30 September, 2023
A discussion with Gabriel Amza on the Planeta Petrila movie and civic activism in Romania
Gabriel Amza and Vladimir Mitev (source: Assen Nikolov, Bloc 14)

On 9 June 2023 at the Bloc 14 cultural center in Rousse, Bulgaria the screening of Planeta Petrila movie (directed by Andrei Dascalescu) took place. It was followed by a discussion of the public and the moderator Vladimir Mitev with Gabriel Amza – a Romanian civic activist from Timișoara. Gabriel spoke about the social context, in which the movie was shot – about the Mineriadas (the violent interventions of miners in the 90s, which suppressed the protesting students in Bucharest), about cultural movements Planeta Petrila and Roșia Montana, about his activity as a civic activist, journalist, visual artist and photographer.

Gabriel Amza: Okay, so first I feel like I need to introduce myself. I am not part of the team that made the movie “Planeta Petrila” at all. You could see me in the background. I’m an extra, if anything. No speaking parts. This is because I was documenting this same community at the same time. I’ve been documenting it for 6 or 7 years. I was doing it for about a year and a half when the events of the movie happened with the closing of the mine and its successful saving.

This movie is very valuable and it literally raised the bar. It’s made with HBO. It got a lot of international attention and it cemented the whole situation of mine saving because if it’s on HBO, which is super important.

I’m a documentary photographer at base. I’m an activist, journalist and a writer. And multimedia artist and land artist and interdisciplinary person. I do a lot of things, so I can answer a lot of questions. Whatever questions you may have, I hope to do them justice. Please go on. Maybe you could introduce yourself as well.

Vladimir Mitev: If I have to say something about myself. I’m a Romanian speaking journalist. We speak in English? Do you understand all English? You don’t, do you?

I watched Planeta Petrila for the third time now. The first time was in Telciu which is a village in the Bistrita-Năsăud region of Transylvania. There was a summer school of social sciences and this was one of the flagship screenings of the event. And the second time was a project which was a cross-border, Bulgarian, Romanian and Hungarian project where I also met Gabriel and we watched the movie. I watched it for the second time then and after that I was trying to somehow screen the movie in Rousse, because I was thinking it’s worthy. I was thinking Gabriel may also speak very well about various things related to activism or the movie itself. I made some attempts to speak with the Romanian Cultural Institute, but it failed. Eventually I found resonance in Bloc 14 and I’m happy about that. 

I wanted to have some kind of discussion with you too, as a public. It’s interesting how you have perceived the movie or if you have any questions which are caused by the movie. I have some questions. I think some context should be given, and I may also ask that. But I also think it’s important what’s your judgment about what you start with?

What’s going on with the mine now?

What’s going on with mine now is a complex situation, because it changed since the movie was released and this happy ending is a bit of an early happy ending. It’s movie magic! In part because they managed to save the mine by declaring several buildings of it as monuments of culture. Thus, they saved it from the rabid clutches of the government that wanted to destroy it.

But the Mine Closure authority, which are the people that were demolishing it, had their brand interests, which is the weighing of the steel that they got from the mine. It wasn’t particularly kosher. They made a lot of backroom money from that. This is very important to them personally, of course, because it involves their personal wealth. It’s how corruption works. A lot of things disappeared. The giant motor you saw on top that the lady was moving is actually a Siemens motor made during World War II by the Germans. There’s a really cool story behind it because we switched sides. Romania switched sides while that engine was being installed. So they took all the German technicians and sent them to prison because they were Germans. But then no one knew how to install the motor and they took them out of business so they could install the motor.

This is a funny anecdote. That motor was intact when it was declared a monument. The motor itself was a monument. It’s no longer intact. One night the cameras all shut down and there was a glitch and people forgot to lock the door. And on top of this giant tower of 14 tons of copper went missing in this very guarded institution and no one has any idea where it went. This is the situation that is still ongoing. The Jiu River Valley has a very healthy recycling culture. There is a thing called “magnets in the Jiu Valley”, and magnets are people that search these derelict places for scrap iron to sell. It’s a way of life for poor people in a very impoverished community, and they still aggressively harvest the mine to this day. So even I think I was there the last time this spring and it’s always a bit less somehow. There’s a bit more art all the time because they’re actively working. The group of people you’ve seen there are actively working to decorate another building, to refurbish, create the stage, create something all the time. But at the same time, there is this disappearing element to the mine where everything made of metal gets torn away. Sometimes the art itself gets vandalized. 

I don’t exactly know why or how that culture works. But yeah, it’s an ongoing process to actually renovate it. A place like that requires tens of millions of euros to make it safe, to make it a place that people would want to visit. And declaring it a monument doesn’t guarantee you tens of millions of euros, which is still necessary to actually make them usable and okay, once again. So it’s still ongoing.

Recently, they had conversations. They had a delegation from the World Bank in the mine, I believe last year to secure funding from the International Monetary Fund to make it work and to the EU’s partner, like the regression and decarbonisation funding scheme. What is important to mention is in the context of Eastern Bloc mines and generally internationally in mine closures, the miners of the Jiu Valley have been pretty successful at guaranteeing a relatively in this situation, healthy firing, which is to say most of them got six months or a year of compensation pay as well as now they’re getting re-education in installing solar panels and maintaining solar infrastructure. So all in all, they’re not that bad, but they are very emotionally attached to the mine where they spent most of their dark days, I guess. So it is relatively bittersweet.

Romania is famous for its mines, and many of them have been successfully turned into attractions for many tourists. Why is Petrila different?

Salt mines have some inherent benefits for tourism, which is to say that it’s healthy to stay there for short periods of time. It’s very unhealthy to stay in a coal mine, even for the time I or Dascalescu were there, you come out and you cough up black for a while, even on the outside. You don’t have to go underground to get those health benefits. Uh, so to get tourists and like, tourists don’t really want to get dirty. If you lean on a wall in a mine in white clothing, it’s going to be black. So it’s a specific breed of tourists. It’s off the beaten track. It’s hard to get there. Like, you can’t go. Usually tourists will go to Bucharest, Brașov, somewhere. If you want to go to the Jiu Valley, you have to specifically go to the Jiu Valley. It has a big mountain climb next to it for cars and for really adventurous people. It’s a very beautiful place. They’re opening new ski resorts there. It’s a constant process. It’s amazing for nature and wildlife. It’s a great area to see. It’s important to note that it wasn’t always the case in the 80s when all these mines were working and all the people were working, which was very okay for them in a way. The ecology of that mine, like all of it, was black from mountain to mountain. The rivers ran black because that’s where they washed coal. It takes a lot to re-ecologize, to use the phrase, a place like this and make it kosher for service. And that’s the limitation.

What is the significance of miners in the socialist times and today?

Big question. Thank you.

Yes, there’s a lot of context to understand in this, and I’m going to try and keep it coherent and show it, but I may go off on tangents and forget what I’m talking about because it’s inherent in my thought process. Before the Petrila mine was one of the oldest and deepest mines in Romania, it was 158 years old when it closed. It opened somewhere during the coal rush of the 1800s in the steam age. It was one of the important places where coal was coming from in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. At first in the 1800s, this area had people coming in from Spain, from everywhere. In Europe. It was one of those places where people just gathered to work because there were a lot of jobs. It was the same situation as mining in the States. It was quite abusive. At some point. The history is very unclear. We have yet to unpack that as a country. During communism they were considered heroes. Miners generally had really good benefits. All the mines had their own bowling alleys and bowling clubs. They had football clubs, they had swim teams. They had  military like marching bands, they had parks. It was an okay place to live. The pay was pretty okay by communist Romania standards. It was a pride to say you were a miner. It was a respected thing. They had a pretty okay life apart from the 25 years underground. And then after five years you get to like to rest a bit before you die, which is the downside, but a really healthy community all around.

There was a moment in the 70s where they had a big strike in Petrila. The Prime Minister came down, he got held in like this little watchman’s quarters. You know, those little houses. They just locked the prime minister in there and demanded to speak to Ceaușescu, who eventually did speak to them. They totally got what they wanted, which is better pay and more benefits. And from then on, the organizers of the strike all mysteriously died in mining accidents, and the mining unions got infiltrated with politically appointed people to control them, because they’re a large mass of people and they had to be controlled. They became the syndicate, that’s sort of when things started going downhill.

After the revolution, the miners were used by the government. After the revolution, we still had protests. In Bucharest, we had student protests. It was an ongoing thing that lasted for a long time. The government wasn’t particular. Learn to be happy with this. But what are they going to do? They can send in the army and the police to beat up the protesters and arrest them, but that would cause an international incident. And we get like, um, like, I don’t know, uh, economic sanctions and stuff, but what can you do? You use your infiltrated people in the unions to convince the miners that those people are enemies of the state. So you convince the miners to go to Bucharest and beat up protesters, get them really drunk on the train beforehand, make sure they have everything they need, make sure the police stay very far away from the situation. And this caused the first, second and eventually third Mineriada. The first two were politically orchestrated, sort of. The people of these times are still in many ways in power. The third one is when they realized the mines are going to get closed anyway. They couldn’t compete on the international coal market and they decided to strike by themselves and go to Bucharest by themselves without being politically ordered. The moment that happened, the army came at them and they never made it to Bucharest.

This situation caused some differences in how miners are perceived in Romania, which is to say it was a very bad thing to be a miner in the 90s and the 2000. They lost all public support with the beating of protesters. It’s a well-documented thing and the horrible photos from those events with a woman in a blue dress getting beaten. They lost all support from the general population. And so it was very easy for the government to close down mines and hurt them and fire them. Without suffering really public anger, just the miners themselves, which became balkanized as well in their own way because of how the unions were infiltrated, they can no longer trust each other and they were fighting for jobs. So instead of working together, they started acting against each other and working for their own benefit, as they got fired in smaller waves of 500, 1000. You don’t fire 50,000 people at once, because then you get a massive riot, because the people who still had jobs wanted to keep their jobs and they would never riot in support of their colleagues.

The moment the miners left the Jiu Valley to go back to their place of origins across Romania. Because the Jiu Valley had such a huge population because people were moved there as work was needed. It’s part of how communism worked in Romania at least. The moment they started going back home, they drove off because they were now miners from the Jiu Valley. They weren’t welcome back home. So it became a whole situation and its own trauma. For these people, this is the later stages of the closing of the mines. Petrila was one of the last six, I believe, to get closed down. I think currently there is 1 or 2 left. They are set to close down up to 2026, I believe, but that data has to be checked.

Yeah. Okay. Another thing which maybe should be made clear is why the government changed its mind. Because it’s the state which wanted to close them. And suddenly the state decided to give them the status of protected buildings.

We had a huge fire in a rock club somewhere in 2015 that caused massive street riots and the fall of the government because no one wanted to touch governance at the time, because it was a death sentence politically, because we were all very angry in Romania. This was the fire at the club Colectiv. In 2016, we had one year of a technocratic government, which was the one time in my life where I would wake up to good news on TV. I found the websites. It was amazing. One year, that’s all we get. In the last week of that government, they managed to pass this. They also managed to save Roșia Montana, which was a whole thing, which everyone refused because this intends to create a big open pit gold mine and create a giant lake of acid to clean the oil with. They also stopped that by declaring it a UNESCO heritage site. Currently, my country is proudly working to cancel the UNESCO heritage status of that area and open back the mines or the possibility of future mines because it’s big business, right?

I have a question, but let us hear something interesting. This club you were talking about. 


What was it called?


Is there a movie about it?

There is, I believe. I haven’t seen it. 

It can be seen even online without registration. Without payment. I can send you the link. It’s a very important movie for this tendency, which is similar to Democratic Bulgaria in Bulgaria. Union Save Romania because it’s about the new type of politician who appears after Collective and becomes minister of health. That’s the legend. He’s called simply Vlad, Like our simple Kiro (Kiril Petkov) you know. So there are a lot of common things in the rhetoric, in the image, so I can recommend watching the movie.

There’s one thing to say about Vlad Voiculescu, who became minister of health, is that he is, to this day, the leading blood donor in the country. Like and this is not advertised or anything, but we have an app because during that government they managed to gamify blood donations to encourage people to donate. So if you donate a lot, you get the words and there’s a chart and he’s always top of the chart, because he goes to donate every six months, which is, I think, the minimum. So yeah.

I have another question which might be interesting to the public. You mentioned Roșia Montana. Roșia Montana protests led to the appearance of Save Romania Union, which emerged from the cultural movement Roșia Montana. Mihai Goțiu, the journalist, and other people got into politics. Planeta Petrila was also a cultural movement. But it didn’t lead to a party. So can you compare Roșia Montana and Planeta Petrila in these terms as cultural movements?

Roșia Montana was inherently an ecological movement. It was about the idea that we don’t want open pit mines especially in beautiful mountains that have the potential for tourism. I have a critique about that, which I’ll get to at the end. We had a massive protest. It was the first coherent movement of my generation in the generation that’s maybe ten years before me. It was the first time we managed to organize. We managed to have a coherent message for everyone. People made banners, people donated. It was a long, long fight for UNESCO heritage status. But the critique I have about that is that once it was declared UNESCO heritage, everybody quit. We were like – ”We won, it’s finished.” And those communities very much depend on jobs. They never thought about the people in that area as a large movement. If you go there now, it’s in a horrible situation. The company that was going to open the mines had actively bought houses in all the villages to pressure people which they still own. Those houses don’t get renovated. They do a lot of lobbying in the local communities  and are still the only ones coherently investing money there for their own needs. They want to open the mine. But the thing is, all those tens of thousands of people that protested to save Garcia, Montana don’t go there once a year for a weekend to spend some money. Those people don’t feel like they are in danger recently. This last year I think it was in danger that on top of a mountain there was a lake and because of the rains it was going to crash down and wipe out the few villages. It was like a whole thing. It’s very difficult to repair those dams and it’s very difficult to do infrastructure work for those communities because it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site and requires very special paperwork to do so. But it’s a Pyrrhic victory at best.

That’s the story of Rosia Montana as a project. But yeah, I, I mean, there is also a movement which led to the appearance of the Union Save Romania.

But again, this is no longer a thing, okay?

In any way, what’s the difference between Planeta Petrila and Roșia Montana?

I know it’s not as popular. It was never as popular as Roșia Montana. Roșia Montana managed to somehow attract the right people to get protests going in every large city in Romania for a long time, which is really impressive. For Petrila the driving force for a long time has been mostly Barbu, the artist who did guerrilla warfare art around town, which people disliked him for in his local community for the longest time because they didn’t see value in it. To this day, they only started seeing value in it the moment they realized they can make money off of it. It’s very important. I want to point this out because it’s very important for communities like this.

Okay, but is it economically feasible or do you have to spend out of pocket, you know?

That was one of my questions. Like we saw, Barbu stuff is made by himself. Most of those objects are from second hand shops in the area that he upcycled into art.

But he has to get funding even for the paint on the walls?

He has to, has he?

I don’t know.

Do you get funding for the paint on the walls?


There you go. That’s the answer.

All those people that were helping him paint art, the volunteers. The volunteers are mostly kids of high school age from his community, which do have free time in the summer. So they usually help. Whenever I go to the Petrila mine, I try to donate as much money as possible. I try to take groups of tourists there from Germany and groups of students to figure out projects and work for funding to get funding for the area. They managed to obtain some EU funding. Cenușă – the mine leader guy

From the syndicate?

Yeah. The syndicate guy who made his own syndicate. He now got the funding to make a printing business, which he runs out of the mine. And it’s a healthy ecosystem because he prints the Planeta Petrila stuff. So then Planeta Petrila as an organization, can pay him to make things. And then the money sort of works in the community. And that sort of ecosystem is a very healthy way for this sort of thing. All the miners that hated this idea for the longest time, the moment they realized that if there are tourists coming in and they want to talk to miners, they can guide them through the mine and talk about each place and then get donations at the end. Then they make money and then their friends want to do it, too.

So, it’s like a free mine tour.

Yeah. Sort of a free mine tour but donation oriented. 

Yeah, yeah. Is this the first place abroad where this film was presented?

It’s definitely the first place where I presented it. It’s been presented by other people many times, but not by me. So thank you for that question.

Can you tell us more about the director, the team, the movie itself, the period it was made in? 

The period it was made in, from what I remember, is somewhere between 2015, 2016. About one year of filming. Dascalescu did most of it himself, but he does have a small team. He had an assistant with him all the time, who also acted in the films. It’s a pretty guerilla filmmaker type of affair. He managed to get into the mine before it closed. It was really hardcore because they didn’t want to let people in at the time. He got a very good angle very early on, but he realized that Barbu was the key to that story. It took me like a year and a half of documenting to figure out that Barbu was important because there’s about 12, 15 villages in that place. I didn’t know Barbu because I’m not that smart. It took me a long time to get to Barbu. And that’s also for me, the moment when the project clicked. He’s the key to it. To this voice. Dascalescu found him very early on in his project and realized that’s what it’s about, and it makes for a great movie. From then on, I think the editing was done with the team at HBO, which is very great. You know, there’s a lot of technical ability there. There are a lot of skills and I think they managed to make a great play.

What is the most positive result for you or for the team?

I mean, again, me and the team, very separate things.

You are here…

Yeah, I’m here. That’s definitely the best benefit for me. I cried a lot the first time I saw it. I got to see it for the first time. There was a worldwide launch in Petrila. That’s where the first screening happened. The mayor was there and everybody in the movie was there. The kids, yeah, the kids were there and everything, and everybody was really excited to see it.

The movie itself, the great victory of it, is that it reconfirmed people’s worth and value in that place. It gave them a reason to keep doing it because the Jiu Valley is a very depressing place. It looks really nice when it’s nature, but if you get to see it in the winter, it’s absolutely depressing. It’s a very poor area. It’s a valley where everything looks like it’s crumbling because inherently it is. It’s still waiting for a lot of investment. It’s an area that’s still horribly plagued by corruption. They had a new ski resort made that the ski lift takes people directly to the land and the hotel of the mayor’s son. It’s such a classic scenario for this part of Europe. And it hasn’t changed to this day, maybe you guys are now curious to go see this place if you’re ever in the area. This is the kind of victory that it has. It’s very small victories that can snowball. The success of that team and this movie is a part of that.  We are helping it snowball into becoming a thing. Petrila is a place where in the 90s, when the firings were at their peak and people were getting fired, like every other month, you could buy an apartment with a case of beer,  just straight up a case of a beer apartment because no one wanted to be there anymore. The place is that depressing.

Question from social media. Is this going to be the only projection here?

I will pass that on to the organizer.

For the time being. We have the agreement of the director for one screening. If there is interest, we may discuss with the director for another. But we are all in discussion with Bloc 14.

How does it happen that Romania manages to pay for these cultural movements? What is the secret ingredient or what makes people be so active civically? Because you are also a civic activist. So maybe, you know.

I don’t think people are generally civically active. I think Romanians are by definition, we don’t get taught how to be active as citizens. This is a thing and that’s a huge problem in our schools. If anyone has gotten taught that they were very lucky to have a good teacher, but we have huge protests now from teachers. I think it’s an education issue. Any lack of civil activism is definitely an educational issue and a family issue at first because for me, my parents raised me with a respect for justice and hatred of authority, which I thank them for. All the people I know who are civically active were raised in a similar vein. So anything that comes from a family environment is that you can teach children, I believe, to be civically active and have a strong sense of justice. But all in all, Romania is not as a society better at it than any other place. Let’s take Barbu for example. Barbu comes from an intellectual family, where they were raised like this. All of them. There’s two brothers and one sister, and all of them are hardcore. They’re all professors or teachers. He is the fallout, if anything, because he just does his little art projects. But the rest of them: his brother is a leader of the student club in the Jiu Valley. His sister is a teacher, so he’s the one that’s not doing anything with his life. If anything,

Maybe you could tell us more about your activity as an activist.

Is it relevant?

It’s an example of what happens in Romania, based on your own account. You’re active in the bicycle movement, right?

Yes, I’m active in this area. I’m a very curious person at heart. I was raised like this and I was raised to disrespect authority, if it’s stupid, this is a big thing for me. I was very much encouraged not to become an artist by profession because I need to eat eventually from someone other than my parents. So I decided to become a journalist because that totally makes more money. I went to Journalism university and the first semester was such a wretched experience that I stopped writing completely and I took up photography. The moment I ended up in a photojournalism masters is when I took up writing again because we had a brief writing class where they taught us how to write well, not how to write pathetic little things that don’t have self-respect. Now I will write again. Since then, I started riding a bike, and I thought it was very unfair what’s going on, on the road. So I became a bike activist. Eventually I realized that me doing these things isn’t sufficient. So now I try to explain to other people that they should do it too, because I think that’s the best way to get results. And yeah, I don’t know that.

Okay, but when you do your projects, how easy is it for you to do them in Romania, do you find partners? Do you find an environment?

Documented this from my own money for several years. I sold cameras, my better cameras. I sold them to save money. I once got pneumonia because I was sleeping in a place that was so cold. Now I have a driver’s license so I can sleep in my car, which I do regularly if I have to document because it’s a lot cheaper. More recently, I’ve become involved with Funky Citizens, which is one of our leading NGOs. I am at the Timișoara branch. And what we’re trying to do now as a team is to create a self-supporting support network for activists. Now that we have the Internet and we can talk to each other, the goal is to help each other with resources. Because a lot of the problems we have in our communities individually are the same problems everywhere. We just don’t talk about them and there’s no way to solve them centrally. Everyone feels very alone with their problems. At the end of the day, many of us have the same problem. And the moment one person finds a route to success, it can be extrapolated to several situations. So that’s the current plan and what I hope will affect a bit how Romania works. 

Our next elections are going to be very big. We have half a million new voters which are just coming into voting age. It’s usually people who go to vote the first time around. Is it exciting? And they get sad because it’s the same shit and then they no longer go to vote. This election can affect our future as a country, quite a lot. And with these young people, I think we have a standing shot to make a difference.

Do you have an opportunity?

Yes. To move it a bit. I believe in the “Smoochy the Rhino” way, which is you can’t change the world, but you can make a dent. If you haven’t seen Death to Smoochy. It’s an amazing movie. I warmly encourage you to show it here as well. Edward Norton plays a child’s TV icon, who is a guy called Smoochy. So it always cheers me up and encourages me to try to make a difference in the world. 

Does it mean that now you’re working mostly with young people or with school people just to prepare them for.

I wish I did. No, what I’m working with is I’m going to schools to do road safety education, to try and balance out the police doing road safety education, where they explain to kids that whatever happens, it’s their fault and that’s victim blaming from the start. We go and try to explain to them that they have rights when they’re on a pedestrian crossing. It’s their right to be there. It’s not that they don’t have to run from the car if they’re on a pedestrian crossing, this sort of thing. It’s baby steps. I want to empower people to feel at home in public space, and I want them to own the public space because it’s there. All of us have that opportunity to be there. The right, even if we are in a BMW or not, you know, it’s a very.. I think it’s key because in a country where you feel like you aren’t allowed to be in public space, if you’re not in a BMW, you don’t have the self-respect to try and change anything. I believe in these small changes that I think can psychologically lead to drastic shifts in how people view themselves in their relationship with the state. It is maybe wishful thinking.

Do you know any of the guys in the movie from the mines? What is going on with them? Did they go to the other mine to work as they said?

A lot of them did, but some of those other mines would close down as well. I don’t maintain contact with the miners themselves. Cenușă no longer works in the mine. He’s retired and his health is not okay. The last time I saw him, he had health issues. This is because he was a miner for a long time, and that’s very bad for your health. Probably a lot of them are gone by now. But I don’t know. Hopefully, Planeta Petrila is still going strong. I’m still in contact with them. I also hope to publish a book about this. There’s one copy of it. It exists. If you ever want to go see my book until I manage to publish it, you have to go to the mine. It’s like the one copy can be consulted. People keep trying to buy it, but so far the price has gone up to €4,000 as offered. I need 8000 euro to print it, so I’m still waiting.

I am not in contact with them. I think it’s okay. The Jiu Valley right now is going up. It’s getting better again. They had the IMF people there. It was a big thing, because they need this. They’re all crazy, ridiculous, stupid punks as far as the authorities are concerned. But when the IMF says those people are important, you know, authorities will agree, like what it is currently. They managed to transfer the building ownership. It’s no longer  in the mine closing institution. It’s now its city hall, which is its own problem because now the city hall has to pay security. Which is slowly bankrupting the town. But it does provide some jobs and people have gotten used to it in the community. And all in all, it’s slowly getting better. People realize that if they have a spare apartment, they can Airbnb it and people will eventually show up for it.

When I started this project, if you wanted to go to Petrila, there was no place you could, for example, rent a room. I was sitting in the car. I would ask the people I met if I could crash on their couch for a week or whatever. These were the options in that villa and in the valley. 

But now it’s starting to develop in the winter. They have a lot of winter sports and in the summer there’s a lot of NGOs working for mountain bike routes and there’s a lovely NGO in a different place that’s not Petrila. It’s still in the Jiu Valley called. It’s a climbing gym for kids. It’s a social service where they get to climb for free and they get equipment. The rule is they have to stay there in the gym and do their homework, and they have to read a certain amount of hours per week. They’re already developing climbing cards and bouldering. This by itself is bringing more people. This it’s not “a one solution” type of thing. It’s more of a hive of very small individual things that can build up into a bigger one.

Have you received some financial support from organizations?

Sometimes, if I’m lucky, I apply for funding. We’ll see how it goes. I’m applying next week as well for a different type of funding. It’s a process. The sad part about this kind of work is also, I guess, you know, by now and you guys, it’s that it’s a whole full job to do the paperwork and ask for the money and you need a certain type of brain for that. Then to do the art and to do your projects. It’s also a full time job where you need a completely different brain for it. So sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t. It’s fantastic when it happens and I’m very happy for each time it does. I had the opportunity recently for my civic work to get paid by Funky Citizens to develop this network in my hometown and to basically be a problem for the authorities in my own way. It was the best time of my life because they didn’t ask for any email or any reports or any standardized way to show I succeeded. I had six months to do my thing and be angry and it was beautiful. But now I’m back to reality. So that’s the thing.

Hopefully, from what I understand, there’s a bright side to this. What organizations does Planeta Petrila require its money to just keep people full time employed to do the paperwork and do the work. 

This isn’t a thing that existed in how funding happens. Usually you get funded for a project. You have to do a lot of paperwork beforehand, you do the project and then you do a lot of paperwork at the end. At least in Romania, that’s how it works. But now we have funding from Europe, and in Europe, especially in Nordic funding, they started having the concept of money to sustain an organization and trust that they’ll do their projects coherently, which is mostly what everyone does. No one is going to take a six month vacation. If they get a paycheck, people will be like: “Hey, I don’t have to worry about writing projects. I can actually do my work.” So,  that’s starting to be a thing. And organizations are starting to get money like this. And then you have one or two people that are full time for that thing. And then you can actually start doing the job as it needs to be done. Hopefully this is going to continue as a trend and we’re going to see more of that hopefully in Bulgaria as well. The main thing.

Maybe last question, because you were here for a second time, if I’m not mistaken, and it’s the second day of your visit. So what is your impression of the city of Rousse and its people?

It’s very warm here.

Not at all. It will be warm. Yes. Now it’s just okay. You have noticed though.

I’ve been very impressed by the town. I’m very grateful for the opportunity to be here and to talk to you guys. It’s a pleasure because this is what I’m very happy to do all the time. So far, so good. The food is pretty good. The beer is nice.

What about the women?

I’m from Romania and I’m married, so they’re really nice. Very, very similar women in this part of Europe are very great and it’s a joy. I recently went to London and I walked around for 20km and I didn’t see one pretty woman. That was like a very notable thing. And I was like, I don’t want to be here anymore.

So if you see a good woman who is not from the UK.

So all in all, it’s really nice here. I think this town has a lot more, much like Petrilla, a lot more possibility than what I see. I think next to my hotel, there is this weird place where they stopped at a pedestrian crossing for this road that’s not even used and people have to go below, and I think that’s offensive. Stuff like that. But it’s inherent in this part of the world and in car culture. So it’s what it is. I think one of the main issues for this place is that that road is only for cars. If it had a cycle path next to it, I think the relationship with Giurgiu would be drastically different. It would create a lot of economic stimulation. So again, it is a beautiful town, a lot of history. From what I can see, I have yet to visit its museums. I love the building of the city hall. Yes, that’s great. I love that.  I like that ship-like building too. A lot. The ship and the theater are beautiful, and yeah. It’s a great town.

Only If you have words. What is Timișoara  famous for? The landmarks, the sightseeing of Timișoara. In a few words.

The city center is beautiful and worth seeing. It’s as good as any city center in Europe. We are famous for our gardens and parks. Timisoara has a ridiculous quantity of parks and I hope we have more and more of them. We are currently the capital of culture, European capital of culture. If you want to go there, I recommend looking through the schedule and finding time to visit art. You can currently spend a week in Timișoara and continuously see art, which is an amazing thing that I don’t know if it will happen in other years, so catch it while you can. But that’s about it. Our Timișoara is very multicultural. We have Bulgarians, we have Serbs, we have Jews, we have Germans, we have Hungarians, Armenians. I think we have a Russian minority, like the Russians Lipovans as well. It’s multicultural. It’s one of the best things about the city. 

Yeah, it’s called the small Vienna. Just like Rousse. 


It’s architecture. It was used in the 1800s for experiments in city planning. And if they worked out, they would be also implemented in Vienna. So that’s the relationship. This is why we had our great pride:  we have the first public lighting in Europe with electricity and we have the first tram with horses. And these are obviously experiments for Vienna. That’s how they were made, but Rousse is definitely a big deal.

The mayor who did the first city street lighting in Europe was the Bulgarian Carol Telbisz, who is a Catholic Banat Bulgarian. Okay. Sorry for that patriotic moment.

Very important, I think, to understand in this part of the world that together we are a lot better than each with our own thing. So.

I have the feeling we are thankful, all of us, for this opportunity to speak with you and watch the movie. Thank you. 

Thank you for being here and for asking questions and being interested in what I have to say. You are all welcome to reach out to me on social media or any other channels you want, except following me in the middle of the night, which I may be offended by. But the point being that you are all welcome to ask anything and I’m open to any collaborations etc., and relatively free because I’m a jobless person. Shamelessly jobless. It’s a beautiful thing. Thank you.

Thank you as well. I think through you, Vladimir, we have to make more connections to Romania because it’s just here.

Photo: Gabriel Amza in Rousse (source: Assen Nikolov, Bloc 14)

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