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Cosmin Savu - Romania, I love you!

Author: Cosmin Savu

I apologize, I came without a written story. I hope I won't bore you and that I won't improvise too much. Too bad you don't have a remote control to replace.

There are stories we are trying to tell... not always successfully. Not always the stories we tell or the efforts we make have a happy ending, but we continue and we ask questions. I have been a journalist for 20-something years. 23 years, I've only worked in television and in 2008, I had the chance to contribute, to help start this project called "Romania, I love you!" 

2008 was meant the first year for us. We started with a slightly larger team: we were 7, now we are 5. "Romania, I love you!" means... I pulled out some numbers to make it easier. Episode 469 on Sunday. That means a lot of work. 16 years, step by step. We even joke that we are like "The young and the restless". Let's hope we catch a few more tens, hundreds of episodes.

We started as a kind of magazine show, trying to include investigations as well from time to time because it's very complicated to have inquiries every Sunday. I formed myself as a journalist in Sibiu. I am the only one on the team who studied journalism, ironically. My colleagues, Paula studied textiles, Alex studied theology, Paul studied economics, Rareș studied law, Cristi Leonte studied philology. The university didn't help me much, I must admit, because education in Romania has remained at a level we are not satisfied with, for sure. I even gave lessons for a year at the university, experiencing the unhappiness of seeing the children who wanted to become, I don't know, either Andreea Esca or maybe even a journalist at "Romania, I love you!", facing failure. Because they weren't helped and came from a generation that inherited what we also inherited.

What are the pillars I rely on in life? Probably like most people, family, friends, and profession. For me, it's very important to know (maybe these are big words) in the morning when I look in the mirror, to know what I am fighting for, what I am moving forward for. To know that I tried to be fair, that I tried to be correct. It doesn't always work out, but you should do it with good intentions. I think that's the most important thing.

One of the most frequently asked questions is how we choose our topics. Some think they are handed to us, others think they are ordered by someone in the politics. Many times we sit and, just like you, we`re trying to figure out what are the problems we are facing. We are travelling a lot, we have experiences... maybe in a year, and I'm not exaggerating, I meet thousands of people and from each I am trying to learn or hear or figure out what a potential problem might be and to look for solutions. Because actually that's what it is exactly, a kind of Chinese waterdrop that puts pressure where it can be put. I'll give you an example, this season we had two topics: one was the digitalization of public institutions. It was a brainstorming with colleagues and we said, "What's the problem of the year?" One of them...

The story with digitalization is developing. There are a lot of money that are coming to Romania through PNRR, there are a lot of European money in other programs, and I'm very afraid that this money will go down the drain because the authorities lack a strategy and a vision. That was one of the topics, that's exactly how we started. And then we saw how money was wasted in other projects, also on digitalization, and we still ended up with paper.

Another topic was tax evasion. We are number one in Europe for tax evasion. Last in recovering VAT. It's a problem that also involves digitalization, it`s true, but it's a problem that hits all of us. Because this year is an election year, it will probably be harder to implement drastic measures that affect our pockets, but next year we will all suffer. Tax evasion is not being combated as it should be, and the authorities, primarily the judicial ones, lay in a state of complicity, I would say.

That's how topics come up. Some of them, effectively... it's a... I wouldn't say chance because you chase them, you search, they are, maybe... one in four works out. We document a lot, we gather a lot of topics, some of which... and often it's said: "Well, you filmed there and didn't air it"... because we don't always go with an agenda, we don't know from the drawer if the reality on the ground is the same. And then we try to grasp it with our hands, to shout when it's necessary - and it is - to try to see with our own eyes and by asking our own questions, to make sure it's not a distorted reality.

That's one of the questions I like - if I'm scared. I grew up under communism, of course I'm scared. I grew up with countless stories about fear. I had moments, I don't know, the newspapers came - Scânteia and Adevărul were my folks` subscriptions - and I shouted "Ceaușescu peace, no one is silent anymore, Ceaușescu PCR, no more polenta" and what a polenta I got from my father, who hit me in the head with some newspapers. Children weren't put in prison, but there was that fear of the Security. It's horrible to live in a household where parents listened to Radio Free Europe and Voice of America in secret so that the child wouldn't hear and report them at school. This fear was constant, the scars accumulated, including . I know, there are many nostalgics, it's talked about a lot, even our materials maybe, often times show a reality of past times, but a reality built by our parents and grandparents, not by a dictatorial regime. Yes, dictatorial regimes produce factories, plants, they put people to work differently. If you go to Rome, it is famed by Mussolini, in Germany there are still some highways built by Hitler. Ceaușescu didn't make them. And we are always trying to say that. We had them in '89 and we could’ve used them. Yes, we should have reformed them, done something different than the piles of scrap metal Roman talked about. Unfortunately, that didn't happen. Maybe because of some fears.

I had a discussion with my parents - I was quite a rebellious teenager - right after '89, condemning them for why they didn't go out earlier, why they didn't protest - I didn't understand. This question of why didn't you change the last - those who lived through those times- the last 7 years from '83 were horrible. Cartelization, queues - I still remember that Mrs. Aurora, the manager of the bread and dairy shop, was a goddess in the neighborhood. She was a graduate of the Professional School of Food and Public Alimentation, but she had the right to give me or not to give me butter that week. These problems were to be seen later and, I admit, including in relationship with the authorities. I have a problem with the authorities. I'm a bit troubled and maybe can be also seen in our public discourse. We try to be tempered – it is another question, can you resist any longer? How do you stay calm in face of...? After all, we try to do it with professionalism and put all these elements together, but maybe sometimes we lose it and it seems like we are scolding an official of the day, but these are also coming from those fears, probably.

There was a period in the early years of the show when we received direct threats. From the deliquents, from the white collars it was a bit more threatening, and this was later seen because many of these deliquents or law-breakers accumulated a lot of capital, and today the threats are of a different nature. They are threats with justice. Many of my colleagues, not just my show colleagues, but colleagues from the press, see this often: dragged into lawsuits. I've personally experienced being sued for half a million euros, I was demanded damages from some mobsters connected to the Italian mafia. It's not comfortable to wake up thinking, I have to testify, explain why I formulated that, complaints from the CNA, to the National Council for Combating Discrimination or DIICOT. It often happens because they have understood that they can intimidate or try to intimidate you. Today it is one of the main issues of journalism in Romania. I had some personal problems, I think these are the biggest ones: the moment I was detained in Sudan for... it was a misunderstanding, yes. It's not comfortable to have an AK-47 at your head. I had gone there for a story about Romania's foreign debts. I wanted to see what happened to the money the Sudanese were supposed to give us. The same thing happened to me in Ukraine, there some racketeers chased me. I fled one night to Lucescu, when Donetsk was a coach, and I was doing a story about an industrial giant built by us, most of it a debt of about a million euros, which we won't ever see given the current context. And I admit, yes, I fled one night when I was told I wouldn't leave Ukraine if I didn't delete the images.

These stories also appeared thanks to the support we have. We have freedom at PROTV and we have legal support. The materials, before they go on air, go through a legal filter. Our lawyer also takes responsibility, and often we have some disputes because I might want to reveal more and take accountability for more things and I have to stick to facts and what I can literally prove on paper. Each journalist on this team does their own research, their own meetings, their own subject. We collaborate, we advise each other, but not always. I mean, there are topics... sometimes I don't even know what my colleagues are doing. Because it's healthier this way. So it cannot be interpreted, to pay attention to people, because we also have cousins, aunts, friends that may try to influence us, maybe....this doesn`t happen. And anyways, anyhow, we try to pull ourselves out and remain in an area as clean as possible. We don`t know about one another if it is not necessary. Give me that number, give me a contact and that`s all. In the rest of the time, we are doing our research part and our questions alone.

The name of this show was given as an irony, "Romania, I love you!". The moment, especially, when we started to do more and more investigations, it sounded like... I don't know, like a violation perhaps. Some loved it in a different way than we would have loved it. And we were the ones accused: "You don't love your country! You don't love Romania if you do these reports, showing injustices or irregularities or dirt." But yes! Do you love Romania? Yes, like it is, with its irregular forms. It's an impersonal thing, but at the same time very personal, because my roots and the roots of my colleagues`; we are very attached to the values that not only the country, we, romanians, have.

Why did I stayed in the country? For me, the story is quite personal, a bit complicated. My brother was the first; my brother is a doctor in mathematics somewhere in the States. Cousins, aunts, maybe many of us in this room have half of our family abroad. Romania also means this, actually. When I say I love Romania, I also love that Romania in Columbia or in Detroit or in London. 

Moreover, I have had reprovals for my parents: What did you do to change Romania? Why did you stay for so long? I asked myself these questions too and I said, hey, are you doing something to change this? What kind of Romania are you leaving to your daughter? And for a long time, I assumed this as a motivation: I am changing Romania for the better for my daughter. But two years ago, my daughter emigrated. It was a conscious decision, I am separated from her mother and they emigrated to Tenerife. And I said: me, "Romania, I love you!" I fight to change this country for whom? For me, first and foremost, but also for my daughter because I am convinced that at some point she will come back, and we have kept the roots and she is proud, telling her friends there that, look, somewhere there, her dad is arguing with some criminals.

Romania has changed enormously in the past years. "Romania, I love you!" means us. Thank you!

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