Letter + illustrations from a Romanian correspondent

December 24, 2018

In Blog Letters To Finkelstein

Dear Norman,

I am an illustrator living in Romania, “the country of all possibilities” (as we, ironically, call it). I draw mostly children’s books and I find refuge and solace in their colourful world.

In my country, everything, from factories to forest and land, has already been sold to western powers (in the public applause, while everybody shouted privatise, allow the least state intervention in anything). The discourse held after 89 and still being held, very much resembles what you say about using ones’ suffering as a club to justify others’ wrong doings. We suffered, it was bad, so now we must sell the factories to foreign investors. Everything Communists did was wrong, so we’ll destroy the social protection they built. And so on.

I haven’t heard for more than 20 years a single public voice from my country to say otherwise. That’s what our beloved intellectuals did, they defended tooth and claw Western capitalism interests.

And it worked. We were all waiting for the Americans to “come and save us”, after 89. We didn’t understand what was happening, so we were an easy prey. Just last year, people in the street still shouted when demonstrating against the party in power “down with the Communists”. (it has been almost 30 years since they fell!)

The middle class still defends the most neoliberal measures. Just some examples of these days. We have some of the worst salaries, and the worst ratio gain vs purchasing power in Europe, while companies’ profit almost tripled from 2008 to 2017. The party in power proposed rising a bit the minimum wage, but, surprise, everybody (except for the poor, who have no voice) was against it! Even my fellow colleagues. Poor multinationals (who are shamefully tax exempted, btw, and make the biggest profits in the country) will leave!

There is also a proposal for a mild tax reinforcement on banks. Of course, all the media shouts against it.

* I must say “middle class” here should be called “middle class wanna-be”, as our biggest expenditure is on food – 27,8% of what is gained, and someone gaining more than 800 euro per month is among the happy very few (the richest 1% of Romanians). We have the biggest population exodus in the world after… Syria.

When asked about the wrong doing of those in power, a lot of people still answer “well, true, but what can we do?”; or “if I were in his place, I’d have done the same thing”. Meaning, if I only were in the good place to stole and destroy a country, for my own small gain, I would do it. I have heard it many times… And it seems to be true. Factories were sold for a few pennies and closed, one after another. The great irrigation system the Communists created for the big planes from the south was all dismembered and sold for scrap iron. Peasants were given back parts of one of the last virgin forests of Europe. They sold the wood, piece by piece; it happened the same with the parts administrated by the state; now they got in turn many floods. The people, from those in power positions to the poor ones, were eager to sell everything, no matter the consequences for the others, even for the smallest profit.

Of course, we also have a handful of people designating themselves as “the left”, but I don’t expect them to change anything. For most of them, the main preoccupation seems to be who owns that territory, and simple people are just an abstract thing, just a good subject to write about.

I don’t see things changing here for the better anytime soon. A friend of mine, a very talented fellow illustrator told me she’s scared thinking how long her grandma lived, 85 years. She’s scared she’ll live that long too, as she thinks she’ll end up on the streets when she’ll be old, as she barely sustains herself now and it’s obvious she’ll have no pension then.

I sometimes wish I could lose myself in a drawing and disappear, as in a famous Chinese legend of a painter.

With all my admiration for everything you do,