sâmbătă, 8 martie 2014

Casa Spiru Haret - A National Shame

I wrote the words below three years ago. Today, Spiru Haret’s house is vanished. Another irreparable loss for Bucharest, for our history, for us. 

 Like all European nations, Romania too has prominent figures throughout her history. And, just like all European nations, Romanians honour their memory: they write biographies, they erect statues, they name their streets after them along with their high schools, their universities. But that's about as far as it goes. In other European countries, the homes of these prominent figures become memorial houses, museums, visits for schoolchildren to walk respectfully through the rooms in an attempt to soak up the atmosphere in which these great men lived. Not in Romania. Here, on the whole, these homes become ... a national shame.
A name among names
One of the most prominent scholars in Romania's history was Spiru Haret. Born in Iasi in 1851, he was the first Romanian to earn his Ph.D. in mathematics at the Faculty of Sciences in Paris (1878) and became a professor at the parallel Faculty of Sciences in Bucharest. He took office three times as Minister of Public Education and Religious Affairs (1897-1899, 1901-1904, 1907-1910) and remained there for more than 10 years. He left his imprint on both primary and secondary education. In particular, he established good profile high schools, which contributed substantially to the flourishing of science education in Romania. Furthermore, he implanted the baccalaureat, wrote textbooks and taught in Romanian high schools. It is difficult (and perhaps unnecessary) to list all his rich and diversified activities.
A house in Bucharest
In Bucharest, there is a house which holds the memory of Spiru Haret's life within its walls. Str Gheorghe Manu (formerly str Verde, formerly str Lemnea) 7 is a harmonious building with neat neoclassical-style architecture, and elements of Neo-Baroque decor. Applications for the house's approval date from 1888. Plans have not been preserved, but the volumetric elegance, the harmonious proportions and sheer clarity of composition would indicate a talented architect. In a very well documented article in the National Journal, the history of this house unfolds. It is interesting to see that a minister of that time took two bank loans to build his house (not a palace), and that it took years to pay off the debt.
Family history
The family history was not a very happy one. Spiru Haret died in 1912 and his wife Ana inherited the house. They were not blessed with children, so Ana allowed her sister's children to bear the scholar's name. Ana Haret's sister was married to the engineer, Iosef Gold, and Mihai, the eldest of the Gold brothers, was adopted by Ana Haret. Mihai Haret-Gold (b. 1884) graduated from the Faculty of Natural Sciences in Bucharest and became a prominent figure in Romanian tourism, writing a large number of literary works. He died a year before his adoptive mother, who lived on until 1941.
House history
The history of the house seems equally marred by the sadness of the family who built it. At the wish of the nephews, the house was bequeathed to the National Institute of Cooperatives - INCOOP, who established a small museum there. Theydonated personal items, and manuscripts from Spiru Haret's library, exhibited in both the library and the study where Haret had worked. The suffocation of communism didn't hit the small museum until after 1944. In 1950 the museum was closed. The items were sent to the Bibliotecii Academiei, and the building was made available to the Ministry of Education.
Darkest days
Paradoxically, the house's darkest days came after liberation from communism. It was returned to INCOOP. Centrocoop took over in 2000 and sold it at great speed to private individuals in 2001. In turn, they sold it on to Lux Invest Construct in 2005.
Unexplained mysteries
A series of unexplained mysteries have inexorably pushed the building down the steep hill to eventual loss. For inexplicable reasons, the home of this great scholar was not included in the list of Historic Monuments. Only in 2005 was this omission corrected (LMI/2010 1399, Code B-II-mB-19130). An equally inexplicable happening was the disinterest in 2005, at the reselling of the house, when the Ministry of Culture did not bother to put in a bid for the house's value at 1.14 million euro, which lead to the real estate agency becoming the new owner.
There is in Bucharest...
There is in Bucharest... a str Spiru Haret, a Spiru Haret High School, a rich Spiru Haret private university and even a statue of Spiru Haret, which, in total disrespect for national values so characteristic of our times, was moved from its traditional spot in front of the University to Parcul Izvor, where it stands near the entrance in the company of three other statues, all victims in Bucharest's municipality.
Amongst the millions spent on accommodation for Bucharest's parliamentarian homeowners in the Capital, the millions necessary for the maintenance of chosen indulgences, the millions thrown into the quick surfacing of roads and the millions squandered on the replacement of curbs nobody wants etc etc., the State and Bucharest's City Hall do not have the funds in their treasure troves to save Spiru Haret. One would even have expected the University, which makes numerous millions (of euros) under the banner name of Spiru Haret, to have boasted the noble gesture of preserving a part of its national heritage and creating a worthy museum.No such gesture was made.
The unfortunate house
This unfortunate house has been shoved down the classic path of Bucharest's historic homes. First the doors were left unlocked, leaving it to be over-run with gypsies. They did what they usually do. In the places where Spiru Haret wrote and meditated, where he gave advice to ministers, scholars, the literati and elegant ladies, "illegal" locals wrenched, gnawed, polluted, destroyed and shattered. In the space of only a few years, the house was transformed into something between a pigsty and a ruin.
Meanwhile, approvals were given (illegal, because it is in the protected Dorobantu-Niculescu House zone of listed historic monuments) and plans prepared for a seven-storey block, waiting for a rainy day.
A bad sign
For a while now, the gates have been closed and the house is no longer swarming with gypsies. That's not a good sign. Done and dusted. Perhaps the gypsies have finally been expelled but not so that cleaning and restoration can be done. No. The knell has sounded.
The time has come
The time has come for destruction; for pillaging the city of her historical treasures; for the unleashing of sleazy greed and shamelessness.... Bulldozers have engulfed the city and demolish day and night (especially at night when a reaction is less likely), laughing at the martyred earth as the city's history and the buildings meant to last suddenly vanish, especially on street corners, robbed of their houses and trees.
Our Bucharesteans sit around with beer in hand, eyes glued to the TV. An inexplicable apathy has hit the entire nation. To the question, "What can we do?", you get only one answer - the response of uncaring indifference: "There's nothing we can do."
So why bother with Casa Spiru Haret?

Translation Romanian-English by Sarah in Romania

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