Traian Basescu is the mayor of Bucharest, a desperately poor Eastern European city with 3,000,000 citizens, out of which 2,700,000 earn under $300 a month and the rest are filthy rich, with about 400,000 vicious, violent, stray dogs, and uncountable number of potholes, and over 10,000 apartment buildings that look so much like each other they have to be numbered. (I live in the disheartening Nr. 122, Block 10A, Stairway B). He became the mayor during the last elections, when the rest of his party, run by a former Foreign Minister who has known for turning everything he touched into gold and then sending it to Switzerland, was wiped out of the ruling coalition in the elections and derogated to 5% of the vote. He is a former ship's captain in the Romanian navy, former Communist Party member, vulgar, opinionated, and loud. He wants to be president of Romania and there is a good chance he will get his because his boisterous law-and-order campaign appeals to the deepest envy of those who have been left out of the race to become mini-capitalists.
By far, the most disgusting thing this man has ever done was his first act in office. Most people who live in Bucharest buy their chocalate, soft drinks, cheap cosmetics, alcohol and cigarettes (all the necessities) from little kiosks which have sprung up between all the big ugly housing blocks. These kiosks were given temporary permits by the former mayor, Viorel Lis and the idea behind them was, that if you bought the kiosk from a company controlled by one of Mr Lis's relatives, then you would get the permit and be able to go into business on your own as a petit bourgeois selling chocolates from a tin booth. About 10,000 people came up with the money, and ever since then you can get a pack of Marlboros at 4 in the morning.
Along comes Basescu, winning the election on a law-and-order I-will-clean-up-the-streets campaign. Oddly enough, part of his campaign is funded by the local branch of a German Supermarket conglomerate, Rewe, which does business here under the brand name Billa. For some years, Billa has been worried that consumers choose to buy their produce directly from local farmers, who have a lot of semi-legal open markets throughout the city, to which they bring their goods by horse and wagon. Billa is unhappy about this, as this is money which good be going to nice, new Billa's which have about 600% more parking spaces than anyone uses. They have taken to putting up billboards where an ugly peasant holds up some rotten vegetables and says, "Fresh? Where do you think you are, Billa?. (To German/Austrian Noders: Boycott the bastards! And tell them why, too.) While the markets were operating on National licenses, and the mayor could do little to cut them down, the Kiosks operated with municipal permits: and they were sources of competition for Billa as well.
Payback came soon after the election: Basescu announced that as part of his drive to make Bucharest clean, he will knock down all of the kiosks, since the previous mayor had written into the permits the right to condemn the kiosks with 48 hours notice. Thousands of people were no threatened of being put out of work. Bucharesti society now divided into two types: the humanists (people have to make a living, don't they?) and the envious (do you know how much money Ion makes with that Kiosk of his? His family had TWO pigs for Christmas! I don't feel sorry for him, that's for sure). The kiosk owners went to war. Armed with bats, fire-hoses, boxes of Turkish biscuits, they spent four days holding off the police until Basescu personally showed up to drive a bulldozer through the kiosks, telling people "I don't care if you're in there or not, I'm knocking it down.".
That night, on a call in show, a young guest says to the Mayor, "Sir, I paid a bribe to the previous mayor, I admit it, but everyone had to. I put all the money I owned into that kiosk. I have nothing else. I don't see why I should be considered a law breaker. I earn a few hundred dollars from it which is more than most people, but I am an honest man. What do you have against me?" With the sickening smile of the petty tyrant, Basescu said, "You know what I think about you? I think you're a crook and if you give me the address of your kiosk I will knock it down tomorrow..
This is all probably a minor injustice compared to Burma or Inner Mongolia, but it still casts a pall on my view of human nature. All the kiosks within a five mile radius of the Billa supermarkets are gone, and Basescu keeps rising in the polls as Romania looks for a strong leader to lead them out of their economic crises. But what has Basescu done other than tear up the Kiosks? Not one thing. He tried to kill the stray dogs until Greta Garbo showed up to defend them. So there were people ready to save the dogs, but not one who was ready to help the kiosk owners...