Feature Story: Through the gate of torture
The history for celebrating Chisinau City’s Day starts in the year 2000. Traditionally, people receive guests with delicious food. In the evening, the residents and guests go downtown joining the traditional Romanian round dance called "Hora" and amuse themselves. Chisinau was attested as rural settlement in October 1436, several days after the Protection of Virgin Mary feast.Today it stands as the capital of the Republic of Moldova.
This year's tradition, on the 14th of October, Wednesday evening, when thousands gathered to celebrate the city's founding, ended up with a grenade explosion, coming from the crowd. Was it just an accident or another planned act to impede the democracy wave, bringing in only one year 2 challenging parliamentary elections combined with riots, torture, and death of innocent people? That we will find out from one of the strong women that has witnessed all the sudden challenges.
Gabriela Ciumac is the head of Foreign Relations Department for the Regional Cooperation and European Integration at the Capital's City Hall. Within 2 years of activity she works close with the general mayor facing the reality of changing winds. Returned to the country after a 3 years in China, she wished to do something for the country. "I knew it was not easy, but I still wanted to do something here. I am a good organizer and deep in my heart I am more than fond of my homeland". Getting a chance to visit Europe and Asia she said it was possible to try and change things at home, too. Since many people were trying to escape the borders, she always questioned herself on what would happen if all people like her left such a small country: "That is cowardice. People must stay and do something here." Thus she proved herself that the best place was at home, especially when there was work to do and important changes to be implemented.
In the past she has done theater and film academy in Bucharest, the skills of organizational management helping her in the service as a public authority representative. In practice, her managing abilities proved to initiate, launch and lobby, search and implement new ideas as well as enlarge the cooperation with non-profits and educational programs. While not being her direct responsibility, Gabriela noted that working with projects and programs was an important factor for an extra source of benefit for the city with the possibility of attracting experts from other countries.
IT'S PROJECT TIME!
"Implementing projects for your country you have resources, you have new experience, and a great pleasure to cooperate with everyone. Unfortunately this thing was not possible until now, because our country was illegible.", said Gabriela, choosing to lobby for that matter.
Last year the project on Brain Networking started to promote legal migration of Moldova youth.
40 young people from higher education already study at Rome, each person being paired with a matching company profile, related to the profession they have. The European Country started with the eligibility criteria, before hosting the winners for a half year opportunity. Higher education was required for participation, all the participants going through a professional contest with foreign judges.
The city council applied for many projects this year, with Gabriela's initiative. The team effort and great love for the city and its residents succeeded into winning a bigger possibility: "I am proud of that. My Department has written it. These rainwater project is something new that I have not yet given in the press, because I have not signed the financial agreement, but we are more than sure we got it! All this water after rain caused massive flooding - because the rainwater collectors were small. We can start solving that problem next year by enlarging, reconstructing, expanding..."
In January, the city hall will engaged in the educational project "Maison de Savoir" / "House of Knowledge" together with the International Organization of Francophone and the International Association of Francophone Mayors. A library with computers and latest books will be placed in one of the City's Universities. The result of this will attract diverse groups of people that are hungry for knowledge - a significant educational impact on the community for which Gabriela works.
These projects are just the first steps of the City Hall in its trial to bring a better standard living to its citizens. The most important and demanding need that requires attention remains to be the Water Purification Station. Gabriela's team is trying to find the best solution. The station has not gone through any improvements for 40 years since nobody wanted to invest in it. "This is number 1 priority today - a modern waste water treatment plant for the country's capital."
The two years that followed were not easy. When Gabriela first came to the City Hall, the Mayor's first question was: "What is the dose of resistance? It will be very difficult." Lacking time, due to lots of work and skipping lunches, those are the main sacrifices that she is ready to do for her city. The main impediment though is the inherited Soviet system. "The City Hall is so much divided" she states with sorrow "many employees are unfortunately working for more than 20 years there, they are outlines. It is hard to re profile or reinvent them, thus we still face the Soviet bureaucracy in the form of people who are absolutely hard to move, while we have to move forward."
Until recently, with the powering communist government the working atmosphere at the municipal council was very complicated and difficult as Gabriela brings out. "This was everywhere. If someone was aware that you are the mayor's team, soon you impeded. I do not know when the world has time gossips and controversy, there is so much work to do!"
"The city hall is for the citizens and I work for them" said Gabriela with confidence, focusing a lot on the involvement of civil society. Trying moving things, a city's logo contest has been launched and it required a consultation with citizens. "You are here in the service of the citizen, you are not the decision maker". Anyone can observe the difference today, people are a little surprised to learn the difference between the attitude around, comparing to the former Soviet Union time, when many doors were slammed into the citizen's face. The doors do open today and the citizen are able to express themselves freely in the City Hall, being invited to audiences where they can express their needs.
Gradually, there is more engagement and after the logo contest experience, Gabriela learned that people would like to be involved in various activities with a project or another "Although not used to such things, they like to be in".
WAITING AT THE GATE OF HORROR
Most difficult moments for Gabriela that she spoke out with burning flame and desire for the justice happened immediately after the April 7 Protests, when many innocent protestants were tortured, after being randomly picked up by the police on the streets of capital, parks, train station, college dorms, universities and schools.
They were all placed in some unknown room for the night, and later in the day all taken out into the garage, 50 people, all facing the wall while 6 policemen hit with cruelty their backs, or heads when somebody dared to move. This young people were humiliated and forced to sign some fake documents, then imposed to wash their own blood from the floor. "The tunnel of death, was not a mass media invention, they have been through this, having nothing to eat or drink for 2 or 3 days." said Gabriela after some witnessing confessed.
At the mayor's office the working team of 6 people was formed in order to find out how many people suffered, to learn about the number of victims, who they were and which police station or hospital they were located.
For two weeks, Gabriela joined the team and worked in the state of fear and alert. She went to look for the victims that were at the hospitals, but it was difficult to convince them to speak out. They were scared to talk. Still she listened, she took pictures, she got some information about cases of torture. "All the pictures that you know of with tortured people from that day were taken by me, by Mr. Mayor and our small team."
A simple camera device was quite enough to be able to monitor and proof the fact of torture for innocent people occurred. "We divided the area and went there every day, talking with the victims, supporting them if they needed anything. One person went to the emergency hospital, the second went to Commissioner's House, somebody went to check the police station. The Mayor Dorin Chirtoaca took his personal money to pay, when we proposed to make forensic certificates for the future justice to be effective. The tortured children did not know such things as certificates, especially in such a shock when nothing came to mind."
There was nobody around to assist but the mayor's team. They found a car and hurried to make the forensic certificates, then they filmed the testimonies. "After such witnessing and so much evil and distrust created after the 5th of April's Elections, I thought I will simply break down. One day, I was heading home from the City Hall at about 10pm when I saw 2 cops; I was scared". Such a psychological drain brought the fear in everyone, including Gabriela: "People did not really know what was happening, while we saw directly from the source what happened: the way they were treated at the police, the way they were beaten, humiliated, raped ..."
Girls were tortured as well, but in fear of being finger pointed they preferred to hide the names after all confessions. "They were very good guys, with the best degrees in universities that spoke 2 or 3 foreign languages. They were brave enough to give interviews to journalists from Europe and they were able to make it in French or English". Everyone they talked to, protested peacefully on that day.
One victim that was placed in the hospital, was handcuffed to the bed, and despite of health problems, he was badly beaten by the policemen who had nothing human. He was not even present at the strike events that day, but received a phone call from the police department. Earlier in the weak he declared about his phone being lost, and the voice on the phone came with the "good news" that they found the phone. Showing up at the police department the boy was put into jail and beaten.
Another case told by Gabriela was when she encountered one young man that studied Philology. He was stopped in the park by police and beaten up. He decided not move hoping that they will stop beating him harder. He said "I remained motionless in the hope that they will leave me alone" and miraculously they left him. Later on he raised up with the thought to go to home, heading from the Cathedral's park to his house". Only later he realized that he was unconsciously wandering the streets, with blood all over his body, with his hand broken in the shoulder, with broken collarbone, and severe concussion, in the middle of nowhere.
One couple experienced even worse type of humiliation when the police raped the girl in front of her boyfriend.
Later at the emergency Gabriela discovered more secret facts as she said "we introduced ourselves, since we had nothing to hide, and they knew who we were. We made doctors understand we wanted to help the victims." A doctor in the hall replied to her: "Why didn't you come a day earlier, many people left after one day, being embarrassed of the situation. They will not say everything, though most of them were raped. They put rubber sticks inside boys' body." There were female police representatives that would beat boys. One victim witnessed: "She took me by throat and was ecstatically yelling at me: 'Did you see beautiful women, you will never see them again'". The boy had internal bleeding and concussion after such a treatment.
Today the mayor's team communicates with physicians and psychologists who have helped out. The problem is still very serious. Those who were involved in these cases bear a hidden mark. From what psychologists say they are now in the third phase, where they become aggressive, they are getting bad, they are arguing with family. Someone from helping team received a call at the city hall from an abused. He said:" Did you see what I have been going through? I hope you get to feel it, too!" Being aware of the terrible moments this people went through, Gabriela wants to do the best for them, since it's a psychological problem and each of them has had support and assistance that must be continued. Psychologist say that assisting them is normal but they get a severe reaction following to come. Angry at society, those that suffered are disappointed, some believe that the people around owe them something. Today another wave of anger is coming from them after those shocking days.
"It is a witty call to the heaven! There were dead people, Tibuleac, Boboc, Canisev, Tapu, and another person that died in July, on the strong trial for recovery after torture", Gabriela claimed, finding out recently about the last case."There is no excuse to what happened with these guys. Too big price! Nobody can charge such a big fee for the freedom. The boys who died, gave their lives, maybe in a silly environment, or maybe they didn't even know what they were to die for, but I think somebody must pay for that. We wish very much to find those who have scoffed the last plight of young people, of our children."
Being one of the organizing team for the City's Day Celebration, Gabriela prepared the event with great love for the citizens of Chisinau, the Republic of Moldova. This year, the 14th of October, 2009, the organizers did not invite foreign delegates, since the process of previous elections ate all the funds. "It was all too well - from 8 am, when the deposition of flowers started, till evening. Tncert was all very well and had good feedback from our guests that came to celebrate from another regions of the country." The explosion happened later in the night when people were enjoying the concerts on the main square. A big part - did not even realize what was happening since the noise from the concert was covering all the city. But many injured young people ended up at the emergency.
Gabriela considered that the Grenade Explosion was a challenge from somebody, a well thought act to strike against the new changing Government where absolutely innocent people had to suffer again. "It was a miracle that death avoided people". Even today there are people in hospital who wait to find the premises of this situation. The City Mayor went immediately to the site. When he opened the door many of the victims were in the waiting room. It was a nightmare, he stated. The frightening image appeared: puddles of blood on the floor, shock, crying, shaking, panicking. Every day someone from the City Hall goes there to see if they need something or if there is more treatment required.
To Gabriela's opinion the person that has thrown the Grenade was a junkie, a drunk. Still, many are questioning whether it was some kind of terror. There was no such precedent in the history of the country.
"I'm sure that investigations will continue and find the reality of both events will be judged accordingly, these things can not simply to remain so. People died, people were abused mentally and physically, people had suffered"
"We have not done anything unusual, we just worked, I wanted to change something in this country, in this town, to change in a good way, to implement some things, to show how it can be better". Since the new mayor shared democratic principle with the citizens, the communists have not been able to assume and could not find an excuse for themselves when loosing the power control of the mayor house. Hence came the wake up call for the civil society. The past two years, working in the same cabinet with adepts of communist regime brought a lot of challenge. A year of work with blocked accounts, and impediments on promoting some projects which are beneficial to citizens. "With these years we have worked like an army. We are now tempered and I think that this gave us only great lesson: - What doesn't kill us, makes us stronger!"
With the new governance, all accounts were unlocked and the city council is revitalizing. A functional coalition was created and as Gabriela commented that the things that were done in half a year earlier with all those impediments at the city council level, were being processed in a month with today's new Government.
With the unlocked accounts today, the city council paid all the remaining debts, and the new economic agents are wishing to support. Now the pace of work is the same, just a little easier and without pressure for the mayor's team. But there are many things to do. Gabriela is ready to dedicate her time but she is aware of how much work needs to be done: "I think that now, when the government changed, we will still not see the immediate change. It is very hard to work because we as a city, inherited problems, debts and things that were not changed for 10, 20 years. We must make big steps today, since we lost a lot of precious time in the past".
All the investors and companies go through Gabriela's department. She attends all the meetings and what she realized long ago in discussion with them was the fact that many expected for the election's results, because nobody wanted to come to a country where instability was a common issue. For the past 8 years, while communists were in power, the wave of investors got to be disappointed, giving preference to another countries. Today, the investors are still insecure due to monopolies that existed for past 8 years with the communist governing majority.
Today it is harder to convince anyone to invest, but Gabriela says there is always hope and people gladly join for cooperation. Recently, a contract was signed by Gabriela for a factory that would burn and process all the wastes. And she believes that there will be more proposals since the City Hall's phone rings more often bringing good news from partners and investors.
Most of events that occurred in the Capital of Moldova were followed by Embassies, International Organizations and people in many countries. Gabriela as many others expected some reactions, support and attitude from them " Due to diplomacy factor nobody dared to react in one way or another, all reserved and not willing to make some steps towards solving the problem."
She was even more disappointed after Mrs. Marianne Mikko's visit, who was responsible for the Parliamentary Committee at the European Parliament, supervising Moldova. For 5 years she was the chair of this committee. Being invited to Moldova after the April's 7th riots to meet the victims of torture, she was very nervous. This meeting was one of the biggest hope because everyone believed in Europe's support as into the last chance of making the voice heard to entire world.
Many victims attended the meeting, but Mrs. Mikko looked very angry, she wanted to leave, and did it after 30 minutes. "We couldn't understand such a behavior from her side. said Gabriela with disappointment. But we learned that for 5 years, Mrs. Marianne Mikko visited Moldova more than 20 times. Still, each time she would come back to the European Parliament, she reported that everything was going well in Moldova, that Moldova was moving into the right direction."
It took somebody 5 years to monitor the country and not see its defects. From this - the blindness of EU regarding the deeds of Communist Government. "Was she very nervous that day, or maybe it was our disappointment, since the ultimate hope was EU," Gabriela was questioning herself, "We brought 100 people that were abused that day so that she could witness the situation, but she has chosen to leave in only 30 minutes". Today, Mrs. Miko is not the president of the committee. The city council representatives proved that day with deeds, pictures and direct sources that there was torture used towards people that went through the spring's nightmare.
In the United States little is known about Moldova, few have heard about the Spring Riots that happened in the country, " they are not too interested, they do not know much about such events, it does not interest them" stated Gabriela after a recent study visit to the USA. Coming to a meeting with one of the USA City Mayors, she was disappointed that the mayor had no clue where Moldova was. "That is not very disturbing and we are indeed a small country."
Moldova is known in European Continent, and during these tragic events many responded: Amnesty International in London, Mayors, Councilors from Italy, Austria, Companies that helped to disseminate the information.
NOT A SECRET - BUT A WISH
Gabriela greatest wish is to work without impediments from those that try to create barriers. Today the city house plans to change the law of the local public authority. The Communists Representatives in city hall are not cooperative but they are in minority. She says that they still make big statements, but the impediments don't bring too much trouble.
With such a hope, Gabriela is confident about the fact that young people will have a future in their country. Together with the central and local government, she wants to create and offer some better living conditions that will make people that migrated want to return. " We need to promote the positive image of the country, and to convince people that it is good to come home, and stay with the family. We hope that one day we will be able to offer them the jobs they wish and many other possibilities that they have been waiting for, such a long time.
"All that happened this year is actually a completely natural process. Nowhere in the world the communism did go without blood, without sacrifice. But this huge monster is soon to disappear, but it tortured us! Freedom always costs."
Being a very dynamic personality Gabriela wanted to share the secret with other women. She said that it matters very much on how you impose yourself. She can easily and immediately disarm some stronger men that see her as stereotype. For those that discriminate - she pays back, not with words, but with great deeds. She won the respect of men she is working with.
She wakes up at 6, at 8 she is at work. She can be back home late at 9, 10, or sometimes 1 am. "Truth is, my little family suffers a bit, but I understand and sometimes have to offer them more tenderness and delicacy to be forgiven for shortcomings that are very sharp for me." Her compensation is not a financial one. Even with the very low wages, 1000 - 2000 lei (100 $ - 200$ a month), she dares to think that we are a generation of sacrifice. Of course she would like a financial comfort, but more than that she wishes to see some harvest and results of all the work she has done for the society with such a huge altruism. "If you do not see results, any financial remuneration will not bring satisfaction."
FROM WOMAN TO WOMEN
"Do not let the wings down, because sometimes we try to act like the iron ladies, but in the real world we are the women. I am not different, I am just a little bit more active. But I believe in our word, women have a value, a weight, in everything they say. A woman should do her best in order to be heard. Sometimes I felt like falling, but every new day is a beginning. I wake up and go to work with a smile that comes from my family's support and this gives me strength to enjoy my work. So don't let the wings down! There is always a next day!"
This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future, which is providing rigorous web 2.0 and new media training for 31 emerging women leaders. We are speaking out for social change from some of the most forgotten corners of the world. Meet Us.