The PM’s Witnesses

I travelled three days throughout the country with the PSD (Romanian Social Democrat party) campaign bus

The ringtone on my phone goes off screaming uniți salvăm Roșia Montană (song related to the 2013 Protests Against a Mining Project). Hello? I’m asked If I would like to join the campaign and hand out leaflets with the candidate Ponta (the Prime Minister 2012-2015) around the country. Of course I would! I change my ringtone and the phone’s wallpaper from Save Roşia Montană to Ponta for President. I shave my beard so I won’t get recognized. I’m ready for the trip.

“7 o’clock in the morning, at the People’s House in Bucharest. A white bus pierces the fog and approaches revealing it’s campaign stickers: Victor Ponta’s giant head alongside much smaller in size Romanian landmarks like monasteries, historical sites, Brâncuși sculptures and traditional folk-art patterns.

Youth members of the party start gathering up. 20 – 25 year old, wearing glasses with golden frames, watches with encrusted stones, thick earrings, ripped jeans, displaying enthusiasm. A twenty something year old, plump, wearing Ray Ban sunglasses, calls out names. Matei Bărbulescu? That’s me. Ok, go to the car and get a vest. A red vest with Vote Victor Ponta for President written in the front and 100 for ✓ictor Ponta on the back.

A Dacia Duster appears. It’s deputy Mihai Sturzu, the commander of this youth party. He’s tall and thin, with blond hair and blue eyes. His prestigious position as the boss of the Social Democrat Youth was once held by Mr. Ponta before he climbed up the political ladder.

He smiles often and coldly, his eyes command the ground. He tells us to move fast in order to get to Oradea ASAP. Make sure you don’t stop more than twice and be responsible with the pee-makers and the poop-makers. Those people host us in their town, it would be inappropriate to get there and go to sleep. We have to help them with the campaign. 

He gets back in the car, takes off and leaves us worry about the rest.

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Away, Victor Ponta’s ark grabs attention: some make the cross sign in pray while mumbling ‘God help us’, others swear at us, some take pictures, others cheer clapping their hands – amazing, man!

A bossy lad communicates the plan for the next three days: we stop in towns and villages, armed with electoral materials, we divide ourselves in two groups and we aim for PSD voters. He passes through the human corridor sharing handshakes and smiling at everyone, I love you all you know! His name is Radu Ilea and he’s the Vice president of Romania’s Road Assistance Association. Between 2010 and 2011 he was a Governmental Adviser, in the Department of Parliamentary Relations. He worked in press as well, for Etalon TV.

Colleagues say about him that he knows how to impose himself in a polite manner. And they’re right. He smiles like a brand new tooth brush, seems like the kind of guy who never gets mad. Blond with green eyes, almost always in a shirt and carefully combed hair. He talks slowly and calmly, and he’s always ready to listen to your point of view. He congratulates us when we’re doing the right thing and offers his understanding when we’re making mistakes. PSD is more than a party, it’s a big family. A family whose values are diligence, friendship, goodwill and discipline. He has a party phone through which we get an SMS warning us to get to work.

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After 10 hours, we get to Oradea. We’ve got to move fast, we’re already late. Mihai splits us in groups of four-five-six little ants, boys with girls. Some walk the streets of the old town center, but my team is sent throughout the building blocks, door to door as you say. Don’t get lost! Exchange phone numbers, you be lovely each other.

We walk on bad lit alleys and pick a block based on how many lights we see on. On the intercom: good day, PSD calling. We’re with flyers. Let us in. Taaaaaaam. Wow, it worked!

Half of us start from the top floor and half from downstairs. We knock on doors. People open with fear or curiosity. Good evening, we’re expecting you to vote on 2nd and 16th of November. An old lady seems delighted to see us. Vote whoever you want, but it’ll be best if vote for Victor Ponta! Here’s a pen. And a flyer! – I jump from behind. A colleague offers a lighter. What am I going to do with this, I don’t smoke. But he persuades her: No problem ma’am, it works for the stove as well.Aaa, it works with the stove! God bless.

Most of them are friendly, but some are going like: PSD, fuck off you mobs! Bam, they shut the door in your face. It smells like pies and I’m starving. Trrrring. A guy with glasses, wearing just the underwear and a shirt opens. Ah, yes, the party of the needy and helpless. Give me some more; we’re big family.

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We regroup and head towards the restaurant to eat. A colleague shares her experience: A lady gave me a rose, she also offered us coffee and food. I browse through the photos I’ve taken. Another colleague asks me if I’m Băsescu’s (Romanian President 2004-2014, Ponta’s rival) spy. No, I just like taking pictures. It’s a hobby, look at my new cool camera. She stares at it. Ah, so you’ll be the campaign photographer!

The waiter brings me a beer; I want to say cheers but everyone’s on water and soda. Radu laughs in sympathy, but it’s clear: a true party member is not a drunk. Mihai praises Radu for coordinating us so well, and Radu returns the praise saying we’re good listeners.

I devour my chicken with mashed potatoes, while we’re discussing about the other candidates. Macovei looks good online, Radu notices. Unfortunately for her, it’s a small bubble, she won’t get more than 5%. By the way, you know our target group is the retired peeps.

We do the follow-up. It’s good, most seemed convinced. I told a granny she can light her candles with the lighter. Hahahahaha.

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On the way to the hotel, Mihai stands up holding a mic: This is your captain speaking. I’ve retained your palinca (moonshine). I shall oil my body with it. Soon, we’ll get to the hotel where we’ll enjoy what we brought from home – books for reading and laptops for studying. He, he. It’s not my business what you do in private. Just use condoms, we haven’t got time to look for the after-pill. In other case we keep the child, but only if he’s with PSD. Start the timer, don’t be like bulls, five-ten minutes are enough. Don’t forget these three words, everyone: Victor Ponta President! Applauses.

At the hotel, I smoke a cig with Vali in a simple room – two beds, mini fridge and a broken Nei TV. This is child’s play. You should see how it’s on Capital’s sectors. After handing a leaflet you need to ask for a signature, for proof. My bosses are idiots, they fuck with our brains, it’s worse than at a daily job. One of them, who’s also a councillor, made us walk at two in the morning and remove opposition flyers out of mailboxes.

I’m drained and fall asleep instantly. I’m up at 6:45. At 7:00 I eat. We leave at 7:30.

Between Oradea and Arad I see only potholes, scruffy houses and leafless trees. In the coach, on radio can be heard a different language. Hey, this is not Hungarian land! I am proud to be Romanian!

We enter Salonta. Don’t forget the vests! We pass by a cemetery, Come on, let’s try here as well, maybe they’ll vote, Sorin says. And then silence, that’s not something to joke about. However, we meet a housewife standing her ground saying that Victor Ponta is not the best solution for Romanians. Four red wolves surround her. Laaaady, he doubled pensions and allowances. What else do you want, ma’am? He made that law!

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Sorin is the clown of the group. Always with a fancy looking hairdo. He’s blond, tall, well build, with a Johnny Bravo hair style. He shares flyers to pretty girls, enjoys wasting his cash on slot machines, but not too often, only when he feel lucky. He graduated from Industrial Group Dacia of Piteşti. He doesn’t really like Hungarians because they’re the problem.

We march on alleyways, from door to door. Needy people open up and receive the gifts. We pass by a school, kids gather at windows yelling: Blow me Ponta! A team member bitterly answers: these are surely Hungarians.

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We leave Salonta. Radu scuffles us in a friendly manner: We cannot be relaxed just because we did good and very good. In Salonta we forgot a box of lighters. This is unacceptable. Be nice to people, don’t behave like they have nothing and you give them something. In big towns cross on zebras and don’t smoke.

We get to Macea village, an old lady pedals away on a rusty bike: You’re with the Russians! Ponta sold the country! PSD Dolj Senator Fifor Viorel’s forehead shrivels, we’ve got to make a women organization for ourselves, they’ve got the devil within.

A constable watches us skeptically; look, Victor Ponta’s colonists arrived.

A truck stops in the middle of a crossroads. The mayor sends us there, come on guys, jump on them with pens and lighters. The man besides the driver lifts a bottle of Neumarkt, he looks at the mayor and taps it with his finger three times. Mayor answers: yes, yes, if you put stamp on the right spot you get 50% off in my shop.

We get in the campaign coach and leave. In front of me, two guys discuss about the latest Porsche model.

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Radio 21: The DNA prosecutors are searching the office… It cuts short, we make the call.

We enter Arad, a truly beautiful city, one of the churches has a perfectly round tower, like a ballon in a Jules Verne novel. A car tuned up with Victor Ponta’s face lurks around us; it’s got two powerful speakers through which a campaign message can be hear When the car shuts up, we yell: Victor Ponta for President!

I’m trying to give a pen to two skaters. Hi, we expect you… He cuts me short: don’t even dare! Mihai sees it and comes over:

– What’s your name?
– Matei.
– Matei, bravo. He taps my shoulder. Let’s be more concentrated on our focus group. Not just on it, but mostly.

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Mr. Ilie, a member of the local establishment, insists on serving us in his restaurant. The crystal chandelier is a flower bud ready to open it’s crystal petals, the lights have the shape of candles, the LCD’s got golden frames. Order whatever you like. A bottle of Jäger if you want. No, thanks, a coffee with chocolate. Ten minutes later Radu appears: The local party president awaits us, there’s no time, we’ve got to go. Hey, my order is not even here! That’s that, we have to go.

On the other side of the road, two little twelve year old girls lift their hands up and scream towards us: Iohannis! Iohannis! Iohannis!

– Boys, let us show them how it’s done. Two, three, and: Ponta for President!

We house ourselves in a three star fancy hotel, the best so far. In the room, Vali’s watching Antena 3. I switch on Digi – Macovei. Ouch, anything but her, please. I switch back on Antena 3, Ponta says that until 2018, when Romania turns 100, we’ll be in the Euro zone and seventh economy in it. Great!

I ask Vali to tell me how things went so far. Last week we did two cities per day, mostly through Ardeal region, that’s where we need to push. We’ve waited for Ponta an hour, we’ve scribbled letters on the road, in the cold (each member of the party holds a banner with a letter forming an electoral message). A minute before the Prime Minister got there we were told he won’t stop. So we threw the banners and waved instead.

I fall asleep.

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We wake up at 7:20. We grab food on the run.

Before Deva we get off straight in a market. It smells like barbeque, fish and burned rubber. Vegetables, fruit, meat, hard disks piled together, old brick phones, colored bath robes, toys and manele tapes.

A campaign car representing the candidate Dan Diaconescu is behind us. They spot us and instantly mobilize. Co-pilot’s scratchy words spurt out of the speakers louder.

I’m handing out a leaflet to an old lady hunched on her cane. Yes, yes, we vote with Ponta; he’s young, young is what we need dear. God bless us. A colleague jumps from behind, takes her wrinkled hand in his palm and says lovingly: I want you to know that I love you.

We leave behind electoral souvenirs and then leave. Bravooo, we’ve been tremendously efficient. We’re mommies and daddies.

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Europa FM radio: Valeriu Zgonea, the president of the Deputy Chamber has announced that Viorel Hrebenciuc quit Parliament. Hrebenciuc is an experienced man and does not want to be a talking point during the campaign, Zgonea said, who announced he will read Hrebenciuc’s resignation letter in next week’s session.

PSD Deva Headquarters stands between a pawn shop and a Euro Supermarket. Indoors, Victor Ponta watches over us from a frame, over a TV running on Antena 3. Next to Ponta’s frame we see the portraits of Ion Iliescu, Adrian Năstase and Mircea Geoană. A few elderly women sit at a long table. Mihai Sturzu says hi: Hello, I hope we’re not intruding your meeting. A lady in a puffy fur hat: Nooo, no worries. Mihai, I wanted to tell you something , I’ll request reimbursement for the heart medication I’ve been taking over the past ten years… You know what I mean? Băselu (i.e. Băsescu). I can’t live with him anymore, at the referendum I almost had three heart attacks.

We roam the city’s wide streets, an old geezer snaps at us: the bags, oyyyy, where are the bags? We’re on the next level: we stuff the gifts in bags, it looks better this way, and people enjoy the surprise. Sir, Iohannis (main adversary) will cut your pension! An elderly man is not convinced: Better like that than with the commies again!

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A girl from the group hurries and crosses on red light, a passer-by notices: are these the young who want to save us? Is this how they behave? We’re doomed! A local representative of the party frowns and then scorns her: Hey, do you want me to pull your ear? There are cameras everywhere, do you want to be on B1TV?

Five well-dressed fine-looking guys sit in front of a Macovei poster:

– Looks like she’s dead.
– Yup, she’s a dead mummy.
– Yup, she’s a dead mummy.
– Yeah, but Macovei is ugly too.
– Do you think anyone ever fucked her?
– Maybe one lost a bet or something…
– Shut up, I heard she’s a lesbian. Hahahaha.
– Listen boss, they say she beat up revolutionaries in jail.

One of them spits one the poster.

– Not even phlegm sticks on her.

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On a boulevard comprised of Auto Repair shops, Second-Hand shops, Chicken Meat, Pawn Shop, Fast-Food, Coffee Shop, Perfume Essence, Ruby Fashion, Romanian Bank, there’s a betting shop from where gypsy music can be heard. A man wearing a jean hat and white shoes walks out. Why so many of you! Tell me what did Ponta do, huh? Huh? Nothing. Heeeey, at least Elena Udrea jumped with a parachute!

One of Tariceanu’s campaign cars passes by. Some of us wave. Hey, it doesn’t matter he was on the right side of politics, he was a good Prime Minister. Success matters. We walk in a market that sells everything. A messy hair grandpa complains: Romania is not ready for Victor Ponta, a true democrat. That’s it, this is how people think. I had a fight with my nephew. He stares at me: He’s been through two university degrees in Norway and he says to me “anyone, but Ponta”, he’s not coming back if he wins; there we have it, not all skilled people think rationally. God help us.

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We pass by Alba-Iulia without stopping, small houses smoke wood out of their chimneys.

Radio 21: The Government blocks media… it cuts short again: Go on PSD’s website and you’ll see a lady from PDL party saying on stage while sitting next to Iohannis, “Vote Victor Ponta for President”. Share this and you’ll be in for a big surprise!

We get off in Sibiu. A girl warms us like sunshine: Come, kids, let’s not get off bored and sleepy. Here we’ve got to be full of energy! And stay in tight groups. The girl is Alina Cazanacli, State Sub secretary within the Ministry of Youth and Sport and President of Youth Conservatory Party, she’s Mihai Sturzu’s counterpart in the Conservative Party. Between her jeans and t-shirt, on the back, can be seen a Chinese scribbled tattoo. When she talks it’s like she’s sharing kisses. She’s got fake blonde with green eyes and a childish face.

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We split on tight alleys, towards markets. I walk towards an old man with hat holding a can of beer. Hey, Udrea is good. G-O-O-D for Romania. Grabs me by the arm, squints his eyes and goes on: But good for what? A granny lifts her grandson in her arms and walks away from the campaign red unit: Look, momma, what the communists do with our money; instead of building schools and kindergartens for you. Go away with your propaganda! A colleague hears her and tries to give her a reply in a similar manner: If you like Wurst Iohannis so much, vote so he remains your mayor.

On the other side of the road, Sorin holds his ground against two citizens:

        – Hey, I’ll tell you something. Everyone’s got a price.

        – That may be it, but not pens and calendars.

We’ve walked almost half an hour on empty streets. Everyone is drained, a colleague tells me he’s got 15% life left. That’s it. We leave for home.

It’s night, street lights fade in the night like a faint memory.

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National FM: Four people were detained for the Microsoft case. The Ministry of Work proposes rising allowances for the handicapped.

We stop for food at Subway. Alina explains Radu why she can’t come next week: People from our party become relatives now and again. We’ve got to go for the baptism of the kid of the party president of Vrancea county.

I got home with a stolen Victor Ponta jacket. Two days after, I left for Coloneşti, in Olt county to stand guard for democracy. The village is champion in electoral attendance – two years ago 184% of the population voted. I kind of ruined their plans, so the local mayor PSD’s Nicolae ‘Bulă’ Stan raided the polling station, threatened me and swore at me. But that is all he could do – because I watched over them, this year only 79% voted. I assume the real number stayed the same… anyway, on Sunday I’ll be there again as observer. God help us!

Text & Foto: Matei Bărbulescu

Small adjustments: Luiza and Vlad

Translation: Horațiu LupeaTiberiu Buzdugan, Ciprian Pop

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