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This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!
The Bucegi mountains - the range I see from the front balcony of my mountain house - are almost 120 kms from Bucharest and cannot normally be seen from the capital but some extraordinary weather conditions allowed this pic to be taken from the top of the Intercontinental Hotel in late Feb 2020

Monday, August 5, 2019

The Incredible Lightness of the "Deep" State in Romania

I am today doing something unique in the blog’s 10 year life – commenting on an apparent murder case and the anger it has aroused in the troubled society of Romania in which I have been living for the past few years. For more than a week now, television programmes have had endless, back-to-back discussion of the tragedy – with camera shots lingering over the details of gardens and fields as various searches were conducted.
The blog has covered aspects of Romanian society and politics on numerous occasions – the last being this fairly comprehensive post on the country’s problems a couple of months ago. 

I am moved to offer this coverage of what is actually at least two murders because it reveals very starkly aspects of the “deep state” in this part of the world – and the huge difficulties facing those who want to hold that system to account
The initial source of my information is a post on the issue from a journalist friend of mine who runs the Bridge of Friendship blog. On this occasion he was sharing an important article (in a Bulgarian-based journal called “Baricada”) written by a Romanian journalist Maria Cernat. And my long-suffering Romanian partner, Daniela, has helped me make (some sort of) sense of the issue and its significance.

Nothing is ever as it seems here – and I have therefore added some “editorial” comments to the excerpts I have selected from the “Baricada” article which is very-well written and should be read in its entirety…..

Romania has been in a state of shock for more than a week, after a 15-year old girl – Alexandra Măceşanu, from the southern city of Caracal, was killed on July 25th. Alexandra had gone to a larger city for private lessons. Due to Romania’s general lack of public transport, she was forced to hitchhike back home. The government recently eliminated free regional transport and now private transport companies aren’t obligated to service routes which don’t generate a profit. That is how she was abducted by a 57-year old automobile mechanic, Gheorghe Dincă, who operated an unlicensed taxi service. He took her to a house in Caracal. In spite of the fact that Alexandra called the emergency phone number 112 a few times, police didn’t manage to pinpoint her signal immediately, and didn’t enter the house until the following morning, because of lack of permission from the observing prosecutor. In the 19 hours between the first call until police entered the house where she was being held, Alexandra was repeatedly raped and then killed.

Curiously, the article does not report on what happened next with Dinca being taken to the police station where he demanded to speak with one particular policeman - with whom he was then allowed to speak for one hour and to whom he confessed not only the murder but that he had burned her body (he also confessed to another murder with the victim’s remains also being buried in his garden). There is presumably a tape-recording of that hour’s highly irregular conversation – but we have to ask why on earth it was ever allowed. It has certainly allowed all sorts of conspiracies to emerge and circulate about "collusion" of police and "mafia" and dark networks......
The burned remains were taken to Bucharest and the victim’s DNA confirmed. Not surprisingly, however, the family dispute these results. As indeed the defence lawyers might obviously dispute the confession…..

I give these details simply to demonstrate the murky aspects of the operation of the Romanian state….The article continues.....

The case has shaken Romania not only because of the brutal abuse of the adolescent, but also because state institutions acted with inexplicable slowness, which enabled the criminal to follow his plan to completion. Alexandra phoned 112. It took the police 19 hours to intervene……
Three months prior, another young girl from the zone- Luiza Melencu, was killed by the same man. This horrible fact was publicized, along with a 2012 human trafficking case at the Deveselu military base. The base has been used by American air defence since 2011.

Romanian society is even more upset than it was in the case of the Colectiv nightclub fire, where more than 60 people died. Now various answers are appearing in response to the questions of who is to blame: some condemn the prosecutor, Cristian Ovidiu Popescu, who didn’t permit Alexandra’s rescue, refusing to issue a warrant to allow police access to the house. Police were made to wait for hours on the doorstep of the criminal’s house. Popescu was lauded by the former anti-corruption prosecution (DNA) chief, Laura Koveşi. To some people this means that he is from the movement #rezist (which was a main force behind the 2017 protests in support of anti-corruption – note of the translator). But others say that the police didn’t need a warrant, but could have entered the house out of the need to save a life. In that case, the blame falls on the Social Democratic party-ruled government.

The article doesn’t mention that Popescu was sacked immediately the media got hold of this information and a new prosecutor appointed who then seems to have enforced a 5-day closure of the house before a proper search could be carried out. This beggars belief – just imagine the outrage in northern Europe if a proper search was not carried out until 5 days had elapsed!!

The audio of the victim’s phone calls with the 112 emergency hotline operator and the police officer were released recently. This has sparked a huge debate about ethical journalistic standards since the parents initially agreed only to the printed version of the phone calls being released. The audio is almost unbearable to listen to. Alexandra called 112 three times. In one conversation she says she has been kidnapped and raped and the police officer tells her to hang up because she’s keeping the line busy and there are other people calling!
Then, as if this horror was not enough, the press released the recording of a phone call between one local chief of police and someone who is known in the city as a local head of an organized crime network. The gangster criticized the police while the officer humbly thanked him for his cooperation!

Ecaterina Andronescu, the Minister of Education from the Social Democratic party, the party which basically destroyed public transportation and left children such as Alexandra at the mercy of people who own cars, was sacked. Andronescu declared that she was taught as a child not to get into strangers’ cars! The cruelty of this declaration knows no bounds since Alexandra had no means of transportation due to the decisions of these politicians! 

At this stage I have two observations – the article fails to mention that this “gangster” actually operates a security company (under due legal authority) which is obliged to cooperate with the police and to respond to any police requests for assistance. Indeed it was after such an approach that the “gangster” actually identified and reported the perpetrator’s car to the police – leading to the reported expression of gratitude! Security companies are, at the best of times, "shady enterprises" and I am not suggesting that its boss in this instance was a model citizen. But, in the unforgettable words of a political colleague of mine in the 1970s - 
"we have to be careful with words - it's all we have!!" 
My second point is that it is simply untrue to imply that the Minister of Education “left children at the mercy of people who own cars” since this is the Minister who actually initiated the system of school buses some years ago…..But this tragedy happened during school holidays when that system was suspended (as happens throughout Europe during the summer vacations) 
Romanian journalists, it appears, can never miss an opportunity to take partisan shots…..
My previous posts on Romania have emphasised what a divided society it is – in the last few years the country has become very polarised with the implicit attitude that "if you’re not for us, you’re against us" 
The neutral mugwumps who want fair reporting are simply crushed between the 2 forces.
But please read the full article to see how it places the murder as what Maria Cernat, the author, calls a "symptom of:

-       a passive culture, in which neighbours and family knew about Dincă’s violence  against women (because he had a history of domestic violence), but didn’t react;

-        a profoundly vicious economic system, which generates inequalities that can be fatal for those who lack the good fortune of being born to the privileged elite;
-       the reactionary attitudes of politicians, who want half-baked solutions to serious problems – be it the #rezist camp, which seems to be inescapably locked into a pathetic slogan, “F*ck PSD” (PSD being the ruling Social Democratic Party – note of the translator)
-        the way, in which tragedies such as this one, lead to solutions such as absurdly giving the police even more force than they had before the tragedy;
-        an apparent strange cohabitation between the institutions of force and the thieves, who have escaped justice miraculously in many cases;
-        the trafficking of vulnerable persons, for whom gender and class are not simply social traits, but social determiners that could easily sentence them to a terrible death".

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