What Britain can learn from Romania

Romania gets a bad rap here, associated as it often is with organised crime. In recent years around half a million Romanians have settled in the UK, making them the fourth largest group of foreign-born residents. But the irony is that as Romanians head to Britain in search of a higher standard of living, we Brits should really be booking our flights to Romania to remind us of how our country once was. Romania has everything: fascinating medieval towns, unspoilt countryside, vibrant major cities and a 150-mile coastline. There are even still horses and carts on the roads. But the appeal is more than that: it’s the spirit of the

The immigrant’s experience of Europe

Meet Ibrahim, from Syria. He fled Aleppo just before the bombs began to fall. A clean $4,000 in cash to a smuggler got him a fake passport and, voilà, a ticket to Europe – briefly in Greece, then in Germany (‘the people, they looked different’), now in Spain. Immigrant life was tough at first: the strange language, the alien norms, the overt racism. ‘He was not on their level. Just a refugee.’ Then a lucky break. He starred in a homemade porn video that went viral: ‘100 per cent real Arab bull.’ Next, he’s earning close to a seven-figure salary, owns a flash car and has women dripping off his

‘Collective’ shines a light on Romania’s deadly corruption problem

A gripping Romanian documentary has made history as the country’s first film ever to be nominated for an Oscar in the international category. But ‘Collective’, which is also shortlisted for best documentary feature at tonight’s ceremony, isn’t a source of national pride. In fact, far from it: the movie shines a spotlight on the country’s rotten healthcare system. It follows a team of investigative journalists as they uncover deep-seated corruption in the aftermath of a deadly nightclub fire in Bucharest in 2015, that killed 65 people. While 27 died on the night of the fire, many more died in the months afterwards. They lost their lives in bacteria-riddled hospitals that were not only

It’ll blow you away: Collective reviewed

When I recommend this documentary to people, telling them it follows the journalistic investigation into a fire that broke out in a Bucharest nightclub, killing 64, with the majority not dying of their injuries but later in hospital, their look says: ‘Not a chance.’ Their look says: ‘This film is not something I wish to see.’ I felt similarly, but trust me on this. It’s gripping. It’s electrifying. It’s explosive. It plays like a crime thriller yet with real consequences. There are revelations that will make you gasp. And it opens a can of worms. Literally. The fire broke out at Club Colectiv in 2015 when a band’s pyrotechnics ignited

Romanians are paying the price for the EU’s impotence

Romania’s democracy is looking increasingly fragile. Last week, tens of thousands of people gathered on the streets of Bucharest to vent their anger at the Social Democrat (PSD)-led government. The protest was organised and attended by many from Romania’s large diaspora; thousands are estimated to have returned for the demonstration. The response from police was furious: water cannon, teargas and truncheons were used indiscriminately. Journalists and unfortunate tourists were caught up in the melee. This was the show of force that many feared would come, following 18-months of mass protests against a government many believe is moving in a sinister direction. Romania, it seems, is Europe’s new illiberal state. The EU

Face time | 14 September 2017

The inimitably pukka voice of Jacob Rees-Mogg echoed through Radio 4 on Thursday morning. He was not, though, talking about nappies, nannies or even Brexit; his topic instead was death masks and specifically that made of his father William, the newspaper editor and vice-chairman of the BBC, who died in 2012. Not long after Rees-Mogg had passed from this life, his facial features were immortalised in wax and silicon rubber by Nick Reynolds, godson of Ronnie Biggs and son of Bruce Reynolds (whose names you may recall from the great train robbery of August 1963). In Death Masks: The Undying Face (produced by Helen Lee), Reynolds talked us through the

Tall story

‘Everything is slow in Romania,’ said our driver Pavel resignedly, and, as it turned out, he was not exaggerating. He was taking us on a trip of about 150 miles, from Sibiu to Targu Jiu, to see the sculptures of Constantin Brancusi. Taking the faster route, we set off a little after 9 a.m. and arrived at about 2 p.m., stiffer, wearier and more comprehending of the reasons why, although Brancusi’s ‘Endless Column’ is among the most celebrated works of modernism, almost nobody — in the London art world, at least — has seen it. My inquiries suggested that an intrepid Tate curator had made it, but that was more

A barren prospect

In many ways this is a very old-fashioned novel. Jerome is 53, and a lacklustre professor at Columbia; his wife, Sylvie, 35, is a former topless dancer and aspiring film-maker. Sylvie has a dog but wants a baby. Together they will cross the former Soviet bloc looking for a child of their own, despite Sylvie having already had three abortions: Romania is their chosen finale, where, of course, orphans are two-a-penny. There is much to admire in it; but the clever bits aren’t funny and the funny bits aren’t clever. The novel is littered with references to continental theorists. Blanchot, Lefebvre, Baudrillard, Deleuze, Guattari, Lacan all show up — poor

Patience on a monument

As a food writer Patience Gray (1917–2005) merits shelf-space with M.F.K. Fisher, Elizabeth David and Jane Grigson. Fleeing from the dreary predictability of her Home Counties upbringing, Gray became, among other things, the first women’s page editor of the Observer; co-author of a bestselling cookery book (the 1957 Plats du Jour with Primrose Boyd); and, nearly 30 years later, sole author of a classic, the 1986 Honey from a Weed. She was also a jewellery maker; textile designer; student at the LSE, where one of her tutors was Hugh Gaitskell; an intrepid traveller; research assistant to H.F.K. Henrion, one of the designers of the Festival of Britain; something or other

Warrant for alarm

A concerted effort is under way to make sure that, when it comes to the European Arrest Warrant, Brexit does not mean Brexit. The Police Federation, for example, will hear no ill spoken of the system. And the same might be said of the Prime Minister, who as home secretary praised it to the skies. As she put it in October 2014, without the European Arrest Warrant, ‘British criminals would be able to hop on to the Eurostar or fly to Spain, safe in the knowledge we wouldn’t be able to get them back to prosecute them.’ Without it, the UK would become ‘a honeypot for all of Europe’s criminals

My big fat Gypsy fortune

In his latest documentary for the This World series, the Romanian film-maker Liviu Tipurita could have been forgiven for treading carefully — and not just because it meant him entering the world of organised crime. After all, his previous film in the series, the uncompromisingly titled Gypsy Child Thieves, was ferociously denounced by Roma groups for showing how some Roma parents send their children into European cities with strict instructions to beg and steal — the charge being not that this was necessarily untrue, but that it might confirm ugly prejudices. So how would Tipurita tackle the equally awkward facts behind The New Gypsy Kings (BBC2, Thursday)? The impressive answer

The ejection of Romania from Eurovision is shameful

On Eurovision night, the best and most heartfelt performances always come from the countries imprisoned behind an Iron Curtain not so long ago. Since Romania joined the comity of Eurovision in 1994, its entries have always impressed. It has always known that Eurovision is a rare chance for the peoples of Europe – and its environs – to come together, drink vodka and laugh with (and sometimes at) each other’s entries. The sheer effort that these tiny countries go to, as they show themselves to the world’s largest television audience for a non-sporting event, is testimony to the awesome soft power of Eurovision. Which is why it is scandalous that the European Broadcasting

The rarest blend of white and gold

This unusual book is beautifully written, produced and illustrated, but its subject — the small Slender-billed curlew — is strangely absent. In his ‘introduction to a ghost’, Horatio Clare explains that, when he was commissioned to tell the story of the western world’s rarest bird, it did, at least officially, still exist. This grail of the birding world, which he has never seen, he describes as a beautiful creature, a species of curlew plumaged in a blend of whites and golds, with dark spots on the flanks, slim and graceful of form, more refined than the plump common curlew, with a thinner down-curving beak which makes it look as though

Portrait of the week | 5 November 2015

Home The all-party Foreign Affairs Committee urged David Cameron, the Prime Minister, not to press ahead with a Commons vote on British air strikes against Islamic State positions in Syria. At its conference, Scottish Labour adopted a policy of opposition to Trident renewal, though Kezia Dugdale, its leader, remained in favour, while the Labour party in the United Kingdom as a whole favoured retaining the nuclear deterrent, though its leader, Jeremy Corbyn, opposes it. Britain was smothered in fog, except in Wales, where temperatures on 1 November reached a record 22˚C. A man had his ear bitten off in a pub in Aberystwyth on Halloween. Shaker Aamer, a Saudi citizen

Lame duck unleashed – Bulgarian in London asks ‘what next’ on US immigration

London Careening through the city in a minicab last night, en route to a pub in Bloomsbury that had promised to screen US election results, the mustachioed driver confirmed my accent and inquired: ‘So, what will happen after the elections?’ I issued the run-down: left-ish Democrats lose control of the Senate to right-ish Republicans, who also expand their House majority. The Republican gains won’t be enough to have too much fun (for instance, re-reforming health care) without meeting the President‘s veto pen; but should prove enough to justify more executive action from the White House, bypassing Congress in areas such as immigration and border control, if Mr Obama’s pre-election promises can

Celebrations of song and humanity

‘All my life, always and in every way, I shall have one objective: the good of Hungary and the Hungarian nation.’ Ask any musician for a one-sentence summary of Béla Bartók (1881–1945) and they will probably tell you that he is Hungary’s national composer — a musical modernist who passionately championed his nation’s folk music tradition. David Cooper’s new biography seeks both to enrich and complicate that statement, questioning the definition of musical ‘nationalism’ in a country of such pronounced ethnic heterogeneity, at a time when borders were being drawn and redrawn, peoples created and destroyed, across Europe. The portrait that emerges is of no mindless patriot, celebrating his nation

Former Communist spy: KGB created Catholic liberation theology

The respected Catholic News Agency has published an interview with Ion Mihai Pacepa, a former general in Romania’s secret police who was one of the Eastern Bloc’s highest-ranking defectors in the 1970s. In it, he says that Soviet Union – and the KGB in particular – created liberation theology, the quasi-Marxist movement that flourished in Latin America from the 1960s to the 1990s and is still a powerful influence on the Catholic Left. The interview provides fresh evidence of the infiltration of liberation theology by Russia – a subject Catholic liberals would much rather not discuss, just as they don’t want to know about the heavy Soviet investment in CND. But first, some

Actually, Bob, they do know it’s Christmas (we checked)

Yeah, Bob, they know The answer to the rhetorical question posed by the Band Aid single, ‘Do they know it’s Christmas?’, is broadly yes. Christmas Day is a public holiday everywhere in Africa except Mauritania, Western Sahara, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Somalia, although countries have widely differing customs associated with the event. — In Liberia, one of the Ebola-affected countries, it more resembles Halloween, where children go from door to door dressed as demons and begging for presents. — The two countries where Bob Geldof’s line might be appropriate are Ethiopia, the target of the first record in 1984, and Egypt. Both celebrate Christmas, according to the Julian calendar,

Portrait of the week | 20 November 2014

Home David Cameron, the Prime Minister, said: ‘Red warning lights are once again flashing on the dashboard of the global economy.’ He then offered £650 million to a ‘green climate fund’. In a speech in Singapore, Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England, said that fines for banks over rigging foreign exchange rates showed that ‘it is simply untenable now to argue that the problem is one of a few bad apples. The issue is with the barrels in which they are stored.’ Official figures showed that the number of British Army reservists has been boosted by a recruitment drive in the past year from 19,290 to 19,310. Friends of the

The Spectator at war: The scale of neutrality

From The Spectator, 17 October 1914: King Carol of Roumania died suddenly at the Castle of Pelesh, Sinaia, on Saturday last, in his seventy-sixth year, and is succeeded by his nephew, Prince Ferdinand, born in 1865, who married in 1893 Princess Marie, daughter of the Duke of Edinburgh. King Carol, as a Hohenzollern, undoubtedly cast all his weight into the scale of neutrality; he was even credited with the remark that he would sooner abdicate than consent to his country’s taking the field against Germany. And the weight of his authority was greatly enhanced by the gratitude of his subjects, who recognized in him the founder of the kingdom and