Romania: When corruption becomes a job is written by Jacob Gowland Jørgensen.
Romania: When work takes you to new places in the world
Traveling is good, and traveling when others pay the fare is even more fun.
My work abroad has opened doors that are usually closed to the ordinary tourist, so I have been able to get a little closer to the life the locals live and the honest idea of corruption. Take a trip to one of my personal highlights as a working traveler.
Romania: When corruption is a matter of honor
"Stop it, how ugly is this! And crying - damn it, how crying! ”. I stand cursing on the main street in Bucharest and wonder what the heck I'm doing there.
I had otherwise sworn I would never ever return to Bucharest after a series of unpleasant experiences on an interrail ride in the '90s. It was inconsolable, criminal and poor.
Some years later, the Danish news is filled with the fact that Copenhagen is being invaded by Romanian buses, filled with trick thieves and prostitutes, just as I am being offered the opportunity to get there again.
I can be part of Europe's biggest anti-corruption project, which aims to tackle some cultural features that are not really perceived as compatible with the EU.
I drop the reservations, tense my courage muscle and throw myself into the project, which requires me to periodically snatch the propeller plane to Bucharest and work with a large number of local organizations across the country that fight corruption.
The project office is probably centrally located in the city, but the center of Bucharest is primarily a concrete and traffic hell.
To get into the project office, I have to go through a scary bookstore, out the back door, up a crumbling and often smelly staircase (because the elevator looks like something that is a lie), past the law firms and in through an almost whole door.
Welcome to "Paris of Eastern Europe", which the tourist brochures talk about due to the triumphal arch and the historical ties to France.
My first surprise comes at the meeting with the advertising agency, which will be responsible for part of the campaign. In the top-checked meeting room, they unfold a very ironic campaign in which various people, such as a policeman, say thank you because he can buy a new car with the money he has received through corruption.
All the alarm bells are ringing in my head, for such a one mega campaign must be understood - not misunderstood. It's not exactly because I have suspected the locals of having a special understanding of what I see as classic Danish-English irony. But they have.
In fact, it dawns on me over the next few days that communism's harsh treatment of people here has created a survival humor that is not at all unlike the Danish irony.
Complex, socially critical and not least with a crooked and friendly smile on his face. Sometimes you have to go right under the surface, but it is there. And then in Romania.
In the evening, I get recommended a restaurant, which is located in a cozy side street, and which serves great food for 100 kr.
Romania is getting under my skin.
The Transylvanian Revelation
Over the course of two years, I visit Romania 10 times.
Sometimes a single day, sometimes for two weeks. I have gradually learned to find the cozy corners in Bucharest that I buy pretzels on the street as the students, and eat at my favorite restaurants, where they serve game from the mountains, among other things.
I see the Cathedral in beautiful Brasov, Dracula's fairytale castle in Bran just north of Bucharest and the Black Sea coast. I also see the Ministry of Justice from the inside and get used to the sinister project office.
I quickly learn some words because Romanian is a Romance language, so there is something I can recognize from Italian and French.
The highlight comes as part of the campaign, as there are meetings in over twenty cities across the country, where local authorities, NGOs and EU representatives will hear about the status of the fight against corruption and support the process going forward.
With my own interpreter, I take the train around beautiful and mountainous areas Transylvania and hear about how they get rid of corruption in creative and skillful ways.
At the airport, for example, they have introduced electronic selection of taxi companies, so that it is not the woman at the counter who chooses who to buy a ride from. At the town hall, they have rebuilt the citizens' hall so that everyone can see everyone, and have introduced a numbering system so that the citizens do not know who is processing their case or application.
In the Ministry of Business Affairs, they have introduced one-stop case processing for new companies, where there are representatives from three ministries, so the process is visible and goes so fast that there is no reason for bribery - much faster than in Denmark, for example.
The police have introduced so many good initiatives that they can now actually help fight corruption elsewhere.
That the trees do not grow into the sky becomes clear, as two ministers have to resign due to corruption cases, but on the other hand, they have been discovered, as I argue to the Romanians I meet.
In one of my conversations on the train with my interpreter Mioara, I suddenly understand why Romania has been – and partly still is – so fundamentally corrupt. Part is due to the age-old cultural traditions, the kleptocracy of communism and the take-away table that arose when you said "ciao, ciao - cescu" when Nicolae Ceauescu was shot in the forehead in 1989.
Romania is on the right track - into Europe and out of corruption
There is also strong solidarity in Romania. Not with the Roma, which is a thorn in the side of many Romanians, but otherwise. "How should my doctor be able to live on the salary she receives?", I hear all the time.
"If not that we give the teacher at school some money at Christmas time, they must give up and find a better paid job."
"We do not have that much, but if we do not help each other, we have even less."
Corruption is sometimes a matter of honor. Or pure communism, one might think, but perhaps rather an expression of how deep a crisis the country has been in for many years due to corruption.
We can survive and we will survive. Here or by taking a poorly paid job abroad. And then we laugh a little bit of it all - then it should probably go. Very admirable.
When I last left Romania, they were importing labor from China because unemployment was almost gone and construction projects were queuing up to modernize the country.
Since then, there has been some turbulence in the political system, partly because the EU loosened its grip on the country's path towards less corruption. But with those people, there can only be one way, and that is directly into Europe. Because that's where they come from, and they'll probably get back to that.
I will probably come back too - to the fine people and to the unique Sibiu, which as a Transylvanian gem was rightly Europe's cultural city in 2007.