Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Going Romanian

Before travelling to Romania last Saturday, I did not really know what to expect. My link to the country consisted of two drastically different worlds:
-theoneminutesjr worksops with Roma children and orphans
-glossy and ambitious arts magazine Omagiu which is often praised on the European level

Well, now being back, the picture is more or less the same - as paradoxical and confused. My first observation was the overcommercialisation of the public sphere and lack of urban planning in Bucharest. Bucharest has all the means to be a beautiful city due to its historical centre. But as we drove into the city, every single wall was plastered with massive advertisements of clothing, alcohol or electronics. People had sold their view to LG and Carrefour. In the midst of sadly deteriorating old buildings rose massive skyscrapers by foreign companies. My local hosts told me that many of the old buildings - including some churches - are at risk due to to heavy construction just next to them. Due to Bucharest's location in an earthquake area, the new buildings are built on wheels that allow them to survive an earthquake. But the trembling from the movement of a skyscraper or Inter-Continental hotel means the end of the church next to it.

Bucharest's hypercapitalism is in a perverse interplay with the Communist era. In the very centre of the city you have a building planned to be the radio headquarters, which was never finished and now houses homeless people and junkies - all this covered in massive advertisement of McDonald's. This tale of two worlds really makes me sick.

But the main souvenir of this era is the second-biggest building in the world, Parliament Palace on a hill right smack in the centre. The colossal nature of the building is something you only realise when you are told to walk to the entrance of the other side of the building and it takes you 20 minutes. Ceausescu's "Taj Mahal" was supposed to host all main institutions of the Communist administration. The building with 1100 rooms hosts currently the Parliament and the Museum of Contemporary Arts amongst others.

The MNAC museum was one of the many paradoxes. The glass elevators built on the wall of the Parliament Palace look like something borrowed from the Pompidou Centre. The scale and collection of the museum competes with any respectable capital in Europe. Braco Dimitrijevic's work demystifying and challenging concepts of art was both clever, witty and aestetically superb. The massive halls allow the viewer a clean art experience.

But at the same time I was often the only visitor in each floor. From the window of this distinguished member of the global art scene I could see garbage containers at its entrance and a massive unkept field right in the middle of the city. The terrace on the roof of the building was filled with German business men. Hardly anyone spoke Romanian.

Romania leaves me with a confused but in the end optimistic feeling. In a video workshop in the beautiful Northern city of Cluj I met young people optimistic for their country. They did not want to leave for Western Europe but strived for playing a part in modernising Romania. The attitudes of the teenagers are the best asset of any country.

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