Romania, Colectiv: The Tragedy that Started a Revolution

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You’ve probably heard already everything about the tragedy that struck Romania the Friday before Halloween. It was a truly horrible and unbelievable moment: a well known club in Bucharest, named Colectiv, burned down during a band’s album launch party.

Everything happened extremely fast inside – some fireworks that were used on stage ignited the soundproofing materials of the club and in less than a minute the entire club was on fire, with extremely toxic smoke filling the room. There were a ton of people in the club, which only had one exit (the second was, for unknown reasons, shut). Over 150 people were injured and 27 died in the club.

Later on, the death toll rose to 48 due to complications caused by the burns and at the moment I’m writing this, there are still people in critical condition. Even more, even those who managed to escape the club unharmed are now starting to feel the side-effects of the smoke they inhaled, the extremely toxic smoke that affected their lungs and is now causing complications in some. In other words, the fire at Colectiv resulted in one of the biggest tragedies in Romania in recent times and it was the tragic last drop that the population needed.

A young man mourning the dead in front of the Colectiv club
A young man mourning the dead in front of the Colectiv club

As you probably know, Romania is still not the best country when it comes to its political class. Even though things are moving in the right direction and many big names are now in jail, with even more prosecuted, most of the political class in Romania is considered corrupt and not interested by the general good of the population. The prime minister at the time of the Colectiv fire, Victor Ponta, was already involved in a lawsuit that claimed that he received illegal money – but, even though the population wanted him to resign, he didn’t want to, claiming that he was innocent and there was no reason for him to resign. This put Romania in a bad light, with German politicians recently refusing a visit of Ponta because he was involved in this lawsuit.

Everything was a bit of a mess and the people were already disappointed and ready to explode. And then, the tragedy at Colectiv followed. It all happened extremely fast. Facebook was flooded by information from people who were there. The televisions covered everything and presented the incredible stories of the survivors and their saviors. Doctors and nurses, people with tens of years of work in the field, were crying and were feeling the pressure of what happened there. Most of the people who died there were very young… kids died in the doctors’ arms, people were screaming, the smell was horrible, it was shocking for us at home – I can only shiver thinking of what the people who were actually there saw and felt.

colectiv romania 02

At first, the Romanians managed to create an instant response thanks to Facebook. Since Romanians state hospitals are not prepared for such tragedies and state hospitals rarely have the medicine required to care for the sick, donations started to flow: private clinics and hospitals started to donate medicine, money were raised by Romanians and everything that was needed to give the injured ones a chance for a new life was achieved thanks to the unprecedented unity of the people. Pretty soon, there were catering firms which were delivering food for free to the doctors and survivors or their friends, taxis were offering free rides to friends and family and even free flights were offered by companies for family members of those involved in an accident… and much more. It was this tragedy that proved that we are still human and humans are beautiful. It’s just saddening that we need such a tragedy to show how beautiful we really are. For example, a lady that was paralyzed from the waist down was so impressed by the problems the people caught in the fire were that she announced that she will donate the skin on her legs to the injured people. “I don’t need it anyway,” she said. There were a ton of things like this that could bring tears to your eyes.

And then, just a couple of days after the tragedy happened, the revolution started. Pretty soon, people realized that it was the poor leadership and the corrupt political class that were at the root of this horrible accident. The owners of the club that burned down apparently shouldn’t have had an authorization for even running the place. They only had an affidavit in place that they meet all the requirements to run the club. They had authorization for something like 100 people (I don’t really know the exact numbers), but there were reports of up to 400 in the club at the time of the fire. They should’ve had a special permit for the concert, but they had none. Everything was wrong there and initially the politicians and the offices tried to cover for each other. But the thing was too big to just be forgotten.

Youngsters protesting
Youngsters protesting

So the protests started. On November 3rd, the first protest saw a record crowd in Bucharest – over 15,000 people asking for the demise of the government and the complete change of the political class. In the following days, all cities in the country had larger or smaller protests, with over 20,000 people protesting at a time in the country. It was the final drop and the people could not take it anymore. The protests were peaceful though – and all the opinion leaders (TV personalities, celebrities and such) begged for peacefulness. And that is what they got: we had educated, middle class, young people protesting. It was the first time when so many young people united for a cause: that of changing Romania.

And they managed to do it! Immediately, many big clubs in Bucharest announced that they’ll be shutting down, some of them indefinitely, others until they are 100% safe for the people… The prime minister announced his resignation, the government fell, the mayor of the district in which the Colectiv club was running resigned (and he’s now under arrest, charged for the tragedy), but the protests continued. People want a technocrat government and members of the civil alliance (again, mostly celebrities) were called in a meeting with the president to try and sort things out. Hopefully they will – but one thing is clear: the young people living in Romania finally decided to do something.

Many parents brought their kids to the protests
Many parents brought their kids to the protests

Until the latest presidential elections when Klaus Iohannis managed to defeat Victor Ponta with the help you the younger people in the country, election results were decided by the old people and those living in villages. Mostly uneducated, they were considered easy to bribe: they usually received bags with goodies (food and other similar things) from politicians and in return, they voted for them. It was illogical: they only got something in return every 4 years, when elections came, but apparently that was enough for them. Well… the educated, the younger people decided that it was time for a change and they managed to bring the underdog Iohannis as a president. And now they managed, pushed by this horrible tragedy, to take the next step.

If Romania really manages to get a techncrat government, everybody considers it as a great win for the country. Even if they don’t manage to get there, the removal of corrupt politicians is going at a nice pace (as I said earlier, the anti-corruption office already has a ton of lawsuits and people arrested and keeps on going) and the political class is finally changing. Extreme measures and penalties are now being proposed (like no immunity for our politicians and life sentences for corruption) and hopefully these will scare them away.

Changing the country at a young age
Changing the country from a young age

At least the people who died and those who were scarred for life during the Colectiv fire didn’t die in vain. They are martyrs, even though they died without knowing that and without any thoughts of starting a revolution when they went to the club to watch their favorite band on what seemed to be a regular Friday night. We can only pray for them now and we can only hope that no similar tragedies will ever happen again.

10 COMMENTS

  1. Calin: Great minds think alike;-) I was going to ask you about this situation and you beat me to it. This is a very well thought out article which gives a real incite to the current political issues in Romania. Thankfully, the people expressed their discontent peacefully–not like it would be done here (USA) with freakin’ guns a blazing!!!
    Does President Iohannis pick the new PM, or is he/she elected? (I have enough trouble trying to keep up with the political three-ring circus, here in the USA.) Does President Iohannis still have the confidence of the people, or is he, too, on shaky ground?
    I, like you, can’t imagine what those poor young people trapped in the Colectiv must have gone through. There are no words.
    I hope things get better–hopefully your next article will be back to your normal “life in Romania.”
    Take care,
    ~Teil (USA)

    • Yes, I hope too that the next article will be back to the regular schedule 🙂

      The president still has the confidence of the people, fortunately. He also went outside with the protesters, talked to them, which helped a lot. At the moment, the Prime Minister was named by the President, but he’s a temporary one. It’s not clear if there will be elections or not – most likely, there will be some. If not, it will be the President who will have to name the Prime Minister, but he or she will need the vote of the Parliament. Iohannis doesn’t have the support of the majority of the parliament, so this could drag a little while… and this is why we all believe that there will, actually, be elections.

  2. This is a shocking tragedy and my heartfelt sympathies and condolences go out to all the victims and their families. I have heard many bad things about the Romanian health care system, but as far as I can tell, the medical personnel and hospitals are doing an excellent job. I guess Romania has come a long way. The last time there were big demonstrations against the government in 1990, the Iliescu government brought thousands of miners to Bucharest to beat the protesters senseless, killing many. Correct me if I’m wrong, but the main engine behind President Iohannis’s election were Romanians living in the “diaspora” throughout Europe who voted in the Romanian embassies. It’s not clear to me how they can influence the parliamentary elections if they live outside the country. Although I live in Japan, I can still vote in American local elections because I am allowed to stay registered at my last American address. I just read that the drummer of the band playing in the club that burned has died to bring the death total to 45. Did other band members escape the blaze?

    • Hello Stuart,

      The engine for President Iohannis were indeed the people living in other countries, but it was not just them who decided on the outcome. It was the way they were treated that made people in Romania go and vote to make sure that never happens again. (Everything that could’ve been done to slow them down from voting was done, apparently by the government back then who knew that the entire diaspora was against Ponta).

      Regarding the miners brought in by Iliescu… there’s now a trial on his name for his deeds and he’s accused of crimes against humanity.

      I didn’t know that the drummer passed away… it’s really difficult to watch TV nowadays because there’s too much grief too handle, too many tears. However, since he passed away, it means that there’s just one of the original members still alive.

  3. It’s nice to see that changes will come about from such a horrific tragedy. It is so terrible that lives mean so little to all these money hungry businessmen and politicians. I am so glad the protests have been peaceful so far, quite a change from the old days. My heart goes out to all the affected people, such a shame.

  4. My heart goes too Sad of hearing this terrible accident serounded by youth people who lost their lifes for little fun. Asking God to have mercy and fast recover to those who still under treatment.

  5. Calin: Where are you?! I am going into withdrawals!;-) Have you gone to Syria to help topple Bashar al ASSad? (He needs to GO! I am surprised someone in a suicide vest hasn’t already given him a great big bear hug and kiss;-) Hope for another post soon! Your ami, ~Teil

    • Hey, Teil! I’ve actually been to Brasov for a short while and met a wonderful family who just moved to Romania from the US. I’ll have the story about that and more shortly. No trips to Syria for me 🙂

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