I went to the Romanian Parliament – known in Romanian as The House of The People – with my Romanian girlfriend and her mother recently and I’ve never been struck by more of a sense of pathetic irony in my life. Its name suggests a place where people are free and the ownership of the building is in the hands of the people. This however, has never been the case. Since its construction in 1984 to the present day, this palace has never been a house of the people. It is a place where tyranny rules, preposterous opulence reigns and freedom is ground to dust.
On the paid guided tour – the only way an ordinary person can enter the building – the history of the palace is explained. The insanity and narcissism of Ceausescu, Russia’s puppet dictator during communism, is detailed. You learn about how they demolished homes and businesses in the area and forced relocation in order to construct it. This being because Russian communism was always eager to obliterate even the most fundamental ideals of Marxist communism. The palace itself is the second-largest government building in the world with an estimated worth of four to five billion USD at completion and a current value of five to six billion USD. It is plastered with gold, marble and chandeliers for the elite to enjoy.
It strikes you more as a place, which was intended to drain an economy and plummet a population into desolation than to provide a ‘house’ for a people. That however was a different time, and one would expect the situation in a modern-day democracy to be strikingly different.
Sadly though, communist tyranny, fear and intimidation live on in the House of the People.
My girlfriend’s mother works for the Romanian government and, as such, spoke to friends of hers about us leaving the tour to briefly eat something. A simple request, which was initially granted by the tour guide and her friend. However, quickly, paranoia and fear choked out all of the decency of people and we were assumed – without reason or cause – to be doing something wrong for no conceivable reason.
When we returned to claim our passports –which had been taken from us at the beginning of the tour – an arrogant despot security guard met us with anger and was intent that we should be punished for merely walking around The House of the People. At this point my girlfriend’s mother explained the situation. In true Russian communist fashion though, the truth is elusive when fear of reprisals are imminent and the tour guide and my girlfriend’s mother’s friends denied all knowledge of the agreement.
They refused to return our passports until my girlfriend wrote a statement declaring her crime – exercising her freedom of movement in, as the name suggests, a public space!
It is even more tragic when one considers the welcoming and open attitude of the Romanian people and the inherent freedom of the city of Bucharest.
Unsurprisingly most Romanians I spoke to beheld the building with a mix of distain and indifference and had never even been there themselves. But what else would you expect when you’re not welcome in your own ‘house’?