'Copii de bani gata', rich Romanian club

Article published on July 19, 2010
Article published on July 19, 2010

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

They're treated with similar disdain and contempt everywhere, but nowhere with such hatred as in Romania. The Romanian nouveau riche are nicknamed 'born with money' or 'kids with rich parents'. Where's the problem?

The media brand them the new elite, but they have nothing to do with the elite in the traditional sense. The copii de bani gata ('copii=kids, offspring and bani gata=rich parents) are the offspring who bask in the luxury of their rich parents. They're the stalwart heroes of gossip columns and subjects of shoddy, colourful reality shows. For many Romanians, they are also the object of envy and admiration, the representatives of a social class which took the most from the transformation of the political system.

Little kings and their children

Elena Basescu, the 30-year-old daughter of the president of Romania, is currently an MEP in Brussels. She remains the country's most famous representative of the copii de bani gata club. Journalists describe it as a policy which was devised by her father, Traian Basescu. 'Romanian journalists decided to investigate the matter,' says Dan Tapalaga, editor of the online news portal HotNews.ro. 'We wanted to uncover cases of nepotism in politics. One Hotnews journalist called local party politicians, pretending to be an activist from the central government, to 'ensure' that Elena was getting her ten fixed votes - five of the eight politicians were duped into confirming that they had done the deal.'

These are not isolated cases, though Tapalaga says the phenomenon became evident in around 2003. 'The so-called local barons and politicians who manage cash municipalities began to involve their children in everyday politics to draw money from the state budget.' Apparently, most got away with it. Whilst there is a layer of hatred and envy for these people, there is also a degree of social acceptance and admiration for their resourcefulness. Nepotism is certainly not an invention of the Romanians - look at French president Nicolas Sarkozy's son, Jean. Social control does not exist here, even through the media. This is mainly because these are mostly controlled by politicians, says Tapalaga. 'Their children do what they want with a feeling of impunity. They use their parents' knowledge and power. For example, the interior minister is also the chief of police. His son-in-law is a trained dentist and started a security company. Without his own connections he wouldn't have got the necessary permits, and not long afterwards, public procurement contracts worth eight million euros... it's impossible to eliminate twenty years of corruption in a few days.' 'Local politicians are like little kings,' says Tapalagi. 'They rule Romania in a medieval way. Most of them are from the old regime, and now their children are continuing what they began to parents.'

Poor little rich kids

It's sometimes hard to be a member of the 'caste'. Rita Muresan, a former Miss Romania and the organiser of Miss Teenager Romania, is now a prominent fashion designer and mother of two teenage daughters. I visit her in a beautiful building located in one the most expensive districts of Bucharest. The entire building, as well as several others on this street, belongs to her husband, a businessman associated with the steel industry. In the multi-floor house, Rita's two daughters have their own floor to play in. It's chaotic and hilarious – Rita and her eldest daughter, who shares the same name, are celebrating their 'name day'. In amidst the happy chaos of the hired service, the running children and barking young labrador, Rita's husband offers champagne and apologises for the gnarled-at table at which we sit: 'We're waiting until the dog grows up. 'If we threw the table away, she probably would start chewing on the other table, which is a Svarowski.'

Rita comes downstairs, looking every inch the domestic as she expects her guests from abroad. The glamour of working in Italy aside, she emphasises that she comes from a modest family who knew what life was like under communist times. She says she has worked very hard to be successful and thus tries not to spoil her daughters into egoism, though she understands the enormous peer pressure that their environment brings them. 'If my daughter's friends were all driving Ferraris and she were being ridiculed, then I probably would buy them a Ferrari - even if it's contrary to my beliefs.' Rita stands very much between the two worlds of being extremely rich and 'normal'. She is a firm contributor to charities such as Save the Children, but at the same time rich kids are the customers buying her designs. 'Their parents made money fast, easily. Children spend that money as fast and easily. I wouldn't want my children grew up on these people, but how others raise their children is not my business.'

The main star in the Romanian reality show 'Saracii copii bogati' ('Poor Rich Kids')

The 'poor rich kids' do have their defenders. 'The 'well-born', or as we say here, those born with money, are hated,' says Sandra Scarlat, journalist at Adevărul, a Bucharest-based daily. 'It's considered the right attitude to have in this society. Newspapers don't write anything good about Elena Basescu. I don't know whether it's because she doesn't deserve it or if it's just easy to ridicule the image she has of being a thick blonde.' The president's daughter has been working at the European parliament since 2009. Is it in vain? Google Basescu, and you'll tumble upon various meaningless statements she has made and pictures of her posing in the background of luxury cars like a Playboy girl.

Understand 'role models'

The view is somewhat confirmed by Daniel Mitulescu, an award-winning film producer recently back back from promoting If I Want To Whistle, I Whistle at the Cannes film festival. 'The media use them,' explains the sociology graduate from the Sorbonne in Paris. 'It's a strategy building sales on envy. But for many people, they are role models. If you head to one of the clubs in Dorobanti (where acclaimed architect Zaha Hadid proposes to build a tower) in the evening, you won't only see the nouveau riche; there are also taxi drivers there who blow their salaries on champagne just to feel like they are part of that club for the instant. They look at the girls and feel that they belong to their world.'

The average Romanian is fascinated by the nouveau riche. People keep track of their lives in the gossip magazines, they admire them and hate them at the same time. The copii de bani gata are the embodiment of their dreams of success in a country where the gap between social strata is enormous, and the average salary is only a little over 1, 300 lei (305 euros). Ultimately, no-one chooses which family you come to the world in. 'That's why I try to understand the copii de bani gata,' explains Sandra Scarlat. 'It's hard not to lock yourself in the empty world of fun and money when everybody outside of this circle is looking at you with disdain, saying that you don't deserve everything you got, because you got this from your parents. It is hard to find friends outside this magical circle if you look at it this way – that their life is sad.'

Image: Andrea Podarescu ©Saracii copii bogati/ Facebook