Bucharest is a tiny place – despite its 1.9 million inhabitants everyone knows everyone or so it seems. Three friends of friends of mine were in the nightclub Colectiv on Friday night and two of them have died, one heroically on Friday, one on Sunday.
In all three victims died on Sunday, bringing the death toll to 30. The Minister of Health, Nicolae Banicioiu, said many of the 140 victims in hospital were in serious or critical condition. Secretary of State Raed Arafat told Romania to be prepared for twenty or thirty more deaths, though “that did not mean that it would happen”.
This incident means more than it would in England, France or America because Romanians are not used to terrorism or the kind of mass killings America regularly experiences. Let’s hope Romania doesn’t experience a terrorist atrocity, although it is more likely than not that she will. Still, Bucharest, even if it escapes the terrorists, is due an earthquake any time now, in which thousands, not dozens, will probably die. What will happen then? The accident and emergency units in the city’s hospitals were stretched to breaking point on Friday night and Saturday morning.
What will happen now is that sorrow will turn to anger. The corrupt, inept state will get the blame for this massacre and deservedly so. A state run by corrupt, inept politicians and corrupt, inept civil servants could not ensure, despite its Kafkaesque bureaucracy and battalions of officials, that nightclubs and bars have fire escapes that work. Thirty fine young men and women died because of slothful, compromised, unintelligent middle-aged ones.
Health and safety in Bucharest is a complete joke and we all know a terrible tragedy like this was inevitable. I’d imagine, at an informed guess, that most of Bucharest’s restaurants and clubs do not have adequate fire escapes. Colectiv had none at all and the same I am sure is true of many others.
I am always accused of seeing Romania through rose tinted spectacles and it is absolutely true that I do, so I was the more shocked when a friend of mine told me how he watched his son die, while the ambulance took almost an hour to reach him, even though the distance it was coming was not far. The emergency workers had told my friend not to administer the kiss of life to his son and he obeyed them.
Until the Colectiv tragedy, Romania had been talking very angrily for a week about a police motorcyclist who died when his motorbike hit a pothole in the middle of Bucharest. The dead man and a large cortege of police were accompanying the Deputy Prime Minister while he went shopping. Perhaps this one policeman’s death, the thirty deaths at the club this weekend and the deaths of the people in hospital, that are to come over the next few days, will cause a moral revolution.
Or accelerate one rather, one that started with the work of the Anti-Corruption Agency (Direcţia Naţională Anticorupţie or D.N.A.). The D.N.A. is or has been prosecuting very many of the richest and most powerful Romanians for corruption, including four of Bucharest’s seven mayors, who keep popping in and out of gaol, and even the incumbent socialist Prime Minister, Victor Ponta. This revolution received a fillip when Klaus Iohannis, an ethnic German provincial mayor, who is perceived as honest, unexpectedly defeated the same Victor Ponta to become president.
American politicians say that you should never let a serious crisis go to waste. I hope Romanians don’t. I hope from this awful tragedy something good can be born. President Iohannis has not done anything very noticeable since he entered office last December. Now is his moment.
By Paul Wood, guest writer