Crime as routine
So the dog-culling campaign in Bucharest is no longer an outrage and a scandal. It looks now more like one of those evil things that common sense indicates as avoidable, but we are told we have to live with, for instance like the occupation of Tibet, or like daily and massive famine-caused mortality in the third world.
The news from Bucharest is old news. At the beginning of October 2001, Mayor Basescu announced, with his never-missing grin, that, since the beginning of the campaign in April that year, his services "officially killed more than 130,000 dogs, whose corpses were dispatched to the protein powder factory". Thus, he cynically hinted to the generally acknowledged fact that most of the killings occur these days at night, on the streets, by means of strychnine-like poison in bits of sausages, and are unaccounted for by the official toll. In the meantime, opinion pools indicate Traian Basescu as one of the most popular politicians in Romania. His approach to street dogs problem is being replicated all over Romania (occasionally "enhanced" with shooting, drowning, relocation in remote wild areas and so on).
Maybe this is not a huge surprise in a country lagging behind in terms of democracy, civil society development, and exercise of local community autonomy, a country in which the recent authoritarian past left violence as a natural, first resort solution to most of the problems. However, isn't there something rotten in the reactions of the Western advanced countries to this unfolding monstrosity?
On one hand, tens of thousands of people all over the world signed an on-line protest petition initiated by PAW-Europe. Individuals and informal networks in Germany mobilized themselves in an exhausting effort to save tens of dogs from Romania, by organizing a steady outflow to Germany, where the dogs, many of them severely handicapped, are being adopted. Other thousands of dogs survive now in shelters in Romania, due to private donations from Germany, Italy, Switzerland, France, other European countries, but Canada as well. All these complement the exhausting efforts of the few, isolated and humiliated Romanian activists who, in this never ending nightmare, try to save as many innocent lives, as many as possible desperate and affectionate dogs, puppies and adults, bitches and males, hundreds of pairs of terrified eyes that will be haunting us forever… Allowing daily the pick of one to save, out of one hundred gathered and doomed for immediate killing is the latest torture that the dog catchers of the City Hall are offering to these abnormal people who, instead of getting themselves busy with some serious stuff, are stubborn in … caring for dogs.
But, on the other hand, British, French, and European authorities (e.g. Baroness Emma Nicholson from the European Parliament) encouraged Romanian authorities to pursue their abuses. Occasionally they even advised Romanian authorities on avoiding the PR mistakes of the beginning. Consequently, police has been used to keep press or NGOs away from places were atrocities are carried out, all dialogue with NGOs was suspended, and constant denial is the only official reply to all protests and inquiries from private citizens. Mainstream national and international media followed the lead, and no protest or critical comment was allowed to break the gravy silence over this topic. BBC and the French "Liberation" went that far as to ridicule Mrs. Brigitte Bardot for her protests and for her generous offer to cover the costs of neutering all the street dogs in Bucharest. British Foreign Office backed the killing campaign of Traian Basescu as implemented, and the French Prime Minister stated in Bucharest that, in spite of suggestions that he ought to intervene to stop the mistreatment of animals in Romania, he did not find such intervention "appropriate".
A bitter conclusion is that animal protection organizations and activists in Romania, but surprisingly in Western Europe as well, have to date only a minor influence over political decisions and over the agenda of the main mass media. Crude reality is that there is a deep gap between the attitude and the prompt involvement of several concerned people on one side, and the options and priorities of the vast majority, followed (or steered) by the authorities, on the other side.
Hundreds of dogs continue to be killed daily by the Bucharest City Hall. The health-hazard argument has been abandoned for a long time. Nowadays, Traian Basescu says he kills the dogs in order to make Bucharest streets look like those of London or Paris, and he will reconsider the approach only when this goal is met. The killing campaign is thus a "civilizing effort". Education programmes, neutering programmes, animal protection regulations, adoption-stimulating programmes are no longer a topic. Consequently, street dogs population is already refreshing. Independent rescue shelters are over populated and rely on further foreign support to survive, while the pressure of new entries stays huge. Maybe it is the time to start a new campaign here, with new assumptions and goals.
These days, Traian Basescu is poised to become President of Romania.
December 12, 2004
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