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January 31, 2023

Tabula rasa

The shattering revelations unearthed by the ongoing investigations of the National Anti-corruption Directorate (DNA) concerning the major corruption cases currently being dealt with by the prosecutors make me think of the moment of Nicolae Ceausescu’s fall, of the wave of hatred and frustration of the people directed to the dictator and his family for having despoiled the country.

This time, however, that DNA, rated by a recent opinion poll with 89% public confidence, uncovers through its investigations so much corruption and pillage worth hundreds of millions of euros, I cannot help wondering at whom could this nation become angry and revolted first?

Whilst during the 1989 Revolution the justified resentment of the impoverished, hungered population targeted the family of the dictator and a small circle of loyalists on the Central Committee of the Romanian Communist Party, today, 25 years later, who is the anger of the population going to first? When the realities exposed by DNA show that all post-1989 governments, regardless of political doctrine, when the democratic alternation to power occurred, passed on not only their mandates and responsibilities, but also their deals and tricks, mobster-like habits and temptation of corruption, greed, charging of commissions and astronomic bribes?

Many of us imagined then, in 1989, that, once freed from the plague of Communist oppression, when the evil seemed to have been nipped in the bud, Romania would be entering a ‘tabula rasa’ period in what regarded the eradication of greed and robbery.

But the reality of all these years demonstrates that we have actually kept moving from smoke into smother, from a single greedy thief (Ceausescu) to something like ‘Ali Baba and the 40 thieves’. With a note – 40 is far from being the exact figure of authorities and fundamental institutions of this country (such as government, parliament etc.) who have been stealing. The actual figure is certainly much higher. But this is how the story goes… and I have cited here in a purely metaphorical manner the title of the famous tale. In the current prosecutors’ investigations small thieves are being taken in the toils one by one. It is still to be determined when they get to the boss, to ‘Ali Baba’. Most certainly, DNA will get to him too, eventually, or, better said, to each and every one of all those ‘Ali Baba’-like characters who have masterminded and laid the foundations of organised crime rings, imagining they would be riding the wave eternally, invincible and intangible, that they would never be caught, and, because of that, affording so many illegalities.

In what regards major corruption encompassing so many ‘white collars’ in Romania, the important thing is that, before it comes to apprehending all the ‘Ali Babas’, the prosecutors take more and more possession of the ‘Open Sesame’ magical phrase, exactly like in the world-famous tale, making the charmed gate open and reveal the thieves’ secret cave full of stolen richness and treasures.

The big corruption and theft cases currently on the table of the prosecutors, such as Microsoft, Gala Bute, “illegal property returns” etc. indicate that in Romania of the last 25 years corruption and theft have not being the exclusive prerogative of one person or one family or a small circle in an occasional context. On the contrary, the temptation of greed, money laundering, influence peddling, taking impudent bribes from contracts detrimental to the state but good for personal, group or party interests (whatever the name of the party may be, for there hasn’t been one in particular), invention of diabolical methods to shove their hands deeply into the coffers of the state or in the cornucopia of European funds, all these seem to have always being in the DNA (Deoxyribonucleic acid ) of politicians who have filled top-ranking positions of influence ephemerally in all governments in the last 25 years.

Who should the elderly of this country first become angry with for a retirement full of concerns and worries, most of them on inappreciable pensions far from providing a quiet and dignified old age, after tens of years of contributing to the state?

Who should be my mother angry at now, at the venerable age of 80, having worked for 43 years, who ashes a retirement benefit of  only 7 euro/day?

I wonder if Elena Udrea, Alina Bica (just to name two ‘trendy’ names of former officials of the Romanian state who stole in a Mafia-like manner in the last few years as the major cases under investigation show) could live on just 7 euro per day. From which money one also has to pay utility bills and a monthly prescription of EUR 50. The same question I would also ask to all officials, politicians, and former ministers in the last 25 years who have lent themselves to ordinary theft as the already solved DNA cases prove, resulting in record convictions of politicians and former officials of the Romanian state.

In fact, if I think about it, my mother is actually lucky because, unlike other elderly persons (who have to live on just EUR 100/month – the minimum wage), she has a rather big retirement benefit. Whilst she needs to ponderate her 7 euro/day to be able to pay her bills, buy her prescription and food (we all know that food in Romania is more expensive than in many other EU countries), there are elderly people in this country who have to manage with 2-3 euro/day. Mrs. Udrea, could you make it with an income of 2 euro/day?

In fact, I believe that all former and current officials who have robbed the country and have hijacked public funds, creating with a diabolical intelligence genuine Mafia networks and shuttle-mechanisms to move and launder the money, need not even be asked this question – if they could or could not survive on 2, 3 or 7 euro per day. What all these insatiable thieves deserve is to be ‘condemned’ themselves to a life like that and see what it feels like to be an elderly person deprived of the elementary right to  have a decent livelihood during retirement, while ministers, prime ministers and other top-ranking officials of the state waste sums in euro with many zeros in the tail from the state budget, directing them to contracts with companies belonging to political clients, and, eventually, into the private or party accounts or bank accounts opened in tax heavens where they cannot be traced down.

Seeing the magnitude of the theft and corruption revealed now by the DNA prosecutors, my mother, but also other elderly of this country who worked honesty during dozens of years and who would have deserved a tranquil livelihood at their age, cannot understand for the world why the government Elena Udrea was a member of as Minister of Regional Development and Tourism, with access to a staggering budget, mercilessly and cynically cut their pensions five years ago using the ‘it’s a crisis’ pretext, while they, the members of the same government, as demonstrated by DNA, spent tens of millions of euro completely recklessly, gorged with so many commissions, stealing and embezzling the money to their personal money boxes or to the accounts of the interest groups they belonged to.

‘They were cutting our pensions, our entitlements for which we had worked for so many years, with the pretext of the crisis and austerity policy, and all that time Elena Udrea was irrationally spending millions of euros on useless ski slopes, skating rinks and swimming pools, some in villages or poor areas where people would have badly needed roads, drinking water supplies or medical dispensaries’, my mother bitterly says now.

‘How could they do such a thing, trash us and this country underfoot in this way?’ my mother also asks.

That’s right, Mrs. Udrea, how could you do such a thing? Do you still have the audacity to look into the eyes of the elderly of this country, both you and your colleagues in the government, and explain how you could cut pensions, the wages of teachers and other public sector workers while you and you accomplices were developing a Mafia-like fraud system?

In reality, you never cared that a certain village or town needed a ski slope or skating rink or not. You only cared about your personal and party piggybank and you activated your diabolical intelligence for such investments implemented through companies of your party clientele so that you could hijack the money to events such as ‘Gala Bute’, with the actual intention of directing the black funds to your party at the time, PDL.

The questions above might be explicitly address not only to Mrs. Udrea but also to her good friend Mrs. Bica, ex-chief of DIICOT. In a way, they are the ‘stars of the moment’, if we may say so, in the sense that DNA investigations show the two distinguished ladies who, at a certain moment, held high public offices, were the masterminds of fraudulent fund administration and large-scale robbery of the patrimony of the state and institutions they headed at a certain time.

Those are staggering amounts of millions of euro, money that could have been better used for the social retirement benefits system or for investment in health, hospitals, roads, schools so on and so forth.

However, at the same time the same questions could be equally addressed to other former or current officials stained by corruption, already convicted or who have served their sentences or who are being investigated, whose wealth has exponentially grown since the moment they took up offices of influence.

Returning to the population’s revolt against transient rulers who shoved their hands deeply and indiscriminately in the country’s bursary, causing huge damages, instead of the money being invested in other national priorities, I have another personal example, apart from the one of my mother. The example where my own personal revolt against such theft, against all the ‘Ali Babas and 40 thieves’ in Romania of the last years, has accommodated me more than ever before.

It is not that I was unaware of the shortages of the healthcare system and public hospitals, but a health issue of my son put me recently in the situation where I had to come into contact with the not exactly encouraging reality, at times even sad and dramatic of Romanian hospitals. Of the still precarious equipment and conditions, below the level of many of the modern, civilised hospitals in other EU member states where health is treated by those governments as a national priority and where they constantly invest in hospitals and healthcare. Fortunately, the dedication to their job and professionalism of the medical staff in the hospitals of this country somehow manage to offset the things that are missing from our health system.

Mrs. Udrea, Mrs. Bica, how many new and modern hospitals could have been built for children and adults in Romania with the millions of euro you defrauded? How much could have been invested in modern equipment, facilities and modernisation of existing hospitals?

Some of the same many millions of euro stolen could have been redirected to increasing the wages of the exceptional doctors Romania has, many of who leave the country driven away by the small, humiliating pay they receive.

Paradoxically or not… while the wages of doctors were cut in 2009 because of the economic crisis and austerity policy, Alina Bica, Elena Udrea and her ex-husband, Dorin Cocos, as well as all the other thieves on ‘Ali Baba’s’ team were prospering, building a pyramidal system of bribe, commissions and illegal money.

How can people’s revolt not be big seeing how much has been robbed, now that they find out from the investigations adjacent to the major cases such as Microsoft, Gala Bute or property restitutions that businessman Dorin Cocos (whose name obsessively appears almost in all major corruption cases) was a permanent recipient, with his companies, of fat public contracts? From which, in the very fatidic year 2009 (when the pay of doctors and retired people was cut because of crisis and austerity), he made huge profits, including prospering from the healthcare system based on contracts awarded to his companies by renowned hospitals.

Fortunately, the pitcher goes so often to the water that it is broken at last and the Udrea-Cocos empire, built with so much toil by diabolical, theft-prone minds, protected and fostered by institutions whose job was to warn the relevant authorities about the octopus with ramifications and connections to the highest spheres of power, is badly shaking… and the authorities will do everything in their power to recover the enormous damages cause by this ‘Famiglia’, by their acts of corruption and by the acolytes in their entourage.

If DNA’s fight with corruption also gets to ‘Ali Baba’ once all the 40 thieves have been caught in the snare of the investigators and have been held liable for what they did, the true revolution will also happen in this field, too. Because only then no one will be above the law.

Only from that point on – should anyone still ever be tempted to build Mafia empires, criminal networks or devise the system in such a way as to coincide with the interests of their family, trusting that an office and the fact that they hold all levers at a certain point gives them the right and empowerment to do whatever they like – they will most certainly think twice if not several times.

All there is to do in the meantime is to put our trust in DNA and wait for ‘Tabula rasa’ in Romania, without corruption of this size. But also in respect of a political class of a different ,mentality, with other criteria of morality and integrity.


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