Editor’s Note: The following article was submitted via email. The author would like to stress that no one is implicated in this article, not even themselves.
The Vampires of Romania
by Barabule Cutarescu
I am writing a manifesto and there’s nothing I want, and yet I’m saying certain things, and in principle I am against manifestos, as I am against principles.
-Tristan Tzara, 1918
When most people think of Romania, they imagine vampires. I’m not a vampire, but when a stranger finds out I’m Romanian, they say the word vampire. Always. Sometimes I’m the first to bring it up. It’s easier. Better to get it over with rather than wait, sort of like I’ve done here, in this first paragraph of this stupid article. Just so you know, I’m not going to be mentioning vampires after this. I want you to have a different perspective on Romania, so instead of seeing me as a vampire, think of me as a potato, a Moldovan potato, a barabule. That’s my first name. And if you want to know what my last name means, I’ll just tell you it’s such-and-such. That’s the truth.
It’s not that easy being called a vampire. It’s so insidious, I’m already breaking my rule. Years ago, when I was living in Basque country, my squat-mates and I were busy stealing electricity from the municipal grid when they started saying the word vampiro. At the time, my Spanish wasn’t so good, but I definitely understood vampiro. They said it over and over, as if I couldn’t hear them, so I climbed off the electrical pole, threw down my tools, then told them to go fuck themselves. Neither of them knew why I was so angry, they tried to calm me down, and in my broken Spanish, I told them to stop calling me a vampire. Imagine how I felt when they laughed in my face. I was on the verge of exploding when one of them took a small white cylinder out of his pocket and told me this was the vampiro. An electrical socket, or some shit like that. I guess some people call this racial paranoia.
Here’s where it gets strange. If you went for a walk in Iași, a city in eastern Romania, you’d probably think most of the people passed for white. If a Romanian went for a walk in Paris, they’d probably pass for white, at least until they opened their mouths. Once that thick accent comes out, that random white person is suddenly a fucking vampire Romanian, ready to pick your pockets and steal your job. In France, in the UK, I know dozens of Romanians have been beaten, stabbed, worse. Why? I’m not really sure, but I think it has something to do with racism and the fact that stupid-ass white people think Roma and Romanian are the same thing. Since they can’t tell the difference, they hate us equally, although lately the British press seems to think Romanians have a good work ethic even though we’re not white and steal everyone’s job. Also, before I forget, most Romanians hate the Roma people inside Romania and are also racist pieces of shit. In Romania, a Romanian can be racist to a Roma. Outside of Romania, a Romanian can be savagely beaten by racists for not being white. You see how confusing this is? It gets worse. I’m about to tell you about my childhood.
I, the Moldovan potato, Barabule Cutarescu, was born in a small village within 90 km of Iași. I will tell you almost nothing about my childhood. My village was like all the others, part of the endless expanse of peasants that still stretches all the way east into Moldova, Ukraine, and Russia. In the warm months, I slept in a small house with walls made from straw, mud, and shit. You think I’m joking, or maybe this method of construction disgusts you, but in both cases you’re wrong. It’s basically free, so if you like going to Home Depot to buy your stupid kitchen lights, I leave you to go fuck yourself. This is all of my childhood you deserve to know. There were chickens, grapes, a lot of hills, snow, the Church, a radio, a well, horses, wagons. And communism. There was that, too. I was born into communism.
My mother and father still think communism was a better system, especially in the village. Everyone had food, everyone was housed, and corruption was out in the open. Back then, corruption was just called the state. The transition to capitalism wasn’t this orgy of freedom and democracy you might imagine, at least not in the village. We might have lost some communist propaganda from our walls, but the Church still stood in the same place and its bells still tolled every Sunday. This might not vibe with your DSA pseudo-communism, but you should know the truth about the Romanian Orthodox Church: it was backed by the communist government as an effective way of keeping us in line. Straight up. It’s still keeping us in line, apparently. I’d like to claim to be some grand exception, but whenever I’m in the village, I go to church every Sunday with my parents. For a country of vampires, we sure love to stare at crosses. We also love picking the wrong side, but I’ll get to that later, or soon enough, I can’t tell.
If you take a walk around the city of Iași, you’ll probably see a lot of kings. Not living ones, but statues of dead Moldovan men wearing crowns and holding swords. These guys ruled for a while, hundreds of years even, and some of them helped old school vampiro Vlad Drăculea fight the Turks. There was no Romania, not until the 1800s, not that you give a shit. Basically, the vampires of Transylvania teamed up with us Moldovans, allied with the Wallachians, and fought the Ottoman Empire until eventually there was a united Romania. It didn’t last very long, this Kingdom of Romania, less than a century, and the first mistake was World War I. Our wise king appointed by god allied his kingdom with the Russian Empire just over a year before the 1917 revolution took down the Czar.
Before all that, the benevolent arms dealers and bankers from the west loaded up Romania like a piñata, only it was bullets and coins instead of candy. As soon as the Czar was toast, the fucking Germans began smashing our little piñata and big daddy Russia wasn’t there to defend us, so we were fucked, only then we weren’t. Probably because our wise king was chosen by god, the Americans entered the war like stupid angels and left us on the winning side. We loved the idiot Americans so much after that we joined them in fighting the Bolsheviks, but that didn’t last for long. After getting smashed like a piñata for the thousandth time, the people of Romania decided to take out their frustration on the Roma and Jews. And by take out their frustration, I mean they turned into a bunch of disgusting fascists and murdered hundreds of thousands in death camps.
If you walk around the city of Iași, you might not see any vampires, but you can see charming one or two story houses with ornately carved support beams holding up the roof corners. You might smile at this craftsmanship, you might imagine it’s some Romanian custom, but you’d eventually discover this is the common style for old Jewish houses. If you knocked on the doors to these houses, you’d find a Romanian wondering what the fuck you wanted. I’m sure there might be an exception, but I’d say there isn’t a single Jewish person in these old houses, at least not in Iași, the city that spawned the Iron Guard.
I might not have mentioned this group of scumbags if that dumb, ugly Australian white man hadn’t shot up those mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand and then claimed affinity with Romanian fascists. I might have just skimmed over the Iron Guard if those little worms in Tennessee hadn’t spray-painted their symbol in front of a burning black church. Now a bunch of stupid Americans know about the Iron Guard, so I might as well tell you about them. They’re the reason there’s no Jews in Iași. They killed them all. Long story short, they organized pogroms against the Jews and Roma, murdered thousands of people, loved the Church, and were stupid fucking pawns of western capitalists, just like all the other fascists. Their pseudo-spirituality was a cover for how idiotic they were, and all their bright ideas led Romania into the Second World War where its fucking piñata got smashed real good. Before I get to that, just know this is what I mean about most Romanians being a bunch of racist assholes. But you know what the crazy part is? We’re not even white, and it gets worse. Just wait until I start making gulag jokes.
It’s really fucking pathetic how most of Romania came to hate the Jews. When the king sided with Russia during WWI, suddenly every Romanian screamed in joy, praised the Czar, and decided Russia was the greatest Empire on earth. For some reason, the Romanians started to believe the Czar’s lies about the Jews and read The Protocols of the Elders of Zion as if it hadn’t been written by the Czar’s secret police to justify pogroms. I guess people were as stupid back then as they are now, and I doubt many Romanians even read the Protocols, they just listened to the dim-wits in the Iron Guard read it aloud. According to them, a Jewish-Bolshevik conspiracy was knocking at their gates, and if all the Jews and Roma weren’t killed, Romania would suffer the same fate as Russia. If it hadn’t been for the red Bolsheviks, poor daddy Russia wouldn’t have abandoned little baby Romania to the Germans in WWI, so obviously there must be a Jewish conspiracy at work. Thanks to the wise leadership of the Iron Guard, a horrible genocide transpired across Romania, followed by the fiery, bloody destruction of almost everything in the country. Big daddy Russia invaded after that, only now they were communist. As the hammer and sickle rose over Romania, those fascist idiots who survived the war gazed in horror at the army of Slavic men marching down their roads. None of them were Jewish.
I’ll be totally fucking honest. I can’t really get worked up about the communists deporting those nasty fascists off to Siberia. I’m not sad when I think about the communists seizing the property of people who cheered as Jews and Roma were slaughtered. When I imagine all those fascist morons forced to dig canals and split rocks, I honestly feel nothing. If anything, it served them right. While all of that was going on, my family was in the village, only we’d been thinned out by war. My grandfather lost five siblings, my grandmother lost three, but all of the survivors were so simple and poor none of the communist overlords could find any excuse to fuck with them. So my grandparents got together in the early 1950s, once the great famine was over, and then my mother was born in one of those shitty little huts I told you about. I always give my grandparents credit for not having children during the famine, when the Red Army had eaten everything and left Romania to fend for itself. It means there’s a bit of intelligence running in my family.
A really funny thing happened to Moldova, the bizarre region where I get my first name, Barabule, the local word for potato. I never heard many people say barabule growing up in my village, but that’s only because we ended up on one side of an imaginary line. Even though I grew up in Moldova, I was in a place called Romania the entire time. Just over the hills from my village was the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic, a place where they spoke Moldovan, not Romanian. It was the exact same dialect we spoke in the Moldova region of the northeastern part of the Socialist Republic of Romania, only theirs was formalized and promoted by the state as a wholly separate language. Soviets were big-time fans of nationalism, and everyone just over the border from us was indoctrinated into a state sponsored identity that set them apart from us Romanians.
Technically, there’s a sixth Latin language spoken in Moldova called Moldovan, but only thanks to the Soviets. It’s basically just Romanian with some weird words like barabule. That’s right, folks. In case it wasn’t fucking obvious, Romanian is a language that comes from the Roman Empire who brought their pig Latin all the way up to the land of vampires. They never colonized the Moldova region, but their language sure stuck around, even though it’s completely fucking surrounded by Hungarian and Slavic tongues. To be perfectly honest with you, the Romanian word for potato is cartof, which comes from the German word for potato, Kartoffel, so if you want to know how the original people of this region referred to potatoes, look no further than barabule. Even the Russian word for potato, картошка, or kartoshka, sounds more German than not. To be really fucking honest, though, the potato didn’t get to Romania until the 1700s, so in the end, does any of this shit actually matter, or is it all just nationalist insanity? For a bunch of people who walk around saying da, da, da all day like a bunch of Russians, we really like to think we’re special, unique, different, like the USA. Instead of rock and roll stolen from black people, we have manele, dancy electro-pop music stolen from the Turks and Roma. If you go to some random village on a Friday, you can hear these Islamic rhythms piercing through the night air, along with the sounds of blissed-out Romanians dancing their guts out. Keep in mind, all of these people are good Orthodox Christians dancing to the invader’s dirty music.
Speaking of invaders, every week you can read some news article about how the brightest minds of Romania are fleeing the country to wonderful places like France and the UK where they run the risk of being stabbed or beaten to death by stupid white people. I suppose I’m one of these bright minds, but to tell you the truth, I’m really fucking stupid. When I was nine years old, communism was overthrown in Romania and the west flew in to pick up the candy from our busted piñata. My parents complained bitterly about the fate in store for me, but I decide to make their life even more stressful. By the age of twelve, I’d resolved to go live with my uncle in Iași. This had nothing to do with a love for the west, pop music, or capitalism. It had everything to do with the fact that I was gay, my parents were clueless, and the Church wanted people like me dead. I don’t know if this will come as a shock, but the church in my village still has a sign at the entrance that reads: All are welcome besides women who are ovulating or pregnant. They didn’t bother to include gay people on their list. Gay people don’t exist in Romania.
So there I was, a gay little peasant, a Moldovan potato, and off I want to Iași, the city where my uncle and aunt lived. This uncle was my dad’s brother, a doctor who’d been known as a good communist, a solid party member, a man who was never fucked with by the secret police. Iași was a closed city under communism and only those assigned by the government were allowed to live there. You could call it exclusive, but go take a little drive to the end of Strada Bucium and you’ll see the concrete workers housing provided by the state. While all those proletarian men and women and girls and boys toiled away in the factories, guys like my uncle chilled on tree covered hills inside wooden Jewish houses. Peasants like my family just stayed in the villages until communism fell and free travel was finally allowed. After that, they mostly stayed in the villages.
When I was just fourteen years old, in 1994, I paid the free-market price for a bus ticket to Iași to begin my new life at an urban school. It was terrible. I was what people might call a hick or a redneck in the United States. My only friends were the other peasant kids whose parents forced them into the city to seek opportunity. Iași has a lot of trees and cute little houses, but it’s also gray and made of concrete with decaying industry scattered at its edges. Pretty bleak, especially in the winter, and I went to school with the children of the closed city, the exclusive city, the capital of Moldova. I had to sleep in a tiny glass room out on my uncle’s terrace while the grandchildren of fascist assholes were given back apartments seized by the communists. There were rich and poor in the city, there was commerce and corruption, there was western culture and the glowing arches of McDonald’s. My only salvation was punk, the one good thing to come from the fall of communism. I was a loyal member of the tiny punk scene and discovered the bright light of anarchism through some Bulgarian comrades and their Greek friend. I hated the way capitalism infected people’s minds, I hated the Church with it’s fucking bullshit, and communism was tainted by Ceaușescu’s secret police, so I gravitated towards anarchy like a moth.
My friends and I were the only punks in Iași, and the scene existed solely when we hosted secret shows. The newly democratic Romanian secret police really hated punks. They called us satanists, followed us around, and beat us up, probably because the Church told them to. Capitalism was just fine, global capital was fine, but punk was dangerous, probably because it brought anarchy and stinky feet. My little crew stayed true, and we all attended the Universitatea Alexandru Ioan Cuza din Iași together just as the anti-globalization movement was spreading across Europe. Our first big adventure was in the winter of 1999 when we used forged train tickets to ride all the way to France. From there, we took a ferry to the UK and made it to London in time for the infamous Carnival Against Capitalism. I don’t know how many other Romanians were out there on J18, but I think we were the only ones who were anarchists. I can’t say I joyfully destroyed ATMs and corporate storefronts. I can’t tell you I was absolutely gleeful when I ransacked the same type of McDonald’s invading Romania. If I told you that, I’d be lying. All I did during J18 was observe. I’m innocent.
What happened out there changed my life. I won’t tell you I burnt a car and smashed windows and hit a cop in the head with a rock or anything like that. Not even I’m that stupid. After the carnival was over, my friends and I all moved into an East London squat, mailed our parents a bunch of lies about stealing jobs from British citizens, and put off our education for the sake of anarchy. I spent 1999 and most of 2000 in the UK, illegally of course, and I only got attacked by racists once. I never took anyone’s job because I didn’t work. I pulled out my knife exactly five times in self-defense. I was yelled at by racists and homophobes more times than I can count. But I also lived my best life, as they say, and was able to be openly gay with a bunch of dirty anarchists who made me feel like anything was possible. Squatting filled me up, inspired my heart, and forever separated me from everything I’d known in Iași. It also felt like a global uprising was about to happen, like capitalism was about to be destroyed, and I only left the UK so I could be in Prague for the demo against the IMF and World Bank.
During the Romanian Revolution of 1989, all it took was a bunch of people rioting to trigger the fall of communism. The west was in love with images of Romanians ransacking buildings, setting fires, and beating down cops. During the Prague riots of 2000, the west was horrified when a bunch of black-clad demons threw molotovs at a tank, went wild on the cops, and tried to shut down the IMF and World Bank, twin pillars of our new capitalist world empire. It even worked on the last day, and all those suit-wearing bureaucrats ran in fear from the satanic maelstrom outside. When the demos were over, I was just over twenty years old, half-way back to Iași, and in love with some freak from the UK. They were going back to our squat, so were my friends, but I missed my parents and knew if I didn’t keep heading east, it’d be years before I saw them again. So I said goodbye, caught a ride to Budapest, then rode the train all the way back to Iași. Like I told you before, I’m really fucking stupid.
Iași was gray and chilly that fall, so I didn’t stay long. I took a bus back to the village and that’s where I stayed until the spring of 2001. Like a good gnostic, I went to church on Sunday, kissed the hand of the priest, and kept my rebellion hidden. As far as the village was concerned, I’d just returned from the UK with wads of cash and a British spouse waiting for me. My parents loved having me around the house and listened silently as I described the capitalist wasteland of London, confirming all their worst fears. That’s when my mom brought up the Jews. She said they were the ones who triggered the Romanian Revolution and brought the capitalist vampires to our land. My dad nodded his head, claiming it was true. That was how I spent my winter. After that, I knew I had to leave the village, finish my education in Iași, and try to undo this insufferable ignorance that’s plagued Romania for over a century.
While I was finishing my degree in geography, I heard a theory about why Romanians are dumb as rocks. Some famous sociologist claimed all the intellectuals and thinkers had been exterminated, either by fascists or communists, and only the peasants and snakes were left alive. I don’t know if that’s true, but I do know most Romanian’s with any intelligence get the fuck out of this racist shithole. I was a bit different. By the time I finished my degree, I was determined to stay in Romania and bring some light to broke-ass, conservative Moldova. Things weren’t going so well for our anti-globalization revolution, especially after September 11, 2001, so I planted myself in Iași and got involved in basically anything that was against capitalism. As you can guess, I was pretty depressed and bored most of them time. All people wanted to do was make money. I didn’t want to make money. I had to.
Those days were pretty fucked in Romania. In 2002, the government made an agreement with the CIA to allow extraordinary renditions to a secret facility in Bucharest, a place where a bunch of Muslims were beaten and tortured. This probably helped Romania get into NATO in 2004. Starting in 2005, the US and Romania reached an agreement that allowed the US military to set up shop in our country, an event that led to a bunch of US missiles being installed and pointed at Russia. Obviously none of this has anything to do with Romania having the fourth fastest internet in Europe, just behind Sweden, Denmark, and Norway, all of which are faster than the US. It’s probably just a coincidence that poor little Romania was saturated with capitalist garbage in the 2000s, the decade when Romania bent right over for big daddy USA. I mean, come on, it’s not like Romania’s this strange Latin outpost used as a pawn by the west against evil Soviets drinking blood in Russia. It’d be weird to think the US had a clear and vested interest making Romania into a western wonderland, right? Either way, the 2000s were a hell to live through, being just a little Moldovan potato lost in the big city of Iași.
During those strange years, my early-twenties, I found some friends who hated money and we all lived together so we could pay less rent. I finished my degree but had no more energy for the university, not with the constant need to make money, and I preferred to cause trouble with my free time rather than go for another degree. My friends and I were literally the only anarchists in Iași and we mostly just drank together, served free food, fought fascists, and worked stupid jobs. Our crown jewel was the public squatting of an old theater, the first of its kind in Romania, and we held it down for an astounding three days before the secret police came to get rid of us satanic terrorists. We were gone when they arrived, we lost the only squat in Romania at the time, and I was suddenly a twenty-seven year old Moldovan potato. In the year 2007, I said goodbye to my family, bought a plain ticket to the UK, and within two years I was married to a US citizen and living in Oakland, California.
Somehow, I arrived just in time to see cars burning and police getting attacked and I learned how the glorious USA we Romanians are told to love was actually falling apart and filled with literally the dumbest, cruelest scumbags on the planet. I kept a low profile, but I was also in Oakland from 2008 to 2018. I definitely didn’t participate in any riots or loot capitalist businesses. I was definitely not treated like some exotic freak by the Americans, an anarchist who’d grown up under communism or a gay-as-fuck Moldovan potato born in some shitty little hut. I was never tokenized as the radical immigrant or weaponized in meetings to shut down Tankies. Not even Ceaușescu supported the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, for fucks sake! I also didn’t get high with a bunch of hipster insurrectionist anarchists while watching the bio-pic on Carlos the Jackal. I never told them Carlos was hired by Ceaușescu to assassinate the chief editor of Radio Free Europe, a station that broadcast western propaganda into Romania. The movie didn’t mention this either, probably because it made Carlos look like such a hot and sexy state-sponsored murderer. The hipster anarchists seemed to like it, though.
During the rise of the DSA, Bernie Sanders, and AOC, I consistently blew people’s minds when I explained that the ruling party of Romania (at the time) was called the Social Democratic Party, the same group of hustlers that once ran the communist government. No one understood when I explained the PSD was a conservative left-wing party, while the opposition PNL was a neo-liberal right-wing party. When I talk with hip little urban communists in the US, none of them can comprehend how the conservative rural peasants support old crooks in the socialist PSD while metropolitan youth clamor for neo-liberal capitalist globalism and integration with Europe. I might as well be speaking Romanian.
How can I explain that in the late-spring of 2019, the political boss of the PSD, a man named Liviu Dragnea, paid hundreds of Moldovans to bus into Iași to attend his rally? I guess I just explained it. The city was shut down, streets were blocked off by police, the trams stopped running, and thousands of peasants wandered Iași with their bag lunches provided by the party. There were a couple of nasty episodes I saw in Iași that day. Some metropolitan neo-liberal youth threw coins at the older peasants and spit in their faces, accusing them of only being in Iași because they were given a free bus ticket, lunch, and a few leu. We call our money leu, not rubles, by the way, only now these hipster neo-liberals want to have the Euro as currency, and they can barely wait. They were also mad because Dragnea had his police beat down and tear-gas thousands of peaceful anti-corruption protesters in Bucharest, people who think he was the main impediment to full EU membership.
I saw a bunch of these neo-liberal hipsters at the next rally, this one for Romania’s president, Klaus Iohannis, member of the PNL. Unlike evil Dragnea, Iohannis didn’t pay anyone to be there, he didn’t shut down the city, and he walked from his hotel to the rally with only a dozen bodyguards. I even got close enough to touch the guy, but why would I want to do something like that? To be real, I was just watching the spectacle. All of these leaders are pieces of shit, their corruption just flows in different directions. Now the bad guy Dragnea is in jail for corruption, but everything’s still basically the same. The EU is corrupt as fuck, obviously. How else would they let in Romania and Bulgaria, two countries riddled with corrupt, racist assholes? Romania’s still on its little probation period, waiting for the gods in Brussels to let us into the Schengen free travel area and give us Euros to spend in supermarkets.
There’s a huge supermarket in Iași, right next to the Amazon offices, and there’s a big aisle dedicated just to toilet paper. At the far end of aisle is the brown toilet paper, the communist toilet paper, the kind you don’t want if you have a sensitive asshole. It’s all we had growing up, the same brown paper rolls made at Uncle Red’s Soviet Toilet Paper Factory. Once capitalism arrived, we had dozens and dozens of choices for our sensitive assholes, and life was supposedly grand. Some of the capitalist toilet-paper’s even scented. That’s all capitalism is, in my humble opinion. A bunch of toilet papers destined for our assholes and then the sewer, unless you’re in some Moldovan village. Out here, our plumbing is so bad we can’t even bucket flush the stuff. We let the paper collect in a metal bin then burn it at the bottom of our land. It doesn’t smell very good, but fire gets the job done.
While the vampires chew up little Romania, peasants like my parents still grow their own organic food, make their own alcohol, and literally live off the land. They have two horses and a caruza, or wagon. There’s chickens, an outhouse, and a spring that provides fresh water. Most of their village votes PSD because they all miss the simpler times of communism. Even with their new televisions and cell phones and internet cables, the village still prefers communism. Trust me, these peasants have never read Marx or heard of dialectics. They’re religious, conservative, racist, and free of leftist ideology. The fact that they prefer communism to capitalism is possibly the greatest indictment of the current world system, and of state communism. As you should have gathered by now, Romania isn’t too bright, but at least its peasants can see the writing on the wall. And guess what? I’m back in the village. My friends and I bought a bunch of land and a building to have performances in. We even have a wheat mill. With any luck, we’ll be able to teach our neighbors who the real vampires are. Maybe, by some miracle, we can help Romania finally pick the right side. If not, we’re basically fucked.