There was no other work.  Nothing could support him and his family of 5 to get by here.  They tried everything they could think of. Eventually, desperate, he decided to emigrate to Holland (where his sister already lived) to try and find work.  When he told people he was leaving he cried.  Every time. Not one member of that family wanted to leave Romania, not one of them wanted to go, but in the end they reached the conclusion that they had no choice. It took him a long time, but eventually he found work, and his family were able to join him. I'm happy for them, but they would rather be here.

Robert works in construction.  He too had his own business, doing projects for people.  He in fact was the person who rebuilt our house.  After a year with almost no work, desperately trying to keep his family of 4 afloat he was offered some construction work in Iraqi Kurdistan.  A number of people from the area were recruited by a local businessman, and they travelled together by bus all the way across Turkey and into Iraq. They were there to build a hotel, but it quickly became apparent that they were being screwed over - after 3 months with no pay and working long hours, he finally accepted that there was no money ever going to come and so he quit and came home.  He still has little to no work.

These are just two stories, of individuals and families and dislocation. But there are also bigger stories, of communities and the fabric of society.

The Romania that is left behind

There have been documentaries on Romanian TV about villages in which there is no-one between the ages of 16 and 40.  All the young adult population is living overseas. The kids who have not gone with their parents, live with their grandparents.  The parents, to make up for their absence, give their kids presents of computers and games and so on.  You have whole villages where there is a visible actual generation gap (as a whole generation has gone), while the kids surf the net and their grandparents have no idea what is going on.  As yet we have no idea what the social effect of this will be. But it doesn't seem like it will be good.

Go to any hospital here, and you will see posters all over the place targeting the nurses, inviting them to come and work in Spain or Italy or Canada or wherever.  They work incredibly hard and in some cases probably make something like 300 Euros a month.  The attraction of going to work somewhere you might make 5 times that to start out with is undeniable. The fact that the majority stay here tells you a lot about the pull of home and the family.

Last year the Romanian president made a speech in which he thanked the emigrants for their contribution to the economy of the country.  They are away, not being a burden on the state, and sending home what little money they make.  In short-termist micro economic terms he's right. They are helping the country.  (This speech did not go down to well with the governments of Spain and Italy as you might imagine).  But what is the ultimate cost?  What happens in the future when Romania's best and brightest have left, when whole villages become uninhabited?

If Western Europe does not want the free movement of labour enshrined in the EU to mean immigration it needs to stop emigration.  And it can do that by being a genuine community, a  genuine union, in which the strong support the weak, the rich help the poor.  Their governments (and media) need to stop bitching about paying for things and supporting the poorer nations.  But of course that might mean that fewer people come, fewer people prepared to work as agricultural labourers or toilet cleaners or home help or low paid construction workers.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Sigh of relief

It seems like the bulk of the attention has blown over and I can now go back to the normal barren desert of this blog, occasionally frequented by tumbleweed.

Some interesting things came out of my brief flirtation with national fame (or whatever it was)

  • The sheer niceness of most people who wrote to me
  • The sheer absolute craziness of a very few people who wrote to me, who varied between people furious that Hungarians should ever be allowed to speak Hungarian at all, even in their own homes (quite possibly in their own dreams too) , to people at the other end of the scale (but actually at the same end, just upside down) who think that it should be Romanians who are learning Hungarian and that should be the only language of Transylvania.  Could I disrespectfully ask all such bigots from both sides to just piss off and go and wank over a picture of Gigi Becali or Gabor Vona.
  • The sheer persistence of the fear engendered in this country by so many years of vicious authoritarian rule.  A lot of people were very worried for me, and my family and so on, because - essentially - putting ones head above the parapet can only end badly. In the eyes of many there is now a bulging file on me kept by the securitate somewhere, ready to be used when I next dare to say anything that might not tally with the orthodoxy
  • How fascinating it is to be the one listened to, when for years and years people - real experts, not just language teachers like me - have been saying just the things I said, and being ignored. Because I'm neither Hungarian or Romanian, I guess it seems I don't have an axe to grind, and am not carrying a backful of historical baggage.
  • I suspect the brief rush of excitement (and, yes, panic) has died out and with it the subject.  That's the only regret I have, now.
So, for any readers of this blog who want to review some of the things that were published, here they are
There are a few other articles in the local Hungarian press which I either can't find online or can't be bothered to now.

Anyway, I have more to say, but it'll have to wait.  I'm going off to do stuff in the snow for the weekend