Attending funerals was one of the things which I did as a senior Regional politician in the 1970s and 1980s – as the older officials in the ranks of our professional advisers passed away. As I changed countries and roles in 1990, only the street procession of an Azeri President’s funeral registered – until my mother’s own funeral in 2005.
But this past week has seen two funerals of older friends in this part of the world. First, in Sofia on Friday that of my friend Vihra’s father – from whom I always received a warm welcome in her gallery.
And yesterday we bade farewell to Maritsa our neighbour for 15 years in the Carpathian village I call home.
Both were Orthodox ceremonies but provided sharp contrasts – partly because I witnessed only the church ceremony in Sofia but mainly because of the different settings. Rural funeral ceremonies are permitted the traditional “wake” and horse-drawn “carriage” when the open coffin lies on an open cart amidst the mourners who accompany the body, carrying the wreaths (in this case almost 100) from the house to the church – stopping every few minutes for prayers.
We had arrived at 17.00 the previous evening just as the night’s “wake” was starting – Maritsa had been dressed in the costume of the area and she and her grieving husband Viciu were surrounded by friends, relatives and neighbours….It was to be a long night for him. At 07.00 he was still able to smile as we shared a coffee – but he seemed a broken man as he stepped out at midday to accompany Maritsa on the last long walk to the church….The two had shared a warm marriage for 64 years….
The evening and morning provided quite a few choice vignettes as the entire village and surrounding area turned out for one of the area’s important social occasions. Of course, the mayor was in his element with such an opportunity to network and negotiate – although, sitting next to Viciu and me in the kitchen, he totally ignored Viciu and proceeded to chat at length with a city official about the budget!
The week so far in Romania has been a powerful one – one of six books I picked up in Bucharest’s English Bookshop was Mike Ormsby’s book of short stories (indeed sketches) - Never Mind the Balkans, here’s Romania which capture incredibly well the consumerist amorality which has penetrated so quickly into the soul of Romanians……I refer (discretely) to this in several places in my E-book on the country - Mapping Romania - notes on an unfinished journey, particularly in the section on films which mentioned a tough portrayal of contemporary Romania - Child’s Pose - which received the top award at this year’s Berlin Film Festival but which we found a bit too close for comfort.
One cold evening in March, Barbu is tearing down the streets 50 kilometres per hour over the speed limit when he knocks down a child. The boy dies shortly after the accident. A prison sentence of between three and fifteen years awaits. High time for his mother, Cornelia, to intervene.
A trained architect and member of Romania’s upper class, who graces her bookshelves with unread Herta Müller novels and is fond of flashing her purse full of credit cards, she commences her campaign to save her lethargic, languishing son. Bribes, she hopes, will persuade the witnesses to give false statements. Even the parents of the dead child might be appeased by some cash.
Călin Peter Netzer, the film’s director, portrays a mother consumed by self-love in her struggle to save her lost son and her own, long since riven family. In quasi-documentary style, the film meticulously reconstructs the events of one night and the days that follow, providing insights into the moral malaise of Romania’s bourgeoisie and throwing into sharp relief the state of institutions such as the police and the judiciary.
A detailed review of the film can be read here. It is a good example of the strength of familial loyalty in the country (see Annexes for more on this theme)
The media these past few weeks have been full of the scandal of one Presidential candidate in the autumn elections – Elena Udrea – whose misuse of funds was caught by various surveillance devices and friend and husband’s confessions. I’ll write more on this in a later post since this affair is a typical mixture of soap opera and the Italian Tangentopoli scandal of the early 1990s which Perry Anderson has brilliantly dissected on several occasions
I have no intention of recycling the facts which are being endlessly regurgitated by journalists here – rather I will try to put them all in the context of the way Romanian society has “developed” in the 25 years since Ceaucescu fell.