Suspicious Fires

The house at 8, Visarion St.

In recent years, many owners of monument mansions have deliberately left them to decay, or have set fire to them in order to be able to demolish them – Assan’s mill devastated by suspicious fire
. Culture Minister Adrian Iorgulescu has given the green light for the destruction of historical monuments. Although the minister admits that the owners of historical monuments use all kinds of fishy tricks to destroy those buildings in order to sell those pieces of real estate at exorbitant prices – namely thousands of euros per square meter. However, in April, the minister issued an order allowing for an emergency removal of the “historical monument” status for buildings whose “structures have been seriously damaged or in cases of collapse.” Namely, in plain English, the monuments which are at an advanced stage of decay or have already collapsed to the ground, whether that has happened against the wishes of the owners or not. But, as the minister knows all too well, the owners who wish to get rid of a monument and are unable to obtain a removal of the “historical monument” status may let it decay until it demolishes itself, or a spontaneous fire breaks out on that particular site, a fire that “seriously damages the structure” of the building. As a connoisseur of this situation, Iorgulescu has given the example of Assan’s Mill: there, a few months ago, part of that former bread factory, which is a historical monument, burned down completely. “The fire broke out in four different places, which I do not believe haphazard. The owners wanted to sell that piece of real estate, and they could not get rid of the ‘ballast,’“ explained the minister. Plus, Virgil Nitulescu, secretary general in the Ministry of Culture, admits that the Prosecutor’s Office has never been able to collect enough evidence to prove that such fires that have destroyed monuments were actually arson. Asked why he issued that order, which virtually leaves the monuments at the mercy of real estate sharks, Iorgulescu told us this was a misunderstanding. “This is an unclear issue, and I see it is staying with us. The order only referred to the places where monuments used to exist. Namely white spots. We must remove the ‘monument’ status from some buildings that no longer exist physically. “The law forces us to prepare a list that will include each individual monument before the end of the year. Therefore, in the places where the monuments don’t exist anymore, we must remove that status, so it will be recorded that no monuments exist there physically any longer. I introduced this concept of emergency removal of status because the law forces us to make this list before the end of this year,” explained the minister. However, as it is visible in the order signed by the minister, the actual state of affairs is totally different, and the emergency removal of the monument status did not only refer to the monuments that had disappeared. Virgil Polizu, chairman of the National Commission for Historical Monuments, requested that this order be repealed; he made this request at the latest meeting of the commission held last week, following consultations with the rest of the commission members. But no reply has been received so far. “At the latest meeting of the commission, we requested the repealing of that order whilst awaiting further clarifications. Otherwise, we invite people to demolish buildings. It’s true that some buildings no longer exist, but you know what it is like in our country, there is this risk that any loophole may lead to interpretations. “Owners set fire to houses, and valuable mansions disappear overnight. Such as the case in the Romana Square, or at 8, Visarion Street,” Polizu told us. Even more, through that order, Iorgulescu has made the procedure to define valuable buildings as monuments much more difficult and slow: that affects the buildings which are not currently defined as monuments, and which are in danger of being demolished. Apart from the requirements that had to be met before, this order also makes it mandatory to provide photos of the building’s interior, if that building is to be defined as a monument. A dishonest owner will never let anyone into the house to take such photos, because, if his building is defined as a monument, he will no longer be able to demolish it. from Gandul, August 6, 2008 (excerpt) Translated by Monica Voiculescu

by Catiuşa Ivanov