Civic endurance below zero: The ultra marathoner who moved his office in front of Romanian Government

After running some of the hardest marathons in the world and challenging himself to finish other tough races, Romanian ultra-marathoner Andrei Rosu has started a new challenge: a civic one.

As cars pass through the Victoriei Square downtown Bucharest, some drivers honk and wave in admiration, whereas others open the windows for a little while and scream “Go to work!!!”. This has become familiar for Andrei Rosu, the Romanian protester who has moved his office in the Victoriei Square even since street protests started in Romania in the beginning of February. It’s been over two weeks since the Government passed an emergency ordinance amending Romania’s criminal laws and partly decriminalizing corruption offenses such as abuse of office.

But Andrei doesn’t even count the days anymore since he moved a big part of his daily life to the Victoriei Square, in front of the Government. Meanwhile, the ordinance was repealed, but thousands of people continue to gather every evening in the Victoriei Square. They feel the huge injustice and believe it can’t be repaired unless the Government resigns.

Andrei wears ski equipment. It is cold as hell. On some days, the temperature drops to -10 degrees Celsius. But the 41-year old Romanian is no stranger to freezing cold and is very much used to endurance. His first ever marathon was at the North Pole, back in 2010, when he started running. He ran 7 marathons and ultra-marathons on 7 continents. He finished 2 IronMan competitions and run the hardest ultra-triathlon in the world, Arch 2 Arc. He was the first Romanian to cross the English Channel swimming in 2015. Last year, he ran some 566 km in freezing cold in the 6633 Ultra race. This year, he’s also heavily training for the ocean sailing race Atlantic Challenge.

For the last two weeks, Andrei has been dropping his kids to kindergarten, then head to his outdoors office in front of the Government, taking in the cold. A few other protesters also gather every morning to keep the flame burning. They want the Government to know they’re monitoring it.

Last man standing

It’s Monday morning. I meet Andrei at his office in the middle of Victoriei Square. He types something on his computer, which is placed in a cardboard box covered in nylon to protect it from snow.

Some meters away, Cosmin, a young man from Arad, is waving a flag. He is serious, and his cheeks are pink from the extreme cold. He arrived in Bucharest on Sunday evening to join the protest but felt that it was important to come to the Victoriei square in the morning too. That’s when officials are actually in the Government building.

A young girl who recently graduated from the Academy of Economic Sciences (ASE) in Bucharest has a small banner: “I drink my coffee in the Square because of you”.
A bit further away a man from a small town in Romania’s eastern region Moldova stands still for hours, holding a banner where he states his support for Dan Diaconescu, a Romanian media mogul and politician, the owner of former TV station OTV.

Andrei had been working for years in a multinational company and wasn’t interested in politics at all. After seeing that things stayed the same although power moved from one party to the other, he became convinced that there was little hope for change.

His improvised office in the Victoriei Square also has a tricolor flag, on which he wrote #Resist. The man brought the flag in 2010, when he run first ever marathon: it was at the North Pole. That’s when a series of changes began in his life.

Once he had his first child, he wanted to give him a good example. Not that of a lazy dad sitting on the couch, watching television. So Andrei started doing sports and soon ran his first marathon.

Andrei didn’t even know how to swim, and started taking swimming lessons so he could take part in triathlon competitions, only to become the first Romanian to swim across the English Channel in 2015. He also managed to become the first Romanian and the 22nd person in the world ever to finish Enduroman’s Arc 2 Arch Ultra Triathlon, considered to be the hardest such competition in the world.

Just like swimming, protesting was not something natural. It wasn’t something he had done all his life. Just like he didn’t spend his childhood in a swimming pool, taking part in competitions. But he managed to achieve great performance in his late 30s. So getting involved in politics and activism followed a similar path. It happened suddenly, apparently out of nowhere, without any long-term practice. But his determination offsets the lack of experience.

When he heard about the Government passing emergency ordinance no.13 on that Tuesday late at night, Andrei got really upset. He knew things would not end soon. The next day, the man moved his office to the Victoriei square; nowadays your office is where your computer and internet connection are. He knew that he couldn’t abandon his clients for “days, weeks, months or maybe years”.

Since starting to take part in endurance events all over the world, Andrei has also given up his 15-year job in a multinational firm. He began working on his own for different customers on online development, personal development, marathon training programs, writing e-books, keeping a blog.

This allows him the flexibility to navigate work life, family and keep up with protests. Every morning Andrei takes his son and daughter to kindergarten. He arrives in the Victoriei Square at about 9 AM and stays there until 4 PM, when he picks up the kids.

In the evening, Andrei puts them to bed, then he and his wife Oana take turns staying home with kids and joining protests during the evenings. His new daily routine and continuing to protest is important, Andrei feels, as people’s interest has started to fade away. “We are trying to fight the fight with our own arms. We don’t have the laws or other power levers, but justice is on our side,” he says.

Andrei doesn’t fight only for himself or his family. His life is pretty good, he says. But he also fights for others, for people in this country who needs a change. His resistance is also related to his kids. If his boy asks him twenty years from now what he did for a better future, he’ll be able to have a clean consciousness. “I will be able to tell him I did this and this,” Andrei says.

Andrei Rosu says he will stay in the Victoriei Square until there is no other protester left. If no one else shows up, then he’ll know that he needs to leave. But as long as people keep coming, he needs to keep the flame burning.

Endurance is not such a tough thing, he explains. The many Romanians who have been coming to the protests despite the cold have all showed a very high level of endurance, Andrei adds.

“You don’t need special training to love your country and come to the Square.”

By Diana Mesesan, features writer, [email protected]

Photos by Diana Mesesan