Romania Insider

Comment: What went wrong? Why Romania's people and politicians failed extreme weather test

The heavy snowfall in the last two weeks covered most of the southern region of the country, but uncovered a painful truth: the state is no longer equipped to help, or inspire its citizens to pitch in. Romania had a time buffer to prepare for all this. It had snowed for days before the authorities did anything. Plenty of time to devise a response and make it work. But an organized response should have been planned long before. The situation in the SE of Romania is now disastrous: people, their houses, their animals are under a thick layer of snow, and over 13,000 people don't even have electricity.

It could have been much worse: if the authorities were stumped by snow how would they have coped with, for example, a tsunami? Highly improbable perhaps, but an earthquake is a very real threat in Romania. I wonder what the authorities would have done then? And at the same time I fear such an event because I know that then we would have little hope. So, in a sort of twisted way, Romania had the easier version of the natural disaster test, and still failed it. The state failed to prepare when meteorologists warned of the upcoming blizzard, it failed to focus on what was happening in the country, distracted instead by the political games around the naming of a new Government. And it failed before the cold snap even started, by failing to set up an adequate emergency response. The snow clearing contracts with private companies didn't seem to matter, as for days those companies did nothing.

The state failed its people, who no longer trust it, nor respect it. A powerful state is and will be respected, but it doesn't seem to be the case here.

At first, when roads were already blocked but nobody was complaining on TV, while everyone was quietly suffering in their homes, it seemed nobody cared. Our elders tell stories of the famous 1954 snow, when people knew it was up to them to solve the situation, and everyone pitched in, did something to help. Back then, the communist state was feared-and respected. Now, the Romanian state is neither. Perhaps at times, even hated.

In the end, it's all about people. People who lead us and people who are being led. Some of them didn't need to be inspired to do something: look at the all-so-laughed-at businessman George Becali, who usually gets more media attention for the way he talks and for his love of nature (read 'sheep'). Becali, who is a wealthy man, took some equipment and went to Vrancea, one of the affected counties, and helped clear the snow from villages. He said he'd leave only when the Code Orange turned green and when there was no snow left in these villages. Many might have laughed at yet another one of his statements, but in essence, this is what Romania needs (without saying in any way that my political option is aligned with Becali, who is also a politician): stubborn people with a great desire to do good and help other people, and stand their ground no matter what. This is what I wish I'd seen these days from the country's rulers. That would have inspired citizens to do the same. We failed this exam, but another may be coming sooner than we think, if melting snow causes floods.

By Corina Saceanu, corina@romania-insider.com

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Romania Insider

Comment: What went wrong? Why Romania's people and politicians failed extreme weather test

The heavy snowfall in the last two weeks covered most of the southern region of the country, but uncovered a painful truth: the state is no longer equipped to help, or inspire its citizens to pitch in. Romania had a time buffer to prepare for all this. It had snowed for days before the authorities did anything. Plenty of time to devise a response and make it work. But an organized response should have been planned long before. The situation in the SE of Romania is now disastrous: people, their houses, their animals are under a thick layer of snow, and over 13,000 people don't even have electricity.

It could have been much worse: if the authorities were stumped by snow how would they have coped with, for example, a tsunami? Highly improbable perhaps, but an earthquake is a very real threat in Romania. I wonder what the authorities would have done then? And at the same time I fear such an event because I know that then we would have little hope. So, in a sort of twisted way, Romania had the easier version of the natural disaster test, and still failed it. The state failed to prepare when meteorologists warned of the upcoming blizzard, it failed to focus on what was happening in the country, distracted instead by the political games around the naming of a new Government. And it failed before the cold snap even started, by failing to set up an adequate emergency response. The snow clearing contracts with private companies didn't seem to matter, as for days those companies did nothing.

The state failed its people, who no longer trust it, nor respect it. A powerful state is and will be respected, but it doesn't seem to be the case here.

At first, when roads were already blocked but nobody was complaining on TV, while everyone was quietly suffering in their homes, it seemed nobody cared. Our elders tell stories of the famous 1954 snow, when people knew it was up to them to solve the situation, and everyone pitched in, did something to help. Back then, the communist state was feared-and respected. Now, the Romanian state is neither. Perhaps at times, even hated.

In the end, it's all about people. People who lead us and people who are being led. Some of them didn't need to be inspired to do something: look at the all-so-laughed-at businessman George Becali, who usually gets more media attention for the way he talks and for his love of nature (read 'sheep'). Becali, who is a wealthy man, took some equipment and went to Vrancea, one of the affected counties, and helped clear the snow from villages. He said he'd leave only when the Code Orange turned green and when there was no snow left in these villages. Many might have laughed at yet another one of his statements, but in essence, this is what Romania needs (without saying in any way that my political option is aligned with Becali, who is also a politician): stubborn people with a great desire to do good and help other people, and stand their ground no matter what. This is what I wish I'd seen these days from the country's rulers. That would have inspired citizens to do the same. We failed this exam, but another may be coming sooner than we think, if melting snow causes floods.

By Corina Saceanu, corina@romania-insider.com

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