Interview with Stefan Bandol

Stefan Bandol, geologist, is founder and president of the Association Aripi (´Wings’), the association of psychiatric patients in Bucharest.

Why has he taken this initiative? ´I know the discrimination, the stigma. I have experienced a lot. My first admission, when I was nineteen years old, I owe to my superiors in the army. I was serving in the military at that time, and happed to break a window and cut my leg. I protested that the wound had not been thoroughly examined. Then they tied me down to a bed in military hospital. Later a piece of glass of a few centimetres long was taken out of my leg. No wonder that I cried out loud when I was tied down.’ He was transferred to a psychiatric hospital and kept tied down for three days, until he convinced a fellow patient to untie him. ´The poor man was punished by beating and being tied down himself.’

This was in 1981. After that Bandol has lived for eleven years without any problems. He finished his studies and found a well-paid job at an international company, where he learnt to speak English excellently. ´In 1992 I have been admitted a second time. Some trigger events happened that threw me into chaos. Divorce, moving house, too much drinking because of stress. I received good treatment then, mostly because my mother paid to have the bed next to me and took care of me. Nowadays that is not possible any more, to hire a bed.’ As late as 1996 Bandol saw a patient being beaten up in hospital. About that time he started to think about founding an association of patients.  ´According to the law you can start an association when you have at least twelve members. In 1998 we were nine persons, so we could not make a start.’ A few years later two day-centres for chronic psychiatric patients were opened in Bucharest, Trepte and Estuar, the first one under the umbrella of the Obregia hospital. ´There I found supporters,’ says Bandol. Professor Teodorescu stimulated him to carry on. Since 2002 Aripi is legally registered as an association of patients, with 67 members and an office in the Obregia hospital. Members pay a small subscription fee. ´Many live on social security, which is hardly enough to keep alive. Your medical benefits depend on the number of years you have worked. I’m lucky I have worked in top positions.’

He harbours an ambitious plan: to build a museum village, together with patients and ex-patients. It should consist of ten typically Romanian wooden houses. A small hotel, a restaurant with a conference room, and a chapel. A project for social rehabilitation. The National Authority for Handicapped Persons wants to subsidise the plan, and there is a pharmaceutical company wanting to contribute. ´There are not many possibilities to find money for such a project. Unless it concerns a Miss-Romania election or a football match, people in Rumania will not give any money.’

Recently Aripi attracted a lot of attention with a demonstration at the Ministry of Health. At the outset people were afraid. ´If television cameras appear, we shall leave,’ they said. ´You can send the reporters to me,’ Bandol said, having had the necessary experience already. With satisfaction he tells how his supporters came on TV themselves, and how proud they were to have done so. ´To be seen and heard in the media is very important. We have to break through the prejudice that every mad person is dangerous.’ Users of mental health care, Aripi members in this case, could give information about psychiatric illnesses in schools. But the Ministries of Education and Health have forbidden that. ´It is against human rights to forbid this,’ says Bandol. ´Two ministries fuck the national constitution.’ Bandol knows a number of users of mental health care in Cluj and Constanta, who want to found a branch of Aripi. So far they have not succeeded because of the high costs this entails. For every new branch of an association the full costs of foundation and legal taxes have to be paid anew at a notary office. ´I have not lost all my management skills,’ says Bandol. ´I’m good at organising things. But I cannot organise from Bucharest a demonstration in Constanta. You need a local organisation to do that.’

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