The Colectiv Inferno

Photo by Andreea Alexandru

Friday the 30th of October 2015 marks the date of the most heartbreaking tragedy in recent Romanian history. During the album launch concert of the metal band Goodbye to Gravity, a popular club in Bucharest was engulfed in flames. The club is called Colectiv, and the fire started from some minor fireworks – the kind you can put on a birthday cake. The sparks set the soundproofing sponge the walls were covered with on fire, and within minutes, the crowded room had become an inferno. Now, two days later, thirty people have died, ninety are still in critical condition, and another sixty five are wounded. Both guitarists of the band playing that night have died. The singer is in critical condition. Many other musicians have been hurt badly or have died, as the club was packed with friends and colleagues of the band…

This isn’t meant to be a “proper” news article. This is just meant to show two sides of a situation, to expose something probably few people understand about the metal and underground scene in Romania, and the local society as a whole. The scale of the tragedy has incited a deluge of public reaction, but what is truly chilling is the extreme distance the “sides” of opinion exist from each other.

On the one side, we have the spectacular rally of people willing to help and to show sympathy and compassion. Twelve thousand people marched Sunday the 1st of November, in support of the victims and their families, a silent gesture of human empathy, and a show of concern towards safety standards and regulations, and the corruption which could lead to such a catastrophe. Many of the clubs in Bucharest closed on Saturday, out of sympathy, but those which didn’t found themselves lacking a customer base, since a great number of people refused to go out, out of respect. The sheer number of people donating blood and offering to donate skin grafts is amazing, and heartwarming. There are also many companies and businesses offering free services and assistance to those in need, from hotel rooms to airline tickets and food. There are candles in the dark, flickering, but still there.

And yet, there is also the dark. The tragedy’s proximity to Halloween, and the fact that it was a metal concert, has brought out the worst in contemporary Romanian society as well. The chorus of opinions shouting that the people killed, injured, scarred, still struggling to stay alive in understaffed and underequipped hospitals, actually deserved to suffer like that, for “worshipping Satan”, for “embracing Pagan holidays”, for being “drunks and junkies and losers” is just deafening and represents a truly eye-opening and heart-sinking state of affairs in a country which deems itself worthy of being called civilized, and part of a global community. We have political party leaders declaring that the national mourning period announced by the President is unjustified for such dregs of society as those twenty-something “Satanists”. We have national televisions capitalizing on the tragedy by saying that there were omens and signs pointing to the inevitable demise of these kids, hidden even in the words of one of the band’s songs – “The day we die”.

I hope many of you reading this will find such attitudes hard to believe. This social sociopathy seems to belong in 1692 Salem, not in 2015 Romania. And yet it is true. This kind of response to a genuine tragedy, regardless of context and of beliefs, paints a grizzly picture – a scared people, aggressive, ready to dehumanize anyone, with a hunger to blame, to chastise, to judge, and to proclaim truth than nobody asked for, that nobody needs right now. What people need is empathy, decency, support, help.

I’m from across the country, my friends are scattered across Europe (France, The Netherlands, Germany), and yet we all know someone who knew someone who was there, or who got burned, or who died in that fire. We all attribute so much importance to our loved ones who share an interest for a musical niche, that we can forget how very few of us there are, overall. As of November 1st, 23:00, thirty people have died, and that is enough to shake most of those I hold dear on a personal level, beyond the simply human empathic response we all thought was universal. Apparently, we were wrong. We are a small, fragile community made to reel in shock as much for the fire itself, as for the society which survived the fire.

Thank you, for those who marched, for those who stood silent, for those who helped and are helping. And to the others, you’ve missed the point – the lyrics go: “…the day we give in, is the day we die.”

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