‘Systemic Corruption’ Exposed In Colectiv Tragedy

The Romanian nightclub fire, so far, took the lives of 53 people, many of them professionals working in the Romanian live sector.

The tragedy prompted around 100,000 people to march in the streets of all major Romanian cities. They demanded that the people responsible for the catastrophe be held accountable. This led to the resignation of former prime minister Victor Ponta and his cabinet, as well as the arrest of almost a dozen people involved. Besides the three club operators, the two owners of the pyro company and the specialist who installed the fireworks in the club were detained.

Photo: Vadim Ghirda/AP
A child holds flowers as people light candles outside the Colectiv nightclub, during a mourning march joined by thousands in Bucharest, Romania.

The district mayor and two of his colleagues working in the municipality were arrested too, as well as two members of the fire department who had inspected Colectiv prior to the catastrophe, according to Codruta Vulcu of Romanian promoter Artmania Events.

She told Pollstar that the tragedy revealed the “complete failure of the system. All professionals involved failed.” She explained that the fire department was known to hand out permissions in return for donations, and that the government regularly licensed venues that were in no shape of hosting events in general, let alone shows involving fireworks. The owners of the pyro company are under some scrutiny as well, Cristian Stan New Business Manager for Sublime Romania, told Pollstar.

It is assumed they were trying to falsify or destroy evidence based on phone call interceptions that were obtained by the local press.

“Nobody directly accuses the PM for Colectiv, but the people are saying ‘it’s too much’. They ask for a real change, they ask for all political persons to resign and intend to form a new society”, said Stan. “A wind of change blows in Romania. The people weren’t detained “because of strong evidence that was held against them, but because this was what the general public demanded. The president, the justice system, everybody tried – for the first time in history – to listen to the people, which is not necessarily a good thing.”

Vulcu confirms the revolutionary spirit that took hold of the people. She’s sure that they “would have stormed the government” – the buildings of which also fail to match any modern fire and security standards – had the resignations and arrests not taken place.

Romanian President Klaus Johannis announced Dacian Ciolos as replacement for ex prime minister Ponta, “a technocrat, not a politician.” According to Vulcu, the people wouldn’t have trusted another politician.

Stan told Pollstar that investigations launched after the blaze “revealed that only two clubs in Bucharest have authorization” to operate according to a law which is “not very clear. You won’t believe it, but the National Arena, the stadium that hosted the Europa League finals in 2012 never had a fire prevention plan and authorization.”

The stadium was hastily shut down after the Colectiv fire. Vulcu hopes that this catastrophe will end the “systemic corruption” that has been characterizing the Romanian government for the past 26 years, ever since the revolution in 89 replaced “one corrupt government with another” and that it will “trigger meaningful change.”

Investigations also revealed that the old shoe factory housing the Colectiv club had experienced at least three fires between 2012 and 2014. And the lack of proper standards doesn’t stop at clubs and government buildings. Only 7 percent of schools in the country have taken care of fire safety measures.

According to the sources onsite, a reevaluation of the legislation surrounding safety at venues is under way. For example, clubs or venues that admit more people than allowed on paper, will immediately “be fined between 30,000 and 50,000 Euros and be taken out of business for two months”, according to Stan.

Emil Ionescu, GM of Best Music Romania, added that “they started controlling all the malls, schools, clubs all over the country and modified the law so that the firemen can close the venues down. They [so far] handed out 500,000 Euros in fines and shut down only 4 out of the 400 places they inspected. I don’t really know what to say to that.

“[Going forward, venues will] also require a new certificate attesting that appropriate security measures in case of a fire hazard are in place.”

All sources confirm that they lost friends and colleagues in the fire. According to Vulcu, Colectiv “was the best underground club”, referring to its status as the most famous venue of its size in Bucharest, but also its safety standards.

“Everybody in the industry used the club” either to showcase or discover new talent, she said. Stan added that “a lot of people who died there were our friends. I knew seven of them personally. We are a small community in the rock arena and we know each other. The owners are friends with the whole underground [scene], one of them is a musician himself. The pyro company was the best one in the market and the owners are our friends as well. This tragedy shook us up very much. For the first time, we realized that all of us were playing with fire for some good years.”

Around 20 people are still in critical condition, so the death toll may rise.

Since hospitals are generally not equipped for such a large number of fire victims, people were flown out to Belgium, the Netherlands, Austria, Israel, Germany and the UK for treatment.

Goodbye to Gravity, the band that had staged the concert at Colectiv, lost four of its five members with the singer still in critical condition.

The Romanian president honored two victims, Claudiu Petre and Adrian Rugina, posthumously. Both were well known figures in the Romanian live music scene. Petre was a photographer while Rugina, according to Vulcu, “was probably the best Production Manager Romania had.”

Both rushed back into the flames on the night of the disaster to help as many people as they could, thereby risking their own lives. Survivors said that the smoke caused by the flames was what was most deadly.

The fire itself didn’t even last that long. “When the fire department arrived, there were no more flames, and the furniture of the club was vary much intact,” Vulcu explained. The prosecutors in court used security camera footage to establish that it took the flames only 30 seconds to ignite the entire roof and cause parts of it to collapse, and another 30 seconds to reach the camera that was placed on the very opposite end of where the fire had started.

#corruptionkills was the most used hashtag in Romanian social media over these past days.