5 December, 2023
Interview with the editor of the Giurgiu Neoficial Facebook page about her fascination with the Giurgiu-Ruse zone&cross-border life, who enriches the local on both sides
Мостът на дружбата при Русе-Гюргево (източник: Явор Мичев)

Vladimir Mitev

Ana Tatu was born and raised in Giurgiu. She is interested in the history and culture of the area, which she believes is not valued at all. Forever in love with the Balkans, she believes in collaboration and common sense. She likes to read and sometimes write, especially short prose. She tends a garden where she experiments with lesser-known plant species and is the mother of two children. 

Ana, you have created a Facebook page – Giurgiu Neoficial (Unofficial Giurgiu), which provides interesting and unique information about the Giurgiu region, but lately it has been focusing more and more on Ruse and its cultural life. How did you come to create this page and what is its history? Do you have a profession related to press or communication? 

I started the page “Unofficial Giurgiu” about 7-8 years ago, since I came back home to Giurgiu. However, the idea for it was older. I was born in Giurgiu, but my husband is from another part of the country. When we came back from Bucharest, he was very curious about the city and its surroundings, and I had an inert, not to say downright negative attitude towards my city. I think this attitude is typical of most of the inhabitants of Giurgiu. The people of Giurgiu do not know their city and therefore do not love it. My husband and I have started to take little trips to the area and we have found that nature is actually generous to us. We saw the Danube with new eyes, the canals, the pools along the Danube, the Danube terraces. Gradually, I started reading about the history of Giurgiu and felt I had stumbled upon a treasure. There was a lot I didn’t know, I became passionate about the history of the area and then it occurred to me to describe and photograph Giurgiu through my own eyes and show others what I had discovered, with the idea that I could change the mentality a little, at least by a millimetre. Because a city is not a collection of buildings and places, but rather a collection of its inhabitants. People should love where they live, love being at home. Then maybe they will fight to change what they don’t like, what’s wrong, put pressure on the authorities, and the city will thrive.

I thought I would write only one, two years at most, the “Unofficial Giurgiu” page, but my work on it dragged on. And I crossed the Danube. 

Ruse is the closest city to us, generally a 15-20 minute drive max – if there’s not a lot of traffic at customs – it’s very easy for us to make day trips to Bulgaria. Ruse is much bigger than Giurgiu. The old buildings are quite well preserved. There are cafes, restaurants – the food is good. The surroundings are beautiful, the canyon of the Rousse Lom river is amazing. Nearby we found a UNESCO protected site, the Orlova Chuka cave, and I think we have a lot more to see. Let us not forget that our cities have a common history and I like to look for traces of this history that links us: the Ottoman fortifications, the buried church, the ferry, etc., to look at everything with the eye of a cultural tourist, and then tell my fellow citizens from Giurgiu about it.

To answer all your questions, no, I don’t have a press or communications profession, but I do love to write. And I use this to package fragments of history into short stories, written in an accessible way, a pleasant read for the person who opens their phone while drinking a cup of coffee. I try to approach everything from a positive point of view – which doesn’t mean I don’t see what’s wrong or bad. There’s a lot of media out there that makes sure to point it out to us every hour. I try to look around with benevolent eyes. I think I learned that from my kids who, when they were little, had that superpower of childhood, to enjoy the simplest things. The page is apolitical, no ads, purely volunteer.

How popular were the Ruse radio stations and their music broadcasts in Giurgiu after 1989?

I’m from the generation that grew up hearing Bulgarian every day. During communism we watched more Bulgarian TV than Romanian. It used to be said that “Bulgarians (television) are caught with a fork, but for Romanians you have to install an antenna”. Show any 40+ year old person from Giurgiu the Suncho (Good night, children) videos and they will shed a tear. I used to watch soap operas, movies on Studio X, and listen to the music that came after the Revolution on the radio. I was a teenager, and for teenagers, music is very important, it’s part of their identity. 

I used to listen to Horizon Radio, I remember they had a three-hour rock show on Sunday nights. It started late, around 10:00 p.m., so it went on until after midnight. And I waited until the last half hour when they were playing the latest albums. I had a tape recorder and could record, quickly pressing the REC button so I wouldn’t miss a second. So I recorded Metallica’s last album – Metallica 91 – and the tape went all over town and was copied many times.

And later on, after 2000, when the internet and YouTube had entered the market and music had become much more accessible, I was still listening in the car to a Bulgarian radio station, Pristis or something like that. Suddenly it stopped playing and I was left without a rock radio behind the wheel.

You find a lot of things in Ruse that will delight you – like its cultural scene. What interests a woman from Giurgiu in Bulgaria across the Danube? 

Besides what I said above – to which I should add that we also come to Ruse for shopping – I pay a lot of attention to the music events there. Music interests me, maybe there would have been more, maybe I would have included theatre, but the language barrier intervenes. At the Rousse Opera, the programme is rich, the institution is very active and in the last year I have found that classical music and rock music are beautifully connected and so they come together on stage. I went to two performances, the orchestra was conducted by Dimitar Kosev. I found them phenomenal, one of a kind. I was practically lucky to be in the centre of these events, which I hope will become a cultural movement. 

I’m following a few pages from Ruse, which I translate automatically with Google translate. I’m looking forward to this year’s Max Club concerts, Karaoke Star, and I’ll definitely keep an eye out for Ruse Summer Fest.

Besides the museums I’ve already visited, for me the food of people is also part of the culture. Let’s not be hypocrites, we people from Giurgiu come to Ruse to eat, and I always choose something traditionally Bulgarian. I will not forget to say here how much I love your roasted peppers and lyutenitsa. I really think we should make a living, edible and cross-border museum of all kinds of Danube dishes. I am joking, but not 100%. I think I still have some exploring to do on the culinary side. I’m interested in the city cake, the Garash cake. There’s a beautiful story behind this dessert. It’s a pity I couldn’t come last autumn when you had an event with music and Garash cake. 

To what extent does the lack of developed public transport between Giurgiu and Ruse prevent you from coming more often? Do you think that a bus or minibus service between the two cities should somehow be supported by local administrations if private companies don’t see enough profit in it?

There is a joke circulating among the residents of Giurgiu: 

“- When you have guests coming from another part of the country, where do you take them in Giurgiu? What is there to see in Giurgiu?

– Ruse!”

Maybe it’s a bit of a cruel joke, painful for us, in the Romanian spirit of ridiculing trouble, but it’s true. The proximity of our cities, separated by the river, and the fact that we can see each other from one bank to the other, is fascinating. We may be used to it, but for people coming for the first time, it is quite appealing. Before the pandemic, we had two girls from Canada and Israel visiting us, and we went to the port of Giurgiu to eat, and they were surprised that there was a city from another country on the other side. They thought it was close, they wanted us to drop off at the restaurant in Giurgiu and, since we didn’t have enough time to drive them, they said they would go by themselves, on foot. We didn’t let them, of course, we told them that the distance was a bit longer than it looked and it was not possible to get there on foot.

Well, here’s the problem, if you don’t have a car, it’s not easy to get from one bank to the other. And it’s not cheap at all. I always see taxis with Russian plates going to Bucharest. Such a trip is probably quite expensive, but even with your own car you have to pay for the bridge, then the vignette. We know that this approach – everyone with their own car – is outdated and not sustainable. That is why I think there should be regular bus journeys. Not only that, we need trains at convenient times, ferries, cycle lanes and – why not – a boat that runs from spring to autumn between the two ports. I may be a dreamer, but making it easier for people to get around could help develop the area from a tourism and economic point of view. Sooner or later, we will have to look at everything holistically and overcome this mentality of a border that cannot be crossed. 

We are now together in the European Union. Culturally, we are in the same region of the Balkans, we have some leisure activities in the area and Bucharest is close anyways. On the other side, in Bulgaria, are Rousse and the not too distant Veliko Tarnovo. This all sounds idealistic, because even between Giurgiu and Bucharest there are no good transport links, but if we do not dare to dream, we will never know what we need and what to ask of the authorities. 

But this is what the future looks like. This is what it is like on all European borders, for example, my sister lives in France, on the border with Belgium. The border goes through a park, when you go through the park you are either in France or Belgium, and she goes to work by French or Belgian bus, depending on who gets to the bus stop first. 

Perhaps at first, the initiative should come from the authorities of both cities. But we are in danger of entering a bureaucratic hell that is impossible to get through. Although a road link – because that’s all it’s possible to start – supported by both administrations would mean they are anchored in the present, thinking about the future and celebrating the past. The bridge over the Danube was built in the 1950s at some sacrifice to the community.

Anecdotally, you should know that a couple of decades ago there was the idea – given with electoral paint – of an air link between Giurgiu and Ruse, more precisely a cable car. It hasn’t even got that far, but there are cities in Europe linked by this spectacular means of transport.

What more do the people of Ruse and Giurgiu need to do to have a more satisfying life in their area instead of going to Bucharest, Sofia or Varna?

Truly be citizens, pay attention to what is going on around them and get involved. Everyone with what they can, however little they dedicate to the city, that little is earned by the whole community, and the community is not made up of anonymous people, the community means our parents and children, our neighbours, our school teachers. We are the community. Let’s look at the young people, their needs and give them as much attention as possible. Young people will leave, try, explore, it’s in the age of youth, but maybe give them something to come back to. 

Photo: Ana Tatu (source: Facebook)

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