I am in Bucuresti since one month and a half. I live in a very depressing block, in the souther periphery of the city, full of cockroaches and with water available at random times. But I like it: there is a 24h Covrigarie not far, a 24h magazin (where I buy beers and cigarettes), and a nice market called ‘Piata Agroalimentara Progresului’. That market is the reason why I have decided to live in this area. I keep on telling myself that the reason for such a choice was related to my research, which is supposedly taking place not far from here, in Ferentari. But the true is that I liked that market too much, the first time I saw it. It is about progress. It is about food. It is about concrete and potatoes and varza and beer – it has its own aesthetics, which I love.
Speaking of love, I decided to come back to Romania for research because 10 years ago, when I did my Erasmus in Bucuresti, I encountered poverty. Real poverty. People living underground. Kids and Aurolac. Students living in blocks without current water, random electricity. People eating once a day to save money, despite what one could say about cultural differences. Orphanages of which I do not want to speak. And so on.
So I came back. And I found expensive cars in the city centre, a ‘centrul vechi’ full of bars and pubs and stuff, no more kids in the streets, and some general improvements in the infrastructure of the city. But it did not take much time for Bucuresti to show me its real face. A face made of people working – in the social sector – for free, of people without work, of people that still eat once a day (still not for cultural reasons). But one could say that I am exasperating things, that I am prone to describe more the half part of the glass than the full one, that Romania, and Bucuresti in particular, are not so bad. Of course they are not. Romania, as one of the candidate for the next presidential election states, is Lucruilui bine facut (a job well done). Perhaps.
I am turning my body to a place where I have been for the first time 5 weeks ago. This is close to the city centre, close to Piata Unirii and the Palace of People. It’s a street, called Vulturilor. Here since 5 weeks there are 20 families, which sum up to more than 70 people, living on the side-walks in front of what was used to be their house. These people have been evicted – legally so – and are now protesting since more than one month in order to get a place where to stay. (A full account of the story can be found, in English, here). Besides the technicalities of the process, what is interesting to me is precisely this word: eviction. Eviction comes from evice, to overcome, to conquer. Its violence is astonishing. It is about ripping off. It is about opening: bodies and walls. Histories and souls. Postcards, fridges, shoes, hats, underpants, pictures, tables and matresses: all expelled from the home, the relational home, the loved home, the space-cum-memories-cum-afflatus of joy and tears-cum-copii – from the home, to the street. It is about eradicating weeds from the field, where the field obliviously is the one you know – private accumulation. So people have been evicted. But these are not common people. These are angry Roma people. The reasons why they should be angry by default encompass what I could possibly grasp and write in a life, and it does not matter here. What matters is that they were (and are) angry, and that they were joined in their protest by some other people, a strange cohort of beings that do not fit in the aforementioned field as well. There is Carusel, a penniless NGO that does so many amazing things that I have not the strength (and enough Palinka) to enumerate now. It suffices to say that in Vulturilor they keep people going on, for good. They built tents, they provide food (with the help of another cohort of amazing volunteers), they bring clothes, medical help, but most of all they provide moral support, constantly, day by day, night by night. Praise to them – later on it will become clearer why. Besides them, there is the Frontul comun pentru dreptul la locuire – a name, a revolution. Another bunch of amazing people. They take care, with others, of the legal framework and try to find all sorts of alternative solutions to the street – always putting the wishes and the needs of the people first. One of them does this particularly well. She goes there every night. Talk to people. Listen to people. Gets angry with people. Amazing stuff.
So… All good, one could say. People protest. Other people help. All good. It could be so if one forgets about the most important element of the equation, a thing ceaselessly diminished by the current neo-liberal machine. Namely: the public. The public in this story has three facets. First, there is the idea that an eviction can be legal. What is legal and what is not – it should be clear – it is defined by the public and it’s public matter. So, if an eviction could be legal – and I use a language appropriate for a Cambridge’s scholar here – the public is fucked up. (Why? Eviction, from evice, to overcome, to conquer, to police, to beat, to throw everything you have out. A public that accept such violence is, by definition, not public any more). Second. Public is the space these people now occupy – both at the level of the street and at the level of media portrait. On the street, they do what Roma people do. They are noisy and loud and stuff, and I like this. Moreover, their are gradually becoming homeless, a process of subject-formation that passes through the cold substance of the rained pavement, the lack of sanitary facilities, the exposure to elements and to the rusty identity of the street. This is the public space – in the literal sense – of a trauma that the media are ignoring. So at the level of the media portrait the public discourse is reproducing the same old narrative, which serve the apparatuses of control: they are wrong, they are dirty, different, bad, lazy, and so on and so forth. Both at the level of the street and at the level of the media we have therefore two public issues: one is the trauma of bodies displaced like things, the other is the the waste of public money, time, and resources given to journalist that cannot tell the difference between a story and a reproduction of a pitiful paradigm.
The last forgotten public bit of this story is politics. I want to be clear here. These people have been evicted in September 2014. The property was sold to the foreign ‘investor’ in 2009. Where was the public-as-politic in-between? The public knew, or should have known, that the eviction was coming. If evictions, in our deranged society, are legal, it should not be legal to do not provide a solution for the evicted people – to do not find anything (social housing, substantial renting help, monetary compensation, etc) in five years! Where was the public-politic in-between? I want Ponta, the current Prime Minister running for presidency under the slogan ‘Presedintele care uneste’ to reply (and if he will reply, I ask him to do not plagiarize his answer from someone else). I want the major of this city to reply. The major of the sector. I want the media to report and reply. (But I do not expect Iohannis, the candidate running for presidency with the idiot slogan I grabbed for this post, to even understand these questions). Of course, nobody will ever reply. But the good news is: the people are still out there. Protesting, posing questions, demanding answers.
This is why the Vulturilor protest is a public matter: it is an awakening slap on each one’s face. And I insist so much on this terminology, the public, because this is what I have learned in the past five weeks on the street: the protest is affirmative micro-politics, the only afflatus that could bring our minoritatian mode-of-being to the fore, to the re-appropriation of shared means, resources, and knowledge. The public, again. What the Vulturilor’s families are doing is great. Because it speaks truth to power: it tells us, all of us, that being marginalised is not a pathology. It is just normality under abnormal conditions. A condition that can change – also in this hard, snowy, lazy, and a little bit bitchy, Bucuresti.
2 Replies to “Romania: Lucrului bine facut? (Some thoughts on the Vulturilor case)”
Michele your piece is touching and you are certainly telling a story that needs to be heard. Yet as a researcher who looks into the microphysics of power you cannot turn a blind eye on the fact that those who are evicted, now the victims of an act of neoliberal power have in the past exercised power over other people’s rights by occupying the premises in which they are living. What if the owner of an apartment is not a rich plutocrat but simply someone who has used their life’s savings to buy a home, or if the building is owned by the local council and the apartments are destined to people who have applied for tenancy according to proper procedure etc.?
I am aware of the fact that “legality” is often simply the “crystallized” form of past power relationship, and that those (like the Roma) who never had a chance to have a voice in the public arena end up being “lawfully discriminated”. For this reason it is necessary to raise the issue and to work for a solution to what is a social’ and not a personal trouble of the “evicted”. Would “leaving them alone” constitute a viable solution? It is true that these people are rejected by the rest of the society but is it acceptable to put the entire responsibility of adjusting/adapting to the “mainstream” considering Romas exclusively as victims?
I have no solutions for this, but it would be necessary to consider a more complex field of forces. At the end however, it is ok to sympathize and support the “underdogs” and to oppose this oppressive and dumb neoliberist tide!
I knew this would have come, Marco 😉 I know you!! Anyway – I follow your line of argumentation and to a certain extent I do agree – you are talking from the liberal point of you: ‘my rights end where your rights start’. But this can work only if the rights of everybody are respected. The people in this particular case – the Vulturilor case – have not occupied those premises. They were living there rightfully, up to 2007/9 (if you haven’t done so, please read the full account of the story, linked at the beginning of my piece). After that moment, they have been living there without ‘papers’, waiting for something to happen. That ‘something’ was, of course, eviction. Now, even if we admit that ‘evictions’ are a right to be exercised by the owner of the estate, the public-politic has done nothing from 2009 to 2014 to find an alternative solution for those families. Five years: no alternative plans, no help, nothing at all. They just brought force and police the place one day in early Septmeber this year. And this is not right: it was the responsiblity of the public-politic to find an alternative solution. Why? Because most of these families cannot afford a rent in the private market, and they are entitled (by law) to receive help from the state. The public-politic, in this particular case, has done only the interest of the private (the new owner of the place). It has not done the interest of the whole public, which includes the Roma dwellers as well. This is why I insist on this notion of the public-politic here. They are accountable for what happened, because they had all the time to do something, and did not. The field of forces, as you corretly say, is complex but it is most and foremost unequally balanced. We should not forget this as well :)!