NATO fever is gripping the city of Bucharest, as the Romanian capital prepares to host the next summit of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) between April 2 and 4. But with the streets of Bucharest already clogged with traffic moving at a snail's pace, the prospect of thousands of guests arriving for the summit is proving to be a nightmare for many residents of Bucharest.
“It will be a nightmare, a very big disaster,” explains a driver stuck in the capital’s congested streets. The American delegation alone will account for more than a 1,000 people, leaving little room for others in Bucharest’s five-star hotels.
Romanian authorities have spared no means to ensure the summit is a success. For them, the event provides a unique opportunity to showcase the country’s Western ambitions.
Since it joined NATO in 2004, Romania has drawn steadily closer to its former Cold War nemesis, the United States. Romanian troops are currently present in Afghanistan, and have been fighting alongside US forces in Iraq since the war began in 2003. In return, Washington has pushed hard for the NATO summit to take place in Bucharest.
“This is going to be the biggest event ever organized in Romania and the biggest NATO summit so far,” explains Victor Micula, Secretary of State at the Romanian Foreign Ministry. “We’ll be host to 24 heads of government and 26 heads of state. It’s a unique opportunity. We’re going to have to wait another 50 years before witnessing anything similar.”
Not surprisingly, security is a top priority. Border security has been tight and days before the start of the summit, six alleged anti-NATO activists who tried to enter Romania were sent back to their countries.
Leaving nothing to chance, police in Bucharest have sealed the city’s sewers. Yet, at night, the sewers turn into bedrooms for the country's abandoned youths who wage a nocturnal struggle to hide from the police.
“They rounded us up and left us in a field, with nothing to eat or drink,” a young man told us in a crowded sewer-turned-bedroom. “They simply abandoned us there.”
Meanwhile, outside in the daylight, the Romanian Army continues its march towards the Western dream.