Out with the old and in with the young

Although it was the brainchild of the older generation, Brexit has become a youth issue. Even Victorian factory overlord and chief backbench Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg said we may not know the economic benefits of Brexit for another 50 years. If so, not even I, at the tender age of 27, let alone him, at the ripe old age of 167, will see that fanciful trough of money slide into our bank accounts once we’ve cut ties with Brussels until is too late.

So, assuming that Mogger’s prediction is accurate (it isn’t), why would the likes of him, spineless Boris Johnson and Michael Gove et al. want to call the Brexit shots? Why not immediately hand over the reins to the generation who will be affected by the UK’s withdrawal from the bloc? To leave a legacy? Doubtful.

It’s the longest game of I told you so in history.

In 50 years, when the last survivors of Britain come across a crackling radio buried deep in the radioactive snow that blankets the rubble where Birmingham once stood and tune in to hear a distant broadcast in Mandarin saying that the pound has risen one percent against the new euro and now equaled 0.002 cents, then, and only then, will Jacob Rees-Mogg ease out his dying breath to his 52nd grandchild: “I knew it would pay off, Etonious Harrowious Plonkerous, I knew it. “

Until then, the blame for everything that goes even slightly awry with Brexit will be laid at the feet of the EU or with those who don’t want it to happen at all.

Who can wait that long for a cash-out? Well, the Brexiteers can. Rees-Mogg has already started shifting some of his investment company’s assets over to Ireland, an EU member state, just to be sure. What a patriot. A good old top-hat wearing pinch of salt of the earth.

I can hear the clicking now as millions of regular working class Britons send their own savings offshore. Take that, EU, there’s a bloody app for that now, I’ve seen it on TV. But, of course, they’re not. They can’t. And that’s one of the many tragic things about Brexit.

The arch-Brexiteers, all from the upper echelons of society, successfully tapped into reserves of working-class rage. Putting the obvious racist contingent of the pro-Brexit electorate to the side for the sake of word count, it’s not that hard to see why someone might have voted to leave.

During the referendum, there was a strong showing from the UK’s forgotten corners. If you wake up in a blind panic every morning trying to figure how you’re going to put food on the table for the rest of the week and then someone comes along saying all that can change with a simple vote, you might just hedge your bets. You’ve got nothing to lose. Except, of course, you do.

Recent research published in the Financial Times suggests that a no-deal Brexit would cost the average UK household a grand. And yet, a no-deal is being championed by Moggers, Johnson and the Male Daily. Rest assured that not one penny will be alleviated from their pockets for the cause. For many, a thousand pounds is the difference between surviving or not.

Our resident I’m not a fascist I’m just a regular bloke Nigel Farage recently had the audacity to claim he was skint, conveniently forgetting about his measly 8,500 euro (pre-tax) monthly salary at the European Parliament, which is just a side job for him. I’ll do it if you want, Nige.

He won’t be there much longer, though, and while that is a cause for celebration, it also rings in a darker era in the UK’s relationship with the bureaucrats in Brussels at a time when the far-right is on the march across the continent.

This is where our knight in shining cardigan ambles in. The absolute Jeremy Corbyn boi.

Ever a eurosceptic, Corbyn seems fairly content letting the Brexit process run its course until May’s government inevitably crumbles and she is forced to live in his allotment shed. He might like that, he could get back to nationalizing his carrots and making sure Liam Fox doesn’t get into his chlorinated chickens.

By that time, UK politicians will not only have reduced their international clout, but they will have absolutely no tools at hand to influence the EU. This is music to the ears of die-hard leavers, but surely not to Jeremy Corbyn? As the messiah of the British progressive left, does he not want to be at the frontlines of the looming political battle with the far-right?

From Italy to Germany, Austria to the Czech Republic, the far-right is hoovering up the vacuum left by the nigh on total collapse of the center-left. Center-right outfits are budging up to make room. In these turbulent times, when controversies are swiftly forgotten with the swipe of a thumb and fascism has put on a fake mustache to sneak back into government, the left-wing needs to put its myriad differences aside and unite.

The battleground has been set for the European Parliament during the elections in May 2019, after officials have clicked Ctrl+Alt+Del on the UK’s seats. Corbyn’s willingness to slide out of the EU recuses him from the task of sticking up to Europe’s far-right bullies on behalf of those without a voice, those will suffer the most with fascists in charge.

At this rate, by the time Corbyn gets into government, he’ll be stood on the white cliffs of Dover with a homemade jam sandwich watching on as the EU’s democratic institutions are slowly dismantled. Steve Bannon wouldn’t miss it for the world, Corbyn would. If he doesn’t feel up for it, maybe it’s time he passed the buck to someone who is going to feel the full brunt of Brexit personally.  

But then again, perhaps this is all a lost cause. We’ve stepped off a political cliff edge already and are venturing into uncharted territory. Politicians are improvising. Everything they learned in their journey to the top became irrelevant on June 23, 2016. This new chapter of global politics is looking fierce and I doubt history will smile kindly on those who asked us to turn the page. I’d like to put the book down now, please.

At least Mogger’s money is safe, I guess.

Advertisements

MAD COOL 2018 (Despair in the departure lounge)

The festival grounds at Mad Cool 2018 were completely surfaced over with verdant astroturf and rose out of Madrid’s city limits like a succulent desert mirage. It looked good enough to eat.

Our desire to graze on fake plastic grass may have stemmed from the fact that we had been stripped of our 1-liter bottle of water at the entrance. It was deemed too large, too thirst-quenching in the 36C heat.

IMG_9241It cost me and my brother, Theo, who had flown out from Edinburgh for the occasion, 90 euros each for the day pass on Friday, which was headlined by our long-time favorites the Arctic Monkeys. We had been too slow out the blocks to grab the three-day pass.

In hindsight, I am grateful for that. Sometimes lack of foresight pays off thanks very much.

The lineup was impressive and the organizers had obviously spent time curating the festival area, which was replete with instagrammable food trucks and boutique merchandise. It was pretty.

However, if, like me, you went through a turd-polishing phase in your teens, then you’ll know it’s not easy. (I’d recommend cream-based polish, rather than liquid.)

This superficiality was compounded by a tangible air of exclusivity. We were ants to the VIP picnic. The first 30 or so rows of space in front of the main stage were reserved for those able to pay more for their tickets. As was the four-story scaffolding tent-come-bar thing plonked squarely adjacent to the main stage.

I’m sure some of the bars were off limits to us, too, but I can’t be certain as my view was blocked by my dothed cap as we shuffled grovelingly by.

IMG_9242It’s no less than insulting to fork out nigh on 100 euros for entry, plus the 60 or so on food and captive-audience beers, only to be told: “here? oh no, you can’t go here, get back over there, sweaty.”

Can’t fault him on the sweaty, though.

We were in dire need of liquids when the card machines in all of the festival bars went offline.

Out of cash, and with no ATM on site, we were forced to move from stall to stall like a bow-legged Mary and Joseph to see if there was room at the inn for our baby VISAs. No, came the reply.

We managed to cobble together our remaining ducats for some #Aperol at the #Aperol Spritz stall.

Despair in the departure lounge. We were trapped, money-less and thirsty.

After the Arctic Monkeys, whose fantastic set we were forced to watch from the safety of the Very Unimportant Person section, we barged out of the crowd in search of the free water dispensary located somewhere in the grounds.

IMG-9235Our bottle languishing somewhere in a bin a three days’ camel ride back through security, we were forced to pick up a couple of used beer cups from the ground but hygiene concerns took a back seat when confronted with the queue for water.

Theo was nominated to take on what could only be described as the writhing hordes of Mordor. The mass of parched souls was dozens wide and dozens deep. Everyone jostled to get a drop of the sacred liquid.

He emerged 20 minutes later with plastic-scented water served in what was essentially someone else’s litter. It was hard to find a reason to stay any longer but Massive Attack were soon to play on one of the smaller stages.

The tent was so overcrowded we couldn’t even get near the door, let alone inside the tent. The Bristol trip-hop lads were late and the air filled with whistles. We left and joined the streams of other heading for the exit with three hours to go until the festival actually came to a close.

I later read on Twitter that Massive Attack had canceled, complaining of noise leaking over from Franz Ferdinand.

Although we are loyal disciples to Pastor Alex Turner, the extremely high quality of the music on display was not quite enough to counteract the overwhelming feeling that we had been completely mugged off.

Take heed.

Mad Cool is neither mad nor cool. Don’t go.

Death of migrant in police raid sparks riots in downtown neighborhood of Madrid

Go Fry Asparagus

Madrid, Mar 16.- A neighborhood in downtown Madrid on Thursday erupted in a flare of collective anger as rioters clashed with hundreds of police officers following the sudden death of a migrant after he had been chased by law enforcement.

The district of Lavapiés was ablaze as dozens of containers were set on fire while protesters lobbed rocks and bottles at police, after Mame Mbaye Ndiaye, a 34-year-old man of Senegalese origin, died of an apparent heart attack when allegedly running from local officers who were pursuing him along with other street vendors peddling their wares illegally.

In the aftermath of Ndiaye’s death, an enraged mob congregated at Lavapiés square and soon began to confront police.

The protests turned into full-blown turmoil when agents from the national police’s riot unit (UIP) rushed to the scene, wearing heavy riot gear and shooting rubber bullets to disperse the crowds.

Antifascist groups spread…

View original post 263 more words

A Brits guide to the Catalonia independence referendum

IMG_0655

Left-wing protesters demonstrate in solidarity with Catalonia, Puerta del Sol, Madrid. ©Jake Threadgould

I thought that by leaving Scotland for Spain I would be spared constant referenda. Alas, no. Catalonia, a northeastern region of Spain home to some 7.5 million people, plans to go ahead with a separatist poll on October 1.

Rolling news coverage of the events here in Spain is non-stop, but it has also garnered considerable international attention. The other day, I replied to a tweet shared by the Scottish National Party’s Westminster spokesman (and my MP) Angus Robertson in which I argued that the Catalan referendum was not the same as the 2014 indyref in Scotland.  I was swiftly set-up on by a small group of SNP voters telling me what to think about the situation in Catalonia. It got me to thinking: how are they so informed about what’s going on here? Or are they?

I don’t know where I stand on the independence vote in Catalonia, and thankfully, being neither Catalan nor Spanish, I don’t have to. That’s good, I’m all “referendumed“ out. However, some of you — especially those watching on from the post-Brexit ashes of Britain where ‘referendum’ is a swear word — may be wondering, what is going on exactly? ¿Qué coño está pasando? ¿Què està passant?

Like Scotland, Catalonia has a devolved government. Unlike Scotland, Catalonia’s first minister, or in this case president, is a bloke. A bloke who goes by the name of Carles Puigdemont. He presides over a regional pro-independence party called Junts Pel Sí (Together for Yes, JxS) which has a slight majority in the local parliament — with a little help from his leftist friends.

Puigdemont has long dreamed of Catalonia being an independent republic so, earlier this month, he used that slim majority of his to push the referendum through parliament and write it into local law. Sí voters in Catalonia are a vocal bunch and their movement is intrinsically linked to their distinct culture, language and heritage. Furthermore, the number of pro-unity voters in Catalonia is hard to accurately gauge. Those against independence tend to shy away from even non-binding referenda, which they do not consider to be legitimate. Most polls tentatively suggest a roughly even split. This keeps the Spanish government on its toes.

Another engine driving the independence movement is the fact that many Catalans feel they are unfairly picking up the economic slack of underperforming Spanish regions such. Separatists would rather see their money re-invested in Catalonia, which is consistently ranked as one of the wealthiest regions of Spain, jostling for top-spot with the industrial Basque Country and the capital, Madrid.

Some might see a compelling case in Catalonia’s bid for nationhood. It already has many of the foundations required of an independent state: a regional police force (the Mossos d’Esquadra), a judiciary and an autonomous government with all the mod-cons. However, Catalonia’s regional institutions are attached to strings held by officials in Madrid. The process of becoming an independent Catalan state would mean severing those tendrils of power. That hits a nerve. That triggers a response.

IMG_0587

Protesters in solidarity with Catalonia face-off with a group of far-right demonstrators, Puerta del Sol, Madrid. ©Jake Threadgould

The vast majority of Spaniards do not think the referendum should go ahead and this sentiment is reflected in the country’s largest political parties and in the judiciary, which has ruled the referendum to be unconstitutional and suspended the legislation. According to the Constitution (which also enshrines Catalonia’s autonomous status), the separatist ballot would need to be greenlighted by the Madrid-based national parliament. This did not happen.

The Spanish government is currently run as a minority by the right-wing Popular Party (PP) of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy (think: Jacob Rees-Mogg/Nigel Farage lovechild). The PP will not sign off a referendum in Catalonia in case it back-fires Brexit-style. Remember those silent pro-unity voters in Catalonia? They are the PP’s damsels in distress.

So, what has the Spanish state done in retaliation to the unilateral independence developments in Catalonia? Several things. First, around 700 Catalan mayors who agreed to make polling stations available for the vote were issued court summons. The militarized Guardia Civil moved in to confiscate all referendum-related material. While ransacking the regional government offices, they took the opportunity to arrest a dozen or so Catalan officials on suspicion that they were involved in preparing the vote. The Spanish interior ministry activated a mechanism to assume control of the Mossos. There was even talk of sedition charges.

How did Catalonia react to this? The mayors kept quiet. The detainees were freed or fired by their peers to avoid fines. The Mossos rejected the national police takeover bid (although that one still hangs ambiguously in the balance). The sedition chat has been put on the back-burner for now.

If it sounds heavy-handed, it’s because it probably is. Yet, although it may be presented by some in the international press as a hark back to the days of Franco, it raises very few eyebrows among Spaniards. Part of that may have something to do with how it is normalized in the national press but another part comes down to the fact that the vast majority of people outside Catalonia simply disagree with the referendum. To them, Catalonia is a region of Spain. A region of Spain cannot just unilaterally declare independence and wander off.

Imagine if Nicola Sturgeon used her Holyrood majority to push through an indyref2 bill and write a separatist poll into local law. Imagine the SNP then vowed to unilaterally declare independence with immediate effect, even if yes voters only won by 1%. How would it feel for the no voters being whisked away from their beloved Blighty? The rest of the UK would be up in arms because you can’t just do that. That’s not how things work.

podemos

Iñigo Errejón, a key strategist and on of the most recognizable faces in Podemos, attends a Catalonia solidatrity rally in Puerta del Sol, Madrid. ©Jake Threadguould

Surely not everyone outside of Catalonia is against the referendum? Correct, there is a group of mainly left-wing movements that have advocated for dialogue and the negotiated legalization of the vote. The grassroots Podemos, the third political force in the national parliament, occupies a funny half-way position between the regional separatists and the common narrative in Spain. They do not back a unilateral referendum, however. The main opposition Socialist Party (PSOE) and the center-right, freshly ironed suit types in Ciudadanos – Spain’s fourth largest party – are in agreement with the PP government on the topic. That puts PSOE in a slightly awkward position.

But the Catalan referendum transcends traditional left-right politics in Spain. It sends shudders down the spine national identity in a country where, for many, even flying the national flag conjures up connotations of the dictatorship.

What is certain is that a huge portion of people in Catalonia have never felt comfortable in Spanish skin. What is also certain is that a huge portion of people in Spain cannot bear to see Catalonia walk away. There’s a good chance the referendum will be blocked. How that will happen is yet to be established — as has my opinion.

If they ever build a fence between Spain and Catalonia, I’ll be on it.

Jeremy Corbyn, beware the personality cult

The most memorable chorus at Glastonbury this year was undoubtedly the chant of “Oh, Jeremy Corbyn.” Clips of the crowd singing the Labour leader’s name went viral. Something incredible has happened; June 8 saw the return of a populist Left in the UK. Odd, perhaps, that the shift was spearheaded by one of the country’s traditional parties, which tend to only dip one toe in the extreme while always courting the center ground.
Lacking support from media and even his own party, Corbyn was left largely to his own devices to get his message of hope and alternative governance across. He breathed that message into Britain’s dejected and forgotten corners and Corbynism blossomed into a chorus. He arrived back in parliament an easy-going celebrity, buoyant on a grassroots support and with a whole new Labour Party at his feet; one that belonged to the people.
Across the Commons floor, Theresa May is still standing, albeit with a slaughter date branded on her head. The raucous Tory backbenchers in the driving seat will put her to pasture (perhaps a nice wheat field?) in due course and replace her with another unelected Tory leader. In the meantime, however, they are back to focusing on destroying the country with their pursuit of a hard Brexit. They have decided no to heed the advice of trade experts, economists, academics, and (most) world leaders.
As a side, what era of British history do the rabid Brexiteers so desperately pine for? Is it the post-war idyll of village greens and local butchers? That would be apt, for British global trade was teetering on the brink then, too. But, however nihilistic their venture may be, Tory backbenchers are at least vociferous. The same cannot be said for Labour. Some of the 50 Labour MPs who voted against pulling out of the EU single market in yesterday’s vote were sacked by Corbyn.
Perhaps Corbyn is stifling them as a reprisal for their revolt last year, perhaps the unions are doing that for him, or maybe the centrists are still reticent to accept such a left-wing leader. Whatever the reason, there must be a compromise. The Labour Party as a whole needs to be more vocal. Corbyn needs more teammates.
Although he has support at a grassroots level and looks to be enjoying his new-found life as an internet meme, populism is a bucking bronco and personality cults are fleeting – like fidget spinners. I would ask whether those who voted Labour, voted for the party or for its leader? Furthermore, how many of you have fidget spinners? The latter being of personal interest.
While the populist bubble that holds Corbyn aloft is a truly admirable feat, it has the potential to leave him exposed in the Commons. A shift in public sentiment or a return to apathy would see the bubble pop and send the Labour leader tumbling back down onto an unforgiving terrain. To avoid that, he must continue in his public relations, a feature that really sets him apart from the Tory robots in the government benches. But he must also soften his back-bench in the event of a fall from grace.
Perhaps he should be careful where he points that pro-Brexit stance of his. It could take someone’s eye out.

Dis May

It has been a while since I’ve written anything serious. Seriously. But with just 24 hours until Britain’s electoral crunch time, I thought now more than ever would be a good time to continue that trend.

I’m writing from the standpoint of a British journalist working in a foreign, and soon to be more foreign, land – Spain. The UK is no stranger to Spain; Britain has a centuries-old official claim to the southern portion of the Iberian Peninsula, Gibraltar. Meanwhile, centuries-old Brits have an unofficial claim to the surrounding lands – the Costa del Sol, which in Lancastrian English means “the price uh’ sun;” a question we’re sure to answer in the upcoming Brexit negotiations.

But while Brexit gets passed around between campaigning politicians in the UK like a bottle of Tesco own brand champagne, for British workers in Spain, where there is no Tesco, it looms over the horizon of our livelihoods like an embarrassing itch. Could be nothing, could be fatal.

And this itch is scratched and scraped and stretched by the powers that be thousands of miles away, back home. Our futures working in a Spanish office with our Spanish friends drinking our Spanish beers and paying our Spanish taxes is now leverage in a political arena where we have little to no clout. We must sit and wait for the chess master.

At least I had the privilege to up and move to Spain. But what would await me should I be forced to move home? A village green stained with the blood of red foxes?

Even from Spain, we can smell the grizzly breath of the British tabloid media. It creeps into my office from time to time. Its rancid tendrils drift over the continent, picking up comments from Brussels to Berlin, before retreating across the Channel to twist and turn their meaning. It presents those skewed facts to millions, who drink it up like vultures feasting on fear.

A casual gander over to the Express and you’ll see some obscure former MEP from Slovenia SLAMMING Juncker. In the Sun, a comment made by Spain’s top diplomat turned into a call for war – UP YOURS SEÑORS, read the headline said – misspelled. According to the Mail (in fact all of them), the EU will be paying the Brexit bill. Propaganda.

That propaganda holds people hostage and its is powerful. Our own prime minister daren’t denounce the degradation of women, racist fear-mongering, and breaches of privacy proffered by this putrid portion of the press.  Again, civilians have little to no clout in this arena.

In fact, the far-right press coins the language later to be adopted in parliament as if we live in some topsy-turvy world. It bemoans the bremoaners and belittles those who demand proof. Now MPs warn against catastrophizing and insist we need to get on with it.

The propaganda press drives the narrative in Britain to such an extent that one report prompted Theresa May to speak out against Brussels for shining a negative light on Brexit in UK media. It whipped the British public into such a fury over Gibraltar that the Spanish government had to allay fears over the rock’s fate.

A rancid spiral of sensationalism in UK politics and the country’s media would make the most hardened Brussels bureaucrat blush.

Things are only going to get choppier in those Britishest of Isles. No deal is better than a bad deal, says our leader, with her back turned to some of the most intelligent and experienced contemporary politicians on Earth. We will not pay a cent, barks the right-wing press.

But, whatever happens in the future (bad things will happen), the Brexiteers will never take responsibility for their actions. They will always point their crooked claw of blame at Europe.

Remember, just because a political party and its press wing mirrors how you feel or makes you comfortable in your own skin, it does not mean they’re in this with you. Those at the top will happily burn the bridges to the EU for you and walk away unsinged.

The stripes of the Union Jack melt from my skin in utter shame.

Wouldn’t it be nice to just stand back and take everything in with a long exhale? Or, I don’t know, do something crazy like run through a field of wheat.

When in Romania

IMG_0211

USR members in the Chamber of Deputies

“It’s like if you catch a robber in the act, and he gives you your stuff back, that’s still not okay.”

I was speaking to Adrian. He was tall, scruffy-bearded, and wore a knitted brown hat to protect him from the cold blue Bucharest sky. The swelling crowds that had packed the capital’s Victory Square several weeks prior, had abated. A motley gathering of Rezist activists had taken it upon themselves to keep the protest alive, however. The toots from the passing cars pointed to their wider support.

At the turn of the year, the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) exposed some of the ghosts wandering the Romanian halls of power when it attempted to push a new corruption law out as an emergency decree. The legislation would have absolved anyone who had defrauded the state for less than €44,000 ($46K). It was met with crowds of demonstrators in numbers unseen since the fall of Communism in this southeast Balkan state.

Pushing a law through the backdoor is nothing unusual for a Romanian government. This time, it was merely a misjudgment of a changing audience. The political generation gap that exists almost universally is particularly pronounced here. A tech-savvy, English-speaking, westward-looking youth are returning, or deciding to stay put, in growing numbers. They are less receptive to government propaganda that abounds in the media. The older generation, in contrast, born under the Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, were largely confused by the demonstrations. Parents would question their children as they headed out the front door, armed with flags and placards. They´re simply not used to it.

The government’s grip on the media is astounding. The owner of two of Romania’s major TV channels, a former politician who is behind bars for corruption, still holds huge sway over what the average Romanian family sees every day on the box. Indeed, when the protests broke, the airwaves were chock-a-block with George Soros conspiracy theories- that old trope. Reports focused on some of the boisterous thugs in the crowd and tarred the whole revolt with the same brush. When President Klaus Iohannis, whose office is largely ceremonial, came out against the corruption decree, the media turned on him.

But the crowds persisted.

Several weeks later, the PSD yanked the legislation and hung their justice minister out to dry. The demonstrators called it a day. The robbers had given back the stuff.

But for many, it wasn´t enough.

IMG_0203

Rezist protesters at Victory Square, Bucharest

I asked Adrian what his group hoped to achieve from their presence in Victory Square. He told me Romania needed a transparent parliamentary system. Electronic voting, too, perhaps. How do you go about making the change? That seemed less clear.

An alternative political option is beginning to take root in Romania however, and one of its members, a clean-cut and well-dressed man, was stood watching my conversation – Cornel Zainea of the Save Romania Union (USR) party.

The USR shouldered its way onto the political scene when, in 2016, it landed 43 parliamentary seats_ 30 lower, 13 upper_ in the legislative elections, becoming the country’s third biggest party. It sought to change policies from the inside – a daunting task in Romania’s Parliament, with friends like those.

The USR’s syncretic style, its emphasis on cleaning up the environment and dodgy bank accounts, won the support of over 600,000 people. The party is young, unorganized, but aspirational.

Over a beer and lunch just off Victory square, Zainea told me about his transition into politics from a comfortable software engineering job he shared with his wife, Alina. He had been involved with the Save Bucharest Movement under the direction of its mathematician-turned-politician leader Nicusur Dan, for whom he had limitless praise. This is a common pattern from the top down in the USR. Young professionals, not politicians, comprise the rank and file of the party. A blessing and a curse. The party is squeaky clean. A breath of fresh air in those haunted halls of power. But the USR members are having to learn quickly. They are up against the veterans.

The state media, in the hands of the government, gives little airtime to the USR, unless it’s negative. Yet the technocratic upstarts of the USR were ruffling the feathers in the Chamber of Deputies by holding sit-in protests, by filming procedures in the name of transparency, and by being vocal.

“They hate us because we are very different, we don’t respect the rules,” Zainea told me.

“And because [the USR] share what they see in the Parliament, they are honest with the people,” Alina chipped in.

With four years until the next slated elections, the USR must keep momentum.

It is battling external challenges from the PSD that are positively Trumpesque, but it also has to focus on keeping the party united. It is open to defectors, but wary of adopting some of their unbecoming traits. Further, in order to grow, the USR must expand its manifesto beyond environmentalism and corruption. It needs to win the vote of those under the sway of the state media. Its message needs to reach beyond the educated middle-class urbanites. The party must take on soaring poverty rates, inadequate health-care standards, the brain drain, apathy. No mean feat.

Zainea was acutely aware of all of this when he began his career in politics. He was under no illusion that the party could simply stroll to power. And yet he was determined to make change happen in Romania; so determined that he took the gamble of a career change and spent his life’s savings on the campaign that got him elected to party deputy.

Though the tide of demonstrators in Victory Square has ebbed, a youthful public eye holds a steady gaze over the government’s comings and goings, aided by the transparency efforts of the USR and Rezist. Both factions now must have faith that, when the time is right, those half a million people who filled the streets to shout down the PSD won’t only protest, but also vote.

Until then, the USR has to get itself ready to expose the robber the second they catch them in the act again.

IMG_0207

Cornel Zainea,  Save Romania Union, in Victory Square, Bucharest.