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10 years since I first came in Bucharest. Thank you Romania, thank you Romanians

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In October 2002, I was simultaneously in charge of many different political campaigns for local elections in Greece. Seems that God was generous with me and I won all of them (I worked a bit as well. Ok, a bit more). But instead of profiting, having so many “connections to power”, in 2003 an idea stuck into my mind: “Greece will face major financial problems and will risk to collapse after the Olympic Games of 2004”.

I was saying this to my friends, using all kinds of arguments but they were making fun of me, laughing like crazy. I was determined to search for more options for my life, despite my status of someone “living an acceptable life, member of the middle class but also owner of important media and having direct connections to the political class”.

It was the summer of 2003 when I decided that my future would be “somewhere in the Balkans and only in a capital”.

Balkans…

So in 2003 I traveled a lot in the Balkans. But a policeman asking for money to let me park in a private parking in the center of a capital and the “weird” problems I discovered in some countries made me reconsider. When I noticed once that the 4 star hotel I was staying was guarded by people having their face covered and carrying an uzi gun in their hands, I decided that it was too much for my peaceful nature. Only Romania had remained to visit…

Romania and Greece

The Greek government had announced elections for the 7th of March in 2004. I was actively involved in different political campaigns, for members of the parliament (no senators in Greece). When you are in charge of a political campaign, responsible for the strategy, the messages, the approach to media, the tactics, the alliances and general day-to-day activity of a politician, “actively involved” means 20 – 22 hours’ work per day, every day until the moment that the votes have been counted and you win. Because in politics it is the result that matters. People vote and the box opens. If you win “you are clever and you did everything perfectly well”, your politician is “honest, serious and a born winner”. If you lose “you are stupid and don’t know your work” while your politician is “a loser who can’t understand people’s needs”.

Even now, 10 years later, I don’t know what pushed me to book that trip to Romania, 45 days before the elections. I wanted to come, but I was planning to do so after the battle.                                                                            

In each electoral campaign, I was trying to identify the psychology of voters and build the campaigns based on this, choose the message that would be the “key” for them, find the right “dilemma” and questions that their answers would benefit my candidates, set the discussion and the media interest around our priorities. All the above without saying lies. Tough job, trust me…

Bucharest

It was Wednesday, the 21st of January 2004. I landed at the Otopeni airport, after a short flight with Tarom and its small plane ATR 42. It was around 19.00 in the evening. I knew no one. I walked out of the terminal and looked around me. I noticed that it had started snowing. “My God, all the roads will be closed now” I thought, knowing what was happening in Greece in similar cases. The driver was careful and slow, so I could “enjoy the scenery”. The DN1 road to the center was a dark narrow one with few constructions right and left, without sufficient lights. But the streets were clean! Police cars were parked at every single square! I felt happily surprised: “Wow, these guys here work hard, clean up their roads and the place looks safe” I thought…

I asked the driver to reach the center before to return to Sofitel hotel (Pullman nowadays). My room was at the 8th floor and it had an amazing view to Bucharest. Even that Bucharest, without the progress we witnessed after 2006, was a beautiful city…

Romania

From my first visit to Romania, I still remember 5 things (among others):

  1. A phrase someone told me: “Romanians love talking and hate acting. But overall, they are good people and they like Greeks”.
  2. The Romanian Gross Domestic Product in 2003, estimated at 37 billion Euro.
  3. The minimum salary (48 Euro if I am not wrong) and the pessimism of almost everyone regarding the future. Something like “we hope but don’t expect too much”.
  4. The description of the problems Romania was facing, which reminded me of the Greek ones, only that Romania sounded like 10 times less complicated than Greece. (And if you are used to the “productive anarchy” of the “Greek model” before 2009, the Romanian situation sounded like sweet music to the ears).
  5. The business opportunity I spotted: “A big country, full of potential, with similar problems like the ones I have faced, with low level of competition. It seems that being serious will be considered a plus. People are educated, speak languages and many of them wish to change their lives, even if they don’t know exactly how. My future is here”.

The decision

That astonishing view of Bucharest enlightened me and I decided to change the message of all the political campaigns I had planned. I also canceled everything that was already printed and I agreed to pay the cost in case any of my candidates would fail to be elected. Bucharest and Romania inspired me to focus on people, not on general ideas or infrastructure projects (as it was the trend till then).

I left on Sunday the 25th, after a… dramatic experience. I was invited for coffee, being instructed to eat before. I ate and then I found out that the coffee became lunch at a Lebanese restaurant, with 18 different plates to taste. (I managed to eat again on Wednesday…)

 

When I arrived back to Thessaloniki, I worked almost non-stop until the elections, trying to explain to everyone “what is this Romania that fascinated me so much, despite the poor people and the Dacia 1310”. On March 7th the boxes opened and my candidates had won. I was 28,5 years old and received proposals to move to Athens, to enter in the administration. But I had different plans.

On March 28th I returned to Romania. I politely turned down all proposals and decided to start my life again in Bucharest. I chose Real Estate, invested 6 months to learn the basics (I thought at that time) and began my activity in September 2004.

On January 21st 2008 I decided to start writing this blog, the first of its kind back then, which brought me close to hundreds of thousands of people and literally changed a lot in my life.

THANK YOU

Today, on January 21st 2014, 10 years after I first landed in Romania, I recognize that many things have changed. Romania, its population, myself, my beliefs, vision and experience, even a big part of my friends. Romania taught me so many precious lessons, some painful ones too. Sometimes you become a better professional if you manage to maintain your values in a difficult market than in a well-established one, where you don’t need to think much.

Overall, I am happy that I came here back in 2004 and I feel the need to tell you from the bottom of my heart:

THANK YOU, ROMANIA

THANK YOU, ROMANIANS

The next 10 years will be even better. For every one of us!

Ilias

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