In 2015, Romania faced the greatest tragedy after the 1989 revolution – the fire of Collective. That regrettable event taught us some important lessons, but it also placed people’s true characters and reactions under scrutiny.
The aim of this article is to call for introspection and empathy and to make some people relaize that prejudgements and stereotypes should be left out when human lives are at stake. Each and every one of us must be aware that our humanity is tested in the most difficult situations. And when we are tempted to accuse or think bad of somebody, let’s put ourselves in their shoes!
I still remember that day. It was Friday, the 30th of October 2015, an ordinary beginning of a weekend for me and most of us. On that evening, Goodbye to Gravity, a Romanian band of metalcore, was to perform a concert to promote the album they have just released – Mantras of War. This concert was held in Colectiv, a rock club in Bucharest. At some point during the concert, there started fireworks meant to maintain the atmosphere of the show. This was when the hell was unleashed.
Because these fireworks had been improperly mounted, they caused one of the pillars in the building to catch fire. The pillars and the ceiling were covered in soundproofing foam, a very flammable material. It was just a matter of seconds until the fire on the pilar extended to the whole ceiling, rapidly transforming Collective into a death room. The over 250 hundred people tried to evacuate the building, but what followed was chaos, horror and agony.
The good facet of humanity
After this tragedy, 64 people passed away. 27 of them lost their lives in the fire, and the rest while in hospitals over the next months. Other 164 were injured. The devastating event and especially the deaths of those who had died in hospitals aroused public reaction because it was proven that many of them had died because of nosocomial (hospital-acquired) infections – a deeply-rooted problem in Romanian hospitals, caused by corruption, incompetence and homicidal carelessness.
“We have all the necessary conditions to provide maximum health care at European standards.” (officials’ statement)
Some of those people did not even have such severe burns, some were conscious when they got to the hospital or got there by taxi, not by an ambulance. Some had burns of the respiratory tract, yet they could have been saved. Nevertheless, those young people had the misfortune to become victims of the rotten political and medical systems in Romania, and it is outrageous to know that some of them could have survived if in a normal country.
These repeated deaths and some incriminatory details brought to light by the media gave birth to massive protests. These street revolts were directed against the authorities’ incapacity and lack of professionalism, as Romanians were disgusted with the lies of those in charge towards the gravity of the situation and with the corruption in the health system and all the state institutions, from city halls to government. That was a milestone for our society, a moment when people proved solidarity and got united, fighting for a single cause: they wanted justice for the victims of Collective, a functional and normal medical system and to see the corrupts out.
A documentary was made about the outcome of this tragedy and it has been nominated for the Oscars. If you want to find out what happened behind the curtains and to have an insight into how the web of corruption reached over to the highest levels in the case of Collective, check out this article.
The people’s reaction caused the government in power at that time to collapse. The Prime Minister resigned, and so did the Major who bore much of the blame. For us, that was a moment of relief, which gave us the impression that things are taking a better path. Yet it was just a temporary illusion, a flame that went out too quickly.
People stood by the victims in many ways: some associations donated money and medical supplies, thousands of citizens donated blood for the cure of those hospitalized, people were supportive of the victims’ families, both morally and materially. Everyone helped with what they could. But the essence of human kindness and solidarity was probably best shown during the fire, when those that had managed to get out of the engulfed club, although injured themselves, got back to help the others escape the hell. Two of these men lost their own lives while saving the others’.
People I loved could have been among the victims
At that time, my boyfriend was a student in Bucharest and he also played in a rock band. He and his band also had a concert on that Friday night, but at a different club in Bucharest. I did not join him at that concert, because I was in high school and still living in my hometown, but my best girl friend happened to be in Bucharest on that day. She was visiting another friend of ours. I told my boyfriend that this girl was in the city. They knew each other, so he invited the two girls to his concert. Little did they know what was just about to happen “next door”.
That night, I went to bed earlier, but I got a phone call from my boyfriend at 3 in the morning. He wanted to let me know that there had been a fire in Collective, but that he and the girls were safe, they had not been at that club. “I’ve heard that they called the firefighters, but I don’t know if there were casualties, he said, “I don’t know any details”. At that point, they didn’t know the proportions of the event, so they went on enjoying their night out.
The following morning, my mother woke me up and asked me to call my boyfriend to check if he was fine. She knew that he had had a concert somewhere in Bucharest the previous night. I could read the dread and panic on her face, so I understood that the situation was quite serious. Later that day, I found out that my friends could have been there, at Collective. When they realized what a tragedy was there, they thanked my boyfriend for having “saved” their lives:
“If it hadn’t been for your concert, we could be dead now. Our initial plan was to go to Collective. You saved our lives without even knowing it.”
I was terrified at the thought that my friends or my boyfriend could have been among the victims of Collective. I instantly thought about the friends and families of those who had been there the night before, be them dead, alive or injured. Thinking about how they must have been feeling, a shiver crossed my body and my eyes watered.
The evil facet of humanity
On Monday morning, I went to school. Everyone was talking about Collective. Out of the blue, one of my colleagues made a shocking statement:
“Satanist rockers… that’s why they caught fire. Have you heard their music?! (metalcore, he meant) Satanist music! They deserved it!”
For a few seconds, I didn’t say anything. His affirmation left me speechless. I was baffled, disgusted and frustrated. Then I tried to make him realize how narrow-minded, logicless and dehumanizing his judgement was. I tried to explain to him that it had been an accident which had nothing to do with the type of music they were listening to. That could have happened anywhere, from a school to a church or a hospital. And it would have been just as tragic because we were talking about people losing their lives. “They are all human beings…what’s the difference? Nobody deserves to die like that!”
As I was speaking, I could not believe that, in the 21st century, I had to explain these things to somebody. Later that day, another guy in a WhatsApp group wrote the following:
“I mean…It’s a pity they died, but…that music…it was as if they had predicted it or…asked for it…The day we die…”
He was referring to the title of one of their songs, The day we die, which was rumoured to have been played when the fire started. Some other people stepped in to prove him wrong. I just left the group, frustrated and still amazed. To my surprise, even if on social media most people were mourning the deceased and sending their prayers for the injured, there were quite a lot of people who would leave hate comments and try to make absurd links between their music and their death:
“They deserved it” , “They were evil people, so God punished them.”,
“They gathered there to summon Satan cause the next day was that bloody Halloween.”,
“They wanted to die, they even sang it. That song brought about their doom.”
Here’s the thing with the “song of death”: the initial info was that they had just finished playing The Day We Die when the fire started. But it was later proven that this song was actually the first they performed, but, as always, mass media likes to spice things up. Anyway, this piece of information was enough to give people a starting point for making absurd reasonings, on top of the already existent foundation of their hatred and disregard towards a specific type of music and its representatives. Ironically, this song has nothing to do with death, but people, fueled by the media, made assumptions out of any context. Here are some of the lyrics of this song:
Fuck all your wicked corruption
It’s been there since our inception, but we couldn’t see
All the times we’ve felt so hollow
As our hopes were hanged in gallows
All this time we’ve been locked away
And there was nothing left to say
We’re not numbers we’re free, we’re so alive
And the day we give in is the day we die
Putting aside the out-of-context interpretation or any type of misunderstanding of the message, it was unbelievable to me to realize that in the 21st century, people still have a Middle Ages-type of mentality. They strongly believed that the simple utterance of some words would trigger the evil powers bringing death or God’s punishment… And I met some of these people, they were not uneducated or deprived of access to modern life and information. Some of them are now med students. Some are soon to be lawyers. Some have just become teachers.
Yet more surprising was the realization of the level of dehumanization of some. I was stupefied seeing so much hatred around me. I could not process how people can show so much lack of compassion towards their fellows’ sufferance and loss. While some people were out in the streets fighting against the injustice done to the victims or supported their families, some others gratuitously spread hatred.
It was, of course, unbelievable how they associated a specific type of music with human values and morals. It was hard to imagine that just because somebody dislikes a genre of music, they will hate and think less of the people that enjoy it. Yet, I don’t think that music preference was the real problem. I don’t think music is so important to people that it can deprive them of any human feeling and emotion. That was just the overt manifestation of some more complex, hidden psychological processes which are unknown to me. I could see the effect, but I failed to find the cause.
Looking back at those events, I can say that one of the things the tragedy of Collective and what followed after that taught me was that humanity has opposing faces: we can be angles or demons, we can show rationality or the complete lack of it, we can love or we can hate. But are these universal features or are they relative depending on the situation we find ourselves in, or how distant is the others’ situation of our own sphere of life? Whatever the answer, it freaks me out.