POLENTA doesn't explode" is the gnomic phrase Romanians use to describe the attitude of resigned acceptance typical to the country. But this weekend something snapped. Thousands of people took to the streets in Bucharest and 40 other towns, venting their anger at their leaders' perceived incompetence in dealing with Romania's economic crisis.Much more graphic coverage from a very committed outsider can be seen here. In fact, if you follow the discussion thread of the Economist post, the reality (as always in Romania) seem rather more complex - if not prosaic. I hope to come back to this later in the week.
The centre of Bucharest was hit by violence on a scale unseen in two decades. Traian Băsescu, the centre-right president, is the main target of the protesters' ire. "Get out, you miserable dog" they chanted, as they hurled paving stones and smoke bombs at riot police. Water cannons and tear gas were used to dispel the crowds.
The immediate trigger for the riots was the resignation of Raed Arafat, a popular official in the health ministry, who stepped down after clashing with Mr Băsescu over a set of controversial reforms to the health-care system. Mr Boc has now offered to revise the plans, and offered an olive branch to Mr Arafat.
The Palestinian-born doctor, who emigrated to Romania in the 1980s, had helped set up a professional medical emergency system. He disagreed with a government proposal to privatise it, as part of its drive to cut public spending. "Quality does not automatically arrive with privatisation. For the patient, the system will be weaker," he said announcing his resignation. A day earlier Mr Băsescu had called Mr Arafat a liar on television, adding that he had "leftist" views.
Mr Băsescu is well known for his undiplomatic, mercurial manner. On Friday, however, as peaceful pro-Arafat demonstrations spread throughout the country, the president asked the government to pull its draft health-care law. He blamed "media manipulation" and was unable to resist noting sarcastically that "the emergency system works perfectly."
The Targovishte Art Gallery has a rather remote location (at least for present wintry conditions) in a park on the town’s periphery next to a lake which must be glorious in summer (and also to the football stadium). From the outside its cavernous size held some promise – but this was quickly dashed by the iciness of the air as we stepped inside. There was no heating (and loud leaks from the roofs) for the Gallery’s 2 huge rooms – which held little of interest. One Neron and one Svetlin Russe which must be fast deteriorating in such conditions.