Georgi Markov of Bulgarian National Radio’s Horizon programme talks to Vladimir Mitev about the incident at Crevedia:
– How gas stations are regulated and controlled in Romania;
– who will pay the political responsibility for the incident;
– why the military prosecutor’s office has launched an investigation into the actions of firefighters during their intervention in Crevedia;
– what makes many Romanians draw parallels between the Crevedia incident and the 2015 Colectiv Club fire that claimed 64 lives.
The interview can be watched with subtitles in English below:
In Romania, the investigation into the causes that led to Saturday night’s explosions at a gas station in Crevedia continues. In parallel, inspections ordered for the operation of petrol and gas stations in the country are being carried out. So far, it is clear that the gas station where the blasts went off had been operating without a permit for several years, which in turn raises questions about how such places are controlled. Undoubtedly, what has happened also raises another question. Who are they? We will now try to highlight these questions together with our colleague from the Romanian editorial office of Radio Bulgaria, Vladimir Mitev. Good afternoon.
Let us start with whether the authorities in Romania will answer the people why they have remained silent to the reports made by citizens that the station in question, where the incident took place, has been without a licence for at least three years and yet has continued to operate and to say water. How is the control of this type of facility actually regulated in Romania?
We see that the Prime Minister of Romania, Marcel Ciolacu, has ordered such checks throughout the country, and the institutions involved in these checks are quite different, and we see that many different institutions have competences. For example, there is a national company for the control of boilers, lifting equipment, pressure vessels, which grants permits and controls installations such as the one in Crevedia. There is an emergency inspectorate that is responsible for the safety of operating these places. There is the labour inspectorate, which is responsible for labour relations, and this is perhaps also important, because it is somehow overlooked that in this case there were Nepalese workers operating in this gas station. There is the National Environment Agency, which also deals with relevant environmental activity. There are also the traffic services, the tax office and so on.
But what has struck me now is that various institutions are trying to say what they did, how they warned about the situation or to shift responsibility in another direction, respectively. There was an announcement by the Emergency Inspectorate, which you know is under the leadership of Raed Arafat – a figure quite famous in this country for the SMURD emergency medical service. It is part of that inspectorate, which has reported that they have made various reports to a number of local authorities in the Dâmbovița country, where the incident took place: to the governor, the county council, the State Building Inspectorate, the Environmental Protection Agency, City Hall and the Registrar of Companies. And they have warned in all these cases that he is operating a facility without a license.
The question is who will take responsibility. So far, what we are seeing from the government is that they are trying to somehow, through the courts and through the public prosecutor’s office, to identify this culprit, which will, of course, dilute things over time. It will not exactly be a question of political responsibility, but of criminal responsibility.
You sort of anticipated my next question. It has to do precisely with whether, in this case, someone will pay a political price, whether it will come to that aspect of the problem at all. But as I understand it, that’s sort of not on the agenda, at least at this point.
It has to be said that in Romania at the moment, the prime minister is from the Social Democratic Party, and in Romania there has traditionally been a right-left divide, roughly speaking, and the Social Democratic Party often has a bad image among urban and middle-class people. However, this seems to be changing in recent times, insofar as it is and continues to be the first political force in the country. And since Marcel Ciolacu became prime minister, there have already been several scandals. This is one of them where you can see that probably in some way this country of Dâmbovița, which is under the control of the Social Democratic Party, is allowing violations of the law and allowing these kinds of entities to operate, to generate money. We have already spoken on national radio that the gas station was owned by the son of a mayor from Caracal, a mayor who is from the Social Democratic Party and who is one of the more important sponsors of that party. And there was also an interview with him in which he expressed himself rather offhandedly that unfortunately two people had died, but as far as the injured firefighters were concerned, “that’s their problem.” That is to say, there was a certain insensitivity in his reaction. Given that he obviously makes good money from the companies his kids operate and who seem to enjoy some sort of umbrella.
Can we say why it was necessary for the prosecution to check the work of the firefighters who came to the scene of the explosion minutes after it had gone off? Has it become clear yet which of the actions of the firefighters gave rise to this probe, which is worrying law enforcement to check how these people did their jobs?
The explanation that we can read on the Hotnews website, which is one of the leading Romanian websites, is that such a check is triggered automatically. That was the explanation that came from the military prosecutor’s office itself.
That is to say, this is a procedure.
Yes, they said that there is not any evidence available at the moment of such violations or unpreparedness, but it is standard procedure to trigger such a check. And perhaps we should say that in the previous similar incident, which was at the Colectiv Club in 2015 – our listeners will recall that 64 people died then, there was a government report that said that indeed those emergency response authorities who intervened did not have the necessary training, there was chaos, improvisation, et cetera. That is to say, perhaps it is somewhat justified to do such an inspection now.
Speaking of the fire at the Colectiv Club in 2015, I cannot help but ask why, after Saturday’s incident, parallels are increasingly being drawn with this great tragedy for the Romanian state. Let us recall: 60 people died then, but I would add that there were 400 people in the club in question, which, according to the information I recall at the time, that number of people inside was many times the capacity of the establishment, which was operating with no emergency exits. There were 13 people convicted of the fire. Analysts have called this incident at the Colectiv Club an emblematic case of the price ordinary people pay for the corruption of those in power.
It should be recalled that 2015 was a year in which anti-corruption in Romania was in its golden era and the Social Democratic Party government was in power at the time, which was forced to resign following protests immediately after the Colectiv incident. Then the slogan ‘corruption kills’ developed. And that was because, again, it was found that this Colectiv club had been operating without the necessary safety permits, and a figure was then named who was a district mayor from Bucharest, from the Social Democratic Party, against whom a lot of hatred was built up, because it was thought that he had assisted in this corruption which had taken lives and so on. And we should perhaps draw a parallel with something else that our listeners must also have noticed if they follow our feeds regularly. Romania didn’t have the capacity even then to deal with many burn cases. There are just very few beds in Romania that are for people with burns. And then quite a few of the people who were injured were transferred to hospitals in Europe. And we are seeing something like that now. Even that is reported as perhaps the only real improvement on the Colectiv, that now this transfer happens relatively quickly immediately after the incident. And people are expected to come along that line in Bulgaria. It’s just that Romania for some reason in other areas of healthcare, perhaps where there is more money and more specialists, has developed some expertise and capability. But the treatment of burns continues to be something undeveloped. Even though the Colectiv was a shock to Romanian society and should have triggered a reaction in this respect, there still seems to be no change.
But many questions remain after the Crevedia incident. I hope that Romanian society will get the answers it is expecting. I would like to thank Vladimir Mitev, a colleague from the Romanian editorial office of Radio Bulgaria at the Bulgarian National Radio, for his analysis for 12+3.