The Slumbering Youth is Throwing Rocks: “We Are Fucking Angry!”

Note: This article was written in the night of 15-16 January, right after the most violent protests in Romania in the last 20 years.

Who are the hooligans? Who are the motherfuckers? Who vandalized the center of Bucharest?

Last night I found myself in the midst of street fights, I dodged rocks, I swallowed a canister of teargas, I ran away from the gendarmes. I barely escaped lynching at the hand of some citizens. To my astonishment, I found the answer to my question: they’re precisely the “slumbering generation”, the apathetic youth who kill time in clubs and save the world with a “like.” This time, they saved it by waving their fists and throwing chunks of concrete at the police.

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That may sound strange, after we heard from every news source that it’s “just some hooligans, Ultras probably,” who were given orders from devil knows who to ruin a perfectly peaceful protest. The first clashes were indeed caused by that sort of folk. At that point, gendarmes closed in and pushed them towards Unirii (Union) Square. And then, something quite bizarre happened.

Starting at about 9:30pm, a confused murmur began diffusing throughout University Square. Rumor had it that the real scandal is at Unirii – that that’s where the people are fighting gendarmes. I was not in the mood for all of this. It seemed like a boring, stage-directed protest. But something pushed me in that direction. And I wasn’t alone.

A handful of groups break away from the mass of “Down with President Basescu” chants, they go through the underground passage and come together in a large wave of people fueled from every street of the old city centre. Once we pass the she-wolf, our way is blocked, and there’s nowhere to advance because of a chain of gendarmes. A guy stands in front of them screaming into their helmets: “I would not have come out if I had something to feed my daughter with!” We avoid them via an alleyway full of really chill local cops. We find a way through when we come to Manuc’s Inn.

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“What the fuck?!”

And then, when I finally make it to Unirii, I freeze, all covered in goose bumps. In the middle of the street there are two large bonfires. Far away I can see a column of smoke, and from the direction of the McDonald’s I can hear what sounds like bombing noises and awful screams…

Units of gendarmes who look a bit like ninja turtles run past me. One of them shouts into an intercom that they are about to enter an attack formation in front of the H&M store. What the hell? This, in Bucharest? I had seen this sort of stuff in London, but here?

“What the fuck?!” a guy shouts from the sidewalk, reading my thoughts.

I make a run for it behind the gendarmes, we pass the second fire, where they take a little detour to beat up some folks crossing the street, and then they rendezvous with a different unit, blocking the entire street in front of the Unirii megastore. They start marching towards Tineretului, clunking their batons against their shields. At the exit from the underground passage, some boys with scarves on their faces meet them head on with rocks.

They respond with two rounds of teargas and some fireworks that fill the air with sparks. It’s almost like New Year’s Eve. So this is what the booming noises were all about. I can’t finish my thought because I must dodge behind a car, avoiding a new wave of rocks.

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“We are fucking angry!”

The gendarmes pull back. About 100m away from them, in front of Millenium Bank, a few boys are vandalizing the bus stop. They break all the windows using thick chunks of lumber. If you saw them walking down the street on a normal day, you’d almost be tempted to ask them for math tutoring.  They sport trendy glasses, well-combed hair, vintage sleeve shirts, and hip clothes fit for clubs.

Chased from every corner of the square, they take advantage of the gendarmes retreating and gather in the intersection at McDonalds. They scare the last car of gendarmes away with rocks, and then burst out in cheers that last for minutes. “Arafat! Freedom! Down with the motherfuckers!” They almost seem hypnotized, strolling, smiling. Like it’s New Year’s Eve.

There are about 300 people: hipsters, boys “from the hood” wearing fake Nikes, dubious rockers, the kind of colorful crowd you usually see on Lipscani street. They’re the target audience for corporations, the ideal consumers. Only now they’ve stopped consuming; they’re just destroying. “We are fucking angry!” one of them yells, as the crowd starts heading back to University Square, stocking up on stones that they pick up from the ground.

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“Drop the photos, grab a rock!”

A group of squatters joins the crowd from near the surrounding buildings, upset about having been beaten by the gendarmes while walking peacefully down some alleyway. They must have seen they’re gypsies… And marching all the way in front are the ever-so-booed Ultras, around 10 people at first glance. You wouldn’t recognize them from their clothes. I’m also wearing a black jacket, a hat, and I have my scarf pulled onto my face as a precaution against teargas.

As we cross Coltea Street, we find the gendarmes again. They are in the middle of a fight when they see the crowd and retreat in front of the hospital. They form a line as wide as the street. They are welcoming us with two cans of teargas and some exquisite fireworks.

The boys fight back with stones and start building barricades. The fences between the lanes of the boulevard are surrounded one by one with groups of lads who pull at them until they fall apart, and then they throw them into the barricade making something similar to a beaver dam.

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“These know-nothings unleashed their gendarmes against us!”

The folks in the back find other ways to entertain themselves. One guy writes in black graffiti a FREEDOM as large as the entire street. A girl wearing a “Hello Kitty” bag is on the verge of tears as she tells her boyfriend “this tyrant won’t leave no matter what we do!” Behind them, a sharp looking fellow, dressed elegantly and holding a delicate bag in one of his hands, lifts a jagged rock, caresses it in his palm and studies its texture as if it were some sort of alien object. A few fellows are talking politics: “These thugs have no culture, dude, these know-nothings unleashed their gendarmes against us.” They look just like the students who occupied the History branch of the University a while back. We all step on a rug of spit that we contribute to each time the gendarmes treat us to some teargas.

***

It’s very easy to say the Ultras are at fault, but the protestors were as diverse as they come – that holds for both those waving signs and those throwing rocks. At the University Square statue, a group of hippies were holding a large piece of cardboard on which they had simply drawn a giant heart. At Rosetti, a group of supporters were breaking the windows of a Dacia automobile, and 50 feet farther, some anti-capitalist hipsters were stopping the cars and yelling: “Where are you going? Get out of the car and protest!”

Maybe they were all provoked and manipulated. But their anger was floating in the streets, just as real as the teargas. Anger at the corrupt ones, anger at the incompetent ones, anger at a system that constantly screws them over and pushes them to leave their country. This anger was neither planned, nor fake. And people were learning how to throw the teargas back at the gendarmes just as naturally as they had learned how to play Farmville.

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“You morons, leave journalists alone!”  

Back at Coltea, the situation becomes desperate. The protestors have resisted some of the attacks, but now the gendarmes are approaching from the other side, from Unirii. “Dude, we’ll be caught in the middle like a fanny,” some guy yells, almost disfigured from despair. Everything becomes more brutal. Billboards are being broken. The bus stop at Sf. Gheorghe gets completely torn apart with bats, rocks and crowbars from the ground. One guy climbs the newsstand and pulls out the surveillance camera, then crushes it accompanied by cheers. The slogans become more radical: “Let’s fuck over the Antenas too (group of TV networks), they rip millions off our backs.”

Suddenly, one guy realizes that I’m holding a camera in my hand, that I have another one my head, and that I recorded absolutely everything. He lunges for me, and others follow. “Duuuuuude I’m a journalist!” is all I get to scream before the boys slam against my chest. They shove me, one dives for the camera on my head, I grab it back, I push him, jump backwards and other people show up out of nowhere to defend me. “You morons, leave journalists alone!”

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“My mom’s crying? Your mom’s crying, not mine!”

I wish my saviors a happy new year, and I bolt through the alleyways, avoiding the gendarmes that were marching forward knocking their batons against their shields once more. It’s the perfect moment to pull back, because this time they really go at the boys. The Minister of Internal Affairs called for a crisis cell, reinforcements are coming and the Romanian Special Forces spread into the city center.

Across from the Club of the National Army, near Pizza Hut, ten youngsters sit crouched on the cold sidewalk, surrounded by the boys in masks. Nobody is moving. They look almost like frozen chickens. One masked guy screams at them, waving his baton: “You throw rocks at me, fucker? My mom’s crying? Your mom’s crying, not mine!” Then he spots me with the camera and lunges towards me with his baton. I stick a press badge under his nose and he becomes slightly mollified. He drops the baton lower and merely shoves me aside together with my bike.

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Gustave Le Bon in action

I make for a bar in the old city center, where a few other journalists were gathered to talk about what the hell happened. At our table sits one of the guys whom TV crews described as ultras: “all hell broke loose, man! Gustave Le Bon in action!” He chugs some beer and adds, smiling: “I wonder how much a detergent commercial costs during revolution prime-time?”

At 1:30am, I start heading home. Bratianu Boulevard is sparkling clean, the waste management department is working so hard they give the impression they really envySMURD (emergency rescue system). You can barely tell anything has even happened. It’s as if a slightly stronger gust of wind just passed.

The whores are at their usual posts on the avenues, and, passing by them, I chuckle a little and remember the line that got me out of so much trouble tonight. “I’m just doing my duty.”

I’m just doing my duty.

Translation by Angela Radulescu.

Comments

  1. […] en vanuit het publiek kwam de vraag voor meer gelijkaardige verslagen. Ursulean vertelt het verhaal van een gewelddadige nacht waarop “de apathische jeugd die haar tijd doodt in clubs en de wereld redt met likes” […]

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