Monday, 6 December 2010

Habits

Old habits die hard. In the current flood of WikiLeaks, which more confirm our suspicions rather than susprise or shock, it is quite easy to see how regimes of yesteryear still have their tentacles in the current day reality of post-communist countries.

It is hardly surprising that Romania was called a ‘wild’ place. But interestingly, whilst Russia is said to be run by Putin-connected Mafia, the former Soviet Union’s and Romania’s old tactics are still shown as very much alive.

Recent data, coming from outside the streams of WikiLeaks information, shows how surveillance techniques are used in Romania as an ordinary routine to monitor people’s interactions.
In a country where mass media was labelled as a key danger to national security (does this sound familiar to anyone?...), just in the last year a total of 3000 orders were given for phone tapping alone.
This is double compared to 2005, and the ‘peak’ is attributed to the election campaign- whilst Romanian media mentioned this casually, it is a remarkable fact that this can be even casually thought to be a ‘normal’ state of affairs simply because politicians’ and media personalities ‘had’ to be kept under observation due to elections…

The stalinist ghosts of Securitate are truly walking casually on the streets of Romania in 2010.

Parallels with the former Soviet Union (and current Russia) are easy to make, considering that despite the vast shrinking in size & population (consider Russia now vs. former Soviet Union), Russia employs more secret intelligence officers than ever before in the FSB’s old incarnation, the KGB. Current official count is 600 000 intelligence officers…

Russia, in all its post-stalinist might, deals with its politicians via such methods, ranging from extensive surveillance to assasination attempts. Romania is certainly showing that not only still copies attitudes from Ceausescu’s era, but also cranks up efforts in at least monitoring, if not suppressing, its own political and media figures.

Old habits do die hard, especially when there are key models in the close neighbourhood to imitate…

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Post-mortem

Recently, the Romanian poet Adrian Paunescu died. This would have been an otherwise ordinarily tragic event, but his past has given rise to numerous posthumous debates. Latter, in turn, raise interesting questions about man vs. opus, morality vs. legacy.

He was buried with military honours. Considering the poet was a fervent supporter of Ceausescu’s dictatorial regime, who greatly benefited from praising the regime and its key figure, this poses the question whether anybody who considers Romania is still run by the old circles is misled (after all, 85 of top 100 most powerful Romanians are all faces from the old regime… to quote a quick & easy statistic).

It is difficult not to remember his propaganda marathons on TV, during the total of 3 hours of daily TV broadcasts… He organised vast rallies of ‘patriotic’ poetry and songs, all fervent pro-regime propaganda under the veil of ‘artistic’ programming.

So… where is the line between the person and his opus? Speer may have been brilliant architect, but was a lackey of an unspeakable regime…

Paunescu has re-invented himself after the Revolution as a lackey of the new (and then fervently neo-communist) regime headed by Ion Iliescu (who was in Ceausescu’s close entourage and became first Romanian president, dressing up in ‘democratic’ colours as ‘savior of the nation’). During the following years, in the Romanian pluralist political scene, Paunescu managed to swim between the moving buoys such that always maximally benefited from whatever political party was at power.

He was, until the very last moments of his death, a spineless version of chameleon (quite some creature), who, with maximum opportunism, sung the praise of whoever he could benefit from the most.

Clearly, his opus therefore is in much debate. Nothing objective can be said about art, except when that art is just incredibly bad… Some say his ‘opus’ really is that bad. But that is again a personal opinion. What remains a fact, is that his opus was intertwined with his political convictions and his manoeuvres on the political and ideological scene.

So it is difficult to separate man from his opus in this case. Since the person, in both his personal and political life, was a truly despicable amoral piece of work, his output is much debated from a moral perspective.

Some now claim with great fervour, that he was a patriot. Well, a person who sides with any regime of any kind does more damage to the country than any more open enemy of that country… Patriotism is not a blind and opportunistic, unreserved support of any regime in that country… if anything, it is usually the very opposite…

Some claim he was a great poet and they quote how many volumes he published – as if quantity is correlated with artistic greatness.

Others commented in press that he really wasn’t a servant of the Ceausescu regime, because he had his run-in with the regime. Yes, true, Paunescu spent some years out of favour, but purely because of an event (a tragic accident at one of his rallies) that had nothing to do with his political convictions (or changes of the latter).

Looking at 400+ comments wrote in to an article in the Romanian national media, the trend of the discourse and the patterns are quite obvious to an analytical eye: it is a fight between indoctrinated ‘opinions’ and rationalism.

People who (often unable to spell in their mother tongue) write in capitals, directly abusing negative comments about the ‘great poet’, just show a total inability to respect others’ opinions, or to mount rational counter-arguments.

People quote that they felt very happy at Paunescu’s rallies organised during Ceausescu’s reign. All they are stating is that they were successfully sucked into the propaganda machine, and hence already conditioned by it, they cannot look at the ‘great poet’ in every angle.

Many make fundamental semantic and logical mistakes, my absolute favourite is the person who wrote in screaming capitals: anybody who dares to criticise the poet’s work has complete lack of common sense. Truly perfect point made about dogmatic attitudes and indoctrination, but the comment’s author clearly didn’t realise how perfect own goal he/she scored.

So the one thing that can be said, is that he was and will remain a highly controversial figure of previous and current regimes. His poems, of vastly varying quality and convictions, will stand the judgment of time, but separating completely the man from his work remains a dangerous mistake to make.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Environments

There are some environmental changes in the EU that some in current Romanian so-called Government could pay a little attention to.

It was highly customary to do just about anything internally with any funds dropped on the doorstep, however the seemingly geographically specific declarations of Angela Merkel mark a new financial mood in the EU.

Although she spoke specifically about Spain, Portugal and of course Greece, she sternly pointed out that at least Germany had enough of bailing out financially collapsing countries. The changes would mean 'normal' bankruptcy once a country hits the rocks. And instead of just pouring tax payers' money into yet another major bail-out, the bond holders would be heavily impacted.

For example, in Greece the heavy austerity measures impact the citizens on unprecedented scale, but the actual result is not a relief from debt. As the Telegraph noted, it is purely a bail-out for investors... so we can cut all the false political BS.

Romania is also simply (well, actually, in typically self-contradicting ways that wasn't lost on the audience) running off to the IMF, switching on the tears and internally, hitting ordinary citizens with unprecedented (and illogical) austerity measures. But whilst it does this, and also ring fences the various upper circles' financial dealings, it is not addressing at all a structural problem.

It simply relies on the IMF money pouring in, to plug holes that (and this is the fundamental misperception, or delusion) seem temporary.

Let's not forget, for example, Romania's state pension scheme is at the very bottom of Standard & Poor's recent list about EU countries. It is the most unsustainable, because amongst many factors (and including the surreal levels of corruption hemorrhaging money in every direction), the recent measures are not at all tackling the underlying problems.

So if the complex underlying time bomb does go off in that country, too, then Angela Merkel's stance could have interesting implications. Of course, if she gets her way for an overall EU-wide scheme of orderly bankruptcy being introduced.

When ministers in the Romanian Government are too preoccupied with declaring 1.5 million Euros and hiding 7.7 million Euros from contracts made on public money (just one most recent example), it is hard to believe that anybody in Romanian Government is actually preoccupied with addressing structural underlying financial problems where the successive IMF loans are little plasters on a very large wound.

To add to this, those layers of politicians simply do not care about foreign investment even, at a real and proper scale. It reaches levels of embarrassment whereby, for example, debts to American companies have only been paid once the USA's ambassador in Bucharest had 'private and direct' chats with members of the Romanian Government. He amicably points out that if the country behaves like this, it will scare away private investors.

Unfortunately he is talking to a pretty deaf audience. Well, one with selective hearing... and I'm sure that also the reverberations of the true implications of Angela Merkel's statements are filtered out by that selective hearing so epidemic in Bucharest.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Evolutions

Some reverberations to the recently uncovered Popricani grave (first of an estimated series) were quite interesting in the Romanian press.

Cotidianul, one of the major daily papers, published the comments from readers. It was hard to stomach the predominantly racist comments, and the biggest irony was that some of these 'people' called the archaeological findings 'Jewish propaganda'. The other major daily paper, Evenimentul Zilei, in a debatable moment, decided to ban any comments to the article they published about same news.

The latter paper's decision can be understood, if one saw the reactions (again impossible to describe) to one of their recent articles stating that Antonescu can not be rehabilitated... After what followed, they saw it better to disable comments to this recent news about the mass grave.

The current figures are stuck at 16, the archaeologists state that this is the first 'layer' of the grave, as the digging so far has been superficial. The estimates for this particular grave are re-stated by both newspaper sources and the archaeologists working there, but it is truly inhuman(e) to go into numerology.

Some comments make astounding and casually dismissive analogies between these findings and for example, in the case of one angry commentator, the lives lost currently in the Middle East conflict. It is just breathtaking thought pattern.

One could write a very dark PhD thesis (and some have...) on the mental associations made by some, many of them are truly unimaginable until one sees the words in print or online... Homo sapiens will again characterise itself perfectly.
So the news are evolving, and as expected, multitude international news fori have taken up the story.

Unfortunately, a trend in even the BBC reports is that quantitative aspects overtake the essence of what this single finding means.

The media is, as always, fascinated by numbers - but there are more worrying disregards for the essence of the story. For example, the military prosecutors claim that this has nothing to do with what the archaeological and eyewitness evidence states...

So there are evolutions taking place in this direction, too... as suspected in previous blog posting, there will be a long battle between facts and ideologically motivated claims. It would truly be Utopian to assume 65 years of history whitewashing would suddenly grind to a halt and in this particular political regime the complex picture of the wartime ruler of Romania would suddenly be altered back to the root facts.

Personally, it would be a tragic evolution if the media will bury itself in quantitative rhetoric, because we are talking about a topic where it is inhuman(e) to dissect the numbers on what is expected to be an increasingly troubling finding.

But the hope is tied to the fact that whilst information may suffer remarkable changes in certain official sources, in the age of the internet the people with their hands on the key facts (it was interesting to see, for the first time, the scanned copies of previously 'buried' testimonies of military officers who were present when the acts of genocide were committed) will have a direct pipeline to the public.

In the end, one can be certain there will be myriad new conspiracy theories that will claim the entire saga dating back to that summer of 1941 (not to speak of all the other events during the Antonescu regime) are some new hoax. Element of this already surfaces in comment sections in the Cotidianul newspaper...

But this will again be a showdown between tangible facts and speculations, and ultimately, for those without direct feed to those tangible facts, a showdown between Occam's razor and politicised sanitisation attempts.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Rewrite

Romanian history has seen many rewriting rounds, changing, suppressing, denying countless facts. As a kid, I have seen how the history books changed and we were basically supposed to have selective amnesia in order not to spot huge discrepancies (and/or ask very dangerous questions about those).

One of the much debated aspects of recent Romanian history is the figure of the fascist wartime dictator Ion Antonescu. He was, in post-communist years, elevated to the status of a national hero, voting rounds for the Top 100 Great Romanians even ranked him No. 6 on the list.

The whitewashing of this convicted war criminal, responsible for ethnic cleansing, multitude of pogroms, an entire extermination policy, establishment of a criminal paramilitary organisation during WW2, well, was breathtaking. Already during Ceausescu's regime, facts about his life were totally rewritten and he was increasingly presented as a 'savior' of the country.

This whitewashing, exacerbated during the post-communist years, has now taken a major blow.

For the first time in 65 years, the crimes committed by the Romanian Army against (in this particular case) the Jews, are exposed in tragically tangible manner.

Near a village called Popricani, a mass grave has been unearthed - first of many located by archaeologists. The tens, possibly hundreds (the work is still ongoing) of bodies ended up in this particular mass grave during the summer of 1941, after mass executions committed by the Romanian Army. There are still eyewitnesses, and confessions dating back many years - however, these have been largely suppressed.

This is just the beginning - and possibly this time, some history books will be, finally, rewritten... to re-instate historic facts related to the much documented (but inside Romania, largely suppressed) aspects of the so-called Iasi Pogrom.

One can't have the delusion that the numerous individuals in key positions of Romanian administration, the Romanian Army, ideologically affected 'historians' who all orchestrated the vast farce that elevated Antonescu to the heights of a national hero will have some crisis of conscience.

Antonescu with all his genocides (and war crimes, as in current legal terms we have to make clear distinction between the two) maybe finally will be treated on a factual basis. Maybe his regime will be discussed properly in the newly written and re-written history books.

Problem is, as with many other aspects of re-written Romanian history, that after many decades of indoctrination, vast numbers of people believe the dogma rather than any new facts. Even in the era of the internet, all details being available to everybody from now on, there will be a strong undercurrent in Romania, still denying large and crucial parts of history.

Certain ideological rewriting of history always seems more appealing than difficult facts... To pull Eco into this, we do live in an evangelical world and to apply this 'faith in fakes' idea to Romania's still much indoctrinated masses, such new facts re-enforcing old suppressed historic facts will be less appealing than the fakes.

Still, Romania as a 'European' country, whilst looking into the horror of these freshly opened mass graves, should reflect just what does it want to say.

Will it continue to cover up, as just one of the most despicable historic cover-ups, the facts of its 'national hero'... or will be brave enough, for the first time, to step into the limelight of international opinion and state those facts?

Let's see... at least I can't have illusions on this front, but there is some hope... that at least for those that want to look and listen, the facts will be accessible in their full clarity...

Will there ever be in Romania something like the Truth and Reconciliation Committee? It would be a truly important gesture whilst we all trumpet our European values. And it would be unimaginably important as a national catharsis of some kind, just once in history, being able to face the facts of the past - even if very difficult.

Ray Bradbury stated, echoing somebody else in one of his short stories, that a nation without a past can not have a future. A fake past is always more damaging than a silenced or missing past...

Monday, 1 November 2010

Contexts...

The previous gathering of statistical facts and comparisons has also led to a recurring need of stating the context, in case it was not obvious from the entire blog...

Comparisons with the 3rd world may hold very well whilst reading some figures extensively summarised and published in Romanian press. However, whilst one may have a moment of 'ho-hum' and/or sympathy if one has read such comparable figures about certain corners of the globe, it is a radically different experience when same figures relate to an EU country.

EU rhetoric abounds in the discourses of Romanian leading political figures (alternating with begging towards the IMF for further funds, whilst introducing such desperate financial measures that they manage the absurd: completely ringfencing the Mafia circles running the country, but hitting the poorest the hardest...).

At the same time, the country is at the bottom of the tables when it comes to the usage (or as more technically put, absorbing) of EU development funds... simply because the key corrupt circles can't bring themselves to go through measly paperwork for measly grants, if they can perfectly operate perfectly outside the law at a governmental level even, and rake in vastly superior 'funds' ending up in their pockets...

So similarities with certain 3rd world autocratic regimes are very easy to make. But what makes it particularly annoying, is that the schizoid situation of a loudly propagandising EU country is having such easy comparisons made about its affairs.

The essence of the deplorable numerical facts is that this will continue for generations in the same pattern established in the last 20-odd years... Actual EU funds either go unused (as the elite can't be bothered frankly with such tedious routes to get their hands on some smaller funds) or the ones given for infrastructure development (as the core topic of previous posting goes) get diverted and/or 'disappear'... whilst the tangible realities those funds were supposed to deliver are hard to see...

Possibly some 10% of motorways from more than 50% of the used (vanished) budgets, built over ludicrous amount of time and for the highest cost per mile in the EU are the best examples... and one can meditate over such very post-communist 21st century typical schizoid reality whilst drives along the 40-odd miles of Transylvanian motorway...

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Best before...

We routinely check the 'best before' dates on the myriad food products on supermarket shelves... but since the last posting about the motorway tax (and the state of Romania's infrastructure), felt compelled to elaborate a bit on just what is the 'best before' date stamped on that country's infrastructure.

Well, unfortunately, those goods have expired a long time ago... and the effects will be quite astounding...

A very conservative estimate stated that about 50 billion Euros would be needed to mend the country's infrastructure, not to make it perfect or state-of-the-art, but just mend it such that it becomes barely acceptable.

Trains move with the national average speed of about 45km/h (this is less than 30mph), due to the disastrous state of the rail tracks. 20 years of patching on ancient tracks has barely managed to keep them at a level where trains can just about operate and there are no deadly failures regularly. About 50% of the country's rail tracks have so-called dangerous points... that can give way at any time.

On top of this, let's not even touch on the state of the stations, the on average 30 years old train carriages (no, they don't just look ancient, they are ancient) - but then there are the antiquated signaling systems etc. - one may be misled by some bigger cities' more modern looking larger station halls... but those occasional computer screens don't mean that the essential parts of the railways match that level of apparent or real technical level... and having extensively travelled on these railways, one can certainly say: they really don't.

The modernising of urban transport has been done mostly by buying used and often old buses and trams from other countries. But these old vehicles look more 'modern' than any of the old Romanian buses and trams, so... again subjectively locals may feel a certain warm fuzzy feeling...

In order to eliminate the medieval conditions when it comes to countless smaller towns' and villages' water system, the estimate is about 20 billion Euros. This would not make them have latest and greatest water purification and pipe systems, this investment would just elevate them to a bearable level...

Where there are water purification plants and pipe systems, i.e. in all major cities, these date back to 50s and 60s, in best cases. Investment to modernise these have been postponed many times. The water quality in some major cities is such, that when sent for analysis in Germany, the labs thought the water was industrial 'B-category' waste water. The solution is to pump it full of chlorine, so that at least it doesn't cause problems with the organic pollution...

Asking several specialist doctors, an estimated 80% of adult population there has Giardiosis, a hugely widespread infection with a single-cell parasite that is amongst the hardest to eradicate, special antibiotic cocktails have a 90% chance of succeeding... and the parasite survives in 'standard' levels of chlorination of the water...

The blockflats built during the 50s, 60s and 70s are so shabby, that they can not withstand any noteworthy earthquakes, as this has been painfully demonstrated many times... and unfortunately, by now these buildings are truly in a sorry structural state.

51% of the population lives in rural areas, and only 10% (yes, 10%) of these settlements have sewage systems and mere 25% have running water.

30,000 Km of roads have no tarmac or asphalt coverage of any kind - they are dirt roads.

The heating systems for the vast areas of blockflats are also antiquated, date back 30-40 years and lose 30-40% of the heat due to ancient or non-existent thermal insulation.

Add to this the small fact, that as it has been eminently demonstrated over the last 20-odd years, any funds allocated to projects meant to modernise the infrastructure have been mostly stolen, which explains the truly absurd pace with which these projects progress.

So it is not a question of what is the country's 'best before' date. It has long passed, sometimes back in the 70s... and since then it's all been rotting away quietly.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Death and taxes

The old saying, by now a cliche, states that the only certain things in this life are death and taxes.

Romania, once again, has found a way to transform old sayings into surreal versions of reality... The Government, whilst struggling with the economic crisis (which doesn't seem to affect the vast corruption it creates, promotes and benefits from), invents newer and newer ways to generate income.

The most recent wonderful idea is to have taxes introduced for motorways. Of course, this is perfectly normal in any country, but then again, Romania and its 'motorways' or even 'motorway system' is far from normal.

The hilarity and surrealism of this proposed tax comes from the number, length and satte of Romania's motorway 'system'. Let's not forget, it is the country where, due to unimaginable corruption, the most expensive roads have been built in the whole of the EU.

And the roads that were built, were puny in terms of length and the projects ran vastly overtime and over buget, best example is the Transylvanian section of mere 10% of the planned motorway, has taken by now 20 years and it has seen 6 transport ministers changing seats, 7 directors of the company contracted to make the road... but that 10% of the planned motorway has consumed more than 50% of the buget.

Imagine you would pay airport tax to get on a flight operated by the penguins of the film Madagascar, with 'facilities' that are comical (unless you are actually on the plane, rather than just watching the animation and laugh at it...) and you stand a certain minimal mathematical chance of surviving (if you don't get lost).

It is a somewhat far-fetched analogy, but a country that is truly at the rock bottom of the list of EU contries in terms of infrastructure (combined with surreal levels of corruption, whereby any infrastructure project actually uses about 10% of the allocated buget, the rest simply vanishes into thin air only to be found at the very heights of the Carpathian mountains...), well, is in need of quite a reality check when it tries to introduce a motorway tax system.

Also, it is truly characteristic... in terms of looking to the 'West' and copying things mindlessly, without the basic foundations being there.

There is no difference between this latest delusion and the nouveau riche family that built a veritable palace in southern Romania, filled the many bathrooms' tubs with handmade persian rugs, as 'overflow' storage rooms as they had no use for bathrooms...

The same greed, combined with the same fundamental lack of intelligence, the downright stupidity combined with the laughably schizophrenic attempts to look 'Western' and modern when it comes to discussions with the IMF, is the perhaps most dominant and most characteristic feature of this and all previous Romanian so-called Governments.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Information society

Although in my current homeland the various excesses committed in the name of building a safer society are being revised, there was a curious and somewhat unexpected incident... An incident that showed just how precise the arguments against the gathering of personal information about vast numbers of people were.

There is a certain law firm in the UK, which few years ago began to send out tens of thousands of letters to people, letters that pointed out: they were sharing some copyrighted material on the net - and unless they want to avoid going to court, they should pay a certain fine to the law firm.

The claim by the latter firm (and one can find the same in certain parts of the much debated Digital Economy Bill) that the IP address of the person's connection identifies the person had a certain charming silliness that one can find in less inspired episodes of Bugs Bunny.

It is pointless to waste bandwidth here to describe just how charmingly silly this is, but the point is something else.

The very same law firm was amassing personal details about tens of thousands of people, information provided to them by a number of internet service providers. It so happens that the website of the firm had to be taken down after a cyber attack known as distributed denial of service. And when the website was put back, due to some other charming silliness, the entire server file directory was exposed apparently to the outside world.

People promptly downloaded email archives and... records of personal details about many, many people... who were accused by the firm that they shared X and Y copyrighted material.

Jacqui Smith wanted a society where pharmacies and other high street shops would have gathered biometric data about millions of people, sending these to other databases of the Home Office... for the purpose of then issuing biometric ID cards.

Isn't it interesting, that the above fiasco around the website of a law firm has now led to a direct question... a rhetorical one, which validates every word and every thought ever voiced about the former Government's wild plans (and excesses violating basic human rights) for a 'safer society'?

The rhetorical question is the following: based on the absolutely tragic (for many thousands of people) and laughable (for others) fiasco around the law firm's website, adding all the myriad incidents of the very Home Office losing and misplacing vast amounts of personal information about people... how can anybody in former, present or any future Government seriously think that gathering, storing, manipulating, sending of vital personal information about people can be in any way guaranteed not to fail fundamentally?

Especially when, as shown in the incident, there is no control, no safeguard whatsoever in place at the origin, along and at the end of the chain of information passing from some organisation to another.

There is the Data Protection Act. There is the Terrorism Act. There is the Copyright Act, in this particular case. There is the Digital Economy Bill.

These are all theoretical safeguards or, in the latter two cases, validations for certain actions to take place.

The practical reality is that there is zero security for anybody's highly sensitive personal information being exposed along one or more points in the chain.

In the specific incident, some internet service provider even admitted sending the information in unencrypted form...

It is time to revisit utopian legislation and so-called 'acts' and sections of those acts... and infuse some reality steeped deeply in basic human nature. And basic human stupidity. And its repeated results.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Migrations

One can establish and sustain a reasonably comfortable, even cozy political platform via xenophobia. In Romania, reliable mountains of votes can be won (predominantly in Transylvania) with campaigns against the ethnic minorities. In the UK, with great support from very wide circulation daily papers that border on both fascism and paranoid schizophrenia, it is similarly profitable to scare people with immigration and immigrants.

Whilst major media tycoons also take part in xenophobe propaganda, the business realities in the UK have been, are and, based on recent re-assessments, will be very contrary to what the media and certain politicians say.

Recent numbers show that one in five employers feel they must consider (again) heavy reliance on immigrant workers, because they simply cannot find the skills and skill sets they need among local workforce. And we are not talking here about just the stereotypical cases of higher-level jobs in consultancy for example, the surveys showed that the problem exists across all layers of the job market.

The simple truth is, whilst the certain media goes on and on about the job losses amongst British people (and resonates with Gordon Brown – remember him? – lines on ‘British jobs for British people’), many jobs simply could not and will not be filled by non-immigrants.

The recent surveys showed numerically what was known by some more honest parts of the media landscape and the people with both eyes open: myriad jobs are simply ‘below’ the Brits. We live in a country where, due to decades of self-destructive educational policies, the average youth also thinks that by default, he/she must end up at some University, get a cozy white collar job with lots of pay and no real work, and retire with a smile (increasing number of) decades later.

Of course this is some exaggeration, but the problem is endemic and it is even more embossed by the recent financial situation and the countermeasures the Government brings in. With the austerity measures and their side-effects, it exacerbates the contradiction between economic realities and self-perceptions leading to expectations linked to the type of jobs Brits think they have the God-given right to do.

It is a sensitive topic, but the numbers and facts were there for decades, now just shouting at us even louder because of the financial and economic fallout.

Let’s face it, A-level results have been increasing beyond imagination in terms of A (and as of this year, A*) grades received by pupils. Those (including the pupils) without grasp on the realities of the education system’s demise in recent decades claim that it shows how brighter and better young people have become prior to, of course, jumping to some University campus,

Universities have been and are crying that this world where truly ludicrous number of students come with myriad A grades is an absurd world for them to differentiate between candidates. Employers have been and are crying that they spend years training the so-called stellar University graduates up for the skills that they really need.

In this climate, everybody thinks that he/she is entitled to a University education, and then of course the high-paying office job.

The reality is that vast reliance on immigrant workers is and will be happening, if one believes the reality seen across job sectors and the numbers coming out of sweeping surveying of employers… So let’s see what parties like the BNP and the xenophobe media will say in future, whilst watching the economic reality unfold.

Friday, 13 August 2010

44

A value so close to the meaning of the Universe :-)...

Certainly, the Home Secretaries, who introduced the infamous Section 44 of the so-called Terrorism Act in Britain, thought that it is close to the meaning of the Universe...

Not one single terrorist was apprehended with the powers given to the police by Section 44. But it gave police powers to stop & search without any actual reason (nor had to give any reason to those targeted).

Just counting the cases where totally innocent amateur and professional photographers alike were targeted, it was a truly Stalinist piece of legislation. Just in the photography organisation that I'm a member of, every single month the newsletter listed the chilling stories documented by members, many of those cases bringing back memories of the 70s-80s in the Eastern Block.

The European Court deemed it illegal and one that was in violation of fundamental human rights. However, the former Government soldiered on, and only the recent (what one could call) regime change brought finally a revision of such laws.

The website that the leader of the Liberal Democrats opened for the public to vote on laws to repeal was soon overtaken by comments from pressure groups and just silly people (in vast quantities). It really proved the old Churchill saying, that the best argument against democracy is a 15-minute chat with the average voter. It also proved that vox populi always suffers of short term memory problems and selective amnesia.

However, despite the vast number of comments on fox hunting laws, smoking and drugs, Section 44 managed to die disgracefully - not that the voting website led directly to that, of course not... But it was an interesting experiment in democracy.

The Section 44 is now scrapped, and human rights organisations joined the cheering of the masses. The continuation is now up to the new Government.

Certainly, Section 44 was a shameful spot on a benevolent piece of (turned paranoid) legislation, but the true colours in the fight against terrorism will be revealed as time goes on. Let's see whether this Government can keep a sane and cool head, and not spiral into bouts of paranoia as the previous regime did.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Noise

The way in which Romanian government 'deals' with the financial crisis (a still shrinking GDP, a structural rather than temporary deficit incl. pensions) is surreal.

Well, they were after the next installment of IMF loan, so they tried to show they take firm measures.

The slight problem is, there is no coherence in the messages they send out- the president says one thing, the PM the exact opposite, the government departments and ministers add further self-contradicting noises.

While this is going on, the country is dealing with interesting numerical problems. Out of almost 23 million people, only 4.5 million are officially registered as employed. Out of this, more than half are in state sector, now heavily cut.

The demographic picture is as dire as everywhere else, so even the governor of the National Bank warned: this is not a transient financial crisis, there are actual structural problems that will not go away with just a short-term plugging of a huge hole in the finances (via an IMF loan... then maybe another one... and another one... if they get it).

On a smaller scale, the effects are quite tragicomic. Whilst the VAT was hiked a few percent, the actual prices of vital goods including medicines have gone up sometimes almost by 100%. The same pills that used to cost 22 RON now cost in same pharmacy 40 RON.

So there are conservative estimates on how many pensioners will die this autumn and winter. Just in my hometown, several major central heating plants have shut down due to 'cost cuts' and tends of thousands of families were told to install their own personalised heating system.

The fact that latter costs a sum that most pensioners can't simply pay, and that the company that installed them is owned by the deputy Mayor, remains a tiny matter of detail...

The country simply does not have a solution for short-term, let alone long-term, financial and economic problems, at the same time that it is still struggling with what it inherited from the old regime: a forcibly and surreally industrialised country that is still mostly agricultural, but whose agriculture went completely bust.

Whilst unimaginable level of corruption is spanning every layer of society, there is a so-called government that tries to desperately build a facade towards the EU and IMF, whilst they truly don't care and lost the plot completely.

It is quite interesting to see the development, and how next critical autumn and winter period will play out.

The noise levels coming from the so-called government are deafening and are truly white noise, as there is no logical pattern of any kind in their disjointed communications towards the media or the masses.

Unless they at least admit the crystal clear demographic, economic and financial indicators (even a novice economist could shout: I've seen these patterns countless times in beginner's guides on macroeconomics), the surreal and schizoid situation will continue.

In that context, it will be especially interesting to see what happens once the current IMF loan runs out, no structural nor logical measures are taken, and they are stuck with the same conundrum that they think got resolved temporarily and superficially.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

DNA

After a summer break in my homeland, it seems Ceausescu popped up in news headlines again...

His remains are being exhumed for DNA analysis - the location of his grave was for decades a mystery, and authentication of what is said to be his remains are underway now.

While Romanian ponders over the DNA of a (still by some much loved) dictator, one wonders about other deeply imprinted traits in the society that left the dictatorship behind only 20 years ago.

A Transylvanian astute sociologist recently talked about power and how that society simply needs, even craves, power... of some sort... of any sort. It is entertaining to hear that in his opinion, Romanian society simply needs the displays of power.

Even the younger generation, maybe some metaphorical DNA is truly at work here, loves to see the 'leaders' ostentatiously displaying signs of wealth and power, it is simply the norm to be a truly primitive show-off, a characteristic of the nouveau riche in the Balkans.

Maybe in a few hundreds of years these layers of Romanian society will ennoble themselves, slowly seeping through the layers of the decades and centuries, sedimenting... but for now, this is a country where any power of any form is displayed at maximum levels of (truly tragicomic) ostentatiousness.

This in itself is a common trait of post-communist societies, but whilst listening to older generation taxi drivers and street people reminiscing fondly about the Ceausescu era, and how that era didn't have these economic problems, one does get a sense of that strange imprinting... the need for whoever, whatever, having absolute power over them.

The submissive attitudes are prevalent, whilst there is rage about some excesses of power.

Sociologically the perhaps most interesting paradox of the polarised Romanian society is this co-existence of the deep rage against the current circles of ultra-corrupt power and the sub-conscious craving to be dominated. It is at the core of what made many write in the '70s and '80s about how 'the porridge doesn't explode'.

Maybe a trigger akin to the one in 1989 is needed... plus organised and opportune help from within power circles. Otherwise change, whilst talked about on a daily basis, will not happen in bottom-up fashion.

Currently the Romanian 'Government' has no actual coherent solution, not even opinion about the solutions for the financial crisis. It, at the same time, drives already poor people and the poorest layers of society into even deeper poverty, by measures that are illogical, nonsensical in any economic mind, and also serve their own interests.

Will get back to such examples, but at the moment, whilst Romania is looking for the authentic corpse of Ceausescu, it is also passively contemplating the increasingly demented and self-contradicting Governmental measures that hit the most depraved layers the hardest.

The porridge will not explode, that is certain... and one can wonder how the current misery, exacerbated by the financial crisis and haphazard 'corrective' measures, on top of the deep and surreal polarisation of Romanian society continues to fill people with deep nostalgia of the 'golden era'.

People forget the dark side of that past regime, they only remember the job security, the free housing etc. - as ever, vox populi has selective amnesia and/or severe long term memory loss.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Stop, search, terrorise

Section 44 of the so-called Terrorism Act has been the most abused and perverted part of the dubious, all-encompassing, vague and illegal set of measures meant to safeguard UK society from acts of terror.

It was illegal, was the European Court ruled it had no safeguards against police abuse of power, and well, it essentially allowed police to stop & search people without the police having any reason nor reasonable suspicion.

Thousands of people were targeted, and it generated great media furore also due to the hundreds of amateur, semi-pro and professions photographers who were jumped on in truly ludicrous circumstances.

The Home Office disregarded the European Court ruling, but now, surprisingly, after a regime change, the new Home Office revealed the extent to which this Section 44 had been abused by police.

Metropolitan Police is also taking now actions to chase down (but this time in a good sense) and contact people, as there is also the faint smell of compensation in the air. Of course not for those who even successfully sued the police authorities and won their case, ending up with nice compensation after downright Stalinist abuses of police power.

But, in this so-called free society, with the Olympics coming, it is highly unlikely that the Home Office would change Section 44, even after the admission of thousands of 'administrative errors' being committed. Nice and too elaborate term for what was actually going on in this country for almost ten years.

Although there are attempts to water it down, it remains to be seen whether the application of this part of the Terrorism Act will change, as too many minds in the police forces are used to, after almost 10 years of totalitarian abuse of power, applying it at random.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Hopes

The new coalition Government in the UK has had its first cabinet meeting.

It is hopeful and interesting to see that one of the major areas where they feel the need to have rapid action is, as reported on the BBC, "a full programme of measures to reverse the substantial erosion of civil liberties under the Labour Government and roll back state intrusion.".

The mentioned erosion, suffered under the former Government and its (mildly put) stalinist Homes Secretaries like Charles Clarke and Jacqui Smith, would be attempted to be reversed via a list of measures, some highlighted below (as per BBC report on the section titled 'Civil Liberties'.

The list acts as a good summary on all the hair-raising issues that were introduced under Labour in what was known as one of the citadels of democracy and human rights.

Just look at this list, focusing not on what it states as something to be done, but as a list of what has happened that now needs removal, reversal or correction:

# A Freedom or Great Repeal Bill.

# The scrapping of ID card scheme, the National Identity register, the next generation of biometric passports and the Contact Point Database.

# Outlawing the finger-printing of children at school without parental permission.

# The extension of the scope of the Freedom of Information Act to provide greater transparency.

# Adopting the protections of the Scottish model for the DNA database.

# The protection of historic freedoms through the defence of trial by jury. (Again, in violation of the very Constitution, introduced in the name of a safer society...).

# The restoration of rights to non-violent protest. (Remember the rules that banned demonstrations around the Parliament in a vast radius? Eastern European dictators would have been proud of it).

# The review of libel laws to protect freedom of speech. (As we were heading for a total paranoia cult that could be enforced via such restrictions).

# Safeguards against the misuse of anti-terrorism legislation. (Let's see what happens to police and jobsworth's continual abuse of power in the name of that legislation, affecting everybody from amateur photographers to journalists).

# Further regulation of CCTV. (Where we are on top of the list with never before seen levels of surveillance).

# Ending of storage of internet and email records without good reason. (Again introduced under the anti-terror legislation, and China would be proud of us...).

# A new mechanism to prevent the proliferation of unnecessary new criminal offences.

So future will tell, whether the UK can become again a country without deepening shades of totalitarianism.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Solutions

While the UK election was, what a comedian recently said, a new high for anti-climax, the new Romanian Government certainly has solutions for solving its financial problems... or so they say.

While the UK is still waiting for the coalition talks to end and a Government to be finally announced at some point, the top agenda point for Emil Boc's Government in Romania was... the refining of uranium. Considering the recently disclosed data on what amounts of money were offered to e.g. Kazakhstan for its uranium by certain dubious governments, certainly this makes it a priority for the Romanian top Mafia. After all, the potential income is truly unimaginably vast even for the clan that runs the country.

But while they have such priorities and the vast sums of money disappear continuously (the anti-corruption show trials of certain ministers embezzling some puny sums of a few millions of euros are just tip of the iceberg), they also have a list of solutions for the Romanian financial crisis.

For example, what is the top measure to solve budget problems? Well, of course, the highly paid pensioners (who often can't pay even the heating bill in winter) are to have their pensions cut by 15% from 1 June 2010.

Also public sector workers, like teachers, will enjoy a 20-25% pay cut.

Then there will be an estimated 250 000 public sector jobs lost over the coming years, starting with a whopping batch of 70 000.

Food coupons, given out by certain employers in order to supplement the measly salaries, are to be taxed.

This Government (one could say in the UK currently that, well, at least they have a Government...) certainly is using a tiny icepick to poke at the tip of the iceberg.

The president has stated that he is a basically a hero and that the measures are not against Romanians etc. etc.

Apart from such helium balloons and the financial icebergs (or the proverbial elephant in the room they all hope nobody sees), they hopefully continue to work out the pseudo-legal money making schemes around Romania's uranium refining activities, after all, priorities are priorities.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Revisions

After the wall-to-wall scandals and much publicised abuses of power under the all-encompassing anti-terrorism legislation (where also fellow members of a photography bureau have been challenged or worse), the police has now 'revised' its guidelines to the officers.

At least the worst offender, the Metropolitan Police did.

They now made it even clearer (but as they saying goes, you can lead the horse to the water... but...) that they can not confiscate nor delete the pictures a photographer has, only if the police officers in question are in possession of a specific court order.

The atrocious Section 58A of the so-called Terrorism Act, which made it illegal to photograph police officers, has also received a welcome special mention.

The new guidelines firmly warn the police officers that they can not (mis)use these powers in order to suppress legitimate photography in public places.

The latter section was said by many to be the end of street photography, as the dubious law gave truly stalinist powers to police officers.

Also, due to the many scandalous arrest of amateur and professional photographers, the new guidelines try to clearly state that such arrests can only and only be made when the officer(s) in question have a solid suspicion that the photographer is gathering material for terrorist purposes.

The previous publicity and well-thought-out acts by many, including the photographic bureau I'm member of, didn't quite manage to better things when it came to jobsworths thinking they are acting as guardians of the society...

So we shall see whether the new guidelines will change the mindset of people, at least those in certain uniforms, who caused so much grief all around London at least.

And there are general elections coming this Thursday, one wonders whether the new Government (whichever that may be) will revisit the measures that illustrious figures like Dave Blunkett and especially Jacqui Smith introduced... which, over the years, have shown at least one effectiveness: that of warping even normal minds with their cult of paranoia.

Friday, 30 April 2010

Privacy

It is fascinating to watch the severe case of schizophrenia that affects British society.

One can rarely find such example of split personality (and the necessary dose of paranoia) as the recent debacle around the rights to privacy.

In the same country, where the so-called anti-terrorism legislation has brought astounding Stalinist levels of unprecedented monitoring of people and their communications, never before seen electronic surveillance and various laws that would make Orwell shout 'told you so!', well, we have deep concerns for the rights to privacy of... animals.

Recently an academic has kicked up dust clouds about the rights of animals to privacy and pointed out how unethical and immoral it is to film them without their knowledge.

His parallels with humans are touching and, well, touchingly hilarious. The 'case' he makes has received enough attention to make it onto BBC News.

While I am truly horrified :-) of just how immoral let's say David Attenborough's camera crew may be with their filming of some nest without the animals' knowledge, it is fascinating to me at least how such debate in public forum can take place in a society that is monitoring its members in every possible way.

While recently the angry author of an angry Twitter post was held under the Terror Act, we are worrying about the rights to privacy of... animals...

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Censorship statistics

Google, after quite a run-in with China, published the statistics on so-called data requests from governments and censorship requests (basically requests to remove certain data).

China's statistics have not been published, as these are 'state secrets' (undoubtedly would lead the list).

The top country, quite interestingly, is Brasil, followed by the USA (no surprise there) - but then the dubious honour of being third on this orwellian list is, as some may guess, the UK.

At the moment, a total of 40 governments use data requests and censorship, compared to a mere four governments 8 years ago.

We all followed and had the 'pleasure' of seeing how freedom of thought and speech in the UK have been increasingly constrained, mostly thanks to the all-encompassing anti-terrorism legislation.

It is therefore quite an honour to have the formet citadel of freedom and democracy as third on the list. It would have not taken the bronze medal, though if China had been on the list at No. 1 undoubtedly...

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Naivety

Recently the Nobel laureate writer, Herta Muller has made a few harsh and accurate statements about former and current Romania, its integration into the EU and the naivety of the West when handled the former communist country.

The writer, born in Romania and, after many years of persecution from the Securitate, emigrated to the West, has upset some...

Clearly, as she stated that the integration of Romania into the EU was premature and the 'West' was naive to think that this country has changed in terms of who holds the key power. She pointed out the facts about the former Communist Party and secret police officials holding political and financial power positions in Romania (goes very well with the BBC figure on 80% of top Romanians being former key people of the Communist Regime).

She stated, again astutely and accurately, that Romania represents now a second life of the communist dictatorship, but this time it's without ideology. This statement can be fully understood by those who know or have seen the current Romanian everyday realities across all layers of society.

Of course, the upset is voiced by some because, well, she emigrated and now she 'betrays' the country. Really? Stating a few painfully obvious facts that anybody with open eyes can see and has seen during the past 20 years is hardly a betrayal of her former homeland.

Former Communist Party figures, now all part of the vast Mafia in Romania, together with named agents of the Securitate, do hold and will hold all the key positions in political power circles, business and even administrative realm.

The old network has become the new network, as she put it, without ideology and without socialism this time.

The naivety of the 'West' has been painfully apparent during the Regime, and now it just takes new forms... after all, EU officials truly believe that Romania is capable of, as she put it, 'purification'. Which, of course, is a delusion.

Personally, I am glad that we have such high-profile emigrants who can call a spade a spade. Maybe some in the 'West' understand that apart from the surface and the mechanics, nothing truly has changed.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Suspects

I am listening again in the gym the radio advertisement calling for vigilance, and people to report anything and anybody suspicious.

I am beyond wanting to explain to the Home Office anti-terrorist campaigners that something can not be suspicious... only suspect. But that is beyond their ability to comprehend basic English semantics, they are too busy sustaining paranoia...

Well, it has been discussed ad infinitum that when Joe Public is asked to be an anti-terrorist vigilant 'agent', he doesn't have any training nor ability to recognise something truly suspect... the only possible result is, well, exactly what is happening in current British 'free' society.

A musician was removed from a train for "behaving suspiciously" just because he was writing a list of songs which included the band name "The Killers".

The songs would have been played by his band, The Magic Mushrooms, at a forthcoming gig. But as he was writing the list, he was approached by two security staff employed by the train company and asked to leave the train.

He was told that he had been behaving suspiciously and was asked to explain the list he had been writing. The set list had songs like Take Me Out by Franz Ferdinand, Cigarettes and Alcohol by Oasis and Love Me Like You by The Magic Numbers.

Also, there was All These Things That I've Done by The Killers, and as a shorthand, he had simply written "killers".

The really sad thing is that the stupid act of 'vigilance' was carried out not by everyday morons, but "highly professional rail community officers who work closely with the British Transport Police".

The spokesperson said that, and this is the really depressing part, the person had a good "understanding of the need to be vigilant in the current environment".

The "current environment" means all-out medically certifiable paranoia, where every week innocent amateur and professional photographers are arrested, interrogated, even held under the so-called Terrorism Act, we have people held in custody because of a few angry words on Twitter, and now we have also people thrown off trains just for writing a few things down that morons abusing their (absolute) power can not comprehend.

So one wonders, what is next in this ultra-paranoid 'free' society. All in the name of public safety...

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

China and the template

It is fascinating how China's annoyance with Google, after latter refused to continue censoring searches made via its website, is phrased.

China talks about promise. Violated by Google, of course. China talks about 'Politicisation of commercial issues'. It blames Google for unreasonable conduct. It states it is all about China trying to stop information dangerous to national security and 'public'.

Is there a familiar template being used here? A familiar pattern?

Yes. Dictatorships have stated the same things for many decades, maybe some subtle differences of context and the nature of the media in question differed. After all, Stalin or Ceausescu or Honecker didn't have internet and Google.

But... the patterns are identical to those in the mentioned other dictatorships' textbooks. Unfortunately for yours truly, one of them was intimately known inside & out.

Information becomes threatening. A search for Tienanmen square is to be blocked. Now Chinese firewalls are stopping searches, instead of Google itself.

It is not politicisation of commercial issues, there is nothing commercial about a dictatorship's ideological censorship.

There is nothing commercial about rewriting of its history, about suppression of historical facts, suppression of fundamental rights and/or even people.

It is not a commercial matter.

But as all despicable totalitarian regimes, China has the very same schizoid medical condition: it can not acknowledge the nature of its own acts and measures.

So instead, it overcompensates by being upset and screaming at the rest of the world, crying like a spoiled child who had some toy taken away (oh, only one wishes it were taken away...).

It is a deplorable and somewhat laughable sight. Dictators and their entourage suffer, in the 21st century, playing with 21st century toys, of the same fundamental and incurable mental health issues as all their predecessors did.

It is also a deplorable pattern, though: if a dictatorship has weapons arsenal dangerous to the 'free world', or has economic powers that are important to the 'free world', or happens to have neither and is of no significance, then in all these cases the 'free world' will do nothing whatsoever.

So full respect to Google, it is quite astonishing in today's day and age to find a corporation who takes a stand with a simple but effective gesture against a despicable dictatorship.

The action came indeed from an unlikely source, but this is perhaps the only way nowadays - as political powers in the free world will only use their might to 'fix' regimes in countries that are of major economic significance AND incapable of fighting back effectively (via economic or military means) - see case of Saddam, where suddenly the 'West' was talking about (illegal military) actions brought against a dictatorship to 'remove a dictator'. Yeah right.

China is not powerless, neither economically nor politically... or worse. But maybe, although as a small dent, only such actions can start making a difference against a regime that is in complete state of denial. Which is again a very old-fashioned state of mind of all dictatorships throughout history.

It is remarkable, in this template of actions and declarations they are also using, how China as to 'condemn' the gesture and attack outwards, because it needs so desperately to convince itself of its version of reality and 'truth'.

It is a sorry sight to see such a huge man being such a despicable little child. But conversely, let's not delude ourselves that this 'gesture' has any clout of any kind, or that, if others join the superior American 'democratic' forces ;-), this will have anything to do with actual human rights issues or anything related...

Also, let's not even dream that USA or any of its companies have any moral ground to talk in absolute terms about freedom of information, human rights etc.

But dictators and dictatorships have always been psychopathic children who were perfectly happy to kill people even, but could not come to terms with their own actions - so had to invent imaginary deluded systems of values and stories to scream about, while banging the side of the pram with a loud annoying toy.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Mafia haven

Over the years, well, two decades, since the regime change in Romania, it may have seemed that some over-used the word 'Mafia' when describing the various circles of power (political, administrative, law enforcement and/or business).

However, apart from everyday myriad cases of unimaginable corruption, the organised crime in Romania doesn't only engulf all layers of society, it has also created a very good environment for foreign organised crime.

The latter found refuge and could even develop the 'business affairs' from within Romania, and according to recently published statistics (which carefully avoid commenting on the ties these Mafiosi had with Romanian officials), Romania is a safe haven for the Italian Mafia.

This is not only about various 'minor' characters, like certain assassins chased by the Interpol, but also very important players in the major Italian crime families.

When these characters are found to have lived for many years in Romania, hiding from Italian and international investigators quite successfully, and organised activities like illegal arms trade, it is impossible to deny their ties to local and central authorities in Romania.

The leader of Sacra Corona Unita lived and organised his 'business' in Romania for a timespan of six years, until captured.

The 'Number 2' person of the dreaded Camorra has passed through Romania many times, and ultimately Romanian police was involved in his capture.

Another key figure of the Camorra has been living in Romania since 1994, until finally captured. His involvement in certain 'business' deals again points to (unspoken) tight connections with local Mafia and authorities.

A key figure of the Cusoti clan of the Cosa Nostra is just the latest person captured in Romania, and the list is just the tip of the iceberg.

The press talks about the social and cultural factors that made Romania a favoured country for these 'businessmen'.

But it is impossible to consider the obvious, namely that an unimaginably corrupt country in Eastern Europe, where corruption permeates every level of authority (regardless of which 5-minute-long Government is in power), is a haven for these people and their network.

So while Romania still struggles with its finances and the economic situation in general, at least the Mafia and its international networks, on top of the local Romanian Mafia, flourish brilliantly.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Parallels

Interesting parallels have been found between the recent Greek financial crisis, its lead-up and Romanian realities.

It is quite intriguing how similar the two countries' economic path and their Governments' measures were in the years leading up to the Greek 'bang'. One wonders whether Romania will repeat exactly that 'bang', or somehow avoid it due to esoteric economic and financial particularities in Romania.

Well, let's see...

In Greece, budget deficit between 2006 and 2009 has risen from 2.9% to 12.7% GDP. In Romania, the deficit has jumped from 2.5% to 7.5% between 2007 and 2009, as they had to raise the truly puny salaries and pensions.

In both countries, the salaries in the public sector have risen to vast proportions of the budget, in Romania this is currently 27% of the budget. The number of employees in the public sector has risen vastly in both countries, as both grossly overestimated the economic growth... while the expenditure on the salaries has also risen greatly (in Romanian, it doubled in last 4 years).

Pensions have caused in both countries vast increases in expenses, Greece can show that pensions are 12.5% of the GDP, while income in the public sector is mere 32% GDP.

Romania's repayments on Government borrowing have now tripled in just under two years. Greece has followed a similar policy of plugging the increasing holes with borrowing that then can be barely repaid.

Both Governments before and around the elections have adopted same populist gestures that look disastrous on the balance sheets.

So parallels may meet, according to Bolyai-Lobachevsky geometry, at an infinite point indeed. In case of Greece and Romania, their economic stories may meet much closer than that theoretical infinite...

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

McTax

It is, even to a seasoned ex-Transylvanian who has seen old and new political regimes in my former homeland, astounding to watch the new measures that the brand new Romanian Government introduces in order to deal with the deficit and the general economic situation (to use a mild word).

One of the newest inventions is the tax on fast food or junk food as we'd like to call it. 'Unhealthy' food will have an extra tax, which may increase the price of these by 20%.

Now I'm not a McDonalds fan, far from it (far being the key word here, as my distance from junk food tends to be a large and relatively constant value measured in many many metres)... but... something is truly interesting about this new tax.

OK, junk food will cost inevitably more, and my heart may bleed in a spare moment for the people stuffing themselves full of burgers in burger joints... but it will not just hit such stereotypical junk food.

It will hit lower quality, cheaper, not quite healthy food that is the main food for vast masses of people on low income.

Which then brings to the vast social problem in Romania... the layer of people on low income is a considerable layer of Romanian society. They may not buy the best low-fat foods with least artificial ingredients and 'enrichments', because it is impossible for them to afford it.

The Government now hits these people and the same Government, which has such grandiose gestures about its apparent care for the wellbeing of its citizens, pushed vast numbers of people into abject poverty.

We are talking about pensioners and diabolically low income people who are working 14 hours a day to pay just the bills, and one has to look at the >90% proportion of average income being spent on energy bills and food in Romania, putting it at the rock bottom of the EU.

So we are talking about so-called energy poverty and food poverty... On top of this, the Government is severely underfunding health care, the budget runs out by middle of this year and nobody knows where money will be found for the 2nd half of 2010.

This happens while hundreds of thousands of pharmacies have not yet been paid for the subsidies since June last year.

But now we have such gestures showing the EU, that while many literally starve and freeze in the winter cold, the Government is caring so much for its people's health, that will introduce such 'healthy' tax on unhealthy food.

What is also interesting, is that the Western media, including in the USA, has given praise to these measures, showing just how misinformed some of the most respected TV new channels and press is, when it comes to the Romanian REALITY behind empty gestures.

The same countries and same media celebrated Ceausescu, whenever he made a superficial and apparently anti-Soviet gesture.

Nothing really changes... one just wishes that this Western media would once bother to scratch the surface of Romanian reality and find what rotting tissue is underneath. In the meanwhile, Romanian politicians can laugh their head off, as they again managed to fool most of the EU with empty and stupid gestures.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Disappointments

One wonders who feel stronger disappointment.

The European Court of Human Rights has recently ruled that random stop & search powers granted to the Police by the anti-terrorist legislation (namely the infamous, totalitarian Section 44 of the so-called Terrorism Act) are illegal.

While Home Office and police officials repeatedly denied that Police resorts to regular abuses of power (personally, I stopped counting the scandalous cases documented in the media and my organisation's newsletter), the European Court stated that these powers are a "clear interference with the right to respect for private life".

The Government, more specifically the Home Secretary, stated that they are 'disappointed'.

They also appealed against the ruling, which is quite interesting - considering that seven judges, one British, have ruled unanimously.

Let's face it, it is simply a Government that just gave one more clear indication that it is above any law when it comes to its anti-terrorism legislation... and it will and can apply it in any way it wants, not listening to absolutely anybody.

It is also interesting, that exactly when the Home Office appealed, suddenly the level of terrorist threat was raised to 'severe', of course again by pure co-incidence.

So there are, again, good reasons to be disappointed, but not for the Government.

One wonders how many people believe this is a democracy, when in the name of yet another faceless and ubiquitous enemy, yet another society can adopt 'laws' that give absolute power to the 'arm of the law'.

It just so happens, that while this Stalinist farce was happening, yet another photographer has won damages when sued the police.

He was unlawfully arrested and held while he tried to cover, as freelance journalist, a traffic accident. When refused to give detailed personal information and pointed out he was just doing his job, he was detained for eight hours and camera equipment confiscated.

It is a society where individuals and, as in this case, professional organisations keep winning cases against the 'arm of the law', so one could say that as long as such sanity exists to some extent, maybe there are still remains of democracy one can cling on to.

Monday, 1 February 2010

May...

Nope, I didn't confuse my calendar, not it is a wishful musing on the joys of spring to come...

Recent anti-terrorism actions from the police in the UK, which now reached a point where one has to ask how these are different from a regime that tried to police every sentence and every thought, made me think also of the relativistic and probabilistic approaches to our reality.

The word 'may' pretty much sums it up. Even concrete things, quantitatively measurable, like the legal tread depth on my car tyres, are subject to the cautious and probabilistic statement of 'it may need new tyres' (as recently a garage assessed it).

Medicines and mumbo-jumbo concoctions advertised on TV 'may' help with something or 'may' assist with something. Nobody dares to say it has an effect, nor that it doesn't, even when scientific trials have fundamentally proven repeatedly their expensive uselessness.

And then we are in the realm of security and counter-terrorism.

A photographer 'may' be involved in something 'suspicious'. Recently TV presenters recording a children's programme, suited in fake army apparatus were challenged by police, they 'may' have been terrorists... armed with a pink hairdryer and a cameraman filming them... of course, makes sense, doesn't it?

A sentence written in the heat of a moment on Twitter 'may' have been a genuine threat, so the person got reported and arrested next day.

Everybody 'may' be somebody (else). Everybody and anybody 'may' commit whatever anyone can possibly imagine.

And in a former citadel of democracy, we are actually policing this. We are enforcing everybody's paranoia of what 'may' happen or what someone or something 'may' do.

Absolutes become probabilistic relatives. Proof becomes secondary, tertiary. Rational judgment of proportions dwarfs in front of the almighty scary 'may'.

Well, we may return to sanity at some point. We may restore rationality and reason. We may have democracy again and we may have freedom of speech in the UK.

But for now, I and many 'may' be arrested for some blog or Twitter entries, one 'may' get held for 8 hours for challenging dictatorial police force confiscating one's photo equipment, and one 'may' be a terrorist based on arbitrary everyday paranoia of the everyday man on the street.

Some 'may' find this revolting.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Freedom of terror

Up until I hit the grand age of 18 and a half, the world around me was one of various terrors... A wrong sentence, a wrong word in the wrong context could have meant all sorts of variations of Hell. One learnt how to play the everyday game of everyday life without landing oneself in trouble with the absolute powers that shaped everything around us.

It is quite interesting that although the context very much changed, and keywords also very much got replaced with others, some things do come back and one feels stuck in a rondeau of a very macabre sort.

Recently a man was arrested under the Terrorism Act in the UK, because after huge delays at an airport, he vented steam on Twitter, saying that unless something is finally done to resolve the chaos, he'll just blow this thing sky high.

Even someone as pacifist as myself can't quite count how many times used such figures of speech in momentary peaks of annoyance and frustration.

When we have something like Twitter that allows instantaneous broadcasts of short thought expressions, then the flow of thoughts to some large or small audience becomes very easy.

But then should we be terrorised, as in the days of totalitarian regimes, by the spectre of being next day arrested for using some figure of speech?

Should we be, as this person experienced, held for 7 hours and interrogated under the Terrorism laws of Britain, the land of freedom of speech?

One could say, well, it has a potential for that person being indeed a terrorist.

But really? Do we then police every sentence people say and write wherever? Just to be safe?

So where is the line then between the 'safety' the Government wishes to guard and an Orwellian world?

The practicalities of course mean that it's astounding effort to have this level of monitoring and well, based on a sentence on Twitter, such police actions are huge waste of effort and resources.

But all the debates come down to the facts: we have a new world order where we have a new public enemy No. 1 - and in order to "protect" us against that enemy in any way we can, we end up in a society that in its actions and measures, does not at all differ from any former Stalinist totalitarian regime where thought police could have jumped on you just for the wrong sentence said in the wrong environment at the wrong moment.

So we need to watch, amongst the freedom of speech... every word we say, because they can become 'terrorist threats' and 'dangerous'.

Interesting how things move in circles... and what is then true terror? The menace of occasional and terrible atrocities committed by demented terrorists or the everyday terror of forces protecting us against that other terror?... where are the lines?

Wherever they are, UK has long crossed them in the name of protecting its society. I remember the very same reason used by every totalitarian regime in history...

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Crisis measures

Of course, Romanian economy wasn't immune to the global financial crisis.

It certainly doesn't stand out as a unique country in the way its economy was impacted, but it may be quite unique in terms of what measures does the Romanian Government introduce to tackle it.

After the presidential elections, where the second round was quite farcical, a new Government also got established so that the next batch of financial help is quickly unblocked towards Romania. It is just a beautiful quirk that vast majority of the ministers and the prime minister is the same as the ones in the Government which recently had a vote of no confidence against it.

The main priorities in the new/old or old/new Government's crisis measures are quite interesting, but surely nothing unexpected.

First of all, major job cuts in the state sector, about 80000 jobs are to go. About 15000 are school and high-school teachers, who anyway between the Christmas and New Year period were forced to take unpaid leave.

Their salaries have been and are diabolically low, but this is where the Government thinks will save significant amounts of money to help with the vast budget deficit...

While it hits this sector so hard in order to save some money, it reduced and eradicated special taxes (of the order of 20-25%) on the following: gold jewellery, precious stones, yachts (!) and hunting weapons.

These taxes are abolished whilst numerous other taxes are invented as the Government desperately needs money it seems - so there is new tax even for fast food. So there is a remarkable, typically Romanian duality at work here: vast (even seemingly public health-oriented) gestures combined with totally contrary measures favouring the ultra-rich Mafia of the country.

So let's just be honest and say it: this Government has absolutely ZERO willingness to actually solve the budget deficit and the overall financial crisis, it just makes empty (and silly) gestures while it looks after the vastly rich Mafia that runs the country. Simple as that.

What is also interesting, and has been reported earlier in this blog, that this Mafia is incapable of even stealing properly: the vast EU funds for development have only been absorbed in a proportion of 3% (!), putting Romania at the bottom of the table.

In order to get access to those funds, one has to write a proper document and build a business case that shows how the funds will be used by company X and Y. There are now consultancies specialising in this and helping businesses to file such applications.

But this means some real work, some real thinking, some real minutes and hours spent to make an application.

So why bother even at the level of making up a fake business plan?

Surely for the Romanian ultra-Mafia it is much simpler and time saving to just continue robbing the country blind as they did for 20 years, this requires (in the ways they are doing it) virtually zero intellectual effort and it is purely based on an established list of connections...

It is not an accident that this country is incapable of solving any real problem in any real way , and that it is incapable of even accessing real funds for real things...