4 December, 2023
Romanian NGO Pro Democratia wants to do cross-border online consultation in Giurgiu-Ruse area
Vladimir Mitev (with the microphone) speaking at the panel on cross-border expansion of Pro Democratia e-consnultation platform to Rousse (source: Pro Democrația)

On 29 September 2023, at the theater in Giurgiu, the Romanian NGO Pro Democratia organized a discussion with local authorities on the use of the online e-participation platform. The second part of the event was dedicated to the possibilities of extending the platform to the Bulgarian city across the Danube – Ruse. Vladimir Mitev from Ruse shared some general considerations that should be taken into account in such an approach – for example, to remain independent, as much as possible, from the polarization that characterizes Bulgarian society lately. On the Romanian side, the discussion was attended by Viviana Anghel from Pro Democratia, Ionel Muscalu – deputy mayor of Giurgiu municipality, Ioana Ciocoiu from the Active Citizens community in Giurgiu and Iuliana Iliescu from Pro Democrația. At the end of the discussion, a citizen of Giurgiu commented on the state of the city center and Ionel Muscalu answered her.

Viviana Anghel: I propose that we go further and invite Mr Vladimir Mitev, journalist and opinion maker from Ruse, and Mrs Ioana Ciocoiu, coordinator of Active Citizens Giurgiu, to continue the discussion, this time focused on cross-border cooperation through the e-participation mobile application. We would like to announce that we are going ahead with the app and this time we will focus on common issues in the Giurgiu-Ruse Euroregion. We found that there are points of common interest and we have long had a civic action, a sustained social happening, supported by many Giurgiu residents and citizens of Ruse. I would like to give the floor to Mr Mitev to talk about this opportunity to consult with the people of Giurgiu and the Bulgarians of Ruse on issues of common interest. I am not only talking about the issue of common resources, the environment, but also how we manage the Danube, for example. I am also referring here to issues of cross-border cooperation in terms of culture or the economy, and I would like to hear from Mr Mitev what the authorities in Giurgiu have to say. I am curious to know what the most successful project with Ruse has been in the last year.

Ionel Muscalu: We have enough.

Vladimir Mitev: Thank you for the invitation. Indeed, it is a very good idea to create a cross-border space for citizens to discuss, consult and maybe even make decisions.

I tried to download the app from my phone, living in Ruse. I didn’t succeed because from what I understand there is a barrier, you can’t download it beyond Romania, so I can’t speak so concretely about the app, but only in what ways it can be useful. Concretely, but I think cases like the incinerator case or some cross-border protests or maybe the Friendship Bridge and so on are cases that are of common interest for people in our area. They can bring us closer together. They can make us more European. The reality is that we are still evolving towards a better knowledge between our areas. There is a distance between our peoples, generally speaking. An example is the case of the incinerator. The first reactions in Ruse were that the Romanians, all Romanians, wanted something bad for us, because this project was proposed and it was only after some time that it was understood that perhaps the interests of the people of Giurgiu and the citizens of Ruse are common on this subject and even the protests began, which are common.

So I think that such an open application that has the trust of the population or the citizens of both cities can help to get to know each other better, can increase trust. And trust is a big challenge, in my opinion, when we look at Romanian-Bulgarian relations, even if we are in the same international integration systems. I think we are still learning how to know each other better and how to have more trust. And I think that, in addition to the fact that our authorities know each other very well at the local level and have these cooperation mechanisms and practices, there is also a need for a citizen element in this process of cross-border life, and in this sense I see the approach as positive. It will be interesting to see exactly how the Danube will be crossed and I think that the media in Ruse could also be interested in promoting good practices of the kind you are doing at Pro Democratia.

Ionel Muscalu: Thank you. I’ll take over, so to speak, because I have something to say in this area. First of all, yes, being an independent application, being an application that does not belong to Giurgiu City Hall, nor to the County Council, nor to anyone else, but is absolutely independent, non-politicized, it can be trusted by the citizens. Because what I was saying earlier is coming back. I believe that Giurgiu and Ruse are two unique communities. I like to make rankings, because we like to be in first place. And Giurgiu and Ruse, you should know that there are a lot of things that we have been doing together for a long time.

The County Council has a joint committee on agriculture, where they meet monthly either in Giurgiu or Ruse. So monthly means every month and they meet twelve times a year with people from the two communities in the two regions, with business people, with institutions, and they discuss all the issues related to common interests and problems. Because, on the one hand, of course there are the agricultural businesses, on the other hand there are the common problems. We see now that it has been a difficult year for farmers in terms of cereals. Other times there are problems with swine fever or avian influenza. They are no different in Ruse than in Giurgiu. In Giurgiu and Ruse there are the same problems.

And, on the other hand, this joint meeting that we requested last year and have started to do, the Local Council of Ruse and the Local Council of Giurgiu, I don’t think it is done anywhere else in another part or in another country, on either side of the borders and there we discuss things that are certainly the most interesting, important for the community, because we don’t discuss the weather, we discuss how to make it so that people don’t stay in Customs for long, we discuss how to make access easier for the inhabitants of the two cities. We discussed Schengen and we made joint protests on this issue.

We discussed the incinerator before people took to the streets and now we have to tell another truth that I see and I don’t like to hide behind anything. You have elections in Bulgaria, I see that people suddenly become very interested and very inflamed about any topic on the other side or anywhere, because that’s what happens in elections, people become a little bit more nervous. On the other hand, we also have politicians who want to take something from this story and get a positive side to say “we did something against this incinerator”. In the meantime, the Giurgiu City Council voted unanimously as in a legislative vacuum, because at some point, someone, by ministerial order, removed that distance limit that was supposed to be five hundred metres from the community. So they couldn’t have made any incinerators under the terms of that order, which then, through that loophole, they were able to do, and suddenly we realized that someone had done this. He took a paragraph out of a law and the incinerator could have come in.

Well, we’re not stupid either. I told you earlier that there are professionals in local government and I believe in that. And then we all voted, from all parties in the City Council, that this limit should be one kilometre, not 500 metres, but one kilometre, delimited by the living area in the municipality of Giurgiu. So, today, based on what has been submitted to the City Hall, this incinerator is not being made. The funny thing is that after we made this decision, the protests started. Not before. So this is a question of communication, yes. People don’t know, in fact they don’t get informed, they get informed by various leaders and then public information can be manipulated.

I tried to answer the question.

Vladimir Mitev: I just wanted to say that Bulgarian society is very polarized at the moment, not only in relation to the local elections, but basically lately for several national and international reasons. There is a polarization in Bulgarian society and that’s why what Mr. Muscalu said about such an effort having to be as less politicized as possible is something that makes sense to me. It is very difficult, of course, but when something is done for citizens, it must be done for all. So perhaps there is a need for information, for more awareness, for knowledge of the laws or practices. It also works for the press, which promotes or reports on these developments related to local and cross-border life. And in this sense, the Pro-Democracy initiative can be successful if it manages to stay out of the strong polarization in Bulgaria, which is currently taking place but will probably end at some point.

Ionel Muscalu: I’ll give you one more answer and I won’t intervene, because people are getting bored of me. We know, and we are paying attention to the political and economic life in Bulgaria, because we are together in this European Union and we have to fight together for our rights. It’s harder for you because you have had seven elections in the last four years, which is rare for us. To change the government seven times and seven prefects and so on. It’s very difficult to get agreement on this. Once again, I want to say that I think this instrument is good because it is non-political. Thank you.

Ioana Ciocoiu: I represent a group of volunteers in a project run by the Romanian Academic Society. The project is called Active Citizens for Quality Public Services and it is not by chance that we were invited to participate. We have been working on quality public services. We were very excited and we were with Pro Democratia when this application was launched. We also tried to support by disseminating information in all possible ways. And we were excited to join them. We were watching the number of sign-ups from day to day. Our activities have been going on for the past year, that is, for a year now. Yesterday we had the closing activity of the project, but that doesn’t mean that this already formed group will not continue with the activities on the social field in Giurgiu. On this occasion we even invite you to increase the number of these volunteers. The activity is voluntary. In the meantime, we try to carry out activities within an organization, to implement projects and to carry out activities for the benefit of the lives of all citizens of Giurgiu.

I’m also very pleased to see Vladimir here. We have collaborated before, we continue to collaborate. Our volunteer group is working with civil society groups in Ruse. These are beneficial activities for both cities, with spectacular effects in the bonds of friendship that have been created between us and our friends in Ruse. If you have any other suggestions, any other questions, we are at your disposal.

Viviana Anghel: Yes. We are going to develop the application in this sense and we continue to rely on the support of our partners in Ruse and on this honest partnership that has been created with the authorities in Giurgiu and we are waiting to meet the authorities in Ruse.

Ionel Muscalu: After the elections.

Viviana Anghel: Of course, after the elections, we can’t expect the spirits to settle down from day one. I would like to make a mention. However, there is a difference between public consultation with citizens and consultation with experts, with stakeholders. And here I think this makes a difference, in that we give the opportunity for broad consultation with citizens, because the second option is frequently operationalised by the authorities. At least that is how we know it when drafting legislation, especially legislation with a social and economic impact. Stakeholders and experts are consulted. So our instrument is the citizens’ instrument, in the broad sense. These were the discussions.

I would like to invite my colleague Iuliana Iliescu again and draw conclusions. So, as a simple active citizen, but not involved in these historical issues in Giurgiu. Because she is adopted. Thank you!

Iuliana Iliescu: Thank you. Yes, somehow in Giurgiu, during the 14 months that we implemented the project, it became a second home. As we, from Bucharest, have never met more beautiful people, we are here and I am glad that we made friends. And when we implement a project, I, as project manager, like to take it forward. As a rule, funding is one-off and that’s about where it ends, because we still have resources, but we are thinking about how to somehow have a direction and that makes us happy, because we can take it forward little by little, with institutional partners from Giurgiu and Ruse. So thank you very much. At the last minute he managed to come and join us and even talk to us now, after the project was completed. What can we do first, next? What would be the steps?

Bottom line. The project was a success. We are glad we came up with an innovative idea, because innovation is always sought in projects. Somehow, this happens, but in a different way. Or this consultation of citizens: we wanted to be one click away. We have succeeded with this app and you should know that the app also offers this information tool, where we, together with the partners, send out timely news. There is punctual information about what is going on, given that you keep discussing the problem of the lilies when they started these actions of verification and so on by the city hall, we received the information and we sent it.

Now that we know that being an app by technology, we’re going to ask you from time to time to update it, because even we, every time we send them, we wonder if we get the notification or not? You need to update and get the notifications in real time or go in and see what else has gone up there. As I mentioned earlier, in the discussion with Mr. President the consultation from Giurgiu County Council was also launched. Please come in, we have one month, but we can extend depending on interests and how things go to vote or we will also send you an amendment to this effect, informing you that the consultation has started and when it is completed, let’s see what the results are. You have the materials in these information leaflets about the project. Please those who are here and already know about the application, have downloaded it, have used it, are still playing with it, you can press any button. It doesn’t spoil anything, you know. In case it doesn’t work, you have a message option. Give us a message there and we’ll fix it. Please pass on this leaflet, which also has a QR code, to your neighbours, friends and family members to download as much as possible, because it is in the interest of the citizens of Giurgiu, your interest. And, as I was saying, since we launched the app, we also have a category where citizens can come with initiatives. So that’s our next step. But we will develop it because it takes more time. We have launched the consultations that come from the public administration, as this partnership was also foreseen by the civil society, but I see that it also comes from you. By gathering as many initiatives and as many suggestions and comments as possible, we can know what the community wants and where we can go together with the local authorities. That said, thank you to all of you who have stayed with us. If there are any questions, of course, we can also discuss them after the end of this event over a drink. Thank you! Have a great day ahead and vote as much as you can in this application. Promote it and we’ll come back to you, I who am adopted. We’ll be back. We’ve thought about it and you’ll love it and love it. Absolutely! Can’t wait to get to Ruse.

Ionel Muscalu: Citizens of Giurgiu  often go to Ruse, more often to restaurants.

Iulia Iliescu: So it’s clear that they come with ideas. I’ll end with this, I’m asking a question.

Citizen of Jura: The question is rather a wish. I love the city very much. I want to be very concrete about the city. I consider that the pride of a city is the city centre. The pride of a mayor is the city centre. I have been a trustee for many years in this area and I have had attempts and sometimes even thought it would come to fruition to rehabilitate this downtown. In fact nothing has been done. I won’t tell you how much work went into this. A few years ago Mr. Barbu was mayor. Experts, engineers and designers came from Bucharest. Finally, we went with them for several months in apartments, in the basement, on the roof, everywhere, to do something for this city, for this area of the city, which is the pride of the city, this centre. That’s why I specified, because it hurts. I want to tell you that if you walk, people are usually in a hurry, they are obese and they walk with their heads down, but if you look up you see some blocks that look very old and a stranger when he comes to the city looks around. Just like I do. I look at the architecture, how clean it is, how beautiful. But it’s pathetic. We tried and repaired a few roofs, but with a few pennies not much could be done. In fact, some people started blocking the sidewalks. It’s a mess. People don’t look up, but when a stranger notices, they have to see this. I am very sorry and it hurts me because actually nothing was done. That’s one thing. The second aspect is these car parks that are beyond criticism, you can hardly drive around the dust. Rocks are bouncing all over the place, and if it rains, you’re just slaloming through the ponds. So it’s embarrassing that a mayor agrees to do nothing for us.

Wait a minute because that’s where the area is, not the owners. Where is the area between the blocks? But I want to tell you that it’s embarrassing when a stranger comes and parks, to see something like that. Why shouldn’t we be patriotic, why shouldn’t we love our city, if we can’t and don’t have these perceptions, really be architects or know our design better, why don’t we go to the specialists and say hey, look how it looks? It wouldn’t even be extraordinary, but the patriotism I think is lacking, because it doesn’t hurt and I’m very sorry for what I see. But I’m glad I’m here now and someone from city hall is here to hear it. I tried to go to the mayor one more time, he was there. And when I found out that no rehab was going to be done and I just wasn’t allowed to go, I thought to myself what were the reasons that rehab fell through.

It hurt, but other things hurt too. What can I tell you, they had a nicer look, with flowers. I mean there must be people in this world and in this management who pay attention to aesthetic detail. They also have to be patriotic, heartbroken, but also have these qualities of seeing something beautiful in this city. It’s a shame the harbor is the same, it’s not ok how the captaincy looks there. It’s a thing of tradition, a beautiful history. Why not do it right? Make it a pride for the townspeople? These are my observations and I hope that if anyone out there has ears to hear and a heart to feel, to fight.

Iuliana Iliescu: Thank you very much for your intervention!

Ionel Muscalu: No right of reply. It’s not a right of reply, because I’m not going to stay much longer. Mr Martina Ganceva’s colleague is at the town hall waiting for answers about the incinerator. So to talk about patriotism in this local way, of course it cannot be otherwise. It seems natural to me. It seems natural to me, because every Jurgenauvian is extremely interested in the dump in front of his gate. I’ve had many meetings with many people from Giuggi. We talk about the rehabilitation of streets, many streets. There are 17 extremely important streets in Giurgiu that all the engineers in Giurgiu say we have rehabilitated badly. Yes, all these young engineers are without diplomas, because they have no education.

There are probably many things we have done this year in Giurgiu that I can see people don’t see. On the other hand, certainly many of the facades here in the centre will be rehabilitated. Madam, I have good news for you. They are really working on these projects now, but not on the money, because, as you know, there are not many funds at Giurgiu City Hall, and the specialists who came during Mr Barbu’s time left as they came. So we brought in new specialists from the town hall to rehabilitate this area in particular, those with diplomas, but also with diplomas and professionals. When we talk about local patriotism, we also talk about symbols.

And we were talking earlier about the fact that Giurgiu is rehabilitating and enhancing one of the most beautiful places of the city and that Giurgiu really has. Because I will inform you: the port of Giurgiu belongs to the APDF. Everything there belongs to the Ministry of Transport. There is no point in us being Giurgiuveni or non-Giurgiuveni. You cannot do anything there. Even more than that, at one time there was a very powerful mayor here in Giurgiu, signed Lucian Iliescu, and we found a barrier at the gate of that port put up by the APDF, who then decided that no one could enter the port, neither from Giurgiu, nor from Bucharest, nor whoever. And we went, we cut that barrier in the public administration. I’ve been in public administration since 1996 and I’ve known the whole history of this town hall and of our community and I tell you that after we cut it, we found ourselves with criminal charges, of course, because it was natural to be accused of destroying a public asset. It ended up, as a result of that conflict, with the City cleaning up there, on the non-City property, and they let us go in there, but no more than that. Luckily a man who is from Gijón, called Marius Olteanu and who was the director of the APDF, changed the benches there a few months ago. And if you look around the port, you see that things have changed a bit, and then it’s back to what we’ve known for decades.

For decades the same. Usually directors come from elsewhere. This one being structured, it has managed to change something there. This patriotism thing is citywide, not just downtown. We love the whole city, we can’t just be the city centre. Because you’re right, everything behind the blocks, and not just here, but also on Bucharest Road and on Youth Road and behind I don’t know what, on Obor or over there, everywhere needs to be rehabilitated, because we found a ruin, a ruin in the budget and there even the Groapa Marianelor and sensational unpaid debts for eight years, which seems to be the stuff of fantasy or Kafka and, on the other hand, all the potholes in the road. And coming back to my pothole, I remembered that a gentleman from Pictor Andreescu Street came and said: ‘Please fix my pothole in front of the gate. OK, where do you live?” “On Pictor Andreescu Street.” “Well, sir, you have the whole street.” “I’m not interested. I want the pit mentioned.”

Iuliana Iliescu: Thank you very much. The problems are somehow endless and in a vicious way. What we need to do is to unite and do it together. If we discuss and stay only here, we have to move forward together, and this application is an opportunity for public information. Absolutely. We’ll allocate resources that way. Thank you very much, once again! Have a great day and we invite you to discuss. To something sweet and sour. Thank you very much.

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