By the time you read this, most results of the EU Parliamentary elections will be known. But I have to say that it was a pleasure to find the Romanian capital festooned in Euro-election posters – after London, where the only EU election advertising seemed to promote the anti-European Ukip.
Not only was there an admirable display of political pluralism in Bucharest, where the two parties in the coalition government were competing for Euro-votes, and the President's rather spectacular-looking model daughter, Elena Basescu stood as an independent, but there were real, live Euro issues being fought over, as they related to Romania.
One of the hottest of these centred on what could be done for compatriots working elsewhere in the EU. A large number of Romanians who went to work in Spain and Italy now find themselves unemployed and without access to benefits. In Britain, Romanians and Bulgarians, unlike earlier arrivals in the EU, do not enjoy an automatic right to work. Romania's politicians saw in these inequalities fertile ground for campaigning. Is there something here that British politicians could learn from when the next Euro elections come up in four years' time?
You just can't miss it
I was in Bucharest for a conference that was held at the Palace of Parliament, a stately name betraying nothing of the building's controversial past. The last time I was in Romania all the talk had been of opposition – an almost unheard-of concept at the time – to the plan of the then leader, Nicolae Ceausescu, for a vast architectural complex.
Before setting off from London, I asked friends how to find the site. Don't worry, they said. How right they were. I had scarcely stepped out of my hotel before a vast, flat brown wasteland opened before me. More than 20 years on, the vast palace is built, with a Champs Elysées-style avenue, just as Ceausescu had planned. By day, it is a domineering presence; at night, lit up, a potentate's ethereal castle.
After the execution of the Ceausescus, many wanted to bulldoze the lot. Instead, it was designated guardian of Romania's new democracy. Almost 20 years on, that is still an uncomfortable cohabitation.
Gentlemen, this is a queue
An abiding memory of Bucharest in those years was the courtesy of its inhabitants. Quite unlike anywhere else in the macho Balkans, Romanian men rushed to assist any damsel, of any age, whether or not in distress. Remarkably, this courtesy coexisted with a degree of persecution, often highly personalised, as cruel as anything the communist world produced. The courtesy, I'm delighted to report, remains, but with a malign twist. I experienced no queue that was not jumped by a male of the species.Reuse content