Please take the time to read this post. The subject is very important, at least to ten million rural dwellers here in Romania. Ordinarily I am not a political person. However, on this occasion, I am asking for your help in lobbying. You will find out what you can do at the bottom.
The new law that I describe criminalises the activities shown in every picture in this section. Yes, every one, they are all taken on designated "national highways". Now, please read on.....
Driving from our tiny mountain village to the town of Bistrita recently, Danielle and I stopped several times to take photos of villages travelling by horse cart. We felt it important to capture these traditional Romanian images because they won’t be here forever.
Certainly not if the Romanian government continues on its present course. Between new laws that make crucial aspects of the traditional Romanian lifestyle difficult to sustain, and overly strict — often downright ridiculous — interpretations of EU regulations, this government seems dedicated to destroying its country’s rich traditions.
One does not have to travel far outside of any Romanian city to see that most of the population still makes their living off of the land, through farming and forestry, using horses and occasionally oxen or water buffalo for both draught power and transportation. Most of these people continue to use traditional methods of agriculture by choice AND necessity; modern equipment is not only impractical for the small plots of land and rough, often mountainous terrain, it is prohibitively expensive. So are petrol and diesel fuel. A million draught horses still work in Romania, a nation the same size as the UK (but with one third of the population). In American terms, Romania is as large as Pennsylvania and Ohio combined, with a similar overall population as the two states together.
Yet in its race to modernize, the Romanian government has decided that tradition, and those millions who cling to it, are expendable. One of the most damaging laws recently enacted (Article 71 of the Highway Code) forbids horse-drawn vehicles from travelling on "national highways". These are the regular roads between towns, not Interstates, Motorways or Autobahns, and run through one village after another. Often they are the roads used by farmers to access their fields, to get to market, to reach nearby woodland. It is a law that persecutes the majority of Romania’s population, an ill-conceived law more in character with former Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu than with modern Europe. Apparently the urban bureaucrats in Bucharest failed to consider that in many areas of the country the main road connecting the local towns and villages is the ONLY road available, and therefore, was designated as a national highway during the Communist era. They failed to see that, beyond the congested environs of Bucharest, many "national highways" are relatively quiet and safe for animal-drawn traffic to use. Some "national highways" are not even surfaced with asphalt or concrete.
The Romanian government claims that "10% of road accidents are caused by horse carts." We should rephrase that: "10% of accidents involve horse carts." Most of these accidents are caused by car drivers travelling too fast, driving carelessly, or driving under the influence of alcohol. However the law-makers are motorists, and prefer to blame peasant farmers who have no voice in law-making. The law-makers ignore the fact that making rural life more difficult will not only increase unemployment, it will rob Romania of one of its greatest assets: tradition.
There is more. Banning horse carts from highways is another step towards eliminating what is unique and attractive to tourists. Romania’s potential as the next great travel destination is being squandered, and the Romanian people will once again be the ones who suffer for the ill-conceived actions of their government.
Unfortunately there is evidence that the Romanian police are using Article 71 of the Highway Code to persecute the Roma minority. Television news coverage has shown police officers harassing Roma and confiscating their horses. Not only is this a glaring example of institutional racism, the Romanian police force does not have the capability to care for confiscated horses, which may have gone on to suffer neglect or maltreatment as a result, or simply sold to inhumane slaughterhouses.
The Romanian Highway Code must be reviewed. We call on the Romanian Ministry of Transport to examine "best practice" from established EU member states such as Germany and Britain, and from Amish areas of the US. Horse-drawn vehicles must be allowed to travel on all highways except for those few where the risks are excessively high, applying suitable safety measures such as lights and reflectors where appropriate. A national survey is required to establish, according to intelligent criteria and using experienced Western consultants, the few places where motor traffic simply is too dense for horse-drawn vehicles to travel safely. Every other road must be available to horse-drawn traffic.
We call on the Romanian government to cease persecuting people who use horses. Instead, the Romanian government should take positive steps for equitable safety: funding comprehensive road safety awareness programmes, strictly enforcing speed limits and other motor vehicle regulations, and where necessary investing in dedicated tracks for horse-drawn vehicles parallel to national highways. The government should promote rural life, for productive small farms offer Romania’s best chance for a healthy, sustainable future.
Please copy this as a link to your friends. Please also include it as a link from your blog, so that it is seen by as many people as possible.
Please write to the President of Romania, Mr Traian Basescu, at the following address. He is a fluent English speaker.
Strada Geniului nr. 1-3
Sector 5 - Bucuresti - Romania,
Cod postal 060116
Please copy your letter to the nearest Romanian Embassy, addressed to the Romanian Ambassador. The Embassies in the US and the UK have the following addresses.
1607 23rd Street, NW
Washington, D.C. 20008
4 Palace Green
London, W8 4QD
Thank you for your support. With your help, we may be able to force a review of this pernicious new law and allow peasant farmers to continue to use their horse carts legally.