Update June 2021

Summer has arrived in Bucharest, and I am back.

Due to some other commitments I have not had the time to read, write or do much of anything recently. A lot of things happened in the meantime – the Israel-Palestine conflict flared up again, revealing once more the true militaristic and colonial face of the “shining democracy” of the State of Israel, and the Minsk regime has pulled quite a remarkable reverse-DB Cooper stunt, abducting a journalist from a plane under false pretenses. Of course, everyone rattled their sabres impotently, but no one did anything of substance – symbolic gestures such as renaming the street where the Belarussian embassy is located [1] is useless without also hitting them where it hurts – and that is where the money is coming from.

Early summer in Bucharest

The COVID-19 crisis began to fade into the background even as authorities try to paint over the ugly truths it has brought to the surface, wondering why people are not getting vaccinated after more than 30 years of neglect of education and the healthcare system, in preparation for the fat checks likely to result from their dismantling and privatisation. Only, in the meantime, the people were offered alternatives aplenty: religion, ethnic nationalism, paranoid theories, yoga, drugs, motivational speakers. If truth is a market, there will be something for everyone.

So, after you have lost so much face that a majority of people do not even bother to vote [2] or otherwise engage in political life, they fear going to the hospital due to dreadful and unsafe conditions [3], they drop out of school due to your unrealistic school-from-home plans that practically deprived huge numbers of pupils of their right to an education [4], why is anyone wondering that trust in the government’s vaccination plan is so low? In fact I am surprised they did not make me pay for the shot (and I have a perverse suspicion that if you did have to pay for it, more people would have went, at least out of those who could afford it, that is).

In the last couple of decades the answer to the malady has always been more neoliberalism. It is long past the time of it having bitten into living flesh – indeed, the patient is well into sepsis. But the prescription is always the same – budget cuts and tax breaks to large firms “to stimulate foreign investment”. Curiously the yields of these investmentes rarely seem to stick around here for long. This time it has been students' meager travel allowances that saw the chopping block, and there are worse things on the horizon too – in the meantime, a typical employee pays around 50% tax (though this calculation is complicated by the fact that the lion’s share of this percentage is not actually counted as income tax, but rather as social contributions to pension and healthcare). This is, in effect, a shift of the tax burden to employees in the private sector, where salaries are anyways significantly lower than in the public sector (in fact, there might be that as much as half of employees in the private sector are paid with the minimum wage [5]).

There, civil servants are protected by collective employment contracts negotiated by unions, membership in which is mandatory for employees. Union bosses are notoriously corrupt and in almost all cases I have had to deal with, quite transparently hand in hand with the board – but at least it is something. In the private sector, there are no unions, no associations, no nothing. It’s you and HR – you don’t like our terms, you can go anywhere else, but the terms will be the same, so might just as well swallow your pride and get to work already. In some occupations, and some cities, such as Software Development in Cluj or Bucharest, this is manageable (though it contributes to the inflation of what I feel is a salary bubble, and there will be a lot of people out of work when it bursts – more on this some other time). In small, post-industrial towns like my hometown, it’s two or three employers and a huge reserve army of recently-arrived people from areas with no work at all – you can guess what negotiating power those unfortunate souls have. Not to mention furloughs and firings during the COVID-19 crisis. No wonder we are leaking people to other countries like a cracked Asswan dam.

My question is – how long can this go on? Even the homeland of neoliberalism, the mighty USA, is pivoting on a lot of fronts on this. Have we lived to see the end of this grand experiment in wrong assumptions about, well, everything?

In fact, a challenge to neoliberalism did rise up during the pandemic, one that more recently has also got parliamentary representation – but it just might be an even worse alternative. At the confluence of old neo-fascist thought masquerading as anti-communism, the recent import of Trumpism and sheer political opportunism sprang an unholy chimera which brings together all the myriad species of rot that have always lurked under the surface of Romanian politics. This party, AUR, explicitly addresses legitimate concerns of the dispossessed, it weaponises desperation and poverty, redirecting them against all sorts of ill-defined bogeymen, both traditional and modern: the (mostly dirt-poor and disenfranchised) Roma people, the Hungarian minority, the (incredibly tiny) Jewish minority, LGBTQ people, political correctness, or whoever else its chief ideologists have a Facebook argument with that day.

It is indeed a sad spectacle to see this level of discourse being employed – but it is not at all surprising that, at long last, just like our fellow Eastern European confederates Hungary and Poland, we have our own crazed far-right populists. My concern, however, is that the catastrophic failures of the current government will ultimately deliver power into their hands. My hope is it does not come to that.


  1. Pricop Sebastian, “Strada pe care se află Ambasada Belarusului în București și-ar putea schimba numele în Roman Protasevici” (The Street on which the Belarussian Emabassy in Bucharest is located could be renamed into Roman Protasevich), https://www.libertatea.ro/stiri/strada-pe-care-se-afla-ambasada-belarusului-in-bucuresti-si-ar-putea-schimba-numele-in-roman-protasevici-3570590
  2. Dicu Georgiana, “România a ajuns pe ultimul loc în UE la participarea la vot” (Romania on the last place in EU with regards to voting participation), https://www.fanatik.ro/romania-a-ajuns-pe-ultimul-loc-in-ue-la-participarea-la-vot-nu-ne-pasa-de-aceasta-tara-19379400
  3. Pop Mircea, “Primele imagini cutremurătoare din interiorul secției ATI care a ars la Spitalul din Piatra Neamț” (First terrifying images from the ICU that burnt down in Piatra Neamț Hospital), https://www.stirilekanald.ro/primele-imagini-cutremuratoare-din-interiorul-sectiei-ati-care-a-ars-la-spitalul-din-piatra-neamt-20114986
  4. Nastase Rares, “PIERDUȚI ÎN TELEȘCOALĂ” (Lost in the Remote School), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RkVr6upX0RE
  5. Apostol Andrei, “Aproape jumătate dintre angajații români trăiesc cu salariul minim pe economie” (Almost half of Romanian employees live on minimum wage), https://www.capital.ro/aproape-jumatate-dintre-angajatii-romani-traiesc-cu-salariul-minim-pe-economie-cati-romani-castiga-cel-putin-1000-euro-pe-luna.html