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Peter Hurley

‘I know what he feels like. I see that myself, continually trying to machete your way through work to try to get to the tree that you know needs to be hugged.’

It’s a huge story, this country. It never ceases to amaze me. The people that are here. Maybe I was too young when I left Ireland; that could be it as well. As you go through life, you just discover more and more but I do find Romania continuously revealing itself. The longer I stay here the more I realise how little I know. It’s almost impossible not to meet somebody really interesting at every turn – especially if you take the train to Sighetu Marmației in Maramureș – and that can take you into all sorts of different directions. And has done.

Friends? It’s hard for me to say, you know. I have a huge respect for a lot of people and I think that out of the mutual respect we have, we have a friendship. Certainly I asked those people to help me in things that only a friend would do, and they’ve helped. Can I explain it that way? When I first came here I probably did spend a lot of time in bars and pubs and I suppose I made a lot of friends. But then that’s not so difficult to do in the pub scene, especially when they’re two pubs in town and 20 ex-pats and we were three Irish guys. We were already a walking party, three single Irish guys in Bucharest.  

Do people see you as Romanian in any way now?  

I don’t see myself as a Romanian. Ah no, not at all. The more I’m here, the more I realise how big the difference is. I feel very much at home, I feel very comfortable with the people. I feel that somehow I’m sharing in the same kind of drama of what it means to be living here – it is a drama to be living in Romania to some extent. It is difficult to get through the day. I walked up here today and it’s like an obstacle course trying to negotiate the pavements. This can really get on top of you at some point. Between the dirt, the parked cars, the holes – you really wonder how it all sticks together sometimes and it really is a challenge. And then I say, I’m really lucky. I am really lucky…

We built our business on Romanians, on young Romanians, who were fresh out of college, fresh people who wanted to grow. We had much more loyalty, dedication, hard work, creativity, communication and honest-to-goodness results than you could ever have in Ireland. I like this positive, youthful energy that the young people still have. I know you can get people going here, they like to do things. Yes, hardworking if they’re behind it. If they’re not behind it, forget it. I think they’ll dig the same hole and fill it in so long as they’re getting paid to do it. They’re peace-loving, Christian, communicative people. Many of them are really straight, honest to themselves, not polluted in some ways.  

I’ve managed to get through some sticky bureaucratic mix-ups or difficult situations with benevolence from the bureaucrat with whom I’m involved. I’ve been in situations where I could have been burned if somebody really wanted to stick with the book. They probably were able to make a judgement call that everything was okay. I never got really caught badly as a result of that; I’ve always had things signed off when I needed them.  

Have you been affected by the şpagă?  

Well I’ve been here almost 18 years and I’ve never paid şpagă for anything. For 15 years we built a company from zero. One of the companies in 2009, when I left advertising, had 160 employees full time, with five offices around the country, almost €20 million turnover. That was all done straight, that was straight business. Now most of it was with private companies, not with the state, but we did a lot of European projects and I know in all those European projects no şpagă went on. It was straight, everything was really clear. So I know it can be done, or I believe it can be done.

I don’t know what’s going to happen next. There was definitely this generation – my wife’s part of that generation – now maybe in their thirties, that were 15 when the Revolution came. They had enough of an upbringing in a place where there was no television, where there was a library in every house, where there were lots of books, where there was a kind of a naivety. That generation have a huge role to play as Romania moves forward. I don’t think it’s ever going to be an easy country to run. I wouldn’t like to be the government of Romania. Things are so complicated for them. They’ve made it complicated for themselves. It just seems to be so difficult to get anything to move sometimes.  

You have to adapt and you can be in tears and you can be laughing at the things you see. I find the elderly poor very disturbing. How can this be going on? I’m sure I only see the tip of the iceberg when it comes to poverty here and I don’t know what to do about that. I don’t know what Romania can do about it. I don’t know how easy it is to solve some of these issues.  

In 2004 and 2005 I travelled around the country to 80 different projects that had used European Union funds, selected ten of them and made a movie about each. That was one of those other watershed moments for me in Romania. It gave me an opportunity to travel, to meet people, to really get into their stories and to understand how they got to be doing this thing with European money. That was a lift for me, one of the greatest lifts I’ve had in this country, because it really refreshed me. I had an experience this summer. I was in Maramureș in the county council. The story came up about these ten films. I told the lady working in the department of foreign investment that this was a project I’d been involved in.

She said, ‘Wow, you know the people in those films became models for me. I can tell you that as a result of understanding these people existed I went and did a refurbishment of a historical landmark in Baia Mare, with a Norwegian grant. I wanted to do that, even though it was going to create a lot of personal drama and hassle in my life, to push this project through. I wanted to join that club of people who are doing that.’  

To some extent I had probably forgotten the reasons why I came in 1994. Then bang, there I was, face to face with that Romania, those people that had the hope of the country in their hands. It really boosted me and became one of the things that pushed me towards thinking that I should do The Long Road. I knew I was part of a group then. I felt there are people who feel this way. We know that there are. I do think it’s important for people to understand that it’s okay to do those things and when you do, when you take responsibility, other good things happen. This is probably a major message to try and somehow propagate. It’s not a message from outside, it’s their message...