By Eduard Popa
On Friday night Romania was struck by one of its biggest tragedies in recent memory. During a rock concert at the Colectiv Night Club in Bucharest, more than 400 people, most of them young people or teenagers, were trapped by a fire caused by a pirotehnic show gone wrong. At the time of writing, 31 people are dead, tens more are in a critical condition in Romanian hospitals, others still suffered minor injuries.
The levels of empathy amongst Romanians in the wake of this tragic event are, at least in part, based on the realisation that it could have happened to any of us. It could have been us, our friends or family members that lost their lives. Any of us could decide to go to a club, with the intent of having fun, and not come home. The current generation of young Romanians has this past week found itself faced, for the first time, with terror and death and has reacted wonderfully. They have showed solidarity, respect for human life and love for other people, who in most cases, they do not even know. If there is one positive we can draw from these events it is the manifestation of a widespread respect and empathy for all the beautiful human beings, who shared with us this common and fundamental experience of being human. This is how we honour those we lost in Colectiv on Friday.
Of course, as time goes on, the Colectiv victims will become a tragic memory and for the rest of us the flow of life will continue to chart its winding course. If we are lucky we can ask ourselves what can we learn from this tragedy? Are we capable of harnessing the outpouring of solidarity we have seen this week in order to pass on the empathy imprinted in our hearts and minds as a result of this incident? Or do we grieve a while and eventually return to our usual uninterested selves?
Providing safety for young people in night clubs is just one of Romania’s social problems. Does this young generation have the ability, drive and desire to do more for people that are living behind the line of poverty. Will the example of those such as the cleaning lady that died in Colectiv, leaving behind five children who are now orphans, spur us to act? Will we do more to ensure there is a future for those children whose parents are impoverished and can not send them to school? This is just one of the many social problems and responsibilities facing our generation of Romanian youth.
Due to the nature of my studies and my work as a foreign policy journalist, I am naturally drawn to those issues on which we can collectively focus our seemingly revived empathy and solidarity: one of which is the refugee crisis.
Until this unique moment, perceptions among Romanian people of refugees was mixed at best. Even though many are aware of the Syrian, the Afghan or the Iraqi War and of the emergence of terrorism in the guise of groups such as ISIS, Romanian people largely feared the refugees. This fear took many forms, a fear of the responsibility for feeding them, housing them or more generally what to do with them. Scared by the fact that many fleeing desperate conditions are Muslim and that, in time, they could affect the religious status quo in Romania, a Orthodox country which is among the most pious in the EU. The most prominent fear, one not limited to Romania, is that amongst those human beings searching for a better life, terrorists are hiding, waiting to strike a country that is mostly peaceful.
For those who still harbour such fears, and have suffered as I and others have in the wake of the Colectiv tragedy, I have a message. Actually, it’s more of a story. Imagine that somewhere close there is a country similar to 1980’s Romania, where people are actively protesting and campaigning to remove a dictator. Then imagine that instead of stepping down, the dictator starts bombing the people. After four years of fighting, some of the rebels become attracted to anyone offering what look like solutions, including the illusions of extremist organizations. Others try to run away as far as they can from the conflict. Where could people who want more rights go? Russia? China? Saudi Arabia? Of course they would be primarily attracted to those prosperous and human rights loving states and transnational entities such as the EU. The EU too, however, has demonstrated its fear of them, especially the Eastern countries in the block which have had their fair share of refugees and migrants in recent history. These refugees stay on the roads, starving, exhausted and followed by the nightmare they left behind in that place they used to call home.
After the events of the past week, can we yet fathom that the refugees currently fleeing Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan have had to suffer a Colectiv type of tragedy on an almost daily basis? Whether such a tragedy as we have experienced in Romania comes in the form of a bomb sent by Assad’s tanks, an execution carried out by ISIS or even a military strike by Russia or the United States, all those fleeing to the plains of Europe are victims. Victims of multiple and continuing tragedies like the one Romania suffered last Friday.
Imagining this, I hope that we, the young people of Romania, can become more conscious of and compassionate about the suffering that these fellow human beings have and are experiencing. I sincerely hope that Romania begins to approach this issue with a kind heart and a clear mind. Whether we listen to Rammstein or Nancy Ajram, if we are Christians, Muslims, Jews or Buddhists, whether we are Romanians, Syrians, Iraqi or Kurds, we all feel pain, we all experience loss, we all love and wish to be loved, we are all human. Humanity must strive to overcome all kinds of terrorism, the first step of this struggle is to win the war against hatred and apathy. We can make a real start by remembering and promoting the sense empathy we as Romanians feel in this painful moment.