How Romanians can use the empathy revived by The Colectiv tragedy

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.


Proposed by

on 4 November 2015

4 persons shared their opinion! Join the discussion!

  • Musenga Tshimankinda Chrisrian said on Reply

    if only majority of human beings can base their thinking and action on “inclusiveness” and “diversity” surely none will feel discriminated/marginalized and coexistence will be strengthened. as human beings we are all from somewhere, the respect of right to dignity is what is required most because that is where all human beings are equals. therefore nobody could do to others what he can not do to him/herself.
    Dignity includes doing away with indifference, discrimination and marginalization. give attention to others, care for people specially those in vulnerability cases because it may happen to any human being and none would want to be treated like that. what happen in Romania in 1980s it’s a nice point of reminding that it happens to everybody therefore we shouldnt look at refugees with indifference instead we should consider them just as any human being then we shall put smile on their lips to raise hope in their lives and make them considered on humanitarian ground so that they can also contribute to the national economy. this reminds me on the research done in Kenya after the government issued the refugee encampment directive to relocate refugee from urban sectors to the camps, refugees were being harassed, arrested, discriminated/marginalized by both Kenyan government and population. therefore we discussed on the approach to take to ensure refugee right to movement(which was violated by the directive) is respected. other than the humanitarian ground, we conducted a research on the economic contribution of urban refugees to the national economy. the score was high. it was found that refugees were owning as big as possible businesses that were greatly contributing to the national economy during the time that their freedom of movement was respected.
    what I want to say by this is that when you make refugees feel integrated locally, they can do better.
    as said by the Author, let have the empathy and consider(even beyond humanitarian ground) people as any human being to care about them as we do to ourselves then peace and development will be sured in our communities/societies.

    • Eduard Popa said on Reply

      I could not say it any better, Christian. Maybe would be an interesting topic the positive impact that refugees have on economy. This should make some Rightists look from another standpoint at this issue if my plea for empathy would not work (even though I consider myself also as a Right Wing person).

  • Patricia Papuc said on Reply

    Great article Eduard. Now that the Romanian prime minister resigned, what do you think the next step will be from a political perspective? I also wanted to ask you: do you think that this incident will make Romanians more aware/ active and use their rights, one of them being that to protest more often ? How will this incident impact Romania in the long term in your opinion?

    • Eduard Popa said on Reply

      In the short term Romania should act responsible, not on impulse. In the long term, in my opinion, I think that we need to act from within ourselves, to change ourselves first, to try to make it into the policital system and to change it from within. I don’t see any poliitcal figure who can change our problems so quickly because all of them are the result of A. the communist system B. the postcommunist system, which is formed from people mentored by those who are in the A group. So, to summarize, what we need now is responsibility.

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