This week Bucharest was the central stage for one of my favourite cultural events: One World Romania; while everyday life kept many of us from having a human rights documentary marathon the festival was a good trigger for choosing the topic of my next 2 articles: violence and televised justice.
„A murder revisited” is one person’s story of being in the wrong place, at the wrong time, in the wrong era and a country’s story of surviving the present. For clarity of the discussion here is the film synopsis: „For Frenchman Brice Taton a holiday trip to Serbia was a journey of no return. Unaware of the sinister climate of lynch two days prior the scheduled Belgrade Gay Pride 2009, Brice and his fellow Toulouse team fans were attacked in the city centre by a gang of hooligans. Brice was thrown of a 10 meter high staircase dying two weeks later. The ensuing French government’s pressure for a quick legal proceedings ended up in a hastily executed trial and the sentencing of a group of young Partizan fans with no previous criminal record. A Murder Revisted revisits the Brice Taton murder case exposing Serbia of today, a country were indiscriminate and unpunished violence orchestrated by leaders of football hooligan groups and controlled by remnants of the Milosevic era keep holding the country’s civil society in a state of permanent fear.” (http://oneworld.ro/2012/l/en/a-murder-revisited-87/).
At first for your satisfaction is good to see that elsewhere is worse than home but when you start thinking of concepts beyond the story you realize that the situation is similar, only the shades are different. In Romania we have no extreme gangs of hooligans, we have no violent street fights, we have no hate crimes; it’s a peaceful place, it’s a safe place in comparison to a large part of the world. The chances for a foreigner to be killed in Romania are close to none; the chances for a foreigner to be killed in a hate crime are even smaller.
But violence exists in Romania, mainly unreported because it goes on behind close doors. When it bursts into public light is seen as a minor incident and is quickly thrown under the rug. Not long ago a very upset driver pulled out a gun an shot the passenger of another car in front of 2 young children. Soon after a betrayed husband entered a beauty salon and cooled down using his gun. Some time ago a young man was abusing his girlfriend in a public place and drove over a man that was trying to stop the fight. The incidents are shocking, the second one made some decisional heads fall but no one really sees a threat for the society. I remember that in my first year of practice a person came into the prosecutor’s office to report that her ex-husband was following her, he was always watching and sending disturbing messages. She was genuinely terrified but taking into account that the ex-husband was not violent and she was stil alive the justice system could not really solve her problem: file a report for the threats, go home and wait maybe he will do something stupid next time. If the incident would have become a domestic crime it would have been the main story for the evening news and the next day everybody would go back to their lives.
This is the problem with a country that treats only what it can see and only what is shown in crime statistics. Serbia has a loud violence, Romania has a silent one but both are dangerous. The fact that we don’t see the problem, the fact that violence is usualy domestic and not reported creates a lack of response from the authorities. Even though this week a new law regarding domestic violence is in public debate we have no efficient methods to protect victims, no real plan to educate people: it is a blind spot and this shows in the law, in the social response, in the education system.
There are places where violence is a sign of love, where the household is ruled with the fist, where enduring is a way of living. Strangely the few anti-violence campaigns don’t reach these places. And sadly this reality doesn’t reach the criminal law: we have more severe punishments for theft than for domestic violence, we prosecute only if the victim comes and reports the crime, we sentence people with fines for most of the violent acts. We don’t corect, we do not punish but the saddest part is that we don’t prevent and we don’t protect.
The education system has no coherent plan to form us in this aspect: if you are lucky and live in a normal environment you won’t feel the consequences of this lack of vision. Strangely if you live in a violent environment you won’t perceive the consequences either because your world will seem the only way possible and society is not very eager to prove you wrong. We do not teach our children that arguments are stronger than the fist, we do not react to abuses, we do not educate through personal example. Individualy or as a society we do nothing to prevent.
Even if you manage, by yourself, to see that there is another way beyond violence, the system will probably be unable to help and protect you. There are few shelters for abused persons, many of the crimes relating to violence don’t permit any kind of preventive measure, there is no such thing as restraining orders and the law permits a limited number of protective acts from the civil servants. Best case scenario you can receive therapy, you will be placed in a protective environment for a short period of time and hope for the best. The good news is that whenever the criminal code will enter into force we can probably protect the victims more efficiently. Till then remaing pending…
I don’t know what is worse: to have a problem that is in the public scrutiny every moment or to have a problem that you don’t event know it exists? Public violence is a serious defiance to common sense but hidden violence is an efficient silent killer. Better to know and fight than to be unable to comprehend the magnitude of a phenomenon and react in a proper manner?