BRASOV, Romania—Like thousands of cops the world over, Marian Godina got an angry call from his bosses. They wanted to see him immediately.
Some years earlier Officer Godina, a traffic officer in this town of 250,000 in the mountains of Transylvania, had pulled over a drunken driver who, in a break from the ordinary, had chosen to acknowledge his inebriation—with gusto. Asked if he had been drinking, the driver replied: “Do I look sober to you?” Asked what types of drinks he’d had, he said: “All sorts. Write down, a-l-l s-o-r-t-s.” When asked if he knew what day it was, he said: “It’s night…not day,” tossing in a few choice expletives.
When Officer Godina’s bosses saw, last summer, that he had posted the incident on Facebook, they weren’t amused by the coarse language. They ordered him to take down his entire Facebook page. Officer Godina, now 29 years old, was so humiliated he thought about quitting the force.
But overnight, after his page went dark, the Brasov police server crashed. It had been bombarded with complaints in his support. The next day, his bosses reversed course and ordered him to reactivate the page.
Though they hadn’t known it, Officer Godina’s Facebook page had become a cause célèbre. For decades, Romanian traffic police officers had been the subject of endless jokes about their alleged lack of integrity, education and wit. Officer Godina’s page was so relentlessly honest, funny, grammatically correct and at times openly critical of the corruption he saw firsthand that he had developed a loyal following among fed-up citizens.
Officer Godina’s Facebook breakthrough began with a post last year about watermelons. In 2009 he had been called out to investigate a crash in which a taxi had flipped over and a good Samaritan driving a watermelon truck had saved the driver. In his haste the truck driver had forgotten to set his brake; the truck rolled into a ditch and spilled its fruit—a season’s income—leaving the driver “crying like a child and staring in sorrow” at his truck, Officer Godina wrote. The policeman did his own good turn, helping the driver right his truck and re-stack the melons. The post earned him nearly 6,000 Facebook “likes”—and raves for being a government official working for the public good.
That notion was such a novelty, some skeptics wrote that Officer Godina might be just a “marketing gimmick.”
In later posts, he discussed why pedestrians can also be fined if they don’t look out for cars, and criticized his bosses for putting up yield signs on a dead-end street. He also sprinkled in goofy pictures and anecdotes from the job—police cars full of cabbages; another drunken driver pretending his dog had been behind the wheel; a driver seeking to avoid a fine by pretending he didn’t understand Romanian after spending a year in Italy.
Now, with more than 260,000 Facebook followers, Officer Godina is benefiting from a wave of popular disgust with corruption in this post-Communist country. In November, after huge street protests against corruption and abuse of power, the national government resigned. The protests were initially prompted by the death of a traffic policeman who had been opening the way for the motorcade of the then-interior minister. It later turned out that the minister wasn’t traveling on official business. A few days later, protests grew nationwide when a fire killed 63 people in a nightclub that authorities had allowed to function without proper fire precautions. The new national government has vowed to crack down on corruption, and prosecutors have won graft cases against prominent politicians and local officials, including Brasov’s former chief of traffic police.
Officer Godina, a Brasov native, wanted to be a cop since he was a child. When he was sworn in nine years ago, he said he promised to apply the law without fear or favor and never to take a bribe. But he and his colleagues would regularly write traffic tickets and have them torn up after wealthy or influential people appealed to his bosses—just like in Communist days, when powerful party members were above the law.
The officer stuck to his standards. In February, he fined the driver of a local councilor for failing to stop at a crosswalk, almost hitting a girl. When the councilor, in the car at the time, complained, Officer Godina’s bosses called him in to say he shouldn’t have fined the driver and that he had been disrespectful. A disciplinary inquiry was launched, which Officer Godina chronicled on Facebook, posting the recording of his conversation with the driver.
His fans were outraged. Around a hundred policemen from across Romania showed up in Brasov to support him, sporting bumper stickers reading “I am Godina.”
“His bosses totally underestimated Facebook, they had no clue how powerful it is,” said Alexandru Berbecariu, a 16-year-old high-school student in Brasov, who repeatedly said Officer Godina was “awesome.”
The scandal was picked up in national media. In the following weeks, the local councilor resigned, while the head of the Brasov police and one of his deputies went into early retirement.
Anticorruption prosecutors have launched an investigation into abuse of power. The two police bosses and the councilor deny any wrongdoing. Liviu Naghi, spokesman for the Brasov police, said that Officer Godina’s accusations “look good on Facebook” but that they “need to be proven, with evidence, by the prosecutor.”
The mayor of Brasov, George Scripcaru, himself on trial for corruption, said he is doubtful Mr. Godina can bring about change in a society deeply devoted to its old ways.
“Change doesn’t come like that, saying from today on, we completely change our ways,” he said. “Yes, it’s good what he’s doing, humanizing the Romanian policeman, showing problems in a fun way. But the problems remain.”
Plus, when state employees post on Facebook, he said, “hierarchy is no longer respected.”
Officer Godina translated his Facebook fame into a book contract. Published in February, “Flashes From the Other Way” compiles his funniest Facebook posts and other sketches of life on the force. It has sold 40,000 copies, making it Romania’s best-selling book so far this year, and the best performer ever among police authors, according to his publisher. He has followed up with a children’s book explaining traffic rules, to come out June 1.
Writing wasn’t his ambition, but he said he likes to amuse his friends with funny tales from work and to write poems to the girls he falls in love with. He’s now a heartthrob, and sometimes posts about dates. He said he is in no hurry to tie the knot: “If I’m lucky, I won’t get married next year, either.”
At his book launch in late February, Romanian Prime Minister Dacian Ciolos showed up and told journalists he hoped the “Godina phenomenon” can be replicated in other state institutions. A top judge has now begun posting quirky work anecdotes along with criticism of corruption.
After two months on the road to promote his book, Officer Godina returned to Brasov and resumed his traffic job. On a sunny day late in April, he was back directing traffic around a ceremony for World War II veterans. Some things have changed. When one of the top brass who last year told him to take down his Facebook page stepped out of a black SUV and greeted him with a broad smile, Officer Godina said: “My bosses are all afraid of me now.”
Our editors found this article on this site using Google and regenerated it for our readers.
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