“WWe were asked to make a list of values that bring success or failure in life. With success I trust in friendship, solidarity, hard work, altruism, study. With failure I trust selfishness, deception, submission. “
Alex Hogea was 18 when he wrote this on one of his high school tests. A year later, in October 2015, he was the victim of the fire at the Colectiv nightclub in Bucharest. He died four weeks later in Vienna from various bacterial infections that he contracted while hospitalized in Bucharest. Alex was one of 64 people at the club who died from the fire or negligence in the Romanian healthcare system.
Alex trusted the values that would keep his family, and Romanian society, together after the fire: friendship, solidarity and altruism. Yet most of us, including the press, believe that we have failed him. Today the truth has been brought to light, but justice has not been done. Because the truth can be exposed by the narrators or proven by the journalists, but only when justice is done does it become law. More than five years after the fire, no one is behind bars. There have been prosecutions and Some phrasesEven for club owners, appeals are still being heard and other cases have not even gone to court. As for the state of the country’s health system, 10 Covid patients died in a fire in a hospital ICU last year.
Our work on our documentary, Collective, began while we were watching the news right after the fire. Twenty-seven people died that night; they were burned in a place that functioned without emergency exits. While 37 more were slowly dying in hospitals from non-life-threatening injuries, authorities continued to lie, saying everything was under control when in reality Romania did not have the capacity to treat patients with severe burns.
The documentary follows the efforts of a team of journalists from the Gazeta Sporturilor (Sports Gazette) and whistleblowers alike. We were there when the newspaper found out and showed that hospital disinfectants were wearing thin; when the minister of health resigned; when hospitals were shown to be riddled with bribes; when it was revealed that medical care conditions were so bad that, in one case, the worms lived in the body of a burned patient.
Collective is a story about the system against the people, about the truth against manipulation, about the ease with which citizens can be crushed by the very state that is supposed to protect them. We wanted to bring the story of the victims, survivors, families, whistleblowers, and journalists to the world. His story has been told and it will not be easily forgotten now that Collective has been nominated for two Academy Awards: Best Documentary and Best International Feature Film.
In Romania, corruption and incompetence are considered part of the culture and contribute to national identity. Generations grew up mocking and accepting them too easily, even after the fall of communism. These generations have devised their own laws and built their own institutions in the country’s democratic era, creating the conditions for many “harmless” irregularities in the system, bribery being one of many.
There is a scene in Collective that captures a nightly meeting between the new health minister and a whistleblower doctor. It speaks of the negligence of medical personnel and doctors who bribe their superiors so that they can work in the wards they want. The minister asks incredulously: “How can all this be solved?” This is the same question the audience asks after watching the movie. An answer can be found after first understanding what has brought us here. Alex Hogea, murdered at the age of 19, defines it as what engenders failure: selfishness, deception, submission.
In the midst of a global health crisis, we discovered corruption and incompetence at the highest level of many governments. Many of us now know how it feels when it seems that healthcare systems could fail, when speculation and greed drain the public of its duties for the common good. For the citizens of democratic countries around the world, the past few years have been a journey of helplessness, anger and panic. Whether you are American, British, Brazilian or Hungarian, the repeated nightmare of our democracies under attack has caused many more to be alert to the fragility of the system.
Citizens of democratic states, of different cultures around the world, are recognizing the most beautiful but terrifying truth about our democracies: they cannot be taken for granted. Being a citizen of a democratic country carries a responsibility that cannot be fully transferred to legitimately elected politicians. Power belongs to the people, to each of the peoples, and with it, responsibility.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism