Wikipedia 30 December 2008
Wikipedia 29 December 2008
|23 December 2008
by Eugen Tomiuc
Radio Free Europe
Romania's former president, Ion Iliescu, was attacked with eggs on December 22 during ceremonies marking the 19th anniversary of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu's fall.
Iliescu escaped unharmed after he was targeted by a 78-year-old protester in Bucharest, who held Iliescu responsible for the death of his two sons in the December 1989 fighting that followed Ceausescu's downfall.
The incident comes after Iliescu was attacked on December 21 with coins during an outdoor ceremony at the Heroes of the Revolution Cemetery in Bucharest.
Former revolutionaries threw the coins while chanting "Dead Men Walking" in an apparent reference to the hundreds of victims killed in the fighting which ensued after Ceausescu had fled Bucharest on December 22, 1989.
Critics have accused Iliescu, an ex-communist apparatchik, of hijacking the popular revolt that toppled Ceausescu and of covering up for decades the identity of the so-called terrorists who killed hundreds of people in December 1989.
Iliescu, who was president three times since 1989, has vehemently called his attackers "unhinged."
Moscow-educated Iliescu, now in his late 70s, seems to have lost his edge.
In June 1990, he had much more than tough words for the hundreds of anti-communist protesters holed up in tents in downtown Bucharest. Thousands of miners from the Jiu Valley in central Romania, armed with batons and chains, were ferried to the capital and unleashed against those who had dared question Iliescu's "legitimacy."
In the eyes of the world, the scenes of young men and women being beaten by Iliescu's hordes wiped away in an instant the heroic aura of the Romanian uprising of December 1989.
Little wonder that almost two decades later Iliescu, who still calls himself "the emanation of the revolution," is still not welcome anywhere near the survivors of both December 89 and June 90.
Wikipedia 22 December 2008
|17 December 2008
Radio Romania International
Nothing would have been possible without Timisoara. The revolt that broke out on 16th of December 1989 in the west of the country was not just the triggering event of the Revolution, it was the founding act of today’s Romania: a democracy that is a member of NATO and the EU. It is the same country that, 19 years ago, under the rule of Nicolae Ceausescu, seemed forever condemned to cold, hunger, fear, and seemed incapable of ever freeing itself from the most airtight of the communist dictatorships of eastern Europe.
In a false mirror, the aggressive, primitive and oversized propaganda apparatus was building, repetitively and monotonously, a parallel reality, a happy and prosperous country led by a president who shamelessly called himself a genius. And, with the exception of a few well supervised, harassed, and isolated dissidents, no one dared protest. The political police had managed to build up a myth for itself that depicted it as omnipresent and omnipotent, paralyzing any form of opposition.
Ceausescu had been isolated not only by westerners, who were appalled at the infringement upon the most basic of human rights, but also by former cronies sharing the space behind the Iron Curtain, tired of his resistance to the moderate reforms initiated by Gorbachev’s Kremlin. Warsaw, Prague, Budapest, or East Berlin had already broken the yoke of dictatorship by non-violent revolution.
Romania was to be the only country where communism treaded on corpses, and Timisoara, the first free city, was the first to have victims. After almost two decades, the inhabitants of Timisoara are still living with the frustration that justice has still not been done to their dead, that many of their claims are left unanswered, and that the revolution has been hijacked by lower level communist leadership.
One of the true revolutionaries from that time said that even in school, the Revolution is discussed so little, that students think of it as an event as remote as medieval battles.
|17 December 2008
by Dave Itzkoff
New York Times
A court in Bucharest ruled Wednesday that an art collection seized from the Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu will be returned to his heirs, Reuters reported. The collection, which includes two engravings by Goya, as well as paintings by the Romanian artists Nicolae Tonitza, Theodor Pallady and Gheorghe Petrascu, were seized by the state after Ceausescu was overthrown in December 1989 and he and his wife, Elena, were executed. Since then, the artworks have been kept in a warehouse maintained by Romania’s National Arts Museum. Haralambie Voicilas, a lawyer representing Ceausescu’s son Valentin, told Reuters that the court “eventually reached the right decision.” He added, “After years of court trials, property returns to the rightful owners.”
Wikipedia 15 December 2008
Did you know...
... that, among the flags of Romania, the flag of the Romanian Revolution of 1989 (pictured) has been called "the flag with the hole"?
Wikipedia 10 December 2008
Wikipedia 9 December 2008
|6 December 2008
by Dennis Hevesi
New York Times
Constantin Ticu Dumitrescu, a Romanian dissident who spent many years in prison during the Communist era and later led the fight to open the files of the Securitate, the feared secret police, died Friday in Bucharest, the capital. He was 80.
His death was reported by Agerpres, the Romanian national news agency, which said he had been released from a hospital two weeks ago after being treated for liver disease.
“We have lost one of the most powerful voices against Communism,” Traian Basescu, the president of Romania, said in a statement, adding that Mr. Dumitrescu was “one who remained upright and dignified during thousands of days of prison and interrogation.”
Mr. Dumitrescu (pronounced doo-ma-TRES-koo), a lawyer, was declared an “enemy of the state” in 1949 and sentenced to 27 years in prison for his role as a member of National Peasants’ Party, which opposed Communist rule. He was held in jail or under house arrest until 1964. He was barred from legal practice after his release and worked for many years in construction.
Nicolae Ceausescu, the Communist dictator, was deposed and executed in 1989, ending 24 years of iron-fisted rule. Soon after, Mr. Dumitrescu was elected to Parliament as a senator.
For the first seven years after the fall of Ceausescu, former Communists remained in power, despite calls by Mr. Dumitrescu and others to exclude them from government. After a centrist government was elected in 1996, Mr. Dumitrescu drafted legislation to open the files of the Securitate.
As was true in other former Communist-bloc countries, however, the idea of revealing secrets of the past raised difficult issues over who should have access to the information. The files included voluminous evidence of people spying on fellow citizens. Former Communists who had been members of the Securitate wanted the records kept closed. Further complicating the situation, some dossiers had been tampered with, causing concern that opening them could lead to accusations against innocent people.
Some Romanians argued that citizens should be allowed to open only their own files. That was the approach in similar circumstances in East Germany. Mr. Dumitrescu pressed, successfully, for far wider access.
n a statement on Friday, Romania’s prime minister, Calin Popescu-Tariceanu, said Mr. Dumitrescu had “asserted himself as one of the strongest personalities who fought for the moral cleansing of the former regime.”
“If today we, Romanians, have access to our personal political police file,” the prime minister said, “this is to an overwhelming extent due to Constantin Ticu Dumitrescu.”
Mr. Dumitrescu, who was born on May 27, 1928, retired from the Senate in 2000 but remained chairman of the Association of Former Political Prisoners.
|1 December 2008
by Iurie Colesnic
Radio Free Europe
The Republic of Moldova has appeared with this name on maps of Europe two times. The first time was December 2, 1917, when the National Council, the parliament of the time, declared the country's independence.
That republic's short life came to an end on March 27, 1918, when the same legislature voted to unite with Romania, in an act of historical justice. After all, on May 16, 1812, under the Treaty of Bucharest, Turkey gave Russia those parts of the territory of the Moldavian principality that were between the Prut and Nistru (Dniester) rivers, a region that came to be called Bessarabia. For the next 106 years, this territory, inhabited by Moldovans, remained part of the Russian Empire.
The collapse of that empire in February 1917 enabled the Moldovans of Bessarabia to renew their struggle for national independence. This occurred against the backdrop of a larger, complex process of making the transition from imperial thinking to nationalist consciousness. On April 3, 1917, the Moldavian National Party was formed and adopted a political program based on stages and actions necessary to secure national independence. These measures included education in the national language (Romanian), church services in the national language, the formation of a national army, the creation of a university, and -- of course -- setting up a parliament and executive government.
The party arranged national congresses around the points of this program. Clergy met in April 1917, educators in May, and peasants and small-business people later. But the main congress, which determined the fate of the region was held on October 20-28, 1917. This was the Congress of Moldavian Military Personnel, which adopted statements on all key points and ordered the new commission on the creation of the National Council to prepare all necessary documents and gather delegates by November 20, 1917. At the first official session, on November 21, 1917, the council selected Ion Inculet as chairman and secretary. As an example of the region's progressive democracy, the new legislature included two women -- Elena Alistar and Nadejda Grinfeld.
The Bessarabian Regional Court upheld the legitimacy of the National Council, meaning that its decisions had the power of law. Despite the efforts of the Soviet authorities beginning in 1917 (and continuing with those of contemporary communists in Moldova), unification with Romania became a fact on March 27, 1918.
Two States, One Nation?
The unification was based on 11 conditions that deputies felt were necessary to underscore the autonomous characteristics that had to be acknowledged in the process of joining Romania. However, on November 27, 1918, it became clear that Bucovina, and later Transylvania (Ardeal), would unite with Romania as well, and politicians in Bessarabia came to see that the 11 conditions could prevent the region from establishing a normal existence within Romania and so all 11 were annulled.
From the legal point of view, however, the short-lived republic passed through all the stages of forming an independent state: the democratic republic of December 2, 1917, the independent republic of January 28, 1918, and the March 27 unification decision. As a result, the Paris Peace Conference acknowledged the legitimacy of the unification itself.
Soviet Russia, however, continued to try by all means to deny its legitimacy, despite numerous rounds of negotiations. But all that ended on June 28, 1940, with the infamous Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. The Soviet Union occupied all Romanian territory between the Nistru and the Prut, and it wasn't until the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union that a Republic of Moldova once again appeared on maps of Europe.
And what are the relations between Moldova and Romania today? Incomprehensible. The Communists controlling the government in Moldova do not recognize the historical community of the peoples in these two states. They reject the two-states-one-nation formula of Romanian President Traian Basescu and try to prove that Romanians on the right bank of the Prut have noting in common with the Moldovan-Romanians on the left bank -- ignoring the linguistic, cultural, historical, and even territorial ties linking them.
They are attempting to artificially construct a unique nation in order to base a political platform upon it. But relations between Romania and Moldova must be fraternal -- this is the way it was in the past and it is the way it will be in the future. Efforts to struggle against this tide are doomed to fail.
Iurie Colesnic is a writer, filmmaker, publisher, and historian based in Chisinau. The views expressed in this commentary are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL
Wikipedia 25 November 2008
Wikipedia 19 November 2008
|13 November 2008
by Corey Kilgannon
New York Times
Inside his gently bobbing houseboat in the World’s Fair Marina in Queens, George Anton builds other boats: an array of historical ships that includes a 15th-century Spanish galleon, a 12th-century Chinese war junk, and various clipper ships, racing ships and viking ships.
Mr. Anton, 61, spends many months building each model boat, fashioning the tiny ribbing and planking from mahogany. He makes the sails from silk.
But city officials say Mr. Anton has neglected his own boat, and they are now suing him in State Supreme Court in Queens to remove him and his family from the marina.
Mr. Anton lives on the houseboat with his wife, Elena, and their son, Edward, 19, in a 34-foot, two-room houseboat. The city says the Antons are the only year-round people living aboard at this series of docks in Flushing Bay near La Guardia Airport and the Grand Central Parkway and Shea Stadium.
When the Antons moved in 18 years ago, shortly after immigrating from Romania, the marina was privately operated. But in recent years the city has taken over the marina, and it has been citing the Antons for violations, including the lack of proper registration and insurance documentation, and the lack of an engine in his boat, a marina requirement. The boat presents possible safety and environmental concerns, said Connie Pankratz, a spokeswoman for the city’s Law Department.
City lawyers say the Antons have failed to address their violations and are in violation of the much more basic rule: that year-round boat living is prohibited at the marina. (The 79th Street Boat Basin, on Manhattan’s West Side, is the only city marina where it is permitted, officials say.)
Mr. Anton says that year-round living was permitted when he moved in and that he should be grandfathered in and permitted to remain among the mostly recreational, seasonal boats that share the pier. Both sides are bracing for a fight, but unlike the city, Mr. Anton does not have taxpayers to finance his legal fees. So he is looking to sell his beloved fleet of model ships, including the sleek racing sailboats and 18th-century sloops.
Elena Anton, 55, works as a bookkeeper in Midtown, and Edward works as a mechanic in College Point. Mr. Anton worked repairing X-ray-machines until becoming disabled with broken vertebrae 10 years ago.
Mr. Anton says he pays about $5,000 a year, including rent and electricity. He warms the place with small electric heaters. He and Elena sleep in a small compartment that has a small bathroom. Edward Anton sleeps in the main upper room, which has a small kitchen area and which George Anton uses during the day as a floating workshop making these intricate mahogany ships, as he sips red wine and listens to recordings by his middle son, Mihail Anton, a professional violinist back in Romania. He has grown accustomed to the soundtrack of low flying jets and seagulls and creaking rigging.
“This ship took me a year and a half to build,” he said, gently setting up a clipper ship with intricate rigging, sails of silk, and sides dusted with silver flake.
The city claims Mr. Anton has dumped waste from his toilets into the bay. Mr. Anton says he is careful to dispose of his waste tanks in the marina toilets. He dismissed the city’s accusations, pointing to a large sewer outflow nearby, which he said spews thousands of gallons of sewage into the bay during rainfalls. He showed snapshots to back up his claim.
“They complain about my toilets, and they’re emptying the whole city’s toilets into this water,” he said. He said he has been an excellent tenant, and he likes to compare the city’s actions to repressive Communist regimes he lived under in Romania.
“Will somebody please tell me where is the freedom in this country?” he said as the evening sun glistened across Flushing Bay.
Wikipedia 9 November 2008
|5 November 2008
Both Romanian President Traian Basescu and PM Calin Popescu Tariceanu congratulated Barack Obama and wished him good luck in fulfilling his mandate. A press release of the Presidency, remitted to Romanian news agency NewsIn, reads about the growing strategic relations between the two countries, about the substantial political dialogue and American investments in Romania and increased bilateral commercial ties.
Moreover, Basescu addressed the importance of the transatlantic partnership for Romania, as both EU and NATO member, NewsIn informs. President Basescu declared that Obama's victory is historical and not only empowered the Americans but also raised the interests of Romanians by consolidating their trust in the American democracy.
Romanian PM Calin Popescu Tariceanu stressed, in his message, the importance of the bilateral relations between the two countries and Romania's willingness to enrich the collaboration, especially at the regional level, a press release of the Chancellery reads.
Democrat Barack Obama won the US Presidency on Tuesday: after two years of extraordinary campaigning he managed to secure an overwhelming victory in front of more experienced Republican John McCain.
Aged 47, Obama will have to face the extremely difficult economic situation: the US undergoes its worse financial crisis since 1929. Barack Obama will be invested as the 44th US President on January 20, 2009.
Wikipedia 5 November 2008
|30 October 2008
by Humphrey Hawksley
Since Romania joined the European Union in 2007 more than two million people have left to earn higher wages in wealthier European countries. One of the hardest hit industries is construction. Humphrey Hawksley has been to Bucharest to discover the depth of the skills gap.
The voice of Piero Francisci rose above the clatter of drilling on the floor of the construction site far below.
Carved deep into the ground of a Bucharest suburb was the vast foundation chamber of what should eventually become a high-rise office block.
It should also have been crawling with about 100 construction workers.
Instead, there was just a cluster of men carving out the elevator shaft which, at present, looked like a prehistoric insect, with twisted brown metal girders rising out of grey half-built concrete cones.
"Has anybody actually sat down and worked out how many people are needed to build the infrastructure of this country?" asked Mr Francisci, gesticulating in frustration.
"It needs motorways, bridges, airports, railways, and look at this."
Mr Francisci is an Italian businessman with plans to build houses and office blocks throughout Romania - if he can find anyone to do it.
His guest at the building site was Adriana Eftime, the head of a building trade federation.
Her luckless task is to try to persuade the government to issue entry permits to foreigners on the grounds that hundreds of thousands of Romanian construction workers have left the country for better wages elsewhere in Europe.
So far she is failing.
"I asked them just for 60,000," she explained, "but they wouldn't have it. They said they'd look maybe at 10,000."
"Well, all I can say," said Mr Francisci, "is that if things keep going this way, we'll have to close down."
He took us down a rickety wooden ladder to the floor.
We walked across to where the work was going on and he introduced us to Rajinder Singh Bansal, a carpenter from Delhi - one of half a dozen Indians who had been allowed in.
But Rajinder said he might have to leave when his permit runs out and go back to a job in India that paid a fraction of his current wage.
Mr Francisci had lists of applicants from India, Vietnam and the Philippines whom he wanted to sponsor, but the government was not letting him.
"It's the European Union," he complained.
"Without papers, without money, without any job, anyone can just leave for Italy, France, Germany and we are left with no-one because no-one wants to come from those rich countries to work here.
"So we need to bring them in from the poorer countries, and we're not allowed to."
Romania's conundrum lies at the heart of how a developing country, with much of its infrastructure broken down, should modernise.
China, for example, routinely building airports, rail links and motorways, has a vast workforce of its own to call upon.
Dubai, that glittering economic engine of the Gulf, imports so many workers that they make up more than 80% of the population. Romania, it seems, does not quite know what to do.
Since joining the European Union in 2007, more than two million people - or 10% of the whole population - have left for richer parts of Europe.
Meanwhile, just about everything needs fixing.
You do not have to go far to see dirt tracks and donkey carts.
Three million buildings need to be renovated to make them secure against earthquakes. The ring-road carrying huge articulated trucks is no wider than a two lane country road in places.
There are only about 200 miles of motorway and half of that was built during communist times, just as the massive palatial parliament complex - apparently the biggest government building in the world - was put up in just a few years under the dictator Nicolae Ceausescu.
But those were Cold War days and he had no problems in getting builders.
Government officials say privately that they do not want to flood Romania with foreign workers because it may lead to race problems.
The public position is that they want to attract back those workers who have left.
But it is not only the modernisation of a nation that is suffering.
Vlad Radu, an engineer, asked me up to his family's Bucharest apartment in the early evening - just as the washing machine was beginning a cycle.
After a few minutes, white foam bubbled out of the drain in the bathroom, seeping across the floor like a creature in a horror movie. Every time the washing machine is on, either Vlad or Claudia, his wife, has to keep watch to ensure the apartment does not flood.
"Back in the old days," said Vlad, "we would just call the building maintenance department and someone would fix it.
"But this problem has been with us now for three years. We've tried everything."
So as the financial crisis brings unemployment, for European Union citizens at least there are vacancies in Romania - for plumbers, of course, and jobs for some half a million construction workers.
From Our Own Correspondent was broadcast on Thursday, 30 October, 2008 at 1130 BST on BBC Radio 4. Please check the programme schedules for World Service transmission times.
Wikipedia 29 October 2008
Wikipedia 25 October 2008
|21 October 2008
Radio Romania International
Charles Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, better known as Napoleon the 3rd, who lived between 1808 and 1873, was one of Romania’s greatest allies. His successful political career was mostly built on the fact that he was the nephew of emperor Napoleon the 1st and on France’s need for political and economic reform at the time. In 1848 Charles Louis became President of the Second French Republic, only to become, four years later, Napoleon the 3rd, Emperor of France. During his reign, the economy of the Second French Empire developed significantly, with industry growing at a constant rate. France also regained its prestige at European level which it had lost in the first half of the century.
Napoleon the 3rd had a decisive role in the unification of the two Romanian principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia and the creation of the Romanian state. The French political system inspired Romanian lawmakers in their efforts to consolidate the newly formed state. In 1858, two years after the Crimean War, France hosted the peace conference which decided, among others, the unification of Moldavia and Wallachia. Napoleon the 3rd was also a supporter of Romanian prince Alexandru Ioan Cuza. In the 1860s, however, France saw a slight decline. At European level, the country slowly began to give in to the pressure exerted by Germany. In Romania, prince Cuza was impeached on charges of corruption and abuse.
The effects of the crisis in France were felt in the young Romanian state as well. Political and economic instability threatened the future of the country, and Romanian politicians were desperately looking for solutions. The Romanian people were still fond of the French values and emperor Napoleon the 3rd. The accession of Carol of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen to Romania’s throne didn’t make things better. On the contrary, tensions grew between the prince and the local political class. Historian Florin Constantiniu knows more on this subject:
“This fracture between the two sides soon developed into political schizophrenia, so to speak. The Romanian society was forced to live under this divided leadership between 1866 and 1871. Members of the political class started several anti-dynastic actions which resulted in the Proclamation of the Republic on August 20th 1870 in Ploiesti. This showed that the Romanian people’s hearts were with France and not with the Prussian prince. France itself was wondering if in the event of a conflict with Germany, the Prussian prince should not be removed from the throne in Bucharest. The Duke of Grammont, France’s foreign minister, even encouraged from Paris Carol’s hostile actions. He met the former ruler Alexandru Ioan Cuza and told him that if France were to come out victorious from such as war, it would need a trustworthy ally in Eastern Europe, that is Cuza himself. Cuza replied, however, that whatever happened, he would never return to the throne through foreign intervention.”
The prospect of France’s collapse was not the only great threat facing Romania, but especially the separatist tendencies and intentions of Russia, Turkey and Austria-Hungary who wanted to undo the unification of the two Romanian principalities. Florin Constantiniu again.
“Ever since Cuza’s abdication, Russia wanted to annul the unification of January 24th 1859 and separate Moldavia and Wallachia. The Ottoman Empire saw this unification as a first step towards the independence of the country north of the Danube. Austria-Hungary also wished to divide Romania, fearing that it might encourage the Romanians living in its Empire to seek the independence of Transylvania.”
Florin Constantiniu thinks that the defeat of France was beneficial to the subsequent development of Romania:
“If France had won the war, I would say that the political crisis in Romania would have deepened. It was unlikely that prince Carol could remain king if France had defeated the Hohenzollern and the pro French trend in this country would have triumphed. The defeat suffered by Napoleon the 3rd consolidated the throne of Carol the 1st. In 1859, the union of the Romanian principalities would not have been possible without France’s support, while in 1871 the Romanian modern state would not have been consolidated without Napoleon’s fall. We can say that in 1871 the Romanian modern state became an irreversible reality on Europe’s map. This is an excellent example of historical dialectics: the change of a personality and a situation into its reverse.”
France’s defeat in 1871 does not mean that we have to forget Napoleon the 3rd. Romanians will always pay homage to this last French emperor and he will always be regarded as one of the founding fathers of the Romanian modern state.
|15 October 2008
A petition signed by 4,000 people is to be presented to Prime Minister Gordon Brown calling for the work rights of Romanians in the UK to be brought in line with other Eastern European immigrants.
The petition, to be handed into 10 Downing Street on Wednesday, has garnered support form people around the world, as well as from other Eastern European nationals.
As things currently stand Romanians and Bulgarians are not allowed to work freely in Britain, but are restricted to certain types of work, such as fruit picking.
Nationals from there have not been granted unrestricted access to the UK labour market since the countries joined the EU at the start of 2007, unlike workers from eight former communist countries which joined the EU in 2004.
In the rural Herefordshire village of Marden dozens of Romanians are working in the fields, picking strawberries and doing the work British people are reluctant to do.
Mihail is an agronomy student in Bucharest, but this was not his first choice as a place to work in Britain.
"I applied for a job as shop-assistant, together with a friend from Romania.
"There were three of us, two Romanians and a Slovak. The level of my English was above medium. His was very poor, but he got the job and we Romanians did not."
The farm, owned by the S&A Group, relies upon foreign workers paid £5.52 an hour, but the Romanians—and the managers—are frustrated by the restrictions placed upon them.
The Romanians only work eight hours a day unlike the 10-hour days worked by Poles, Lithuanians and Slovaks who are on the packing line—which is considered industrial work and therefore not open to them.
Jan Willem Nerebout, welfare manager for S&A, says 504 Romanians worked on the farm this year, up from only 46 last year.
But still more workers are needed to meet UK demand for strawberries, and yet the company is allowed only 1,700 work permits a year for Romanians and Bulgarians.
"These people from Romania, they come here, they contribute to the British economy, they earn money and then they go home. It is a win-win-win situation, I just cannot understand these restrictions," Mr Nerebout says.
Once the yearly quota for farm workers is exceeded anyone else has to apply on an individual basis for work permits or apply for self-employed status.
On the farm there are also Poles, Slovaks and Lithuanian workers and, according to Mr Nerebout, the workers spend £4m in the village each year.
Cristina Irimie, the London-based editor of weekly newspaper Romani in UK, organised the petition to call for changes in the employment law.
"On our online petition we have gathered signatures from Romanians who live all over the world and they want this to be repeated in other EU countries which, like Britain, have not opened their labour market for Romanian nationals," she says.
"The petition was also signed by UK citizens and by other foreign nationals who live here, like Poles."
The Romanian community in Britain has grown since Romania joined the EU.
Ion Jinga, the Romanian Ambassador, puts their number at 50,000, although they are concentrated in the South East, and particularly around North London.
Ovidiu Sarpe, who has lived in Britain since 1979, has a business—Patiseria Romana—in Burnt Oak.
He believes everyone would benefit from the full opening of the labour market, with Romanians paying taxes and being entitled to medical and social care.
"They would be protected from exploitation, especially on building sites. Now, whether you are an electrician, a bricklayer or an engineer, you just carry bricks for a pittance," he says.
In 2006 and 2007 the UK government kept these restrictions and expectations are that they will remain, according to Romanian Embassy sources in London.
A spokeswoman for the UK Border Agency said the government would inform the EU before the end of the year if it is to maintain the restriction on Romanian and Bulgarian workers after taking advice from the Migration Advisory Committee.
An EU country can impose labour restrictions for up to seven years.
The Romanian community has enlisted political support to try to convince the government to change the rules.
"Economic migrants from Eastern Europe have made a huge contribution both to the UK economy and to the local areas where they have chosen to live," says Sarah Teather, Liberal Democrat MP for Brent East, one of the constituencies where many Romanians live.
"It is absolutely vital that the government takes steps to ensure that those who have come here to work are not open to exploitation by unscrupulous employers."
The campaign also has cross-party support of MPs.
The Trade Unions Council (TUC) is also in favour of the removal of restrictions.
Sean Bamford, of the TUC's EU and International Relations Department, says EU labour mobility has benefited Britain and is a fundamental right for EU workers.
He says the downturn makes the case for change stronger.
"To a degree, market forces will mean if the work is not there, the UK will not be a very attractive proposition to come in.
"It is also important that we make sure migrant workers are not exploited, therefore not undercutting existing workers within the labour market."
Mr Bamford says the decision to restrict workers was politically motivated by the large influx of workers after 2004, especially Poles.
Migration Watch UK is opposed to the opening of the labour market for Romanians and Bulgarians, until other EU member countries also scrap restrictions.
Its chairman Sir Andrew Green says: "If it is true, as some claim, that very few will wish to come here, we (and they) have little to lose.
"But the government massively underestimated immigration from Poland, which is considerably richer that Romania and Bulgaria.
"They simply cannot afford another blunder of that kind—especially with a recession looming over the horizon."
In the 18 months after 1 January 2007, 40,500 Romanians and Bulgarians applied to work in the UK and 32,000 were granted permission.
Moreover, the trend shows a downturn, with just 8,205 applying in the second term of 2008, compared to 10,420 in the corresponding period of 2007, a 20% drop over a year.
Many Romanian workers feel frustrated and discriminated against.
"If somebody can help us Romanians who want to do honest work, please do.
"Because Romanians have always proved they are good workers," says Ioana, a veterinarian technician turned strawberry picker.
|13 October 2008
Radio Romania International
One of the strategies used by the Communist Party to gain complete control of Romania’s political life was to create alliances with traditionalist left-wing parties, such as the Social-Democratic Party. The communists masked their true intentions behind false friendships with other powerful parties. Many democrats were in favour of collaborating with the communists, but the alliance proved to be nothing more than another forcible take-over by the Communist Party, which eventually led to the extinction of the Social-Democratic Party. The social-democratic doctrine was never very powerful in Romania, but throughout history it had drawn many members of a certain social standing, from intellectuals and students to handicraftsmen. The history of the Romanian Social-Democratic Party, PSD for short, was marked by many splits followed by reconciliation and damage caused by the personal ambitions of certain members, as well as drastic ideological changes. The Romanian social-democrats adhered to western socialism and they had a great aversion for bolshevism and the harsh realities in the Soviet Union.
In 1945, the party was facing a dilemma. They had two options: they could either work together with the National Peasants’ Party and the National Liberal Party, or join forces with the communist offensive. At a conference held in December of 1945, the PSD’s politburo expressed their refusal to participate in the upcoming elections on common lists with the Communist Party. As a result, the communists resorted to a devious plan: to turn social-democrats against each other in order to gain control of their party. Some party members holding senior positions were promised benefits and rewards if they joined the communists. Others were blackmailed with accusations that they had collaborated with Antonescu’s regime.
The trick seemed to work and March the 10th 1946 saw the start of the PSD Congress which would reiterate the decision taken at the party conference in December 1945. A closely-knit group from within the social-democratic party left and formed the new Independent Social-Democratic Party. Aron Braester became a member of PSD when he was a student at the Law Faculty in Bucharest, in 1927. He witnessed the events that marked the history of the party after August 23rd 1944. He was also present at the conference held in March 1946 which resulted in the party’s division. Braester gave Radio Romania an interview in 1994, which has been kept to this day in the Romanian Radio Broadcasting Corporation’s Centre of Oral History:
“Titel said he would leave the party unless there was an open vote. After the majority voted for the collaboration with the communists, Titel left the party. Voinea slammed his fist against the table and called Titel a deserter. Voinea was in favour of collaborating with the communists. At the congress of October 1947, I spoke for the Bucharest organization which hosted the event, and Voinea for the entire Social-Democratic Party. He addressed the foreign delegates, and said: “you have been freed by the American army, which has a lot of influence in the territories where they’re stationed. We suffered from the influence of the Soviet army during their occupation of Romania.” Voinea agreed with the unification of the Social-Democratic Party and the Communist Party under one condition: that the two have their own separate congresses. The communists refused.”
Braester recalled the atmosphere at the September 1947 congress, which was preparing the unification process in February 1948:
“At the congress in 1947, the main point on the agenda was the unification of the workers' movement. At the congress a lot of delegates stood out and blamed themselves, trying to show that the social-democratic tactics had been wrong, and were not to the benefit of the workers' movement. Barbu Solomon, who was on the steering committee, called me over and told me, although he was with the communists: “They are really overdoing it with the self blame, take the floor and tell them it's the wrong approach”. And he gave me the floor, even though it wasn't my turn, and showed them the merits of the social democrats. In the end, communism comes from social democracy, the Bolshevik Party was a branch of the Russian Social Democratic Party, the basic ideas are those of the social democrats”.
The so-called unification process bringing together the social democratic and the communist parties in 1948 was only a formality, and the social democrats vanished as a party. The members of the party had different destinies. The Radaceanu's and Voitec's pro-communist group became a part of the upper structures of the Communist party. Voinea, an idealist who was initially in favor of the unification with the communists, went to France, where he condemned the crimes of communism. The founders of the Social Democratic Party who opposed the union ended in tragedy. They were arrested and then died in prison, like Grigorovici, Jumanca, and Flueras, or shortly after being set free, like Petrescu. The union between the social democrats and the communist party meant the destruction of the Romanian democratic left as the communist totalitarianism was consolidating.
|9 October 2008
by Nadia Dincovici
Targoviste—the fortress of the 33 princess
At the base of the Carpathian mountains, at the closest point between the Ialomita and Dambovita Rivers, Targoviste, besides its charming sights, also offers excellent strategic, economic, administrative and political arguments to become a true Capital at a time when Wallachia is flourishing and developing. The city is mentioned in a royal document from 1403, signed by Voivode Mircea the Old. However, the first important reference to the city precedes this date, occurring in the travel diary of Johann Schilt Berger, an eye witness of the battle of Nicopole.
This eternal citadel was destined to become a centre and a symbol of anti-Ottoman battles; to grow and decline together with the power and bravery of the rulers.
The medieval fortress, eclipsed by the spirit of renaissance trasformation, was pillaged and burned by invaders or depopulated by epidemic throughout the ages, but it has always found the strength to rise from his own ashes. There was not a single voivod who, fighting for the independence of the country, did not connect his name to Targoviste. In 1462, by the walls of the fortress, the invincible Ottoman army, having recently conquered Constantinopole, clashed with Vlad the Impaler, the son of Vlad Dracul.
Vlad the Impaler, who was to become the famous Dracula, greeted the Turks with a sight worthy of his name: A forest of stakes planted before the gates of the fortress, upon which hundreds of the Janissaries of Hamza Pasha (the latter impaled on the highest spike) died gruesomely painful deaths, after being sent by the sultan to capture the young voivode through a deception.
Rulers like Radu the Great, Neagoe Basarab, Radu from Afumati, known for their resistance against ottoman expansion, continued, like the boyars of their court, to adorn Targoviste, in the first half of the 16th century, with architectural edifices of great artistic worth. Some of the most valuable monuments were built after 1639, in the period of the voivod Matei Basarab and Vasile Lupu—the churches of the Holy Emperors, S. Dumitru, Targului, as well as the beautiful creation of Stelea church.
Even today, a romantic air of mystery, grandeur and fear still lingers, an air that always surrounds the scenes where the tragedies of history have been played out.
The seat fortress of Suceava
Before Ruler Petru Musat I established his residence here, the capital of Moldova had been at Baia, and then—for a short while—at Siret. To prevent possible attacks, the ruler built, on the western side of Suceava, the Schia fortress—of which only ruins can be seen today—and on the east, on a high plateau, from which a large area could be defended, another building, which would go down in history under the name of Seat Fortress of Suceava. It was first attested to in a record of 1388.
Trying to imagine those times, often troubled by invasions, it is easier to understand why the fortress, which was initially a rectangular construction with 1.5-2m thick stone walls, with towers on all four corners, was guarded by a waterless moat that was 30 m wide and 10 m deep. Inside the fortress, there were two-storied buildings that belonged to the Prince’s family and to the boyars of the royal court, as well as stores for food, weapons and munitions. Some defensive improvements would be made by the first truly important ruler of Moldova, Alexandru the Good, who would rule for 32 year here, in the Suceava Fortress.
During respite between hostile attacks or other matters of state, the Romanian rulers of the Middle Ages—like many wealthy and God-fearing boyars—founded buildings other than fortress: mostly churches, which even today garner admiration for the skill with which they were built and some of them for the magnificent murals on the outside walls.
Suceava, connected to Bucharest via a direct flight, is today the hub for all the visits that tourists make to the north of Moldova. It is from Suceava that the traveler sets out towards the monasteries of Bucovina, the cultural cities of Botosani and Radauti, the spa resorts of Campulung and Vatra Dornei and thence to Transylvania.
Bistrita, the place of “the witches’ pond”
At a crossroads, Bistrita is the departure point towards the beautiful Bargaului Valley and then, on to the Bargaului Pass, where there is a hotel “Dracula” which brings to mind the mysterious castle in which so many extraordinary events took place with vampires and witches.
The villagers in the Bargaului Valley gather, annually, in February, at a joyful wedding folk festival. Bistrita, the seat of the county, is a city that is part of the special romance of the medieval Transylvanian settlements. On a path filled with special flowers such as the zinnia, the snapdragon, pelargonium or Nicotiana Affinis—known today as Nasaudului Lane—his old name was “Witches’ Pond” (Trudenweihergasse)—women suspected of witchcraft were taken to the so-called “water trial”, the only “divine justice” recognized in Transylvania in the 16-18th centuries. The last witchcraft trial took place in 1753. if women, with their hands tied crosswise to their legs, floated to the surface of the water in which they were thrown, their survival was proof of a certain pact with the devil, whilst if they sank and drowned they were considered innocent. The “floating” woman was taken to the city’s square, to be burned on the stake.
Until about 1926, when it was sealed off, the “Witches’ Pond” could still be found in Bistrita. Today, such “trials” are played out to the amazement and the curiosity of the tourists who follow hence the exciting routes of Dracula.
At Bistrita, the new architecture has succeeded in adapting to the aesthetic feeling of the old buildings, many of them restored. In unpretentious buildings, wrought iron and wooden rustic furniture were used, reminiscent of centuries past.
Historical documents attest to the existence of fourteen towers, of which nine now remain: the Clock Tower, the Towers of the Blacksmiths, Cobblers, Butchers, Tailors (the second gate tower into the citadel), Furriers, Tinsmiths, Tanners and Ropers.
Indeed, beneath the entire citadel of Sighisoara there runs a network of tunnels, some caved in, others blocked or closed, and those which still exist are closed to the public.But the Church on the Hill also had its secrets. Beneath the altar, there is a Romanesque chapel, in whose walls can be found three rows of sarcophagi with bones. The skeletons of the bishops who served the church used to be on view—mummified, blackened bones—and the courageous could even touch them.
|9 October 2008
by Andrew Pollack
New York Times
LOS ANGELES—George E. Palade, whose discoveries about the intricate inner workings of cells helped give birth to the field of modern cell biology and earned him a Nobel Prize, died Tuesday at his home in Del Mar, Calif., at 95.
The cause was complications of Parkinson’s disease, said his wife, Marilyn Farquhar.
Beginning in the 1940s, Dr. Palade (pronounced pah-LAH-dee) pioneered in using electron microscopy and other techniques to discover tiny structures within cells and to discern their functions. He discovered the ribosome, the cell’s protein-making factory, and helped explain the way proteins are transported out of the cell, as when a pancreatic cell secretes insulin, for example.
Such discoveries later proved useful in understanding diseases and in the protein production that is the basis of the biotechnology industry.
“In cell biology he is clearly the most influential scientist ever,” Günter Blobel, a professor at Rockefeller University, said Wednesday. Dr. Blobel, who was once a postdoctoral researcher in Dr. Palade’s laboratory, won a Nobel Prize of his own in 1999 for essentially following up on some of Dr. Palade’s discoveries.
Dr. Palade shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1974 with Albert Claude and Christian de Duve. Awarding the prize, the Karolinska Institute said the three had been “largely responsible for the creation of modern cell biology.”
In his acceptance speech, Dr. Palade said the new discoveries would lead to better understanding of diseases, many of which are caused by cellular dysfunction.
“Cell biology,” he said, “finally makes possible a century-old dream: that of analysis of diseases at the cellular level, the first step toward their final control.”
George Emil Palade was born on Nov. 19, 1912, in Iasi, Romania. His father, a professor of philosophy, had hoped the son would follow in his footsteps. But young George “preferred to deal with tangibles and specifics,” he would recall in the autobiography he wrote upon becoming a Nobel laureate.
He earned a medical degree from the University of Bucharest, but his interest was in basic science. So he went to New York University in 1946 for further studies and moved the next year to the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research, now Rockefeller University, where a new field was being born.
Scientists had started examining cells using light microscopes in the 19th century. But those microscopes were not powerful enough to see structures much smaller than the cell nucleus, so the field of cell biology had stagnated.
At Rockefeller, however, Dr. Claude had begun using a more powerful tool, the recently invented electron microscope. This was not a straightforward process, because the cells could be damaged as a result of it. But Dr. Palade helped refine electron microscopy of cells “to the highest degree of artistry,” the presenter of his Nobel Prize said.
He also helped develop a technique called cell fractionation, in which cells are broken apart and components are separated based on their density, using a centrifuge. This isolated each of the components so they could be studied.
In 1973, Dr. Palade moved to Yale, where he became the chairman of the new department of cell biology. In 1990, at 77, he became the first dean for scientific affairs at the School of Medicine at the University of California, San Diego. He retired in 2001. The school named a building for him in 2004, and a professorship was endowed in his name in 2006.
Dr. Palade won many awards other than the Nobel, including the Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award and the National Medal of Science. As the only Nobel laureate from Romania*, he was well known and honored in that country.
Those who knew him say he gave eloquent lectures and had a knack for clearly summarizing complex information. He had a vast knowledge of art, history, music and literature—“an old-fashioned European gentleman,” said Gordon Gill, the current science dean at the San Diego medical school.
Dr. Palade also trained legions of scientists. When the medical school had a symposium in honor of his 85th birthday, people came from all over the world, Dr. Gill said.
One of Dr. Palade’s postdoctoral researchers, Dr. Farquhar, became his wife in 1970. The two maintained independent laboratories and scientific careers, though they sometimes collaborated. Dr. Farquhar is now chairwoman of the department of cellular and molecular medicine at the medical school.
In addition to his wife, Dr. Palade is survived by two children from an earlier marriage, Georgia Van Dusen of Manhattan and Philip Palade, a professor of pharmacology at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock; two stepchildren, Douglas Farquhar and Bruce Farquhar, both of San Diego; and two granddaughters.
*CORRECTION 16 October 2008—An obituary on Friday about the cell biologist George Palade attributed an erroneous distinction to him. He was one of at least two Nobel Prize winners from Romania, not the only one. (Elie Wiesel, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986, was born in Sighet, Transylvania, which was part of Romania at the time, and which is now Sighet, Romania.)
|9 October 2008
The winner of the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1974, George Emil Palade, passed away on Wednesday in the USA, at the age of 96. Born in Iasi, in 1912, Professor George Emil Palade graduated the School of Medicine at the Bucharest University and achieved a doctor’s degree in Medicine. In 1946, he moved to the United States in order to start his activity as a researcher at the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research in New York. He studied cell structures in order to discover intra-cytoplasm organelles rich in RNA, that perform the biosynthesis of proteins, named ribosomes, or “Palade bodies.”
In 1961, G. E. Palade became a member of the National Academy of Science. Moreover, he started the collaboration with Keith Porter in order to publish the leading scientific publication on cell biology, “The Journal of Cell Biology” magazine. Yet, the most prestigious achievement of Professor Palade is the discovery of the Palade bodies, or ribosomes, by electron microscopy. This discovery brought him, along with Albert Claude and Christian de Duve, the Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine in 1974.
In 1986, President Ronald Reagan offered him the National Medal of Science for his outstanding accomplishments, and this year, President Basescu granted him The Romanian National Order of the Star in the Rank of Sash.
Wikipedia 1 October 2008
Wikipedia 30 September 2008
|29 September 2008
Radio Romania International
Throughout history, periods of occupation of any territory have always been recorded as difficult times, times of abuse and requisitions. Despite the efforts and dedication of many military leaders, subordinates often bring disgrace to their uniform. In recent history, after 1945, the Soviet Army has been the most disgraced army of all, due to its alarmingly large number of soldiers who brought shame to their country by perpetrating heinous crimes in the occupied territories. This image of the Red Army can’t be changed in the eyes of many past and future generations. Romanian citizens of the time witnessed unforgettable misdeeds by Soviet soldiers, from robberies to rapes and murders.
In today’s edition of our show, we will try to compile a brief but revealing overview of the criminal acts perpetrated by many soldiers of the Red Army during their stay in Romania, from the end of World War Two until 1958. Our goal is not to degrade the Soviet Army as a whole, but merely to identify the criminals and their acts, which brought irreparable physical and mental damage to their victims.
Back in 1997, one eye witness of such acts, Aurel Baghiu, was interviewed by the Romanian Broadcasting Corporation’s Center of Oral History. In the autumn of 1952, he was a fresh student at the Polytechnic University of Timisoara. He recalls the hostility of Romanian civilians towards the Soviets, even from the first day of the academic year:
“When the troops passed by the windows of our classroom, there was such noise that you couldn’t hear your own thoughts. Our professor turned towards us and put his arms to his chest and kept a long moment of silence. He stood there staring at us. No one dared say a word. We were staring in our turn at the gray-haired professor. We knew he had been teaching for many decades, and was one of the most respectable professors the Polytechnic in Timisoara. I looked at my classmates. One guy, Fritz Bart, was clenching his jaws. Rusu Valentin, a well-built fellow, was looking around anxiously.”
Aurel Baghiu remembers the noisy brawls often caused by drunken Soviet soldiers, especially on holidays, and also the privileges from which they benefited in our country.
“Like all students, I used to walk down Main Street on Sundays. There, you could see a store built especially for the Russians, which had things you couldn’t find anywhere else back then: carpets, motorcycles, anything. Officers’ wives used to walk around the store and pull out large stacks of money from their purses. We Romanians were poor. The people of Timisoara had monthly wages of three or four hundred lei, while the Russians had tens of thousand lei to buy anything they wanted.”
Rapes were another disgraceful chapter written by Soviet troops in our country. During an interview given to Radio Romania in 1997, journalist, writer and former political prisoner Pan. Vizirescu recalled that in 1945, on one occasion, the woman refugees from Oltenia whom he accompanied were close to being raped by Russian soldiers:
“On the road, we came across a convoy of Russian trucks. The girls were young and beautiful, but they rubbed coal over their faces to look like gypsies and wore old women’s clothes. Suddenly, two soldiers got off one of the trucks and told us to stop. They didn’t speak Romanian. When they came up to me I told them I was sick. One of them slapped me on the cheek and pointed to the girls. I told them the girls were sick too, and I was taking them to a hospital. Amazingly, I made them go away. They were on the hunt, they would stop an entire convoy just to get their kicks from assaulting people. They had no mercy, they were barbaric. The Germans had occupied Romania before, but such acts were unheard of! In Slatina, Russian soldiers would rape seventy year old women.”
Retired colonel Emil Tomescu also gave our station an interview back in 1997, and he told us about how he saved two women from being raped by Russian soldiers.
“Our regiment was stationed in the Severin area of southwestern Romania. One day, someone came to us and told us that at a local farm, soviet soldiers wanted to rape a baby-sitter, and we should come quick. I took a handful of men with me and we rushed to the farm, to find the woman on the floor. We arrested the two Russians and headed back. On the road back to the regiment, I heard someone screaming in the house where the adjutant of our regiment was stationed. We went in, only to find a hideous scene. The officer was against the wall, and a soldier had put a gun to his head, while another soldier had pushed his wife on the bed and was on the verge of raping her in his presence. We arrested the two as well, and headed back for our headquarters. At night, I had to bring my unit to the yard so the angry Russians wouldn’t kill me. In the village of Beznita, in the same part of the country, I heard of Russian soldiers being killed by the locals. The peasants killed them for raping the village women, and buried them. Their bodies were eventually discovered because the peasants didn’t bury them very deep, and dogs sniffed them out.”
Unfortunately, written documents confirm such stories. The Soviets treated the occupied nations with brutality. There are, of course, cases in which soldiers kept their honor unstained, and stopped their comrades from perpetrating such abominable acts. Sadly, such rare deeds seem almost irrelevant compared to the horrible acts which took place all over the country.
|29 September 2008
by Joseph Berger
New York Times
Elie Wiesel turns 80 on Tuesday, which by some coincidence of the calendar that might raise speculation about divine tinkering, turns out to be the first day of the Jewish New Year. There will be no public ceremony marking the milestone that day, though there will be one on Thursday, when the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan honors him with tributes and songs and questions tossed at Mr. Wiesel. Barbara Walters, Theodore Bikel and Arthur Gelb, the former managing editor of The New York Times, will be among those taking part.
Mr. Wiesel, in a chat last Friday, another busy
day for him, claimed that he was not thinking about the anniversary
very much or its significance and probably won’t so do until
But as the chat went on this survivor of Auschwitz and Buchenwald suggested that he counts every year a gift of sorts because “in truth when I entered Auschwitz I never thought I would leave it alive.”
Mr. Wiesel, born on Sept. 30, 1928, in Sighetu Marmatiei, Romania, was liberated from Buchenwald as a 16-year-old, with the tattoo A-7713 on his arm, having lost his parents and a sister to the concentration camps. He went on to write the autobiographical account of the camps, “Night,” and become the leading spokesman for the Holocaust survivors, searing the memory of the calamity on the conscience of the world by the force of his eloquence. He won the Nobel Prize for peace in 1986.
Every year brings a dwindling of the ranks of survivors, but Mr. Wiesel said he did not think there has been a diminution in the attention paid the Holocaust itself or the urgency about its lessons. There are countless courses, seminars and conferences, he said, and those who attend them and listen to the remaining survivors will rekindle the memory.
“I firmly believe that whoever listens to a witness becomes a witness,” he said.
Mr. Wiesel will have time for the idea of turning 80 to sink in because he is taking a sabbatical this year from his teaching duties at Boston University, where is the Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities. No slacker, he will work on some book projects, including finishing work on a novel titled “A Mad Desire to Dance,” which is being published by Knopf in February, and a third installment of his memoir called “My Teachers and My Friends.”
He revealed that he also wants to reread some of the three dozen books he has written, wondering, “Would I write them again the same way?”
|22 September 2008
Radio Romania International
The 16th century religious REFORMATION definitely divided a Christian Europe which, up to that time, was united under the single scepter of the Catholic Church. Viewed for a long time as a movement towards abolishing the tyranny of the Church, the Reformation was in fact a conservative movement preaching the return to the old-time purity of Christianity, which Catholicism had presumably distorted. The Reformation trends came up with a new outlook on the world, one based on the liberation of man and the promotion of individualism, which goes in tandem with an enhanced responsibility in the relation with God.
The Reformation has also reached and influenced the Orthodox space, although less successfully than in the Catholic world. On the one hand, the Reformation saw Orthodoxy as a form of Christianity closer to the primitive one that it endeavoured to restore; on the other hand, its roots could not grow deeper in the Orthodox space because the Orthodox Patriarchy was very strong and its influence on believers equally powerful. However, in Transylvania, central Romania, the Reformation was quite successful, being one of the factors that enhanced the development of the Romanian written culture. Sacred texts in Romanian also spread to Wallachia in the south and Moldova in the east.
The collapse of Hungary in 1540 was a blow to the Catholic Church protectorate in Central Europe, thus paving the way for an easier spread of the Reformation to the east.
We talked to historian Serban Papacostea with the Nicolae Iorga History Institute in Bucharest about the impact of the Reformation on the Romanian principalities. Serban Papacostea told us a very interesting fact, namely that a Romanian was close to Luther :
“At the Academy Library in Bucharest, in an edition of Polish documents, I found a letter from Poland dating back to the year 1532. The author of the letter was revolted that a Moldovan doctor (in the medieval sense of the term, that of “scholar”), was in Wittenberg with Luther editing Apostle Paul’s epistle and Gospel in German, Latin and Romanian. My discovery drew the attention of philologists, namely Alexandru Rosetti, who claimed the first translation of religious texts into Romanian were of Lutheran origin. There were several trends, Romanian historian Iorga believed in the Hussite theory to which he attributed the first translations into Romanian of the Sacred texts. In fact the question has remained unanswered to the present day: when and under what influence were the sacred texts translated into Romanian?”
The Saxons of Transylvania had Johannes Honterus as the leading figure of the Lutheran Reformation in their region. They tried to convert Romanians to Lutheranism as well. Serban Papacostea again:
“The Saxons were intensely involved in communicating their creed to Orthodox believers. They strove a lot to correct the deviations of Catholicism from the right path of the true faith of yore and communicate their new faith to the Orthodox world, which they viewed as much closer to the Apostles’ original Christianity than the Catholic world. Therefore, the Puritans started to explain the essential points of their faith, in Greek and Romanian; they started what is called catechism, that is, disseminating simply formulated truths of their creed, translating them into the languages where they wanted to have the message of the new faith reach. That is how the catechism in Greek of Valentin Wagner spread in Brasov, central Romania and similarly there was a catechism in Romanian. The Saxons contacted the large Romanian community that lived in the district of Scheii Brasovului, where there was a Romanian church, in an attempt to convert the Romanians to Lutheranism. It was not the sort of sword- imposed proselytism that the Catholic Church had used in the 14th century during the Anjou dynasty in Hungary, but an attempt to find followers by means of written texts.”
The Orthodox church fully agreed to the generous program of the Reformats to make the holy texts available to common people. Deacon Coresi of Targoviste, supported by the Brasov Saxons, published several religious writings, translations from Slavonic into Romanian. Reformat centres emerged in Wallachia, in Campulung, Targoviste, Ramnic and Arges. Here is now historian Serban Papacostea again telling us about the Reformation in the areas outside the Carpathians:
“The same Lutheran proselytism and missionarism was tried on other peoples as well, for instance on the Serbs and Bulgarians. But the same very strong Orthodox Patriarchy opposed those attempts. This influent Patriarchy was tolerated and encouraged by the Ottoman Empire which viewed it as a shield against Catholicism and the Crusades. A very tolerant attitude of Wallachian ruler Patrascu cel Bun and of other rulers was also important as they did not react harshly against the influence of the Reformation. On the other hand, there were also rulers in Moldova who were Lutherans, and they tried to impose Lutheranism by force, confiscating the goods of the churches and monasteries, but the reaction was strong and they failed.”
The inter-religious wars of the 16th century were not as significant in the Romanian Principalities as they were elsewhere in Europe; Transylvania was a model of tolerance, where Catholicism, Calvinism, Lutheranism and Greek Catholicism co-existed.
|22 September 2008
Radio Romania International
The people of Bucharest celebrated at the week-end almost 5 centuries and a half since the establishment of their city. Thousands of people stormed the centre of the town and parks to watch vintage carriage and costume parades, outdoor theatre performances, classical music and rock shows. Handicrafts people from across the country came to the capital to present their work, accompanied by folk music concerts, including from ethnic minorities. Romanians, Croatians, Germans, Russian Lippovans and Aromanians all enjoyed the celebrations dedicated to the city of Bucharest.
On September 20th 1459, the “locality of Bucharest” was first mentioned in an act of donation, which functions as the birth certificate of Romania's biggest city today. 549 years later, the people who walked the streets of the town's historical centre on Saturday and Sunday could relive the atmosphere of “Little Paris”, with horse-driven carriages and characters dressed in vintage costumes, fiddler music and lyrical songs, ginger bread and florists selling autumn flowers from their wicker baskets.
The celebrations split the inhabitants of Bucharest in two categories: those who did not forget the times when people dressed up to go to the theatre or to the museum and those who believe in urban art, urban sports and in reinventing the city through graffiti. What brought them all together was a celebratory mood that extended well into the night, as museums stayed open till dawn.
The people could also choose from a whole range of open-air concerts which gathered thousands and thousands of spectators. Two Canadian singers, Bryan Adams and Leonard Cohen, each gave a concert for the Bucharest public.
Costel Busuioc, the Romanian who became famous in Spain after competing in a Spanish TV contest called Hijos de Babel, also gave a concert on Saturday night in the centre of the town in front of an audience of 2,000 people.
Wikipedia 21 September 2008
Wikipedia 19 September 2008
|15 September 2008
Radio Romania International
The Russian-Turkish War of 1878 is the last in a series of conflicts between the two countries which began in 1718 and marked history throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. The Russian-Turkish wars in the 19th century gave the Romanian principalities, as well as the other states in the Balkans, the opportunity to move forward towards detachment from Ottoman influence, and towards independence. The first state to achieve this was Greece, in 1821, although its independence wasn’t unanimously recognized until 1829. Romania followed, alongside Serbia and Montenegro, in 1878.
The last states to break away from the Ottoman Empire were Bulgaria, in 1908, and Albania, in 1912. Throughout history, conflicts between the Russian and Ottoman Empires brought major changes to Romania’s road to independence, and often reorientation in the country’s international relations. But the biggest goal—independence—was difficult to achieve. Russia was an autocratic empire very little inclined to accept modernization. The Russian Empire was the first to raise the flag of the anti-Ottoman crusade, meant to free the Orthodox and the Slavs from the Ottoman oppressors. In reality, Russia’s hidden purpose was to eliminate the Ottoman Empire, but replace it with its own domination.
The “Eastern crisis” was a popular term during the War of Crimea, between 1853 and 1856. The four parties then involved in the conflict were the Russian and Ottoman Empires, England and France. After the war, a defeated Russia sought revenge, which it was to achieve in 1875. That year marked the beginning of a new episode in the so-called “Eastern crisis”, a situation which remain unsolved until the break of World War I. By 1877, tension has accumulated, enough for Russia to declare war against the Ottomans. Romanian politicians of the time felt that was a good opportunity to proclaim the country’s independence. As a step towards this goal, Romania signed an agreement with Russia in the winter of 1877, by which it allowed the Czarist Army to pass through our country and head south towards the Ottomans. During the military campaigns of 1877-1878, Romania participated with an army of about 100,000 soldiers. The fall of Pleven, which was the headquarters of the Staff of the Turkish army led by Osman Pasa, forced the Ottoman Empire to request a truce.
The signing of the Peace of San Stefano, a town near Constantinople, ended the hostilities, settled the military status of the countries involved in the conflicts, and announced Russia’s main plans to be upheld at the future peace congress . The Romanian representative was not invited to the talks and our country’s requests were not taken into consideration. This was a major signal for the Romanian political class. The fact that the Czarist army was stationed on Romanian soil and refused to leave it, concurrently with the fact that France, a traditional ally of Romania lost control over Europe after 1871, made Romanian politicians turn towards Germany. Being one of Europe’s major powers, Germany played a leading role in the signing of the 1878 peace treaty in Berlin. Historian Alin Ciupala of the Faculty of History with the University of Bucharest, knows more details on the matter:
“The peace congress was held in Berlin because at the time, Germany was the main European power. After the defeat suffered by France at Sedan and the unification of German states around the Hohenzollern House and emperor William I, Germany was ready to dominate Europe. Great Britain continued to remain in a state of what historians call “splendid isolation”, meaning it continued to be a part of politics on the continent, but refrained from getting involved in treaties or alliances. At the congress, the most important decision concerning Romania was the recognition of its state independence. But the recognition was dependent on several conditions to be met by Romania.. According to the treaty, Romania was to lose southern Besserabia, retrocede in 1856 and at the insistence of Russia, it won the seaside region of Dobruja. Russia forced a deal on our country: Romania was to receive Dobruja, the Danube Delta and the Serpent Island in exchange for southern Besserabia because this region was of major interest to the Russian Empire due to its strategic location at the mouth of the Danube.”
Alin Ciupala considers the Treaty of Berlin to be a new reconfiguration of European politics.
“In 1878, Romania was left with no allies. This paradoxical state of affairs was noticed by king Carol of Romania and by all the politicians of the time. Romania was indeed an independent country, but with no allies, which it needed for protection in case of future threats. I don’t believe that either German politicians or emperor Wilhelm the 1st had any consideration for the welfare of Romania when negotiating its new international judicial status. As Russia had done before, Germany simply aimed to reach its strategic goals, which Romania was no part of. Germany’s biggest concern, was to keep France in a state of isolation, by using all diplomatic means, as it was inevitable that all the public opinion in France was unanimous in seeking revenge after the defeat suffered at Sedan. Therefore, Germany’s leading policy was directed towards keeping France isolated. Contrary to popular belief, the alliance between our country and Germany had little to do with the fact that Romania was ruled by Carol the 1st , who was a cousin of emperor Wilhelm the 1st.”
Historians today believe that Romania’s independence, much like that of other countries in the Balkans that were once under Ottoman rule, should be analyzed in a much wider, international context, and not as a great victory of Romanians.
|13 September 2008
Free from the shackles of the communist past, East-European countries are reinventing themselves and, as Tom Fort found in Romania, they are blossoming as part of the European Union.
The road into Targu-Mures from the south-west is long, straight and unpromising.
From a great distance, the skyline is filled by the chimneys and towers of a vast fertiliser plant.
When you get closer to it, you can see that the towers and chimneys are joined by blocks of brick and concrete, filthy and eaten by pollution, festooned with rusted metal piping.
When I first came this way, 18 years ago, a plume of virulent mustard yellow smoke poured night and day from the tallest of the chimneys, filling the air over the town with a sharp, sour tang.
The road was lined with other factories, smaller but just as grubby, just as noxious.
The first thing I noticed when I returned this summer was that they were gone. The leather factory had been replaced by a supermarket, the textiles factory by car showrooms, the cement factory by a housing development.
Only the fertiliser plant survived, like a monument to a departed age. And even there, a European Union edict meant the smoke was now a benign and odourless white.
The transformation of the town centre was even more startling. The position of the buildings - the two churches at one end, the art nouveau Palace of Culture and Old Town Hall at the other, the anything-but-Grand Hotel - was the same. But everything was different.
The dark, poky shops selling nothing anyone wanted to buy were no more. There were nine banks, almost as many mobile phone outlets, ice cream parlours, bars, cafes, restaurants, even a casino.
The once soot-smeared frontages glowed in their pastel shades, and Colonel Sanders' avuncular features looked down from the glass and steel heights of the Mures Mall.
My friend Grigore was looking similarly restored. When I first met him, he was living in one of the stark apartment blocks that came after the factories, working himself half to death trying to keep a bloated Communist-era glass and furniture company from going to the wall.
Now he had a smart new house near the Castle, and a small, flourishing business where his son did most of the hard graft, leaving Grigore time, at last, for his passion in life, which was fishing.
He had lived through a lot. Persecution by the authorities, the imprisonment of relatives, his brother and mother going into exile in Germany, the death of his wife.
Now he was looking forward to a trip to the Danube delta, taking his motorboat, then a month fly-fishing in Lapland with his brother.
Old animosities buried
Targu-Mures is in Transylvania, which was Hungarian for a lot longer than it has been Romanian. To the Hungarians it has always been, and will always be, Marosvasarhely.
Three months before I arrived in 1990, tensions between the communities erupted into vicious violence, leaving bodies on the steps of the Orthodox cathedral.
Then, that was one of two subjects dominating every discussion: Romanian against Hungarian. The other, of course, was the trauma of the Ceausescu years.
The ethnic issue has subsided. As the Hungarian director of the splendid Teleki Library in Targu-Mures put it to me, rather sadly, the young are not interested in the old history any more. Just money. And not any money. Euros. As for the Ceausescu nightmare, that too has receded.
One day, going fishing, I was introduced to Calin, a law student, a thoughtful and delightful young man of 20. I asked him whether they learned about the regime at school and at university.
Not really, he said. He had seen the documentaries on TV, listened to the old people talking about it. But it was all so long ago.
With an effort, I realised that Calin was not even two years old when Ceausescu and his wife were shot.
All modern conveniences
The countryside stretching away to the east from the town is utterly lovely. A green valley giving way to wooded hills, then mountains blue with pine forest.
Eighteen years ago, there were as many horses and carts on the roads as cars. The grass in the meadows was cut by scythe. In the villages, every family squeezed every scrap of food they could from their patch of land. They toiled unceasingly, through all the hours of daylight.
Now, the grass is cut by machine, the horses and carts are disappearing fast, the vegetable gardens are shrinking. The hard peasant life has softened.
One day I expressed regret to Grigore about the loss of peace and the picturesque. He, who like most Romanians had been through experiences quite unimaginable to me in the bad times, was politely dismissive.
"You are a romantic," he said. "Why should anyone want to work all day to grow food when they can buy it in the supermarket?"
I realised I had no answer.
From Our Own Correspondent was broadcast on Saturday, 13 September, 2008 at 1130 BST on BBC Radio 4. Please check the programme schedules for World Service transmission times.
|8 September 2008
Radio Romania International
The Serpent Island is the only island in the Black Sea, located some 20 nautical miles (44 km) east of the mouth of the Danube River. The island is X-shaped, 440 meters by 662 meters, covering an area of 17 hectares. It is basically a limestone rock with very scarce vegetation, mostly made up of reed and shrubs, and lacks trees and sources of drinking water. Its name comes from the non-poisonous water snakes that live here. Due to the harsh conditions, the island is uninhabited.
In ancient times, the island was used as a fishing base, when the name in use was the White Island, Leuke or Achilleis. Miletian traders often made stops here during their travels. In 1823, archaeologists unearthed the ruins of an ancient temple dedicated to Achilles Pontarchus, protector of navigators and traders. The temple housed an oracle where offerings were brought for Achilles. Maximus of Tyre once wrote, “Achilles dwells on an island lying east of the mouth of the Istrus, in the Pontus Euxinus. There lie his temples and altars.”
Between the 14th and 15th centuries, the island was under the control of Romanian rulers Mircea the Old and Stephen the Great. Since the 16th century, the entire Black Sea region, and therefore the island as well, came under Turkish rule. In 1829, following the Treaty of Adrianople, the island became part of the Russian Empire, and was to remain so until 1857, when it was returned to the Turks. By that time, the island already had a lighthouse, which had been built by the Russians in 1842. Later, in 1877, the Ottoman Empire gave the island to Romania, along with the coastal region of Dobruja and the Danube Delta.
In 1940, when Soviet Russia annexed Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina, the island would remain under Romanian rule until 1948, when, under Soviet occupation, the country was forced to give the island to the Soviet Union, following the February protocol and the May 23rd minute. Romania has disputed the validity of this so-called treaty, which was never ratified by any of the two countries. In late 1949, Romania was forced to accept another relocation of the border between this country and the USSR: the Danube Delta border was moved towards the west of the Danube Chilia branch, in favor of the USSR.
Admiral Constantin Necula was the chief of security for Romanian navigation on the Black Sea during World War II, and recalls how the island was occupied and new borders were drawn, in an interview made available by the Centre of Oral History of the Romanian Broadcasting Corporation:
“After August 23rd, 1944, when the delineation of the Romanian–Soviet border was initiated, I was sent to Sulina (a town at the Danube mouth, south-eastern Romania) to take part, together with two Soviet officers, in the delineation of the sea border. I left for Sulina without receiving any instructions whatsoever, because there was no expert to do the job. I was told that the map would be drawn, but I was not told where the border would be and how this would be carried out. I was only instructed to discuss with the Soviet officers and avoid any conflict with them. I found the two in Sulina, they had already finished drawing the border. They had put a buoy in place, about one – one and a half km north of Sulina port, and told me that was were the border would be: on the Chilia arm of the Danube Delta. They had taken the entire delta of the Chilia arm. They made sure that the borderline was south of the Serpent Island, so that the island was within their frontiers. They put together a file, with a map and a report that I wouldn’t sign. I told them I was not authorised to complete any transfer of territory or to place any buoy.”
Eduard Mezincescu, a former deputy foreign minister of Romania, was the one to sign the paperwork for the transfer of the island. In an interview to our colleagues, he recalls that decision:
“In 1948, I received instructions from Ana Pauker, reading that, when the new borders were outlined after the war with the USSR, Romania failed to transfer the island to the Soviets. Pauker, who was Romania’s foreign minister between 1947 and 1952, said the Soviets had recently raised this question and that a decision was made to give them the island. Profir, the minister of public works, and me, were to go to Tulcea and then to Sulina and to the island, to sign the transfer agreement. And so we did. The Soviet ambassador and deputy foreign minister, both officers, were already on the island. A table had been arranged, outdoors, and the paperwork was all ready for signing. We were invited to sign. But I said that, before signing, I wanted to see what I was giving away. So, much to their discontent, everybody had to walk with me and tour the island. This fad of mine delayed the signature of the document.”
After they took control of the island, the USSR built here a military base for air traffic control, anti-aircraft and maritime defense purposes. Radiolocation and interception devices were also installed here, and facilities were built, such as a helipad, a lighthouse, a small military port, warehouses and power generators. A frigate, a patrol vessel and two submarines were ensuring the security of the garrison on the island. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Serpent Island was taken over by Ukraine. The island is key to the delineation of Romania’s and Ukraine’s exclusive economic areas on the continental shelf of the Black Sea, particularly given that oil and natural gas deposits have been found in the region.
Wikipedia 6 September 2008
|3 September 2008
Radio Romania International
This week, it is Romanian diplomats and the foreign experts hired by Bucharest who present their case before the Court. According to the procedure, next week it is Ukraine's turn to present its international law arguments. The legal status of the Serpent Island is key to the dispute, and to the outlining of the continental shelf, an area of about 12 thousand square kilometres. But what is actually on the line here is the substantial natural gas and oil deposit, which according to some experts may secure Romania's national consumption for 20 years.
The litigation in The Hague may be the end of a protracted dispute that has burdened the agenda of the Romanian diplomacy for decades. In 1948, after the Peace Treaty of Paris had ended World War II and drawn the Romanian–Soviet borders, the new pro-Moscow communist regime forced upon Bucharest by occupation troops expressed its gratitude by offering the Serpent Island to the Soviet Union.
Negotiations between Bucharest and Moscow for the delimitation of the continental shelf were initiated in the '60s and discontinued in 1986, without results. Five years later, as the Soviet Union collapsed, Ukraine as a successor state took control over the island, and with it, the contention with Romania. Between 1998 and 2004, over 20 rounds of negotiation between Bucharest and Kiev failed, forcing Romania to refer the case to the International Court of Justice for arbitration.
Bucharest's representative in the Hague, Bogdan Aurescu, made it clear that the endeavour “involves no territorial claims.” To Romanian experts, things are quite clear: the uninhabited 17-hectare Serpent Island, which lacks any source of drinkable water, is in terms of international law, a mere cliff, around which Kiev cannot extend its exclusive economic zone. Quite aware of the weakness of their case, the Ukrainians have recently resorted to a trick.
The so-called “White Village” was set up on the isle, under a presidential decree, with a frontier guard unit, a bank office and scarce civil infrastructure intended to prove that the cliff is inhabited. Should judges acknowledge the economic and social value of the island, Ukraine's territorial water claims would be confirmed, and most of the hydrocarbon resources would be developed by this country. However, if the Court finds it to be a cliff, Romania will be entitled to some 80 per cent of the resources.
Sources quoted by the Romanian media as being “well informed” argue that certain major powers would rather see Romania win the trial, because this would create a precedent helping them to win similar proceedings. The daily ROMANIA LIBERA says Russia itself could be one of them, given that it has similar divergences on its own Ukrainian border.
Forecasting a favourable verdict for Romania, analyst Dan Dungaciu, an expert in ex-Soviet affairs, says that even if it loses, Kiev would quote “market the ruling as a victory, in the sense that Ukraine has not lost the island, which is a trick, because in this trial Romania has never claimed the Serpent Island in the first place.”
|1 September 2008
Radio Romania International
In the early 19th century, Dobrogea, the province lying between the Danube and the Black Sea had been under Turkish rule for about 400 years, although Wallachian rulers such as Mircea the Old in the late 14th century had taken control over Dobrogea for brief periods of time. In the 19th century, Dobrogea was torn by the Russian-Turkish wars. After the 1806-1812 war, for about five years the Russians took hold of Moldavia and Wallachia, which had previously been under Turkish rule. There followed the 1828-1829 war and the Treaty of Adrianople, which saw Russia's grip on the Romanian principalities significantly increase, at the expense of Turkish influence. The Ottoman Empire recognised Russia's control over the mouth of the Danube, and opened the Dardanelles and Bosphorus straits to all commercial vessels. The Sultan also allowed Russia to occupy Wallachia and Moldavia until the Ottoman Empire managed to pay off huge war damages.
Dobrogea was not annexed, but it was heavily affected by these wars. Historian Victor Bauman, of the Tulcea Institute of Eco-Museum Research, gives us some details:
“The Russian-Turkish wars saw a large number of people displaced in Dobrogea. Settlements, towns and villages, particularly those on the Danube, were destroyed. Dobrogea was turned into a war zone, and people had to leave their homes, to take refuge in Moldavia and Wallachia, on the other side of the Danube. The Treaty of Adrianople forced all inhabitants of the Danube Delta, especially those in the Sf. Gheorghe area, to leave their homes. The population of Tulcea tripled overnight, and people had to settle on the hills surrounding the city.”
Located in northern Dobrogea, the city of Tulcea was founded on the location of an ancient Greek city, Aegyssus, built on one of the hills in today's Tulcea. After being forced to leave the Danube Delta, the refugees came here and settled on the hills of the city, because the lower areas were flood-prone.
Another military conflict broke out and Russia suffered a defeat in the Crimean War between 1853 and 1856. Thanks to their strategic position at the mouth of river Danube, since the importance of this waterway for European communications had significantly grown, the issue of the Romanian principalities was brought to the attention of the participants in the Peace Congress held in Paris in 1856. Although Wallachia and Moldova remained under Turkish sovereignty they came under the protectorate of the seven powers signatories to the Paris Peace Treaty. Dobrogea remained a province of the Ottoman Empire with the capital at Tulcea. Reforms under way in the Ottoman Empire were also felt in Tulcea, under Turkish administration at the time. Here is Victor Bauman again.
“After the Crimean War Turkey didn’t get any more territory, the only thing they got was wisdom. The war was a watershed moment marking the beginning of reforms in the Ottoman Empire. Tulcea soon gained importance, thanks to its shipyards and the oak forests nearby which served as raw material for the Greek ship builders in the region. So Tulcea became a very prosperous centre in Dobrogea at that time and the Turkish governors of the region got extremely involved in local affairs. The documents dating back to that time speak about a great multitude of refuges coming from the Moldova and the northern regions of the Bugeac Land, fleeing from harsh Czarist oppression. They joined the refugees coming from Moldova and Wallachia and settled in Dobrogea, which at the time enjoyed more freedom, the result of the reforms underway in the Ottoman empire. Of course it was also a despotic, military regime, but if we were to compare…Just think of the fact that Dobrogea was a province at the border of this empire, a transition area, a melting pot for all individuals, ethnic groups, ideas and spirituality. That’s why Tulcea became Dobrogea’s most important centre. A city with all the necessary facilities, like sewerage, streets, public buildings etc. Rezim Pasha and then Izmail Bey managed to build the city’s sewerage system. The lagoon was drained and turned into a square, the city’s current central square with public buildings around it.”
In 1865 a new eastern crisis was recorded, and a new Russian – Turkish war broke out in 1877. The young Romanian nation state, created by the unification of the principalities of Wallachia and Moldova in 1859, entered the war alongside the Russian army, after on May 10th 1877 it had declared its independence from the Ottoman Porte. On April 4th, 1877, a Romanian – Russian convention was signed in Bucharest, allowing the passing of the Russian troops through the Romanian territory to the theatre of operations south of the Danube, all expense bearing on the Russian army. Under the agreement, Russia pledged to observe the Romanian state’s political rights, as stipulated in domestic laws and treaties in force, as well as to maintain and defend Romania’s current integrity.
Romania’s independence, as well as Dobrogea’s unification with Romania were acknowledged in the Russian – Turkish Treaty of San Stefano, on March 3rd 1878, under which Romania’s status had been proclaimed a year before. Also, the right over Dobrogea was re-established, and the region came back to Romania. But at the same time Russia violated the convention of April 4th, 1877, and forced Romania to cede the counties north of the Danube’s mouths: Kahul, Bolgrad and Ismail. On November 14th, 1878, Romana’s king Carol 1st was crossing the Danube from Braila to Ghecet, in Dobrogea, which was joining the other Romanian territories after 460 years of foreign rule.
Wikipedia 21 August 2008
Wikipedia 12 August 2008
Wikipedia 10 August 2008
|1 August 2008
by Nestor Ratesh
Radio Free Europe
Unlike many of my fellow Romanian listeners, what attracted me to it was not the desire to hear the news. As a news writer at the Romanian News Agency, I had direct and continuous access to the international news agencies. And domestic news—I had no interest at the time.
Rather than the news itself, it was the kind of journalism that Radio Free Europe developed that attracted me—the freedom of expression its broadcasters enjoyed and the way they touched the minds and the souls of their Romanian listeners. It was, if I may say so, a professional attraction and envy.
I just dreamed of becoming one of them. I started to plan my escape to the West in the mid-1960s. As a Jew, I could apply to emigrate to Israel, and this is what I did. After a stressful wait, I finally got permission to emigrate. In February 1973, I ended up in Washington, D.C.
I was in my third month as a proofreader in an editorial room when a phone call opened up new and much-desired horizons for me. Noel Bernard, who was the director of the Romanian Service at the time, was on the phone asking for a meeting with me that same afternoon. We met in his room at the Howard Johnson's across the street from the Watergate. I came out of that room as RFE's Romanian Service Washington correspondent.
Little did I know then that roughly 16 years later I would be called to sit in Noel Bernard's office as director of the Romanian Service during the fateful year of 1989. Toward the end of that year, I went back to my old job in Washington, which I enjoyed tremendously, only to be called back to Europe a few years later. That was in 1994 that I was again stationed in Munich as the director of the Romanian Service. I made the move to Prague and served there until my retirement in 2003.
It is with great sadness that I view the end of RFE/RL's broadcasts to Romania. I was part of it for over 30 years. If our business was to go out of business, I should be cheerful at that. But I am not at all, being doubtful that going out of business at this very moment is really our business. This is Nestor Ratesh reporting—again—for Radio Free Europe.
Nestor Ratesh was director of RFE/RL's Romanian Service in 1989 and again from 1994 until 2003. The views expressed in this commentary are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL.
|1 August 2008
by Vladimir Tismaneanu
Radio Free Europe
I grew up listening to Radio Free Europe. In a Bucharest pervaded by official lies, with newspapers dominated by sycophantic poems and hagiographic articles celebrating the "triumphant march of Marxism-Leninism" and the infinite genius of the general secretary, Radio Free Europe was indeed the "spoken newspapers of all Romanians."
I started listening to RFE haphazardly, zapping on our family's old East German radio and discovering the "forbidden fruits": RFE, the Voice of America, Deutsche Welle, Radio Vatican, the BBC. I even listened to Albania's Radio Tirana denouncing the Khrushchevite "traitors and renegades."
Thanks to RFE—by far the most influential of all Western broadcasting to Romania—I learned a lot about the system. I made a habit of listening to Romanian Service Director Noel Bernard's superbly informed and remarkably balanced editorials. His extraordinary voice, penetrating and subtle, made the comments doubly effective. The rigor of the analysis was magnified by the sobriety of his tone.
To the prevailing legends about the unending successes of Romania's socialist strategy, Bernard opposed a lucid vision that emphasized the rise of antidogmatic forces within world communism. For him, communist tyranny was not irreversible. He insisted on the benefits of pluralism, a concept execrated by Romanian party hacks.
Interested as I was in philosophical and cultural issues, I was addicted to the immensely influential broadcasts of Monica Lovinescu and Virgil Ierunca. My own formation owes a huge debt to those uniquely insightful discussions of major trends within the realms of contemporary politics and aesthetics. Marxism was deconstructed unsparingly, with reference to the illuminating works on communism, utopia, revolutions, and ideology by Raymond Aron, Alain Besancon, Jeanne Hersch, Boris Souvarine, and Jules Monnerot. These broadcasts explored the meanings of totalitarianism and ways of challenging the bureaucratic leviathan.
Over RFE's airwaves, I found out about Hannah Arendt, George Orwell, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Czeslaw Milosz, Arthur Koestler, Nadezhda Mandelshtam, Anton Ciliga, and others.
Defying The Regime
No less important, Radio Free Europe supported all dissident and opposition activities in Romania. It became a tribune for defying the regime's self-serving propaganda. From Paul Goma to Doina Cornea, from Dorin Tudoran to Radu Filipescu, from Dan Petrescu to Mircea Dinescu, from Vasile Paraschiv to William Totok, the voices of Romanian dissent had in Radio Free Europe their most consistent and influential ally.
It was RFE that unmasked the fascist turn of a group of party-backed Romanian writers known as the "protochronists." In their broadcasts, Lovinescu, Virgil Ierunca, and Gelu Ionescu defended the real values of Romanian culture and the liberal voices among Romanian intellectuals.
For dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and his clique, Radio Free Europe represented the ultimate villain, an enemy that needed to be smashed, compromised, eliminated. It was the voice of sedition, an invitation to truth in a system where mendacity reigned supreme. Broadcasting about the rampant political corruption of the communist nomenklatura, denouncing the Securitate's endless abuses, telling the truth about the Communist Party's history—RFE's Romanian Service opened our eyes.
For totalitarianism, truth is subversive. The regime reacted accordingly, unleashing sordid slanderous campaigns against RFE's most active editors. Lovinescu faced assassination attempts. Directors Bernard and Vlad Georgescu most likely lost their lives as a result of Securitate-organized criminal plots. Other broadcasters were singled out for the regime's vicious attacks: Emil Georgescu, Cornel Chiriac, N. C. Munteanu, Serban Orescu, Max Banush.
Among the most influential voices, one should remember Nestor Ratesh, a splendid analyst of the U.S. political and cultural scene; Emil Hurezeanu, an electrifyingly intelligent political commentator; Mircea Carp; Mihai Cismarescu; Ghita Ionescu; Preda Bunescu; and Nicolae Stroescu-Stanisoara.
Following the 1977 earthquake in Romania, RFE helped create a sense of solidarity based on true information. In 1968, it kept Romanians abreast of the search for democratic socialism in Czechoslovakia and the suppression of the Prague Spring by the Warsaw Pact that August. And, after 1985, it promoted the new ideas of reform, playing a major role in debunking Ceausescu's dismal dictatorship as decrepit and obsolete.
After The Revolution
During the 1989 revolutionary upheaval, RFE was the main hope of the Romanians, a source of information, knowledge, and self-confidence. Since the demise of communism, RFE has continued to foster democratic values, tolerance, dialogue, and moral clarity. It has opposed communist restoration and criticized Ion Iliescu and his cronies for their refusal to engage in genuine democratization.
For Romania's democratic intellectuals, RFE symbolizes the values they cherish most dearly. As a regular contributor to RFE's Romanian Service since February 1983, I consider its contribution crucial in terms of defending the concept—articulated by Vaclav Havel—of living in truth. When one writes the history of Romanian communism and postcommunism, RFE's decisive role in advocating an open society and opposing any form of totalitarianism must be prominently highlighted.
Vladimir Tismaneanu is professor of politics at the University of Maryland and, since 2006, has been chairman of the Presidential Commission for the Analysis of the Communist Dictatorship in Romania. He is a regular contributor to RFE/RL's Romania-Moldova Service. The views presented in this commentary are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL.
|1 August 2008
by Eugen Tomiuc
Radio Free Europe
I don't remember precisely when I first heard this announcement, carried over the strains of Enescu's beautiful "Romanian Rhapsody." I must have been eight or nine, and it was in the late 1960s.
But I do remember vividly the circumstances—my father, in the corner of the room, covering his old Telefunken radio with a thick blanket, and listening to the Romanian news. It wasn't exactly the best listening experience, as the shortwave broadcasts were notoriously unstable and full of static. The volume had to be turned down to a bare minimum, so suspicious neighbors would not hear—or even suspect—that dad was listening to Europa Libera.
It was a fascinating experience nevertheless. One by one, dad would identify the figures behind the voices—"Hey, listen to Noel Bernard, he's amazing. Monica Lovinescu, what a piercing mind she has!"—making me wonder how he could recognize them so easily despite the poor reception.
That's how I came to learn that the rosy picture of affairs we were being presented with in school was false. There were other people, somewhere far away, whom my parents would listen to, and whom they respected much more than the "comrades" and their leader, the ubiquitous Nicolae Ceausescu.
Listening Under A Blanket
From under the safety of the blanket, we could depend on hearing whatever had been broadcast on state radio or television by day dissected and presented from a completely different angle in the evening. The Spassky-Fischer chess game; the terrorist Palestinian attack on the Israeli athletes in Munich; Nixon's visit to Bucharest; Watergate—all were events I first heard of from state media, but later understood thanks to Europa Libera.
No other figure was more influential for my generation than the legendary music presenter Cornel Chiriac. A perpetual rebel, Chiriac and his radio music show "Metronom" had been hugely popular in Romania even before his defection in 1969. But once Chiriac joined Radio Free Europe, "Metronom" achieved cult status.
I remember that the streets in many Romanian cities were deserted on Sunday afternoons—that's when "Metronom" was aired. A whole generation of young Romanians looked forward to staying home, glued to their shortwave sets, to hear this:
"Cornel Chiriac salutes you and invites you to enjoy the album of a band that is about to disappear..."
Like the unknown band he was presenting, Chiriac, too, would soon disappear. He was stabbed to death in March 1975 in a parking lot in Munich, leading to whispers that the dreaded communist secret police, the Securitate, was behind his death.
The regime feared him. His shows were never about music alone. They were about liberty, oppression, politics, dictatorship—and music. Perhaps he had become too popular and influential among Romanian youths.
In the days after Chiriac's death, my friends and I discreetly wore black bands on the lapels of our school uniforms. When asked whether someone close had died, we would all reply, "Yes, a very good friend." Many Romanian youths made the same gesture. While other RFE journalists had been targeted or even killed by the Securitate, it was Chiriac's death that hit closest to home—for he was one of us.
Years later, in Prague, I was touched to find out from Lithuanian and Bulgarian colleagues that the Romanian Service's "Metronom" had been a popular RFE/RL program in their countries, too.
Chiriac's death, like the deaths of former service directors Noel Bernard and Vlad Georgescu, was not in vain. Those who had grown up with his music and with Radio Free Europe's programs would realize one day that listening under the blanket could not go on forever.
That day came when—on December 17, 1989—dictator Nicolae Ceausescu's heavily armed security forces opened fire on anticommunist protesters in the Romanian city of Timisoara.
A recording of troops firing on unarmed demonstrators aired by Radio Free Europe quickly traveled around the world, but it also served to galvanize the Romanians' outrage at home.
I was petrified when I first heard the recording on my radio. On it, a woman can be heard saying, "Shame on you, you're Romanians like us!" before the bursts of automatic-weapons fire breaks out. Then I heard the same recording through the thin walls, repeatedly, from many apartments in my building. Romanians were not hiding while listening to Europa Libera anymore—they had thrown the blanket away.
In the haze of the fast-moving events of December 1989, Europa Libera was quick to realize that Romania needed it more than ever, and rose to the occasion superbly. Not only did it provide the hard news that was so difficult for ordinary Romanians to obtain, but it helped them grasp the meaning of what was happening in Timisoara, Bucharest, and beyond.
Neculai Constantin Munteanu's hugely popular and well-respected daily current-affairs program "Actualitatea Romaneasca" was listened to not only by everyday Romanians, but also by many in the ruling communist elite and the political police. Such was the richness and accuracy of information of Munteanu's program, that one joke said that Ceausescu and his wife were the only two people in Romania who wouldn't listen to it. To their later disadvantage, some would say....
Here is how Munteanu opened his program during the days of anticommunist revolt in Timisoara, precipitating the fall of the regime:
"There is a beginning in every ending. Timisoara is now the name of the Romanian city written and uttered in all languages on Earth. The inhabitants of Timisoara took to the streets to remind Romanians and the international community that Romania also needs changes as radical as those in the other communist countries."
Amid a complete informational blackout maintained by the communist authorities about what was happening in Timisoara, Europa Libera kept hope alive in Romania by providing not only news, but also uplifting messages.
From RFE microphones, King Michael, the former monarch of Romania and a huge moral authority among Romanians, encouraged the Timisoara protesters who, unarmed and subjected to lethal violence, were holding out against all odds.
"My thoughts and my soul are with you and, like you, I am alarmed at the cruelty with which those in power are reacting when you are claiming your most elementary rights," Michael said. "But you and I have also great expectations—because by protesting you speak up and you fear no more. Because the very savagery of the repression shows how scared those in power are."
On a personal level, probably nothing could equal the awe I felt on December 22, 1989, when I tuned in to Europa Libera.
After hours spent with fellow protesters downtown in a weary standoff with army troops pointing their AK-47s at us, the troops had vanished into thin air when one officer came and said that Ceausescu had fled.
Rushing home, I turned on the radio, to hear this:
"Nicolae Ceausescu has been demoted. Around noon, Ceausescu was seen fleeing the Central Committee building on Palace Square [in downtown Bucharest] aboard a helicopter. Hundreds of thousands of people gathered in the square were shouting, 'Don't let the dictators get away, they must be tried!'"
The newsreader's voice was calm, matter-of-fact, with a hint of the inevitable. While listening to it, an almost inconceivable reality slowly sank in. One of the 20th century's most ferocious dictatorships had come to an end.
Many party propagandists had gone out of their way for decades to preach about the perennial character of communism, while confining Western democracy and its "spreader of lies" radio station to "the dustbin of history."
But there I was, looking at my old radio, listening to the very Radio Europa Libera they had rushed to declare obsolete announcing that the macabre "Genius of the Carpathians" was on the run. Still unbelievable, but true nonetheless.
I was beginning to realize that Europa Libera was more than just a radio outlet—it was a crucial tool in speaking to Romanians. It had helped them not only stay informed, but also to stay sane and human.
Now, almost two decades later, our beloved Europa Libera is falling silent. Some say it's too early, others say it is long overdue.
Whichever side is right or wrong is irrelevant. Europa Libera will always exist in our minds and souls, because what it did for Romania cannot be expressed in words.
|30 July 2008
Radio Free Europe
greets RFE/RL President Jeffrey Gedmin.
BUCHAREST—In a ceremony July 30 at the Cotroceni Palace in Bucharest, Romanian President Traian Basescu awarded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) and the BBC the "High Commander of Cultural Merit" award for their decades of providing uncensored news and information to the people of Romania.
"This distinction represents a sign of recognition for these two radios that for more than 50 years were in a terrible struggle for the truth—the truth about what was happening in their country in order to counter a powerful propaganda," Basescu said. "Radio Free Europe and BBC fought heroically in order to create a window through which the Romanians were able to see their truths."
Basescu called the radios' contribution to the coverage of the December 1989 overthrow of the communist regime of Nicolae Ceausescu "extremely important."
RFE/RL recently announced that its Romanian-language service will cease broadcasting to Romania on August 1, 2008.
On hand in Bucharest to accept the awards were RFE/RL President Jeffrey Gedmin and the chief of the BBC's Romanian Department, Razvan Scortea.
Gedmin dedicated the award "to the hundreds of RFE/RL journalists, researchers, and analysts who, over the course of nearly 60 years, displayed extraordinary bravery, dedication, and commitment to a free and independent press in Romania, often at great risk to themselves and their families."
He said it was humbling to hear stories from the president and the assembled Romanian guests about how Radio Free Europe changed people's lives.
"Americans are indebted to our Romanian friends for reminding us what it means to struggle for freedom," Gedmin said. "Your stories are a lesson for us about the values we cherish but sometimes risk taking for granted."
The Romanian Service began experimental broadcasting on July 14, 1950, and was fully operational by May 1, 1951.
For years, RFE/RL's broadcasts were a thorn in the side of Romania's communist rulers. In a 2006 address to parliament, President Basescu paid homage to the RFE/RL journalists who, he said, "fought with altruism and passion for the knowledge and utterance of the truth.... Their unforgettable Free Europe broadcasts were the moral conscience of Romanians."
The BBC Romanian Service started broadcasting on September 15, 1939. RFE/RL's Romanian-language broadcasts to Moldova and the Transdniester region will continue.
RFE/RL's Romanian Service contributed to this report.
|26 July 2008
CEAMURLIA, ROMANIA—Clearly frustrated by the third disheartening rampage on their town this week, a band of perturbed, torch-wielding villagers gathered at the gates of Dr. Benedikte Cojocaru's castle Monday to confront the monster that had left a trail of inappropriate destruction and chaos, in hopes of communicating how let down they all felt by his murderous actions, sources said.
"What were you thinking?" respected village elder Petar Grul said. "You've been out all night, doing God knows what, while we cower in our homes unable to sleep. Frankly, we're at the end of our rope here."
"Just—just don't say anything," Grul added after the raging creature hurled a massive chunk of masonry down from the parapet at the assembled crowd. "You go think about what you did."
The stern, no-nonsense confrontation was only the latest in a series of vexing monster-related incidents. Over the past year, similar rampages have killed 22 people and an entire flock of sheep, destroyed a flour mill, and left the townspeople wondering if the beast ever even considers their feelings at all.
A number of residents who have lost their patience with the unholy creation said they have tried being mad, but decided it is not worth the effort if the monster is just going to keep crushing the skull of every innocent blacksmith's daughter who makes the mistake of offering him a flower. According to Grul, the townspeople have "had just about enough of this business," and resolved to address the issue openly with a full and frank discussion, "no matter how painful it may be." A two-hour chase through foggy moors ensued, at which point the monster took refuge in the closest thing he had to a home, the castle of his creation.
Abandoning previous tactics of setting more specific boundaries, taking away privileges, and lighting him afire, the mob cornered the beast to unleash their chagrin.
"You may be an abomination in the eyes of God, but that doesn't give you the right to terrorize us," villager Sorin Mironescu yelled. "And don't you try to change the subject by saying you never asked to be created. We all have problems. You are a miracle of science, darn it, and it's time you started acting like one."
Should the mob fail to get through to the monster, sources said its members plan to go home, bolt their doors and windows shut, throw up their arms, and have a long talk about what to do next.
"I just think he's capable of doing so much better," said Stefan Mikrvicz, who has personally had "more than a few" run-ins with the monster. "We're not here to assign blame, but on the other hand, we do feel this situation really needs to be improved."
The monster is reportedly a hideous patchwork of human and animal parts stitched together into a rough approximation of a person, and is possessed of the strength of 10 men. It was created with limbs and organs stolen from graves and was imbued with the spark of life through a powerful magnet by crazed scientist and prominent community figure Doctor Cojocaru, who described himself as "totally exasperated" by the whole ordeal.
"Look at him," said Cojocaru, gesturing to the snarling man-thing pacing the castle's ramparts. "I made him to triumph over death itself and play God, not to sit here and watch him make bad choice after bad choice. Was it me? He's really let us all down, and I just don't know where we went wrong."
Efforts to coax the monster outside for a good talking-to, including pitchfork-waving, rock-throwing, and guilt-tripping, have thus far yielded no positive results.
"He's obviously a smart guy—he mastered the power of human speech without being taught, and that says a lot," villager Theodr Brezeanu said. "But we can't help him unless he helps himself. Right now all he seems to want to do is hang out and drown small children for no good reason."
This is not the first time Ceamurlia has had its expectations dashed by a horrific creature. In 2004, a werewolf tore apart three villagers in a dismaying bloodbath, and in 2007, a local vampire created an army of undead and filled everyone with shame.
Despite the loss of livestock, family members, and trust, many villagers continue to believe the sullen beast will someday straighten up and be more like Count Radulescu's monster, who always makes such nice finger sandwiches for their parties.
Wikipedia 25 July 2008
|23 July 2008
by Ahto Lobjakas
Radio Free Europe
BRUSSELS—A series of reports released by the European Commission sharply criticize the EU's newest members, Bulgaria and Romania, for high levels of corruption. The situation is especially stark in Bulgaria, where the EU has suspended some aid payments, arguing the authorities there have failed to prevent large-scale fraud or prosecute the perpetrators.
The gist of the European Commission's message to Bulgaria and Romania is that there is no properly functioning rule of law in either country.
However, the commission only decided to apply sanctions against Bulgaria, where there is a real risk that hundreds of millions of euros in EU aid money will be siphoned off by corrupt officials with links to organized crime.
"Right now, Bulgaria is experiencing difficulties in certain programs and has to demonstrate that sound financial management structures are in place and operating effectively. We are talking about taxpayers' money here," European Commission spokesman Johannes Laitenberger said in announcing the commission's decision to freeze more than 500 million euros ($787 million) in EU assistance.
It is the fact that what is at stake in Bulgaria is EU taxpayers' money that makes the issue very sensitive for Brussels. Public confidence in the EU has been low in many member states for a number of years. Many blame the EU's various woes on enlargement and, as a result, attempts to revitalize the bloc have suffered a series of defeats at the hands of disgruntled electorates.
At this stage, the commission's decision amounts to little more than a warning shot across Bulgaria's bows. The funds affected are a spillover from the preaccession period and Sofia has until the end of 2009 to claim most of them.
But Sofia will be equally aware that Brussels will be keeping a sharp eye on the billions of euros in aid earmarked for Bulgaria between 2007-13 in full-fledged EU support as a member state. The so-called structural funds alone are worth nearly 7 billion euros ($11 billion).
Reflecting the political sensitivity of the issue, the commission's final report on Bulgaria omitted some of the tougher language contained in earlier, leaked drafts. Thus, for example, the final document no longer says Bulgarian authorities must "cleanse" their ranks.
The commission also decided against recommending broader sanctions available to it, such as denying EU-wide recognition to Bulgarian court decisions. There is concern in Brussels that isolating Sofia may actually exacerbate its problems.
However, the overall verdict on Bulgaria is bleak. The bare bones of the rule of law are in place in the country, but, as spokesman Laitenberger said, there are few results to show the system works.
Romania Better, But 'Fragile'
Romania is in a slightly better position. At least in the view of the European Commission, its problems are mostly limited to corruption without involving a massive infiltration of government structures by organized crime, as in Bulgaria.
"Overall, the situation in Romania is a mixed picture," commission spokesman Laitenberger said. "The fundamental elements of a functioning system are in place, but the foundation is still fragile and decisions on high-level corruption are still too politicized. Commitment to reform by Romania's key institutions and bodies is still uneven. While progress on judicial reform has been made, there is a need for the system to show there are penalties for high-level corruption."
Laitenberger said the European Commission will revisit the situation in Romania and Bulgaria next year.
He also rejected suggestions the EU made a mistake in 2007 by admitting Bulgaria and Romania in what has now turned out to be an unfit state for membership. Laitenberger argued that the "picture is a mixed one" in both countries and suggested their early EU membership has benefited both the bloc and the two countries themselves.
"This is not a report about the situation of Romania and Bulgaria all across the board," Laitenberger said. "When the decision for enlargement was taken, the member states and the commission were fully aware that certain issues remained, and it was everybody's conviction at the time that the best way forward, the best momentum forward, would be to address these issues after membership."
Laitenberger concluded that the EU's enlargement remains "a success."
But this view was not shared by the European Parliament's conservative European People's Party faction. The EU's largest political grouping issued a statement saying Bulgaria has "completely failed" to honor its commitments to the EU. The statement also warned Sofia of growing distrust among other EU governments and investors, predicting the country will have problems joining the EU's borderless Schengen space and its common currency, the euro.
Elmar Brok, a senior German Christian Democrat deputy and a former head of the European Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, said the situation in both Romania and Bulgaria "has become worse rather than better" since their accession to the EU.
Wikipedia 23 July 2008
Did you know...
|21 July 2008
by Alex Elias
A great traditional celebration took place on Saturday, in Alba County, on the Gaina Mountain. Ten thousand people gathered together for the Girls’ Fair. Actually, only the name of the tradition remained, as no marriages are negotiated here anymore. Yet, the celebration still provides a great atmosphere, sausages, beer, folklore music and dance performances, cuisine exhibitions and beauty contests.
Hundreds of Mots—inhabitants of the villages in the Apuseni Mountains—but also tourist of many nationalities gathered on the Gaina Mountain since the early morning. Wearing traditional costumes and their dowry, the Mots sang, danced and started cooking.
The tradition of folklore craftsmanship, dances and costumes was carried on by numerous generations and the preservation of habits is one of the facts the Mots’ Region is very proud of. At noon, at the foot of the Gaina Mountain, lambs were grilled, and stew and polenta were prepared in impressive amounts, in order to be devoured by the hungry tourists. After lunch, the young girl searching for a husband presented their dowry. The Mots’ celebration ended late at night with a huge fire accompanying the performances of folklore artists who came especially to attend the Girls’ Fair on the Gaina Mountain. The elderly say that no girls were ever sold on the Gaina Mountain, and it was merely a celebration were young people, boys and girls, are offered an opportunity to get acquainted, party, sing and dance—and therefore, examine the possibility of marriage.
Annually, the Gaina Mountain hosts, during the weekend closest to July 20—Saint Elijah—the greatest traditional Romanian open-air event, the Girls’ Fair. The symbolic significance of the event gradually diminished and presently, it is merely a folklore celebration.
A legend says that, in ancient times, when Mots were extracting gold, a golden hen went out of the mines and sat on the edge of the mountain, where it laid a nest full of golden eggs. The inhabitants of the nearby Vidra de Sus commune attempted to catch her several times, yet the hen escaped and took the gold away, as well. The Girls’ Fair was attested for the first time in 1816, but it is obviously older. At the beginning of the fair, two delegates of the Mots from Vidra de Sus and two appointed by the inhabitants of Bulzesti—who called themselves “Criseni”—drew a line that separated the two communities.
Wikipedia 20 July 2008
|15 July 2008
By Eugen Tomiuc
Radio Free Europe
The recent announcement that RFE/RL's Romanian Service would be shut down after nearly 60 years on the air has prompted a debate over the role of the media in the country.
Many credit the broadcasts of RFE/RL—as well as the BBC, which also will conclude its Romanian broadcasts on July 31—with contributing to the fall of communism.
Some fear the closures could not come at a worse time and will strip Romania's media landscape of the last remaining sources of objective, independent news reporting at a time when corruption and political intrigue are on the rise.
On July 23, just a week before RFE/RL and the BBC will air their final Romanian broadcasts, the European Commission is due to release a report on Bucharest's efforts to overcome shortcomings in judicial reform and the fight against corruption.
The report is expected to cast a highly critical eye on the government's sheltering of high-ranking officials from corruption charges. In particular, the Romanian parliament will come under scrutiny for blocking corruption cases involving former Prime Minister Adrian Nastase.
Nastase is a Ceausescu-era holdover, and for many Romanians his case confirms the belief that the collapse of communism and EU membership have not been enough to exchange a deeply entrenched system of corruption and favoritism for a functioning, transparent democracy.
Announcing the closure of its Romanian Service, RFE/RL on July 2 cited the Broadcasting Board of Governors—the independent U.S. government agency that oversees all U.S. international broadcasting—as saying the reduction reflected "important progress" made in the country's access to media alternatives.
But a group of Romanian civic organizations who this week in an open letter protested the end of the RFE/RL and BBC broadcasts say Romania should not be counted among the league of Western democracies and that the media landscape is far from even.
"Almost all media in Romania was and still is under the control of an oligarchy rooted in the former communist regime and its secret police [the Securitate]," reads the letter, signed by leaders of 15 civic associations and trade unions and addressed to top U.S. and British government officials, as well as the heads of both RFE/RL and the BBC World Service.
It adds, "RFE/RL and BBC Romanian broadcasts continue to be essential for the real democratization of Romania."
Carl Gibson, a Romanian who was the founder of one of the country's first free trade unions in 1979, echoed the sentiment in an open letter to RFE/RL President Jeffrey Gedmin. Gibson, who was imprisoned as a dissident under the Ceausescu regime, wrote: "I am fully convinced that there are no existing democratic functions in Romania, due to the fact that access to diverse sources of information have not been guaranteed. There are still countless members of the Securitate sitting in parliament in Bucharest who have no interest in perpetuating and spreading historical truths."
RFE/RL's Romanian Service, which began its broadcasts on July 14, 1950, is inextricably entwined with the country's tumultuous 20th-century history. Romanian President Traian Basescu has frequently paid homage to RFE/RL broadcasts as the "moral conscience" of the country, most recently in April, when speaking at a memorial service for Monica Lovinescu, a 30-year veteran of the service. (A 2006 presidential report acknowledged the country's communist rulers may have been responsible for the deaths of three RFE/RL Romanian Service directors.)
Basescu also contacted U.S. authorities to argue against an earlier proposal, in February 2007, to close the Romanian Service.
Hanna Ronzheimer, a cultural anthropologist and journalist for ORF Austrian Radio Broadcasting Online, writes a weekly series on the media in Central and Eastern Europe. She says while the RFE/RL and BBC broadcasts may no longer enjoy a large share of Romania's flourishing media market, which offers up to 70 daily newspapers and 300 private radio stations, as well as cable television and the Internet, they still fill a niche.
"A lot of people have said that the function of Radio Free Europe today is not as important as it was for people in communist times, because there are so many other commercial media. But they said its function is still important in that it's a reliable source of information, and this is very hard to find in the Romanian media landscape," Ronzheimer says. "There is a lot of corruption, a network between politics, economy, and the media. So there is not really press freedom in that way."
The announced closures have sparked debate in the Romanian press and blogosphere. Iosif Klein Medesan, the editor of the respected Bucharest daily "Romania Libera," formerly worked for the Romanian services of the BBC, RFE/RL, and Voice of America. (VOA closed its Romanian program in 2004.) In a July 4 editorial, Medesan credited the trio as keeping "millions of Romanians who were hungry for truth and justice connected to unbiased information and balanced commentaries throughout the communist nightmare."
Writing of his childhood memory of listening to broadcasts in his family's small apartment, Sever Voinescu of the Bucharest daily "Cotidianul" calls RFE/RL "Romania's most important media phenomenon until 1989." Comparing the contemporary crop of Romanian journalists to RFE/RL correspondents of the past—broadcasters whose voices were "instantly recognizable" to him—Voinescu added: "If I ever were to be called a journalist, I'd want to be like them. Not like the others."
The liveliest debate over the closures has appeared on the Internet. The Romanian news portal hotnews.ro on July 6 co-hosted a roundtable discussion on the RFE/RL and BBC closures. The talk, which included three prominent former RFE/RL and BBC employees—RFE/RL broadcasters Neculai Constantin Munteanu and Emil Hurezeanu and the BBC's Christian Mititelu—prompted hundreds of phone calls and text messages.
Romanian novelist Cristian Teodorescu, a former RFE/RL Bucharest bureau chief and the current editor of the Romanian edition of the prestigious literary magazine "Lettre Internationale," used his blog to publish his commentary on the fact that many in Romania will be more than happy to see the demise of an independent media voice.
"The first to rejoice would be those [ex-]Securitate cliques who tried to muzzle RFE through attacks or intimidation," Teodorescu tells RFE/RL. "These attacks have been uncovered, and they are now part of RFE's history. The rejoicers also include all [communist-era] 'cultural' VIPs who were churning out outrageous propaganda during the Ceausescu era—writers such as [ex-court poet] Adrian Paunescu, [playwright] Dinu Sararu, [ex-court poet and current ultranationalist politician] Corneliu Vadim Tudor, who shamelessly perpetrated Ceausescu's personality cult, and whom Radio Free Europe blasted, making history, and certainly influencing Romania's history."
Sense Of Hope
Teodorescu's blog post inspired hundreds of replies—many sympathetic, some not, to RFE/RL's past role in keeping a sense of hope through the dark years of communism.
"Without Radio Free Europe, it would have been farewell, Europe!" read one.
"I am so happy for the disbanding of this radio station, and for the firing of the bastard spies who worked for it and destroyed so many countries and destinies through the bloodshed that they provoked and supported," wrote another.
A third, more moderate, voice wrote: "While no one is rejoicing, there is no tragedy is the disappearance of RFE. Its mission was accomplished with the fall of communism.... Romanians should erect a monument to the memory of those who, evening after evening, were informing them about what was happening in their own country."
Are such sentiments a sign that Romania and its media is progressing—albeit slowly—toward a stable democracy?
"Yes, in my opinion," says Teodorescu. "And not only because some of those who worked for the BBC and RFE continue to work today in the Romanian media, but also because the Romanian journalist has developed a conscience and sometimes would rather suffer and would do everything in his power to avoid being pressured into something. All this is proof that the local media are heading in the right direction. In this respect, both RFE and the BBC have been hugely important milestones."
|15 June 2008
by George Grigoriu
Over 400 children will be divided in 16 workshops and work under the coordination of more than 60 craftsmen.
A new edition of the Creation Camp “Vara pe ulita” (“Summer on the Village Road,” editor’s note) was officially opened yesterday at the “Dimitrie Gusti” National Village Museum.
Over 400 children, accompanied by grandparents, nannies or parents, subscribed to the Creation Camp, where they will study pottery, egg-writing techniques, icon painting, wood sculpting, knitting and even weaving. They were welcomed in the first day of the camp by actors on stilts, who offered them bonbons, while Pippo the Penguin offered them an opportunity to make pictures and promised them surprises throughout the Creation camp.
The Manager of the Museum, Paulina Popoiu, assured the children that they will have a lot of fun and great music. “The artisans will become teachers who will give you grades, and I will be your form teacher,” she announced the children and thanked the parents for bringing them to the Camp organized by the Village Museum, where they will be taught “to treasure tradition and to live in a bigger community.” The children will be divided in 16 workshops and coordinated by over 60 artisans. They declared they are eager to learn how to paint or manufacture pots but showed reluctance when questioned whether they intend ever to work as potters or painters. The attendance tax is RON 150 per person, and reduced for groups. Already a tradition of the Village Museum, the “Vara pe ulita” Creation Camp, organized under the patronage of the Ministry of Culture and Religious Denominations, reached its sixteenth edition this year and it is an acknowledged brand for all those who attended it and shortly became skilful artisans.
The camp will take place until August 10, 2008, Mondays to Fridays, during 10.00 – 14.00. Children aged 6 to 18 are offered an opportunity to experience craftsmanship as students of well-known specialists in traditional manufacturers of handcrafted wares: potters, modellers, wood sculptors, icon painters, naïve painters, egg writers, weavers, embroiders, knitters, folklore jewellers, doll manufacturers and decorators. They may also attend drawing and painting classes.
As children are still in their summer holidays, the Village Museum will entertain attendants with the “Hour of Fun” (12.00 to 13.00), an occasion for interactive activities, competitions, games, music, dance, theatre performances etc.
Wikipedia 13 July 2008
|10 July 2008
by Radu Rizea
Introducing GMOs in a complex environment represents a dangerous global experiment, Greenpeace activists say. The crops are a threat mainly because the plants can cross genes with ordinary plants and spread into new environments.
"The Government refuses to disclose the places where MON810 is cultivated, impeaching the right to information of all citizens. Thousands of hectares will be planted this year and we have no possibility to protect our crops from contamination", said Dan Craioveanu, member of the GRINDA group for preserving rural vales.
|9 July 2008
by Matt Gross
New York Times
So subtle was the transformation, in fact, that most Bucharestians probably didn’t quite realize what was going on.
Here’s what happened: All around the capital, with no formal organization whatsoever, bar and restaurant owners grabbed their chairs and tables, carried them outside and … put them down gently, creating terraces and sidewalk cafes. No longer would patrons be confined to electric-lighted interiors! Now they could eat stuffed cabbage rolls and polenta in the fresh air, shaded from the sun by umbrellas advertising Ciuc beer!
Open-air terraces may not sound like much, but according to my Bucharest-born friend Horia Diaconescu, a keen observer of the city in which he’s spent his 29 years, they represent a sea change. Under Communism, he explained, public life was restricted—people simply did not go out to meet friends (or strangers) in bars and cafes. They socialized in private homes, or not at all. Now, however, “terasas” had become de rigueur, and streets like the cobblestoned Strada Smardan, in the heart of old Bucharest, are filled on summer nights with Romanians enjoying the cool breeze and each other’s company. Viva la revolución!
It was just this kind of innovation I had come to this city of two million to discover. For about a year, I had been hearing of interesting developments—new museums, clever art projects, a film scene garnering international acclaim—and wanted to see how they meshed with Bucharest’s lingering old-world vibe and Communism-deformed mentality. It seemed in keeping with the high-culture principles of the Grand Tour, and affordable to boot, with tons of hotel rooms well below 100 euros.
So, from northern Cyprus, I flew to Istanbul (146 Turkish liras, or about $119 at 1.23 liras to the dollar, on the low-cost airline Pegasus (www.flypgs.com), then caught the 18-hour sleeper train onboard the Turkish State Railways (www.tcdd.gov.tr; two-bed cabin, 127.30 liras) through Bulgaria to Bucharest. (A long trip, but cheaper than a direct flight.) I arrived in the early evening, and the setting sun made this attractive city—once dubbed Little Paris—all the more beautiful.
The columned-and-domed edifices of Bucharest’s pre-World War II glory days glowed in the reddening light, and even the Communist-era concrete monstrosities and newer glass-and-steel towers appeared warm and friendly. Okay, they were ugly, but they seemed to have their place.
I felt optimistic, especially after checking into my bed-and-breakfast, the nearly two-year-old Flower’s (2 Strada Plantelor; 40-21-311-9848; www.flowersbb.ro), which was listed in my copy of “In Your Pocket,” a cheeky, well-written series of Central and Eastern European guidebooks. For 150 lei a night (about $65 at 2.30 lei to the dollar), I had a homey, top-floor room with dormer-style windows that looked out on a quiet square: old people chatting on park benches; an Orthodox church with an aluminum-topped, octagonal steeple; a weeping willow; an Art Nouveau house in need of repair.
The city’s historic center was just 10 minutes away by foot. I began in full sightseeing mode, eager to get up to speed on Romanian history and art, and so I walked through Lipscani, a network of alleys that formed the ancient commercial heart of Bucharest. This used to be where traditional artisans plied their trades, but today they’ve mostly been replaced by modern shops and restaurants, and much of the area is pedestrian-only.
But unlike, say, the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, Lipscani has yet to be taken over by international chains, and buildings like the 18th-century Stavropoleos Church, a surprisingly cozy house of worship, offer a hint of the neighborhood’s past.
In the Curtea Sticlarilor—the Glass Blowers’ Courtyard, a half-hidden complex down a Lipscani side street—I found a sign of Bucharest’s future. It was Rozalb de Mura (9-11 Strada Selari; 40-21-311-6215; www.rozalbdemura.ro), a fashion boutique I’d heard about
This was the avant-garde Bucharest I’d been seeking: blazers covered in carefully stitched “scars,” an elegant dress with multilayered lapels that would’ve looked great on Sean Young in “Blade Runner.” I came close to buying a white-cotton jacket with complicated pockets, but it was 488 lei—a bargain for high fashion, but not within my budget. Even the store itself seemed like a work of art, with one room designed to look like a Communist-era den (cheap dining table, glass display case of knickknacks) and the other all-white and filled with artificial mist. The theme this season: reality and illusion.
From Lipscani, I wandered north, past a Christian Dior boutique and the Art Deco “Telephone Palace,” to the colossal National Museum of Art (49 - 53 Calea Victoriei; 40-21-313-3030; www.mnar.arts.ro; admission 15 lei), housed in the former royal palace. The European collection was impressive (El Greco—not bad!), but I really came to see the extensive holdings of Romanian art and to get an idea of what this country’s art was all about.
In the absence of any explanatory placards, I had to do this by inference. My impression is that by the 1840s, after 600 years of mostly religious art—icons, carvings, tombstones and so on, mostly in the Byzantine tradition—Romania leapt into secular modernity with a vengeance. Wealthy businessmen and political leaders had their portraits painted, and artists turned to the natural world and nationalist themes for inspiration.
My favorites among these were C.D. Rosenthal, a Hungarian Jew who painted the iconic “Revolutionary Romania” (1841), and Nicolae Grigorescu, whose tense “The Spy” depicts the pre-dawn horseback pursuit of an Ottoman agent during Romania’s 1877 war for independence. What emerges from this collection is a portrait of a small nation struggling to define itself in contrast to the powers that surround it: Russia, the Ottoman Empire and Western Europe.
Today, at least for a visitor, Bucharest is perhaps less angst-ridden. My few days there were generally filled with the kind of cool, semi-underground culture I’d been seeking. I spent one long afternoon hanging out at the 115 Digital Art Gallery (115 Strada Mihai Eminescu; 40-21-210-1969, www.115.ro), which claims to be the first gallery in Eastern Europe devoted to digitally created works of art. The current exhibition showcased Aya Kato, a young Japanese woman whose stylized images of women, dragons and imaginary worlds had been printed on huge mesh panels and hung, billboard-style, from Communist-era apartment blocks around the city.
Another afternoon, the recently begun comic-book newspaper Aooleu! held a party at the Capitol Cinema, an abandoned, decaying open-air movie theater. While rabbits hid in the foliage, Bucharest’s skin-baring, sunglasses-wearing cool crowd drank lukewarm Heinekens and giggled at Aooleu!’s hand-drawn accounts of strippers in the Bucharest metro.
“Many people say that Bucharest is the new Berlin,” Milos Jovanovic, a Serbian expatriate who is Aooleu!’s co-editor-in-chief, told me. “It’s a place where you can do some stuff, some projects—concepts that have been done all around Europe, but here never. Here there is no comics scene, so doing comics you are exotic.”
And with Horia—the bearded, Alice Cooper-loving flâneur I met through Couchsurfing.com—as my guide, I discovered some amazing places throughout the city. We drank beer made from tea (10 lei) at La Metoc (21 Strada Popa Rusu, 40-721-669-539), a century-old house with a lush garden, and drank normal beer at La Scena (55 Calea Calarasi, 40-21-320-3567; www.lascena.ro), a lushly restored turn-of-the-century house that doubles as an avant-garde theater.
One evening, we took a 10-minute taxi ride out to Lacul Vacaresti, an unfinished artificial lake where we watched the sun set behind construction cranes and the hulking mass of the Palace of the Parliament, the Ceausescu-built neo-Classical castle that is, amazingly, Europe’s largest single building.
Then we went for shawarma at the renowned Dristor Kebab (1 Boulevard Camil Ressu; 40-21-346-8100; www.dristorkebab.ro). Not only was it delicious and cheap (13 lei), but, Horia pointed out, Dristor and its ilk were run by Romanians, not by Turks as in the rest of Europe. The kebabs had been fully assimilated.
But while I was falling in love with Bucharest, I noticed something else: Everyone I spoke to was a little depressed about the city. Artists lamented the weak market, and hipsters complained about the label-obsessed mainstream. Horia told me about a recent flash mob spectacle to commemorate the Mineriada—the 1990 crushing of student protests by mine workers—in which participants, following instructions delivered by text messages, reenacted the violence using feather pillows. But no one would describe Bucharest as a dynamic capital.
I could see what they meant. Bucharest is still a work-in-progress. The National Museum of Contemporary Art (2-4 Strada Izvor, entrance E4, 40-21-318-9137; www.mnac.ro; admission 5 lei) is a great idea—converting one end of the Palace of the Parliament into a modern gallery—but the exhibitions were presented with little to no context. Meanwhile, the museum cafe didn’t actually serve food, and simply leaving there without a car was a nightmare in the summer heat. Perhaps that was why I was the only visitor on Friday.
Everywhere I went, taxi drivers tried to rip me off, usually by pleading poverty when I handed them a 10-lei note to pay a 6-lei fare. Eating well was a challenge, partly because restaurants were stuck in “rustic” mode, but also because their kitchens started closing around 9:30 p.m. And by midnight, the city itself seemed to shut down.
Give it five years, or maybe 10, people told me, and Bucharest will live up to its potential, and perhaps truly be “the new Berlin,” as the British newspaper The Guardian dubbed it in March.
But I liked Bucharest now. On Sunday evening, I was drinking cheap beers with new friends at La Motoare (40-21-315-8508), the open-air bar atop the National Theater (Piata 21 Decembrie 1989). Behind us, a Balkan movie was projected on a screen, closing out the Bucharest Film Festival, and somewhere across town Manu Chao was giving the final concert of the B’estfest music festival. And if I wanted, I could spend the rest of the night wandering the city, finding forgotten churches and secret passages that everyone else ignored.
In five or 10 years, such discoveries would be commonplace, as unremarkable as a table and chairs set out under the stars—but for now they were new, and they were mine.
|28 June 2008
by Vladimir Tismaneanu
Radio Free Europe
Even some Romanian intellectuals and technocrats bought into this demagoguery, while some observers in the West regarded him as a sort of East European David standing up to the awesome Soviet Goliath.
Even now, there are historical revisionists in Romania—including former Romanian Communist Party official Paul Niculescu-Mizil—who are trying to remake this died-in-the-wool Stalinist as some sort of liberal reformer.
But nothing could be further from the truth.
The Final Report of the Presidential Commission for the Analysis of the Communist Dictatorship in Romania—of which I serve as chairman—explodes the myth of Ceausescu as a proponent of democratic socialism. That document, which was the basis for President Traian Basescu's 2006 condemnation of the communist regime as illegitimate and criminal, demonstrates, beyond any reasonable doubt, the cynically duplicitous nature of Ceausescu's allegedly patriotic line.
Pledged Break With The Past
Ceausescu came to power in March 1965. From the outset, he pledged a break with the rigid domestic policies of his predecessor and patron, Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej. At the same time, he made a point of continuing Gheorghiu-Dej's autonomous foreign policy, skillfully navigating between Leonid Brezhnev's USSR and Mao Zedong's China while improving relations with the West. Ceausescu talked endlessly about political and economic reforms; socialist realism was jettisoned as the privileged aesthetic doctrine; and numerous translations of Western literature were published.
Bucharest seemed to be changing for the better.
But Ceausescu quickly changed course. In July 1965, at the 9th Romanian Communist Party Congress, he had criticized the concentration of power in the hands of one person and insisted on the need to separate high state and party positions. But at the December 1967 party congress, veteran party militant Chivu Stoica resigned as State Council chairman and nominated Ceausescu to replace him.
Despite the official calls for "creative Marxism," Ceausescu and his associates emphasized the need to foster the communist party's "leading role"—its indisputable monopoly on power. The propaganda machine presented Ceausescu as the main architect of both domestic and foreign policies, a visionary, and guarantor of a Romanian path to socialism.
Ceausescu's cult of personality was born during the years when he claimed to be a reformer.
In January 1968, Alexander Dubcek replaced Antonin Novotny as first secretary of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, and Ceausescu expressed support for the new leader. In March 1968, he refused to attend the Dresden Conference of Warsaw Pact leaders at which Czech reforms were criticized. And on various occasions he expressed solidarity with the Czechoslovak political changes.
Nothing Was Said
In April 1968, a plenum of the RCP Central Committee rehabilitated victims of the Stalinist purges in the USSR in the 1930s, as well as some of the most prominent communists killed or persecuted under Gheorghiu-Dej. However, nothing was said about the destruction of democratic political parties, the liquidation of the socialist movement, the mass atrocities against the peasantry, and the annihilation of the country's intellectual elite.
For Ceausescu, the rehabilitation process had the dual purpose of delegitimizing rivals within the top party leadership while boosting his own image as a champion of "socialist legality."
In reality, however, Ceausescu's Securitate continued to operate as a terrorist organization, and censorship remained as repressive as ever. Ion Iliescu, who was the Communist Youth Union first secretary and youth minister, supervised systematic campaigns to neutralize rebellious attitudes among the young writers. Students who raised their voices for freedom were promptly reprimanded.
Current revisionist storytelling notwithstanding, Ceausescu's support for Dubcek's liberalization was a political masquerade. He merely pretended to be an anti-Stalinist and a national communist. In fact, none of the important documents of the Prague Spring were published in Romania.
When Warsaw Pact forces invaded Czechoslovakia, Ceausescu delivered an angry speech against the "intervention." But his indignation was short-lived. Just a few weeks later he declared "only madmen could question the vitality of socialism in Romania." This statement became the official justification for the politically motivated use of psychiatry against dissidents.
Ceausescu cynically used the crushing of the Prague Spring as an excuse to enhance his own personality cult. He insisted on imposing a unified domestic front to counter any supposed Soviet attack. He created a self-serving mythology in which he was the fearless hero, the symbol of the unity of party and nation.
Ceausescu was a diehard Bolshevik. He and his comrades never meant to liberalize or democratize the Romanian political system.
Vladimir Tismaneanu is professor of politics at the University of Maryland and, since 2006, he has been chairman of the Presidential Commission for the Analysis of the Communist Dictatorship in Romania. He is a regular contributor to RFE/RL's Romania and Moldova Service. The views presented in this commentary are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL.
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|30 June 2008
Radio Romania International
On the day of August 23rd 1944, when Romania officially abandoned its coalition with Nazi Germany and the first Communist armies arrived in our country, the Romanian Communist Party knew this was going to be the dawn of a new era. The party was on its way to the top, where it would take control of all the country’s affairs and would use the Soviet pattern to mold Romania into a totally new country, with a Communist society guided by Marxist and Leninist principles.
But the road to the top was a tricky one, and had to be approached step by step. Before the Communist Party could be named ruler of the country, it had to consolidate its extremely narrow electoral base, which the party had established since its formation in 1921. The communists used various types of organizations in order to lure in as many sympathizers as possible, from all social classes. Workers’ unions in major factories constituted the first such organizations.
At first, the Communist Party’s only ally in these factories was the railroad workers’ union, but this group was equally sympathetic towards the social-democrats as well. But workers didn’t place too much trust in neither of the two groups, and the unions in the Grivita Railyards were not enough support for the communists.
In January 1945 politically neutral unions were set up in nearly all of the country’s companies and institutions. That meant solidarity between communists and socialists. Any lack of such solidarity meant negative influence on the unions. The communists created more than just workers’ syndicates in institutions and companies. They also set up larger unions that comprised several trade unions active in various fields. In January 1945, the first unions’ congress was organized. On that occasion, the General Work Confederation was brought back to life. This organization had survived during Antonescu’s regime, but had been later dissolved during the royal dictatorship, which lasted from 1938 to 1940.
The Communist Party’s offensive campaign meant to hijack various unions did not go unchallenged by the workers, as several more powerful companies opposed it. One such case was that of the union of the famous “Malaxa” Factory. Most workers there were member of the Iron Guard, which was a far right movement. Their union was a recruiting ground for the forces of the Workers’ Legionnaire Corps. Communist sympathizer Gheorghe Apostol was president of the General Work Confederation, the main link between the party itself and its allied unions. After 1945 he had a spectacular career on both party and state level. In 1994, he gave Radio Romania an interview in which he sheds more light on the history of the Malaxa Factory. This interview is part of the archive of the Romanian Radio.
“The Malaxa factory, much like almost all the major companies in Bucharest, chose its union leader in a democratic fashion. At Malaxa, union leaders were locked in the company’s offices, and a special meeting was called to elect new leaders. A committee representing the union’s local branch in Bucharest announced on the morning of February 15th that the Malaxa workers’ union will have a new leadership.”
The communists rallied and went to Malaxa to release those held against their will.
“5 dressed-up people burst into the room, to our amazement. We were all wondering whether they were the new leadership. They introduced themselves as being the representatives of the workers, we started a conversation with them. We introduced ourselves and inquired about the situation at the Malaxa factories. We wanted to know what happened to the trade union leadership. They said they didn’t recognize the General Labour Confederation. It was clear they had taken a similar stand to that of the National Peasant Party and the Radescu government. We had to withdraw. We left the factory and decided that Chivu Storica had to go to the “Grivita Rosie” factories to call up a group of some 200 workers and send them to the Malaxa factories to protect us from the representatives of the workers.”
The communists got support from their fellows and after clashes with their opponents released all people held against their will. Gheorghe Apostol almost lost his life. When withdrawing, he was shot by his fellow, Patrascu, who wanted to eliminate him.
“We were at about 10 m distance from one of Patrascu’s groups. They were shooting in the air to keep workers away. When we came closer, Patrascu whose gun was pointed to the gate, turned to me, pointed the gun to me and fired. Enough, Patrascu, I shouted and I cursed him, you shot me. A fellow who was working for the External Affairs Department of the Central Committee got a car. They took me to Elias hospital. I was operated on for about 5 hours. Patrascu’s bullet, passed close to the stomach and produced very little damage, but it perforated all my intestines and then stopped in my left thigh. They couldn’t take it out and it is still in my thigh. What made Patrascu do that? Allegedly, he was in a very delicate situation, as he had claimed before Ana Pauker the declaration he had received from the General Labour Confederation was not real. He assured Ana Pauker, who was in charge of the communist party’s organizational problems that it was peace and quiet at the Malaxa factories. But in reality things were totally different.”
Such practices were only the beginning. Violence was to become a common way of interaction between communism and society. The communists seized full control of trade unions, which became nothing else but another instrument of repression during the communist regime.
|29 June 2008
by Danielle Trussoni
New York Times
In “History and Utopia,” the Romanian philosopher Emil Cioran speculated about whether it’s “easier to confect a utopia than an apocalypse.” Utopia and its discontents, so central to Eastern European writers, are central to Gyorgy Dragoman’s darkly beautiful novel. A scathing portrait of life in a totalitarian society, “The White King” is both brutal and disarmingly tender. Dragoman’s answer to Cioran’s question is plain: Utopia creates its own hell.
Set in a nameless Communist country based on Romania, where Dragoman was raised, “The White King” is narrated by Djata, an 11-year-old boy whose father has been sent to a labor camp for a crime—signing “an open letter of protest” against the government—that brings ruin to his family. Djata’s mother loses her teaching job, and Djata, now “unreliable from a political point of view,” is expelled from Communist youth organizations, effectively ending his education. The boy’s grandfather, an influential party leader, is shamed into resigning his post.
No one knows if Djata’s father will ever return. This uncertainty forces Djata’s mother to take extreme measures to find out what’s happening to her husband, while her struggle to provide for the family leaves her little time for her son. Djata’s grandparents don’t offer much solace; they ignore the boy and despise his mother, convinced that she encouraged her husband’s dissident views. Djata must fend for himself, like a cold war Huck Finn tramping through concrete apartment blocks and facing down bullies.
The official party stance is that “the country’s future is its youth” and “there’s no way the party would expose this treasure to danger,” but Djata’s experience proves otherwise. After an “accident in an atomic power plant in the Great Soviet Union” reminiscent of Chernobyl, the boy is given iodine pills and forced to play soccer outdoors, taking care “to avoid contact with the ball because the ball picks up radioactivity from the grass.”
Dragoman, who now lives in Budapest, writes in Hungarian, and his prose is scintillating and acrobatic, featuring serpentine sentences that bend with each turn of Djata’s mind. Disregarding standard punctuation, the novel’s language acquires a kind of trudging exuberance—part exhaustion, part frenzy—that amply conveys the boy’s mood. Dragoman, who is 34, recounts the Eastern European experience from a fresh point of view. In his late teens when the Berlin Wall fell, he left childhood behind and became a free adult at the same time.
At one point, Djata’s grandfather takes him to a hill overlooking the city and instructs him to study the landscape as if seeing it “for the very first time or else the last time.” He suggests, Djata reports, that the boy “try looking at the whole thing, all of it as one, as if I was looking at a painting or a pretty girl, to try and see everything at the same time, it wasn’t easy doing so, he said, but if I could do it, then afterward I’d see the world differently.” Reading “The White King” has much the same effect.
|26 June 2008
by Mihai Iordanescu
The Danube is Europe’s large river, uniting a continent with its waters but also with its legendary beauties and tourism potential. Basically put, the Danube was the first to consecrate Europe’s unity. That is why most of the historical treaties of alliance, of cooperation, the war declarations or the peace conferences in Europe have referred to the Danube’s status as to an essential goal. And the Danube’s multiple importance, be it geographical, historical, economical, strategic and even poetical importance, has entirely focused on the Danube Delta, a true piece of heaven whose destiny made it a witness to the Romanians’ whole history. A witness, but also often the first victim of the anti-Romanian attacks. That is the source of the successive Delta thefts, actions by which the empires around us have cut to pieces in various manners the three arms that the Danube forms when flowing into the Black Sea, with the aggressive Bystroye Canal being the most recent example of that kind.
But the biggest pain caused by this act comes not only from its unjust, aggressive and even despicable character. It also comes from our current inability to restore to the Romanian Danube Delta the strategic significance that it deserves, what was left of it after it was cut to pieces by the former Soviet empire. A significance deserved by the Danube Delta and demanded by the whole European community in the current stage that witnesses the tourism industry boom but also a scientific research boom. Romania is not only capable but it is also called on by its historical destiny to restore to the Romanian Danube Delta the quality of a piece of natural heaven. Its tourism, navigable and scientific research potential is huge, but its capitalization, though growing, is not up to the needed level. And the cause of this eroded prestige falls on the central and local institutions alike.
The latter, under the charm of an overnight enrichment, have resorted to all kinds of illegal acts. Thus the Delta is cut to pieces anew, with land ownership rights obtained overnight, most of the times by fraud and under the umbrella of corruption. Absurd constructions have been built on these private properties – restaurants, pubs, discos, hotels, flagrantly contradicting the Delta’s balance with unaesthetic concrete bell towers, with ‘manele’ howls as loud as waterfalls and with fast-food sales replacing the traditional fishing. Did you know that the most expensive food product in the Delta is not veal, nor lamb, nor pork or poultry, but fish? Precisely the product that is specific to the Delta. And this absurdity can be found precisely here, in the Delta where fishing knows no boundaries because it is always done illegally?
Illegalities characteristic to a veritable wilderness are also registered in the case of hunting in the Delta. The hunting seasons are hardly observed here. So that unique European bird species such as pelicans, are threatened with extinction. The same decline is in store for the whole fauna and flora in the Delta because of the destruction of ecosystems that are thus transformed in flat pieces of ground for pubs, restaurants, discos, in sources of and storage places for garbage, in endless sources of pollution. Given that here every investor works as his conscience dictates, with no rigorously respected rule, the communication routes, be they by water or by land, are losing any coherence. So that the environment pollution is registering unique levels here. A reason as to why the Delta is gradually becoming a huge garbage bin. Garbage that is sometimes brought in also from the countries in the Danube’s path, garbage that is eventually ‘stored’ here in the Delta.
Of course, the responsibility for this theft of the national patrimony falls not only on the shoulders of the local authorities but also on the shoulders of the national authorities. Members or even heads of the successive Governments have traveled to the Danube Delta as tourists, as hunters or as passionate fishermen. And although they have always taken clear-cut attitudes against the abuses registered in the Delta, by revealing the illegalities of large criminal networks, the state in which the Delta finds itself does not see the promised and hoped for improvements. The specific scientific research areas, some of them under the aegis of the Romanian Academy, are also in serious ailment or even on the brink of disappearance. And since many of the tourists’ desires converge precisely on admiringly investigating the Delta’s flora and fauna, it is understandable that the number of these visitors is well below the one registered in other European areas of lesser importance.
The Government bears the whole responsibility for that. More so since the recent avian flu crisis was poorly managed. The brutal and, as later discovered, the unjustifiable interventions have labeled the Delta with the false and damaging impression of a space of generalized disease, of irreversible extinction. That is why we now need a true national strategy in what concerns capitalizing the Romanian Danube Delta. Countries such as Greece, Italy, Spain and so on, are registering annual tourism revenues of billions of Euros. Romania can get close to such successes only by the high tourism capitalization of the Danube Delta. The multiple capitalization of the Danube Delta represents a big challenge for the economic ambition generously exhibited by each Government candidate.
|25 June 2008
The BBC World Service is to close its Romanian language service, after 69 years of broadcasting.
Transmissions in Romanian will cease on 1 August.
In a statement, World Service Director Nigel Chapman praised the service, which he said had been "a beacon of free and independent information".
The closure was a result of increased media competition in Romania, falling audiences and the need for savings across the World Service, he said.
The Romanian Service will be the only language service to close during the term of the current World Service budget, which runs until April 2011, he said.
The World Service plans to retain all 31 remaining language services, six of them within Europe.
Mr. Chapman said most Romanians preferred to get their news from television now and the service's audience figures had fallen to less than 3% of the adult population.
BBC broadcasting in Romanian to Moldova will also cease with the closure.
During the Cold War the service battled against the tight media control exercised by Romania's communist authorities.
"Everyone agrees that their presence has contributed to the building of free and open media in Romania," Mr. Chapman said in his tribute.
In December 2005 the BBC announced the closure of 10 language services - eight of them broadcasting to Eastern Europe - to pay for a new Arabic TV channel.
The National Union of Journalists' broadcasting organiser, Paul McLaughlin, told the BBC News website that the closure was shocking.
"It is a devastating blow for a service that is renowned for providing exemplary journalism, covering the area and the region."
He said that coming after management had given the impression that no more language services would be closed it represented a "double blow".
"It seems that, bit by bit, the BBC is intent on dismantling the World Service," he said, adding that members were considering the possibility of strike action.
|23 June 2008
Radio Romania International
Throughout the 1980s, the communist dictatorship of Nicolae Ceausescu, was considered the harshest in Central and Eastern Europe. The regime caused exasperation not only among ordinary people, but among key members of the party. That’s how the Romanian Democratic Front was created in May 1977. The organization opposed Ceausescu’s regime, but only started to become more vocal in the 1980s being encouraged by perestroika and glasnost reform programs first introduced by the Soviet leaders Yuri Andropov and Mikhail Gorbachev. Vladut Nisipeanu studied philosophy in Moscow and then returned to Romania in the 1950s.
He was one of many “Muscovites” persecuted by Ceausescu in the late 1970. Because of his connections to the soviets, he was under constant watch by the Securitate, the Romanian secret police. In 1999, the Centre for Oral History of the Romanian Radio Broadcasting Corporation conducted an interview with Nisipeanu, in which he told how in 1982, he tried to set up a meeting with Yuri Andropov through his connection with Drozdenko, the then soviet ambassador to Bucharest. His meeting with Drozdenko took place at sea, for fear of being intercepted by the Securitate.
“We convened that we would meet at sea, some 50 metres from the shore, using a telegraph pole as landmark. We started swimming, and we reached a safe distance from the shore we began to talk. We swam around for about half an hour, making sure we move a lot in the water so that they wouldn’t intercept us. The ambassador was accompanied by an advisor two other young men. I asked him: “Please, comrade, inform the leaders in Moscow that I wish to arrange a secret meeting, of great importance, with the Chief of State and Party, Yuri Andropov.” He asked some questions regarding the danger involved in such a meeting and the importance of removing Ceausescu from power. I told him Ceausescu treated us just like he treated the soviets: dishonestly! He had to be eliminated. But during our conversation, I insisted that he was not to be shot. After all, we wouldn’t want to turn him into a national hero. The ambassador didn’t give me an answer straight away, saying he had to think things over.”
1982 saw a major cleansing in the leadership of the communist party. All those who had studied in the USSR, who was single or divorced were removed. That year also saw more intensive actions from the members of the Front, who drew up a manifesto in which they demanded the arrest and trial of Ceausescu and the members of the Party’s Political Bureau, and the introduction of a democratic form of government. Vladut Nisipeanu:
“The manifesto drafted by the Democratic Front entailed our concerns that Romania was heading for economic, social and political disaster, and the so-called democracy that ruled the country was a joke. Here’s a quotation from the document: “The unprecedented degradation of economic, social and political relations at all levels of society, along with the many dysfunctions we see in our daily lives, are evident proof of an unstable social and political system in a general state of crisis, marked by corruption, imposed through excessive propaganda and a diversified repression system meant to annihilate any form of social willpower and belief.”
The manifesto also called on the countries of the world to stop collaborating with Ceausescu and his aides and deny him the right to speak on behalf of the Romanian people. The Romanian Democratic Front called on international banks to turn down applications made by the Romanian state. The members of the Front also drew up a document in which they listed all the crimes committed by Ceausescu and his regime. Surprisingly, this list would constitute the grounds for Ceausescu’s trial on December 25th, 1989.
“Here’s a quotation from the document: „In light of the situation and the objective evaluation of the current state of affairs in Romania, and the prospects of national development at all levels, the Romanian Democratic Front hold Nicolae Ceausescu and his aides accountable for the following crimes: abuse of power, defined as a totalitarian form of ruling the state, and taking the power away from the people through legislative abuse; crimes against humanity, including the death of the workers at the Brasov foundry and the Dudesti Pharmaceutical Factory, and killing the farmers who opposed the forced cooperativization of agriculture; the severe violation of the Constitution, by passing laws that run counter to articles in the Constitution, therefore undermining state authority.”
In June 1989, the Romanian Democratic Front changed its name to become the National Salvation Front, and later that year in December was elected in power and became in charge of securing Romania’s transition from dictatorship to democracy.
|19 June 2008
The dismal lives and unhappy prospects of Europe's biggest stateless minority
THE village of Vizuresti lies 35km (22 miles) from Bucharest and on the wrong side of the tracks. For the first few miles the road from the highway is paved, passing through a prosperous district with solid houses and well-tended fields. But once it crosses the railway, leading only to the Roma settlement, the tarmac stops. The way to Vizuresti is 20 minutes of deep potholes and ruts. Life for its 2,500 people, four-fifths of them Roma, is just as tough.
Mihai Sanda and his family, 37 of them, live in half-a-dozen self-built, mud-floored huts. In his two-room dwelling, seven people share one bedroom; chickens cluck in the other room. The dirt and smell, the lack of mains water, electricity, sewerage and telephone are all redolent of the poorest countries in the world. So is the illiteracy. Ionela Calin, a 34-year-old member of Mr Sanda's extended family, married at 15 without ever going to school. Of her eight children, four are unschooled. Two, Leonard, aged four and Narcissa, aged two, do not even have birth certificates; Ionela believes (wrongly, in fact) that she cannot register their birth because her own identity document has expired.
For the millions of Europeans—estimates range between 4m and 12m—loosely labelled as Roma or Gypsies, that is life: corralled into settlements that put them physically and psychologically at the edge of mainstream existence, with the gap between them and modernity growing rather than shrinking. The statistics are shocking: a Unicef report released in 2005 said that 84% of Roma in Bulgaria, 88% in Romania and 91% in Hungary lived below the poverty line. Perhaps even more shocking is the lack of a more detailed picture. Official indifference and Roma reluctance mean that data on life expectancy, infant mortality, employment and literacy rates are sparse. Yet all are deplorably lower than those of mainstream society.
The immediate response to this (as for most of eastern Europe's ills) is to blame history. The lot of the Roma has been miserable for a millennium, ever since their mysterious migration from Rajasthan in northern India sometime around 1000 AD. With the possible exception of a principality in Corfu around 1360, they have never had a state. In parts of the Balkans, Roma were traded as slaves until the middle of the 19th century. Mirroring America's history at the same time, emancipation proved a necessary, but not a sufficient, condition for freedom. The Roma of Vizuresti went from being slaves to being landless peasants. Even now, seasonal agricultural labour of the most menial kind is the main source of income; that, and begging.
But a twist of history in the next century meant that Europe's Roma suffered even more than America's blacks. Hundreds of thousands perished in the Nazi Holocaust. Compensation has been stingy, belated and badly administered.
It would be even easier to blame the Roma's plight on communism. Certainly that system largely stamped out the Roma's traditional nomadism. Countries such as Czechoslovakia also practised forced sterilisation (though Sweden did that, too). But the paternalistic structures of state socialism to some extent sheltered, if usually in the most menial jobs, those unable or unwilling to compete in a market economy. And an ostensible commitment to the brotherhood of man restrained at least some racial prejudices. For the Roma, democracy unleashed their fellow-citizens' latent hostility, while capitalism offered them few prospects.
As eastern Europe prospered, the Roma fell further behind. Their surviving traditional skills (handicrafts, horsetrading) were out of date; they lacked the administrative skills to set up businesses in the formal economy; even those wanting to work found few factories or offices willing to employ them. And European Union membership has added a new bureaucratic burden even to the businesses in which they thrive. In Balteni, near Vizuresti, the local Gypsy chieftain or Bulibasha (at the age of 84 himself a Holocaust survivor) runs an immense informal scrapyard, where tractor-trailers, car shells drawn by horses and rickety lorries deliver precariously loaded piles of rusty metal to be sorted and then sold to a nearby metallurgy plant. A vast bonfire of copper cables fills the air with fumes as insulating material is burnt off. A ragged, shoeless workforce of all ages sorts the inventory by hand. There is not a safety notice, a glove or a visor in sight, and it is hard to imagine the business or its illiterate owner managing to cope with any kind of bureaucratic inspection.
The most conspicuous problem for the Roma is lack of education, which keeps them out of jobs. Others include hostility from the majority population, apathy in officialdom, dreadful public services and infrastructure, and a pervasive feeling of hopelessness. It is hardly surprising that many tens of thousands of Roma have moved west in search of a better life. But if they did not fit in well at home, they adjust even worse to life in western Europe. Begging on the street, for example, often with young children, scandalises the citizenry, as do Roma encampments in public spaces such as parks or road junctions. A delegation of top Finnish politicians visiting Romania this month publicly complained. “In Finland, begging is not a job,” the country's president, Tarja Halonen, told her hosts with Nordic hauteur. Maybe not, but for Roma it may be the only choice they have.
West Europeans also tend to believe that Roma migrants are responsible for an epidemic of pickpocketing, shoplifting, mugging—and worse. In Italy, public patience snapped earlier this year after reports of gruesome muggings, rapes and the alleged stealing of a baby. Such reports were not matched by any change in the crime statistics. But coupled with some incendiary statements by the incoming right-of-centre government, they were enough to provoke something close to an anti-Roma pogrom in May in Naples and other cities. Rioters burned Roma caravans and huts; the authorities followed up with arrests and deportations.
West European attitudes differ little in essence from those of the ex-communist bureaucrats in the east. They want the problem to go away. Emma Bonino, a feisty Italian politician and former EU commissioner, says that Roma make a “perfect scapegoat” for politicians who have failed to deal with Italy's other, graver problems. The authorities' response has been milder than their rhetoric suggests, she says, but she laments the lack of any programme to help the Roma integrate into Italian society. The biggest danger, in her view, is that politicians have made anti-Roma racism respectable for the first time: “When you go down that road, you will not stop it just by saying ‘Enough is enough’.”
That is not just a moral cop-out. It is also bad economics. Excluding an Ireland-sized group of millions of people from the labour market, particularly when they typically have much larger families than the average in fast-greying Europe, is a colossal waste of human potential. But those looking for encouraging signs have to hunt hard indeed.
Europe is supposedly in the middle of a “Decade of Roma Inclusion”, launched in 2005 when the governments of the countries with big Roma populations (Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia and Slovakia) agreed to close the gap in education, employment, health and housing. Fully €11 billion ($17 billion) is available from the EU's social fund, with a further €23 billion earmarked from the regional development fund in coming years.
Yet the main effect so far has been to create a well-paid elite of Roma lobbying outfits, fluent in bureaucratic jargon, adept at organising seminars and conferences and nobbling decision-makers. It has had little effect on the lives of the Roma themselves. As the Open Society Institute, funded by George Soros, a billionaire philanthropist, says in a recent report, most governments see the answer to the Roma problem in terms of “sporadic measures” rather than coherent policies. An official in Brussels says: “We don't lack the laws and we don't lack the money. The problem is political will.”
Unwillingly to school
Certainly a bit of willpower can work wonders. In Vizuresti, for example, only 6% of the children never go to school at all—a triumph by local standards. But it is still nothing to cheer about. “When the girls reach nine or ten they are ready to get married, and it is shameful for them to come to school,” explains a local, firmly adding that “marriage” in this sense means betrothal, not conjugality. “The boys don't come if they are busy helping their fathers to collect scrap,” he continues, “and the boys drop out at 15 because then they have completed the eighth grade, which you need to get a driving licence.”
In much of eastern Europe Roma children are packed off to special schools for “backward” children, reinforcing stigma and prejudice and guaranteeing that they enter the labour market with a third-class ticket. Another obstacle is the lack of birth certificates: schools that do not want Roma children can simply refuse to register those without official papers. But perhaps the biggest barriers are parental reluctance and poverty. Children in school can't work. They need expensive uniforms and books. It may even be embarrassing if they can read when their parents can't. So why bother?
A well-run country can try to spend large amounts of taxpayers' money on alleviating social problems. The results may be patchy, but at least in western Europe they have got somewhere. Spain, for example, is regarded as a big success story. Its Roma were marginalised and neglected under authoritarian rule; now a mixture of good policy and generous EU funding has brought widespread literacy, better housing and integration in the labour market. But the ex-communist countries have much weaker public administration, and neither politicians nor voters consider Gypsies a priority.
Vizuresti is doing better than most places. Thanks to a charismatic and impressive head teacher, Ion Nila, lack of documents is no barrier to registration at the village school. His teachers go door to door in the mornings, cajoling parents into sending their children to class. The real breakthrough, he says, will come if he can get Roma children to attend the nursery attached to the school. But, says Mr Nila, parents are reluctant to send their young children, as they don't have the money to buy them shoes. He hopes that hot midday meals will be an incentive, if he can find the money to pay for them.
So, at the top, billions of euros are being pumped in; while, at the bottom, a teacher struggles to find the tiny amount needed simply to feed his charges. Indeed, most of the progress in Vizuresti comes not from taxpayers' money, which soaks away into bureaucracy far from the village, but from the work of a charity, Ovidiu Rom, headed by a fiery American philanthropist, Leslie Hawke. The charity, not the state, has paid for and helped with IDs, teacher training, student workbooks and a special summer programme designed to prepare 20 of the poorest children and their often illiterate parents for what seems, to them, scary school life.
Bound only by music
So why is Europe floundering? The conventional answer is that the Roma's biggest problem is racism pure and simple. Enforcement of tough anti-discrimination laws, Roma-friendly curriculums in schools, cultural self-esteem, positive discrimination in both officialdom and private business are the necessary ingredients for change, say the politically correct.
But that is not the whole story. Even defining what “Roma” really means is exceptionally tricky. Europe has plenty of marginalised social groups, often with traditions of nomadism and their own languages: Irish Tinkers, for example, who speak Shelta. Their problems and history may in part be similar to the Roma's, but they are not the same. Even within the broad category of Roma (meaning those with some connection to the original migrants from Rajasthan) the subdivisions are complex. Some prefer not to use the word Roma at all, arguing that “Gypsy”, sometimes thought derogatory, is actually more inclusive. The impressive catalogue to the Roma Pavilion at the 2007 Venice Biennale insists that Roma is too narrow a term, excluding as it does “Sintis, Romunglo, Beas, Gitanes, Manus etc”. Even ethnographers find it hard to nail down the differences and similarities between such groups.
Moreover, those more narrowly defined as Roma have surprisingly little in common. The Roma tongue—originally related to Sanskrit—has splintered into dozens of mutually incomprehensible dialects. The sprinkling of internationally active Roma activists have developed their own version (sometimes derisively known as “NGO Roma”), but it bears little relationship to the creoles still spoken in the settlements. The strongest common culture is traditional Roma music, where it survives. But its haunting chords and rhythms do not conquer tone-deaf bureaucracies.
The boundaries between the marginalised groups and “normal” society are fluid. One reason that a Roma middle class, which supposedly would provide role models, lessen prejudice and increase social and economic mobility, has failed so far to take root is that most Roma who become middle-class drop the “Roma” label at once. Hopes for a change rest on the new generation of thousands of young Roma graduates, who may be less shy about their origins.
Similarly, those not born into the Roma world can end up there—by marriage, adoption or choice. In Balteni, a blonde girl, Roxana, shyly shows off a necklace of seven big gold coins given to her as a mark of impending puberty; not born a Roma, she was adopted from an orphanage into the family of a local patriarch. A Roma—which comes from the Romani word “Rom”, meaning husband—is, ultimately, anyone who wants that label.
Furthermore, as Zoltan Barany, author of a controversial but acute book on the Gypsies of eastern Europe, points out, Roma lobbyists tend not to notice that the Roma's own habits and attitudes may aggravate their plight. Speaking off the record, a westerner engaged in Roma welfare tells the story of an exceptionally talented teenage pupil at her country's top academy. She was bound for university and a stellar career, but her family decided that this was too risky: she was bride-snatched, taken to a remote village, raped and kept in seclusion. From there she was trafficked to western Europe, where she is now in a group of beggars camping out near one of Europe's best-known stadiums. Well-wishers tried to rescue her, offering a safe-house where she could continue her studies; she refused, frightened that her family would find her.
The result of that is what a senior official dealing with the issue calls “self-decapitation”. A handful of Roma politicians have emerged, including a couple of impressive members of the European Parliament. But even their symbolic value is limited. The vast majority of Roma do not even vote in elections, let alone join the campaigns waged on their behalf. There is no sign of a Roma Martin Luther King, let alone a Barack Obama. But, notes the official, “There are lots of angry young men.”
Amid all this, the EU is tottering forward. A report due to be issued next week will criticise the “implementation gap” in the worthy policies conceived so far. It will rebuke governments for slow progress. Controversially, it is likely to say that formal equality before the law is only a starting point, and that American-style positive discrimination will be needed.
That may prove a risky course. As in America, race and a history of slavery make a potent combination, entrenching stereotypes and attitudes on all sides. But also as in America, it is unclear how far the problem is race, and how far it is a matter of poverty and other factors. Stop treating Roma as a racial minority, Ms Hawke argues, and concentrate on the poor level of public services they receive in housing, health and particularly education.
Seeing the problem only through an ethnic lens is great news for the “Roma industry”, as the campaigning groups are sometimes derisively known. Their activities turn all too quickly into a theoretical, nit-picking discussion about politically correct language, complete with internecine feuds between different lobbies. It plays badly with voters, who already tend to blame the Roma for their own misfortunes. In most ex-communist countries, polls show striking degrees of prejudice: as many as 80% of those asked say they would not want Roma neighbours, for example. In Hungary, the commendable idea of integrating Roma and non-Roma children in the same schools has sent parents scurrying elsewhere.
But there are some shoots of hope. One is that the violence in Italy has highlighted the Roma issue in a way that would never have happened if the misery had remained concentrated in the slums and ghettos of eastern Europe. “Just as Putin has galvanised Europe on energy policy, Berlusconi has galvanised Europe on Roma policy,” says Andre Wilkens, a thoughtful Brussels-based observer of the region who heads the Open Society Institute's Roma efforts. He believes that the new member states of the EU have a chance to derive advantage from the Roma by finding an economic niche for them—for example, by turning their tradition of scrap-dealing into the basis for a modern recycling industry.
Such hopeful nibbles abound. But even an optimist would have to concede that Europe's biggest social problem will persist for the lifetime of anyone reading this article, and probably far longer.
Wikipedia 17 June 2008
|13 June 2008
Romanian used body's warmth to protect pair from Mount Rainier blizzard
SEATTLE - A Romanian hiker who lost his life high on Mount Rainier lay down in the snow and used his body's warmth to save his wife and a friend from the 70-mph winds of a freak June blizzard, national park officials say.
When it became obvious the trio of friends could not find their way back to base camp in whiteout conditions, they dug a snow trench with their hands. Then 31-year-old Eduard Burceag lay down on the snow and his wife and a friend lay on top of him. Later, when they begged him to switch places, Burceag refused, saying he was OK.
"In doing so, he probably saved their lives," park spokesman Kevin Bacher said Thursday.
Mariana Burceag, also 31, survived the storm, as did the couple's good friend, Daniel Vlad, 34. All three of the hikers were from Romania.
Kevin Hammonds, 28, who was the National Park Service ranger in charge of rescue operations on duty when the call came in at 3:30 a.m. Tuesday to the Camp Muir base camp, described the storm as the worst he had ever seen.
Hammonds and a fellow ranger, Joe Franklin, readied a search party to go at first light.
At about 5:30 a.m., Franklin was checking the horizon for any clues to the location of the missing hikers, who all lived in a suburb of Seattle.
He saw what looked like a boulder in an unusual spot on the snowfield, then took a closer look with binoculars and realized the shape was moving.
Hammonds grabbed two mountain guides who had stayed the night at Camp Muir, at the 10,000 foot level of the 14,410-foot mountain, and headed out toward Vlad. Walking through knee-deep, blowing snow, it took about 10 minutes to meet him halfway.
One of the guides helped Vlad back to Camp Muir after he directed Hammonds and Eben Reckord of International Mountain Guides toward Mariana and Eduard Burceag.
Mariana Burceag was conscious but not coherent, said Hammonds.
When they turned to check her husband, they found Eduard Burceag unconscious, and they couldn't find a pulse.
"The two of us had to make a decision that she needed our immediate attention," Hammonds said. They put a second down jacket on Mariana Burceag, put her in a sleeping bag and onto a sleeping pad, covered her with a small tent and started to drag the whole package toward Camp Muir.
They only got about 100 feet before realizing they needed more help. Four more guides answered their call with oxygen, another sleeping bag and a real sled. It took another hour for six people to get Mariana Burceag to shelter.
Then the rescuers turned around and went back for Eduard Burceag. Perhaps another hour passed before he made it to shelter; attempts to revive him were unsuccessful.
Hammonds said the three were experienced hikers—both Eduard Burceag and Vlad had summited Rainier in the past—and were dressed properly for a spring hike in warm winter jackets, wool hats and gloves and good boots.
Thick clouds prevented a helicopter evacuation later Tuesday. An Army chopper airlifted Mariana Burceag and Vlad from the peak Wednesday morning. They were treated for frostbite at a Seattle hospital and released. Eduard Burceag's body was brought down the mountain on a sled Wednesday afternoon.
'His children needed a lot of their mother'
Reached by telephone in Romania, Eduard Burceag's brother Cristian told The Seattle Times that his older brother moved to America eight years ago.
Eduard Burceag worked for Active
Voice, a Seattle-based company that specializes in helping companies
transition from voice mail to computer communications and messaging.
"I'm sure he would do that. He knew very well that his children needed a lot of their mother and that was the main thing in his life," he said.
Wikipedia 14 June 2008
|11 June 2008
by Lavinia Serban
The event is marked these days by special happenings organized both in Bucharest and Sinaia, events that will be attended by 14 European Royal families, and by outstanding representatives of the Romanian society.
After the event of last week which marked the return of King Mihai to Peles Castle after 60 years, the Royal family is now under the focus of attention. King Mihai and Queen Ana celebrated yesterday the diamond wedding, after joining their destinies sixty years ago at Tatoi in Greece.
Yesterday evening there was a concert at the Romanian Athenaeum, where the national orchestra of “George Enescu” Philharmonic played, in the presence of the Royal family and their guests, works of composers such as George Enescu, Franz Liszt, Edvard Grieg and Giuseppe Verdi. The volume “The Diamond Wedding” written by Princess Margareta and Prince Radu will be launched tomorrow, at 11.00 h., at the National Museum of History, a book described by the authors as “a story with pictures, in which the present day people watch events full of love, beauty, hope and pride.” Besides these events, opened to the media and to the public, three other private occurrences take place in Bucharest and Sinaia. The persons close to the Royal family will rally today at Sinaia, for an outdoor party organized at Peles Castle.
The concert from the Romanian Athenaeum and the other events organized on the occasion of the “Diamond wedding” will be attended by around 1,000 persons, members of 14 European royal families, among whom Queen Sofia of Spain, King Simeon II and Queen Margarita of the Bulgarians, King Constantin II and Queen Ana-Maria of the Hellenes, Prince Lorenz of Belgium, Prince Alexandru II and Princess Ecaterina of Serbia, Archduke Karl of Austria, the Duke of Braganza (Portugal), Duke Amedeo and Duchess Silvia of Savoia-Aosta (Italy), Prince Philip and Princess Annette of Bourbon-Parma, who will come to Bucharest to share the joy of this anniversary with King Mihai and Queen Ana.
The foreign guests will be joined by members of the Government and Parliament of Romania, representatives of the Orthodox Church and Romanian Academy, an important number of representatives of the Diplomatic Corps accredited to Bucharest, starting with the Papal Nuncio, personalities of the Romanian art and culture, of the business and media circles, a press release of the Royal House reads.
Destinies United for Six Decades
The King and the Queen met in London, in 1947, the year when Mihai I was forced to abdicate. The two met on the occasion of the marriage of Prince Elisabeth II of Great Britain with Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, King Mihai proposing to Princess Ana of Bourbon Parma only one week after he had met her. After the event from Great Britain, the King returned to Romania, in spite of the political pressures made at home, because many statesmen would have liked King Mihai to remain in exile. But, soon, on December 30, 1947, he was obliged to abdicate, on the grounds that if he does not sign the act through which he renounces the Throne, 1,000 young persons arrested by the communists were to be executed.
Consequently, the wedding of King Mihai and Queen Ana, which took place on June 10, 1948, at Tatoi, in Greece, marked also the debut of an exile of 44 years. For this reason, Queen Ana stepped on the Romanian soil hardly in 1992, on Easter. The happiness of the wedding was also shadowed by the refusal of Pope Pius XII to acknowledge the wedding, which rendered Queen Ana, who was a Roman-Catholic, very sad. Loyal to his country, King Mihai continued the tradition begun by King Carol I that says that all the members of the Royal Family of Romania had to be christened in the Orthodox religion. Consequently, Queen Ana was excommunicated from the Roman-Catholic Church until the pontificate of Pope John XXIII, and not any of her close relatives attended the wedding. All the descendants of King Mihai belong to the Orthodox Church. The wedding from June 1948 was attended, among others, by the Queen-Mother Elena of Romania, Prince Erik of Denmark, uncle of Queen Ana, and relatives from the families of Hanover and Hesse. Queen Sofia of Spain and King Constantin of the Hellenes, present these days in Romania to mark the diamond wedding, were, 60 years ago, pages at the wedding of the King and Queen, in Athens.The Royal pair has five daughters: the Princesses Margareta, Elena, Irina, Sofia and Maria. King Mihai, accompanied by the whole Royal family, has returned officially to Peles Castle five days ago, after an absence of 60 years.
|9 June 2008
Foto: Monarhia Romana
Romania's King Michael and Queen Ana celebrate on June 10 sixty years of marriage. This unique moment will be marked by a series of events at the Elisabeta Palace, at the Romanian Athenee and the Palace Hilton Hotel in Bucharest and the Peles Castle in Sinaia. The two will celebrate with the family, members of European Royal houses and friends from the country and abroad.
On this occasion, the royal familly will organize two public events. Tuesday, June 10, at Ateneul Roman in downtown Bucharest, an extraordinary concert will be held, followed by a cocktail. Another event, on June 12 at the National Museum History when the volume The Diamond Wedding will be launched, written by Princess Margareta and Prince Radu.
Apart from the public event, other three private ones will be organized attended by some 14 representatives of the European Royal houses, among which Her Majesty Queen Sofia of Spain, King Simeon II and Queen Margaret of Bulgaria, King Constantin II and Queen Ana Maria of Greece and others, a press release of the Royal House informs.
Wikipedia 9 June 2008
Wikipedia 7 June 2008
|6 June 2008
by Mihai Barbu
‘Romania is repairing history and its identity’, the monarch said.
After 60 years, King Mihai I, accompanied by Queen Ana, Princess Margareta and Prince Radu, returned to the Sinaia royal domain, following a government decision last year to give back Peles Castle and the surrounding domain to the royal family. In the main hall of the castle, King Mihai praised the Cabinet’s decision, saying it is an act of repairing Romania’s history and identity.
“We are hoping that my return to Peles and Sinaia, the historic seat of the royal family, will be the beginning of total respect for private property, dignity, democracy and freedom by Romanian society’s institutions,” said the monarch.
He added that the gates of Peles Castle will remain open to Romanians for ever, as they always were since 1914, only that from now on, “Romanians will find here not only rooms filled with valuable items, but also living people, a family giving meaning to the Romanian state.” “For 142 years, the value of monarchy has remained above political alternatives or governing systems. It guarantees pride, identity, continuity and traditions. Peles is a symbol of our country’s independence and power,” said King Mihai.
After the speech, the royal family got out on the castle’s balcony to salute to hundreds of people present for the event. At the kings’ salute, the crowd answered with cheers and pro-monarchy slogans.
The event was attended by hundreds of monarchists or supporters of the king, but also by various diplomats in Romania (from Russia, Canada, Turkey, Slovenia and others), historians Nicolae Serban Tanasoca, Dan Berindei, Filip Iorga and Adrian Cioroianu (former Foreign Minister), director Cristian Mungiu, the president of the Romanian Academy, Ionel Haiduc, Sinaia Mayor Vlad Oprea and Brasov Prefect Adriana Dontu.
At noon yesterday, the king was offered the town’s key, in a ceremony at the Sinaia mayor’s office. The events in Sinaia come a few days ahead of the celebration of the royal family’s diamond wedding on June 10. In honour of the event, the royal family will host a concert at the Romanian Athenaeum.
Mihai I was forced to abdicate in 1947. All the properties of the royal family were seized by the communist ruling and Peles became a state museum in 1953. In 2001, the Romanian state offered the King EUR 30 M in exchange for the castle, but the project was attacked as unconstitutional. In 2006, the royal family won back the castle in court. The King was given back the domain, on condition he will keep Peles as a museum for the next three years. King Mihai decided to keep the castle as a museum forever and instead use neighbouring Pelisor Castle as the royal family’s residence.
Wikipedia 6 June 2008
|4 June 2008
by George Grigoriu
Rare and surprising works, such as “Memories of Sologne” by Corot and “The Edge of the Forest” by Theodore Rousseau are displayed.
The temporary exhibition entitled “Grigorescu and the Painter-Etchers of Barbizon” will be opened until the end of November 2008 at the European Art Gallery, in the halls of the Romanian National Art Museum, dedicated to graphic art exhibitions, Hotnews informs. The exhibition features 50 works: eight drawings by Grigorescu and 42 etchings made by the most valuable French artists of the Barbizon School, whose creation highly influenced the Romanian artist.
The exhibition wishes to highlight the fact that the painters of the Barbizon School were also famous etchers – as their work represented the initial stage of the ulterior Impressionist Etching), and also to underline similarities and compatibilities of these artists with Grigorescu. The French artists’ creations represent an intermediary stage to the drawings of the Romanian painter. The exhibition includes etchings, lithography works and negatives on glass, created by the greatest personalities of the Barbizon School, such as Corot, Daubigny, Decamps, Diaz de la Pena, Francais, Huet, Jacque, Millet and Rousseau, and also rare and surprising works, such as “Memories of Sologne” by Corot and “The Edge of the Forest” by Theodore Rousseau. Grigorescu moves to Barbizon at the end of the prolific period of the School (1862), when the painters had already achieved a status, and the authorities had started acknowledging their qualities and purchasing their works. With the enthusiasm of youth, the painter learned from each of them and accomplished the leading objective: reproducing nature as loyally and authentically as possible. Rediscovering the beauty of nature and acute sense of capturing reality gradually turned young Grigorescu into a master of Impressionist drawing. The works presented in the exhibition were selected from a rich patrimony of Grigorescu drawings and French etchings from the collections owned by the Romanian National Art Museum. Most of the works by French artists were purchased by Dr. Ion Cantacuzino (1863-1934) in Paris, during a long period, since the beginning of his studies and until the First World War.
This is the eleventh exhibition organized by the Drawings and Etchings Department of the Romanian National Art Museum, and is part of a cycle dedicated to graphic techniques, the press release of the museum announces.
Wikipedia 3 June 2008
Did you know...
Wikipedia 1 June 2008
|28 May 2008
Radio Romania International
Launched at the Romanian Cultural Institute in Bucharest, the project is an effort to reconstruct the history of the Romanian gulag. Arrested by the communist political police in the late '40s, while a high school student, the former Christian-Democratic MP and member of the Senate Committee for the investigation of abuse and corruption, Constantin Ticu Dumitrescu, is the president of the Association of Former Political Prisoners and initiator of the Lustration Act- the law that was supposed to ban former communist dignitaries from power.
The first part of the series, titled “Recourse to Memory” and written between 1979 and 1981, when Ticu Dumitrescu was running a small forestry site in Vrancea mountains, Eastern Romania, includes the actual memoirs. The other two volumes, entitled “Recourse to Documents,” include statements, transcripts and reports on the interrogations he was subject to. Dumitrescu presents here information on the operation of the communist repressive apparatus, the Securitate in particular. Unlike other authors that have approached similar topics, Ticu Dumitrescu had an opportunity to study the Securitate archives within the CNSAS, which contributed to the exposure of hundreds of people who collaborated with Securitate or were involved in political policing, and at the Justice Ministry, where he obtained copies of important documents.
Attending the event, President Traian Basescu, who in December 2006 officially denounced communism as criminal and illegitimate, resumed his criticism of former communist party leaders who are still present in today's political arena. He stated that, while he would never go as far as to claim that he was a dissenter, he would nonetheless struggle to have “the truth on communism brought to light.” Ticu Dumitrescu decided to publish these memoirs, which he felt was a “moral duty,” after having survived persecution in communist prisons, so that his experience may help the generations to come. They are only one page in a large-scale trial of communism, added to other works that look at the crimes of the former regime. During thousands of days of incarceration and investigation, Ticu Dumitrescu never lost heart. This earned him, quote, “the most paradoxical title of nobility in the history of mankind:” that of political prisoner. It cost many people their lives. Those who received this title didn't seek it, and those who offered it didn't realise it was ennobling.
|26 May 2008
Radio Romania International
This year's Palme D'Or for best short film went to the Romanian director Marian Crisan, for Megatron. This is the second time in a row that Romania wins the much-coveted award, after the achievement last year, when Cristian Mungiu won the Palme D'Or for best film. “This trophy is a new victory for the Romanian cinema industry and a proof of confidence in the new generation of filmmakers,” said Marian Crisan. He tells us more about the story of the film, whose name is inspired by a popular toy:
“In short, a mother and her child go to McDonald's to celebrate the boy's birthday, and the only problem is that this McDonald's restaurant is 40 km away. The film is the story of their trip to this place. It is inspired by a real-life event, a story I heard, which took place in a small town in Bihor, my native region. The story has stuck to my mind and I meant to write a screenplay that reconstructs this trip. A trip that may seem pretty odd to many of us.”
Although his film won the Palme D'Or, Marian Crisan believes short film, as a genre, has a rather small audience. Its only chance to reach the public is the participation in festivals or cinema clubs. The cast of Megatron includes Gabriela Crisu and Maxim Adrian Strinu, both at their first role on the big screen. But Megatron, the winner of the Palme D'Or for best short film, was not the only Romanian production screened in this year's Cannes Festival. Boogie, the third long film by Radu Muntean, was screened in the Quinzaine des realisateurs section, while Ciprian Alexandrescu’s short film Interior. Block of Flats Hallway ran in Cinefondation, a workshop dedicated to new filmmakers.
Moreover, the Romanian-born actress Alexandra Maria Lara, a lead actress in Der Untergang, sat in the Festival's official competition jury. The winner of last year's Palme D'Or, Cristian Mungiu, also took part in the prestigious event. Recently named a Commander in the Order of the Arts and Letters by the French Government, Mungiu hosted a meeting of European Union Culture Ministers and filmmakers in Cannes. The Association Promoting the Romanian Film Industry organised a pavilion in Cannes, with a view to offer as much information as possible on the Romanian film industry.
|21 May 2008
Radio Romania International
Awaited for some time, the announcement that the Ukrainian authorities pledge to halt works on the by now infamous Bistroe canal in the Danube Delta, reached Bucharest on Tuesday.
The person who made the announcement was the secretary general of the Espoo Convention, Wiek Schrage, who took advantage of a meeting in Romania’s capital focused on the environment in a cross-border context to make a Ukrainian official promise that his country would not start works on the second stage of the canal until it meets its international obligations.
A persevering but still not a very convincing candidate to entering the European Union and NATO, Ukraine risks drowning its ambitions of international respectability in the Bistroe canal. This deep-water route going across the Danube Delta nature reserve, on the Romanian-Ukrainian border, was advertised in Kiev as a successful endeavor that will eliminate the quasi-Romanian monopoly on river transport in the area and will secure significant financial benefits. Initiated by the former president Leonid Kuchma, the project was inherited, after the so-called “orange revolution” by the Victor Yushchenko - Yulia Tymoshenko tandem.
Both Kushma’s and Yushchenko’s regimes turned a deaf ear to the warnings and protests of the international community over the harmful consequences on the Delta, a unique area included on the UNESCO heritage list and stretching mostly on Romanian territory. Bucharest was first to warn that the Ukrainian project could upset the ecological balance irreversibly. The Danube Delta is home to 1,000 species of plants, 300 species of birds, including Europe’s largest colony of pelicans, as well as species of sturgeon facing extinction.
The conclusion of experts from the United Nations, the European Union and the United States, not to mention international environmental organisations, was clear: the canal can destroy the habitat of migrating birds and fish, while the alteration of the river bed can lead to the accumulation of sediments where the river flows into the Black Sea. In the beginning, the Ukrainian authorities tried to strike back running an ad campaign which describes the canal as the “marriage of economy and ecology”.
But Ukraine failed to convince even its own citizens of this is, and many Ukrainian environmental organisations called for the closing down of the canal and for independent studies on its impact on the Delta. Ukraine only recently agreed to do it, when, analysts say, it seems to have understood not only the political, but also the financial cost of its ambitions. The need for expensive dredging works, due to silting, would basically double Ukraine’s costs.
Wikipedia 16 May 2008
|13 May 2008
Romanian deputies approved on Tuesday a draft law which bans fast food products to be sold in schools. Thus, all products with a supplementary fat content, sweeteners and food additives will be forbidden. The law was initiated by parliamentarians from all political parties and was adopted with 183 votes in favor and three abstentions.
The main argument behind the proposal was to prevent children from obesity, diabetes and other disease caused by fast food products. The initiative rules out all food products that contain supplementary fat content, sweeteners and food additives.
According to the bill, menus served in schools will be approved by nutrition specialists authorized by the Health Ministry. Thus, they will set up a list with allowed food products which will be distributed in schools across the country.
|9 May 2008
Radio Romania International
May 9th has a three-fold significance for Romanians. In chronological order, May 9th 1877 is the day when Romania declared its independence from the Ottoman Empire. Then, May 9th 1945 was the end of World War 2, in which hundreds of thousands of Romanian soldiers died in the line of duty. But the most recent celebration is Europe Day, which gained special importance after January 1st, 2007, when Romania joined the European Union. Europe Day was chosen by the EU leaders in Milan in 1985. Along with the Euro currency and the anthem, 9th of May is one of the symbols of the European Union.
We should note that the EU was established in a post-war European context marked by the beginning of the Cold War. The key issue facing the continent in the 1950s was how to avoid the errors of the past and pave the way for long-term peace between nations that had long been in conflict. This is how the European project was born, with Jean Monnet and Robert Schumann as its architects. The idea of a European Union based on a community of peaceful interests was therefore the foundation for the cooperation of old-time enemies (France, England, Germany) which put the bitterness of the war and the burden of the past behind them. The novelty of bringing individuals and nations together through a shared objective prompted an entirely new process in international relations: the joint exercise of sovereignty in a number of fields.
Europe thus became the continent which established the world's first economic region – a project that has developed over time. While in the beginning the key objective of the EU was peaceful cooperation, today it pursues a different goal: to build a Europe which respects the freedom and identity of its nations. As part of the 27-member family, Romania plays an active role in upholding the institutional development laid down in the new European constitution, an idea also emphasised by President of Romania Traian Basescu at the May 9th reception in Bucharest:
“The Union is a work in progress, there is still a lot to discover and a lot to do. You have an opportunity to contribute to the growth and development of this project.”
Europe Day is celebrated in Romania with military, religious and cultural events. One of these is EuropaFest, which this year brings together 300 musicians from Europe and other continents to Bucharest. Abroad, 48 Romanian diplomatic missions host cultural and public diplomacy events occasioned by Europe Day.
|30 April 2008
by Mihai Iordanescu
As a synthetic space between the West and the East, Romania has laid this specific mark also on the significance of the 1st of May. First, for the Romanians, May 1st was an ancient spring ritual. The cosmic Christianity, specific for the rural populations from Eastern Europe, associated the significance of the defeat of the evil, of sin with the beginning of the month of flowers (May is also called “Florar” from “flower” in Romanian). Therefore, on May 1st, the Romanians, together with relatives and friends went out for a picnic in order to benefit from the renaissance of the substance.
It is precisely the persistence of this folk ritual which explains the fact that the first socio-political celebration of the day of Mai 1st took place in Romania on 1890.
Thus, only one year after the Congress of the Socialist International decreed in 1889 the day of May 1st as the International Day of Labour, in the memory of the victims of the general strike from Chicago from 1886, but also to honour the hundreds of thousands of demonstrators who protested at that time on the whole territory of Romania for the right to the working day of eight hours, without having their salary cut.
The folk ritual recalled above is associated also with another favouring factor for the consecration of May 1st as a celebration. This time, it is a factor of social psychology. Exactly because of their vocation for synthesis, the Romanians have always nourished a special sort of nostalgia of the West. Their generalized belief, that “we come from Ram (Rome – editor’s note),” marked by their generic name of Romanians (the Latin romanus > Romanian), has rendered them sensitive to the western influences, with all the virtues and servitudes of this state of mind, visible also today.
This local state of mind has varied also subject to the cultural condition, and then to the political one of the factors of action from Romania. Therefore, the beginnings of the socialist movement from Romania were under the influence of some intellectual circles, which have focused on the general study of the Romanian society and on the humanitarian calls, to respect the human rights. The “Human rights” was also the title of a Romanian magazine which appeared by the end of the 19th century, the end of a century which finally marks the shift from the general-human request to the claim through social protest, concurrently with the creation in 1893 of the Social-Democrat Party of the Workers from Romania. The day of May 1st becomes in this way also a symbol of the class straggle from Romania, with its virtues and servitudes.
It is the multiplicity of these contradictory aspects which explains the fact that other political formations from the interwar Romania, apart from the socialist, social-democrat and communist ones, begin to relate themselves to the significance of the day of May 1st which became the International Labour Day. Initially, the fact itself had a positive meaning, as the premise of a more extensive national solidarity going beyond the limits of the class struggle. Unfortunately, in that stage, Romania was marked by outstanding contradictions which have permanently deepened, especially because of the outdated agrarian estates and the trans-national monopolies whose actions contradicted significantly the Liberal slogan of the “development through ourselves,” definitely necessary for Romania, reunited on December 1, 1918. Moreover, the rupture, especially cultural, between the urban and rural environments, continued to confer to May 1st also other contradictory significances. Thus, after WW II, in Romania like in the other countries of the socialist-communist block, the workers movements received a radical anti- capitalist meaning.
May 1st becomes in this way a state celebration, with vast military parades, with workers, peasants, sports, pioneers (the children between the ages of 9 and 14 - the author’s note) festive demonstrations. The old vindicative character is converted into a propagandistic one with an equally contradictory content. On the occasion of the events organized on May 1st, the imperialist capitalism, in search of new wars, was accused on the one hand, while on another hand vast projects of national development were launched. The day of May 1st became in this way the symbol of the contradiction between negative and positive, between programmatic and artificial. All these have turned the day of May 1st from an ideal into contradictory and anachronic reality.
This explains the fact that after the fall of communism the day of May 1st was nostalgically invoked and evoked, and at the same time accused and challenged in a reversal of the class struggle. As a natural reaction to this political hotchpotch, the significance of May 1st returns to its ancestral data, of an increasingly obvious folk ritual. Go out in groups to the fields, for a barbecue with the traditional sausage shaped minced meat and the bottles of beer and wine, for the reconciled celebration with all those that you meet.
Wherefrom it is obvious that history obeys a destiny as a reflex of the cosmic balance.
|24 April 2008
by Vladimir Tismaneanu
Radio Free Europe
(Monica Lovinescu, a Paris-based literary critic and journalist who
encouraged intellectual resistance to Romania's communist regime
from the microphone of Radio Free Europe from 1964-92, passed away
on April 21 at the age of 85.
Monica Lovinescu matters because she was one of the most important voices of the Eastern and Central European antitotalitarian thought. Her passing away is a major loss for all the friends of an open society. My personal indebtedness to her—like that of many Romanian intellectuals—is immense. As a member of the Presidential Commission for the Analysis of the Communist Dictatorship in Romania (which I chaired), Lovinescu participated, even during the most painful moments of physical suffering, in the condemnation of communist totalitarianism. Her solidarity was unswerving, both morally and intellectually.
Lovinescu's crucial impact on Romania's culture is inextricably linked to her major role as a cultural commentator for Radio Free Europe (RFE). There is no exaggeration in saying that no other RFE broadcast was more execrated, abhorred, and feared by Ceausescu and the communist nomenklatura than those undertaken by Lovinescu and her husband, Virgil Ierunca.
For decades, Lovinescu fought against terrorist collectivisms, the regimentation of the mind, and moral capitulation. Her patriotism was enlightened and generous. Thanks to her, Romanian intellectuals were able to internalize the great messages from the writings of Camus, Arendt, Kolakowski, Orwell, Solzhenitsyn, Koestler, Cioran, Milosz, Revel, Aron, and the list is fatally too short. A spirit totally dedicated to modernity, open to the crucial polemics of the 20th century, Lovinescu wrote poignant essays on the what American critic Lionel Trilling called "the bloody crossroads, where literature and politics meet."
For years, her outspoken positions in defense of dissident writers and moral resistance to totalitarianism provoked the ire of the party hacks and their Securitate associates. Starting in 1967 and continuing today, publications associated with the most vicious, ultranationalist, and anti-Semitic circles among Romania's Stalinists have targeted Monica Lovinescu. On several occasions, in the 1970s-80s, attempts were made on her life.
For Ceausescu and his sycophants (many of whom are still thriving in the Social Democratic and Romania Mare parties), Lovinescu symbolizes all they love to hate: pluralism, tolerance, hostility to xenophobia, compassion for victims of both totalitarianisms (fascist and communist), and a commitment to what we can call an "ethics of forgetlessness." On the other hand, democratic intellectuals (Gabriel Liiceanu, Andrei Plesu, N. Manolescu, H.R. Patapievici, Andrei Cornea, Dorin Tudoran, Cristian Teodorescu, Sorin Alexandrescu, Mircea Mihaies, Alina Mungiu-Pippidi, to name just a few) learned from her that "memory is indispensable to freedom."
Lovinescu matters because she knew how to maintain the unity between ethics and aesthetics. In 1963, she wrote: "We live in an age in which impostures abound. They should not conceal however the other voices—those of the victims." Her RFE broadcasts were precisely an antidote to the official mendacity, a voice of truth speaking for those condemned to silence.
Especially during the watershed year 1968, Lovinescu paid close attention to the ideological crisis of world communism and the importance of disenchantment among ex-Marxist intellectuals. At a historical juncture when Ceausescu masqueraded as a de-Stalinizer, Lovinescu exposed the tyrant's imposture and appealed to Romanian writers to emulate the ethical audacity of Czech and Slovak intellectuals such as Ludvik Vaculik, Vaclav Havel, Ivan Svitak, Ladislav Mnacko, Eduard Goldstuecker, Antonin Liehm, Pavel Kohout, and Ivan Klima. Thanks to Radio Free Europe and to Monica Lovinescu, Romanians had direct access to the iconoclastic pages of "Literarny listy."
At a time when many thought disparagingly about anything smacking of neo-Marxism, Lovinescu and her husband Ierunca highlighted the significance of revisionism for the destruction of communist pseudo-legitimacy. She wrote extensively about the importance of apostasy, which she described as the "voie royale" toward the awakening from what Immanuel Kant coined "the dogmatic sleep." Furthermore, while emphasizing the need for Romanian culture to avoid autarky, she proposed remarkable guidelines that decisively influenced the intellectual cannon in the country.
Lovinescu's writings have come out after 1990 from the prestigious publishing house Humanitas. A few weeks before her passing away, I reread her essays from 1968. They strike me as extraordinarily timely, insightful, and prescient. She understood before many others that communism was irretrievably sick, and she insisted on the role of intellectuals in the insurrectionary saga of Eastern Europe's opposition to Sovietism.
After 1990, Lovinescu and Ierunca saw many of their predictions (including the dire ones) come true. The legacies of national-Stalinism continue to haunt Romania's fragile pluralism. The lackeys of the ancien regime made it politically and financially. Dissidents were exhausted, marginalized, slandered.
Things changed, however, after 1996 and especially after 2004. The initiation by Traian Basescu of the Presidential Commission unleashed a national conversation along the lines of historical truth and moral justice. Immediately after President Basescu's condemnation of the communist regime as illegitimate and criminal, on December 18, 2006, I called from Bucharest and told Monica Lovinescu what happened. I mentioned the hysterical sabotaging of the president's speech by Romania Mare leader, and former Ceausescu bootlicker, Corneliu Vadim Tudor. Her answer was short and encapsulated the meaning of an exemplary intellectual and moral itinerary: "The noise doesn't matter. Truth was said. We won!"
Vladimir Tismaneanu is professor of politics at the University of Maryland, chair of the Presidential Advisory Commission for the Analysis of the Communist Dictatorship in Romania, and author of numerous books including "Stalinism For All Seasons: A Political History Of Romanian Communism" [University of California Press]. Since 1983, he has been a regular contributor to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
|23 April 2008
by A. O. Scott
New York Times
Beware the Road of Good Intentions
The plot of “Stuff and Dough” is, at least at first glance, as plain and straightforward as the movie’s title. A young man named Ovidiu (Alexandru Papadopol) is hired by a smooth, shady businessman to drive a mysterious package—that would be the stuff—from the Romanian coastal city of Constanta to the capital, Bucharest. The dough he’ll earn for performing this simple task will help his parents, who run an informal convenience store out of their apartment, move their business into a proper kiosk. Ovidiu has his best buddy, Vali (Dragos Bucur), for company. What could go wrong?
A few things will, of course: a late start; the unexpected presence of Vali’s girlfriend, Bety (Ioana Flora); and, once they’re on the highway, a red vehicle in threatening pursuit. The director, Cristi Puiu, who wrote the screenplay with Razvan Radulescu, almost casually assembles the elements of a stripped-down highway thriller, a throwback to American gear-grinders of the 1960s and ’70s like “Two-Lane Blacktop” or “The Duel.”
But though it is suspenseful, unnerving and agile in its techniques, “Stuff and Dough” has more than speed and danger on its mind. Mr. Puiu’s second feature, “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu,” winner of the Prix un Certain Regard at Cannes in 2005, introduced many European and American critics to a new kind of tough, socially critical realist cinema blossoming in Romania. “Stuff and Dough,” a 2002 film belatedly crossing the ocean in the wake of “Lazarescu,” is more modest in scope but no less impressive in its self-confidence, its candor and its stringent, undogmatic contemporary relevance.
Mr. Puiu is not inclined to state themes or draw out lessons. He is, instead, a relentless observer of the smallest, most banal details of human behavior. By keeping his camera in the car with Bety, Vali and Ovidiu, he draws nuances of character out of their boredom and impatience. He also sticks to Ovidiu’s perspective, never giving the audience more information about what is going on than the young man himself possesses. The result is that we share in his innocence even as we become aware of his carelessness, and also of the perils inherent in his mixture of sloppiness and naïveté.
Like Dante Lazarescu, the unsympathetic old drunk whose passing became a fable of routine inhumanity and unexpected compassion, Ovidiu is, in spite of himself, something of a representative figure, a nice kid forced to navigate between corruption and victimhood. The title of “Stuff and Dough” offers a blunt summary of human aspirations in an economy where free enterprise can be hard to distinguish from crime. At the start Ovidiu feels lucky, free and in control of his future. He’ll help his parents, impress a powerful local citizen and spend a day out on the highway with his friends. Really, though, he has wandered into a trap that closes around him gradually and quietly.
The brilliance of “Stuff and Dough” is that it wraps this powerful, disturbing drama in an anecdote from ordinary life. As is often the case in recent Romanian movies, the acting is so accomplished as to be invisible. There is no showy emotion, no elaborate expressions of interior states. We just see people responding to circumstances that grow increasingly tense and confusing. Only afterward do we marvel at the complication of the story and the clarity with which it has been told.
STUFF AND DOUGH
Opens on Wednesday in Manhattan.
Directed by Cristi Puiu; written (in Romanian, with English subtitles) by Mr. Puiu and Razvan Radulescu; director of photography, Silviu Stavila; music by Andreea Paduraru; produced by Cornel Carjan; released by Mitropoulos Films. At Film Forum, 209 West Houston Street, west of Avenue of the Americas, South Village. Running time: 1 hour 31 minutes. This film is not rated.
WITH: Alexandru Papadopol (Ovidiu), Dragos Bucur (Vali), Ioana Flora (Bety), Luminita Gheorghiu (the Mother), Razvan Vasilescu (Marcel Ivanov) and Doru Ana (Doncea).
MORE ABOUT THIS MOVIE
Wikipedia 23 April 2008
|22 April 2008
by George Grigoriu
The well-known literary critic was, during the communist regime, one of the most prominent voices to be heard on Radio free Europe against dictatorship.
Romanian culture is in mourning again. Literary critic Monica Lovinescu died at the Charles Richet Hospital of Val d’Oise, 15 km from Paris, at the age of 85, at 00h30 on Sunday night. The death of Monica Lovinescu brings back to memory not only the famous ‘Theses and Antitheses’ that were being born by Radio Free Europe’s waves to a Romania that was longing for its freedom, but also her art of writing best described as a plea for truth.
Monica Lovinescu was a journalist, literary critic and acclaimed radio commentator. She was the daughter of critic Eugen Lovinescu. Monica Lovinescu was born on the 19th of November 1923. She started her elementary education in private and was afterwards enrolled to the Notre Dame de Sion secondary school where she took her baccalaureate as well, in 1942. She studied at the Bucharest University Faculty of Letters from where she obtained her degree in 1946. In 1947, she left to Paris on a scholarship offered by the French Government. In the first days of 1948, she sought political asylum to France. She began by participating in various youth literary circles and by directing avant-garde plays. Then, the situation in the country captured her entire attention. On the 18th of November 1977, Monica Lovinescu was assaulted by Palestinian hit men hired by the former Securitate, by Nicolae Ceausescu’s order, and she was taken to hospital in critical condition. Having recovered, she resumed the work she understood to be her true mission with equilibrium and in full awareness. Monica Lovinescu’s husband, Virgil Ierunca, who died in Paris, in September 2006, was one of the outstanding Romanian intellectuals in exile, one of the most familiar voices of Radio Free Europe under communism.
The two protagonists of the Romanian opposition critique established to Paris, for several decades, operated an unquestionable forging influence on the spirit of the Romanian intellectual community in point of education, taste, judgement and attitudes that massively counterbalanced the official propaganda and contributed to the dissipation of the various faces of horror. The Minister of Culture and Religious Affairs, Adrian Iorgulescu, is of the opinion that Monica Lovinescu’s ‘unmistakable’ voice on the wave-lengths of Radio Free Europe was the synonym of hope for ‘the prisoners of the Ceausescu regime’.
‘During the Great and Holy Week
we have been given this painful piece of news that Mrs. Monica
Lovinescu has passed away. For half a century, Monica Lovinescu’s
unmistakable voice, brought by the wave lengths of Radio Free Europe
to our homes was to us, the prisoners of the Ceausescu regime, the
synonym of hope. It was from Monica Lovinescu that we have learnt
the most important lesson of human dignity. The
|21 April 2008
New York Times
TIRASPOL, Moldova (Reuters) - When the president of Moldova sat down with the leader of the separatist Transdniestria region, many hoped for a breakthrough in one of the former Soviet Union's seemingly endless "frozen conflicts."
The March 11 meeting was, after all, their first since 2001.
Both sides say the talks went well in a town on the edge of Transdniestria, a sliver of land abutting Ukraine.
Reality has since taken hold in Moldova, Europe's poorest country according to statistics. Entrenched positions 16 years after Russian troops ended a war suggest progress will be slow.
Some things have, however, clearly changed.
Moldova has improved poor relations with Moscow—which has long backed the separatists. And Russia appears to be pressing for a solution—officials say it was a call from Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov that kickstarted the talks.
Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin, the only Communist leader in an ex-Soviet state, offers "the broadest possible autonomy" to Russian-speaking Transdniestria—which enjoys no international recognition.
Igor Smirnov, self-styled president of Transdniestria, says he will settle only for independence. Other officials say Moldova should become a federation to put the region on a footing like Canada's province of Quebec or Spain's Catalonia.
"If Moldova were like Switzerland, we would join it tomorrow as a canton. But we have next to us a communist regime which does not want change," Valery Litskay, Trasndniestria's flamboyant "foreign minister," said in his wood-paneled office.
"Having the broadest possible autonomy is akin to being the world's biggest frog, which cannot be equal to an elephant. Even a one-tonne frog is still no elephant."
Moldovan Reintegration Minister Vasilii Sova, Litskay's more staid counterpart in talks, sounds more hopeful in public.
"Whatever you may feel, there is reality," he said. "We believe that building on the achievements of the past two years will produce a rapprochement and allow for a settlement."
Reporters grasping at any suggestion of progress saw Litskay chatting with Sova during a stroll in a Chisinau park last week. Officials said a meeting of a group of officials also went well.
Transdniestria's Slavs declared independence in 1990 in Soviet times on fears that majority Romanian-speakers might make Moldova part of Romania, as it was before World War Two.
That never happened. But since the war, Transdniestria has acted as an independent state, with 1,200 Russian troops staying to uphold the peace and guard 20,000 tonnes of munitions.
Referendums have produced votes over 90 percent in favor of independence and, however improbably, joining faraway Russia one day. The West rejects the votes as irrelevant and undemocratic.
The dispute—in the heart of central Europe—has proven as intractable as post-Soviet "frozen conflicts" between Georgia and Russian-backed separatists in South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
But a Western diplomat said Russia had altered its tactics in Transdniestria for strategic reasons. A diplomatic success in Moldova, with participants urged on by Russia, would contrast sharply with an impasse in attempts at a settlement in Serbia's Kosovo province, whose independence was underpinned by the West.
Tiraspol, Transdniestria's regional "capital," sports crumbling Soviet-era apartment buildings, dotted with small shops, the odd modern restaurant or bank and a lively market.
Poverty and disillusion are widespread. Young people clamor for passports issued by relatively affluent Russia or Ukraine and many dream of heading off for better pay and prospects.
Denis Lukin, 23, earns the equivalent each month of $150 in a shop - rent takes up 80 percent and the rest is spent on food.
"It is unrealistic to consider any sort of life here," Lukin, 23, said in the main square by a statue of Alexander Suvorov, Russia's military genius who founded Tiraspol in 1792.
"The only thing to do is go far, far away."
Crossing the border into Transdniestria requires patience, with nervous officials consulting security bodies for clearance.
Making a telephone call to the region from Chisinau is all but impossible. Freight trains have long stopped running.
Mediation by the 56-nation Organisation For Security and Cooperation, along with Russia, Ukraine, the European Union and the United States, has made little progress over the years.
Moldova rejected a Russian plan to create a federation in 2003 at the last minute and relations soured—until recent months—as it accused the Kremlin of abetting the separatists.
Separatist leaders say they have no notion who will take power when Voronin steps down next year after two terms.
They say Russia remains solid in backing their cause, contributing to the budget and offering monthly bonuses to pensioners otherwise receiving less than $100.
Breaching differences may prove difficult despite changes.
"We have witnessed destruction for five years. We haven't stood still like two bottles of beer in a fridge," Litskay said.
"We've grown apart. Our economy, communications, transport, education, culture. And the process is continuing. Attempts to bring us together will be more difficult than in 2003."
(Additional reporting by Dmitry Chubashenko; Editing by Charles Dick)
|16 April 2008
by Radu Rizea
The hills near the village of Jucu, where Nokia built its new production facility, are the scene of the roughest real estate war in the area of Cluj. Hundreds of hectares of land were bought for almost nothing and are now estimated at 100 euro per square meter. Investors design huge residential areas in the expanding industrial zone. The entire county dreams of asphalt belts, detouring freeways and urban highways. But a butterfly, a simple butterfly, sheds another kind of light over the industrial, financial and political interests in the area.
Professor Laszlo Rakosy returned to Romania after a long program designed to save a species of endangered blue butterflies in Austria. Similar insects were found near Cluj, on the hills of Apahida, Jucu and Bontida. The professor dreams of opening a natural reservation, protected by the EU law.
The butterflies are not the only rare species in the area. A groundhog was found at Apahida and several rare plants were also identified near Jucu.
Wikipedia 14 April 2008
Did you know...
Wikipedia 12 April 2008
|7 April 2008
by Nicolas Kulish
New York Times
SFANTU GHEORGHE, Romania — Dozens of wreaths trailing ribbons in red, white and green, the colors of the Hungarian flag, covered the base of a memorial to the 1848 revolution in the town park here on a recent day. Deep in the heart of Romania, just one lonely garland bears the country’s own blue, yellow and red banner.
New Year’s is celebrated twice here, first at the stroke of midnight and then an hour later, when it is midnight in Budapest. When Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia in February, hundreds of the town’s Hungarians took to the main square to demonstrate in favor of Kosovo, and by extension their own aspirations for autonomy.
A Hungarian minority group is pressing for greater autonomy in a region where its members outnumber Romanians. A new and more radical organization, the Hungarian Civic Party, has risen to challenge the establishment Hungarian party, which has been a member of each coalition government since 1996.
Those who argue that independence for Kosovo has set a bad precedent tend to talk about frozen conflicts outside the European Union — Abkhazia and South Ossetia, in Georgia, and Transnistria in Moldova. But even in the European Union, borders are often arbitrary. Many ethnic minorities, like the Basques and the Roma, remain stateless while others, like the Hungarians in Romania, as well as in Slovakia and Serbia, are still separated from their brethren.
The Hungarian minority here, known as Szeklers, certainly believe their time for independence has arrived and that their proposed semi-autonomous state, Szeklerland, is an impending reality.
“Kosovo is an example, and a very clear one, that if the community wants to live under self-government, we have to declare very loudly our will,” said Csaba Ferencz, vice president of the Szekler National Council, a local Hungarian group founded in 2003 with autonomy as its stated goal. Szeklers are a distinct ethnic group from the Magyars, Hungary’s dominant population.
Their chances of success appear slim, but they are pressing ahead to the chagrin of Romanians here, who say that as a local minority they have fewer rights than Hungarians do as a nationwide minority.
The Hungarian region, comprising part of Mures County and all of Harghita and Covasna, where Sfantu Gheorghe is the capital, was once a border area of the Hungarian kingdom defended by the Szeklers. After World War I, the Szeklers found themselves smack in the middle of Romania, a few hours drive north through the Carpathian Mountains from Bucharest.
The conclusion of the war is best remembered for the harsh terms imposed on Germany. But the peace agreement signed by Hungary in 1920, the Treaty of Trianon, was arguably even tougher. Hungary lost roughly two-thirds of its territory and population, including one-third of its Hungarian speakers, in the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, a loss that to this day is known as the Trianon trauma. (Hungary regained most of its lost territories temporarily during World War II.)
Nowhere is the Hungarian minority larger or more vocal in its demands for greater independence than in Romania. Hungarians make up 1.5 million of Romania’s 22 million people, about half of them Szeklers. Little wonder that Romania, a member of the European Union and the host of the just-completed NATO summit meeting, joined Slovakia, Serbia and Russia in refusing to recognize Kosovo.
Unlike the Kosovars, the Szeklers are asking for autonomy within Romania rather than complete independence, leaving foreign policy and national defense in the hands of the government in Bucharest. Szeklerland would be nearly 4,000 square miles, with just over 800,000 people, three-quarters of them Hungarian.
The headquarters of the Szekler National Council sits in a large tan stucco house, a short walk from the center of town. Out front hang both the European Union flag and that of the Szeklers, a blue field with a horizontal gold stripe across the middle and a gold sun and silver star on either side. The house was previously the home of a lawyer dedicated to the cause of Hungarian self-rule.
The council shares its headquarters with the newly minted Hungarian Civic Party, which was approved in March to take part in elections, as an alternative to the mainstream Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania. The Democratic Union stands accused, by Romanians in particular, of old-fashioned ethnic machine politics. But their Civic Party opponents accuse them of selling out.
“Since 1996 they are in the government and we think once they were, they represented the interests of the Romanian majority and not the Hungarian minority,” said Zoltan Gazda, president of the Sfantu Gheorghe branch of the new party.
“We have always respected the Romanian laws in our fight for autonomy, but if this does not have a good ending it may raise up other kinds of tensions,” Mr. Gazda said. “We have signals that the discontent can increase with conflicts.”
Municipal elections on June 1 will be a test of strength between the two Hungarian parties before parliamentary elections later in the year. They are likely to work out an arrangement to ensure that they do not split the vote in the national race.
Under Communism, the dictator Nicolae Ceausescu tried to dilute the Hungarian populations by moving Romanians into areas where they were concentrated, particularly along the border with Hungary.
Romanians there complain that Hungarian memorials, like the one above, are flourishing.
Romanians here say the government in Bucharest has subordinated their interests in exchange for Hungarian parliamentary votes. For example, said Rodica Parvan, a Romanian member of the town council, the national government does nothing while subsidies to churches and schools, which are largely segregated, are distributed unequally by the Hungarian-dominated local government.
However, most of the complaints by the Romanian residents are over symbolic snubs, such as the council meetings held only in Hungarian and Hungarian-language carols played at Christmastime. On March 15, the Hungarian national holiday marking the beginning of the 1848 revolution against Hapsburg rule, Ms. Parvan was dismayed to see the Romanian flag in front of the county government seat hanging at half-mast.
“They told me the wind blew it down,” she said.
Wikipedia 6 April 2008
In the news...
|30 March 2008
New York Times
The Alliance's April 2-4 summit will be held in the giant Parliament Palace, built in the 1980s on the orders of Ceausescu to reflect his power and his vision of a mighty state.
Romanian guidebooks tout the building as the world's second largest after the Pentagon. Architects lament the demolition of Bucharest's historic centre, with its churches, synagogues and unique Modernist villas, to make room for construction.
The building is in some ways a monument to the scars inflicted on Romania by the late Ceausescu's brutal policies.
At the time of construction, its ostentatious excess contrasted with the harsh living conditions endured by ordinary Romanians, whose food was rationed to near starvation levels and whose heating came on for a few hours a day, if at all.
Almost 20 years after Ceausescu's execution in 1989 during a bloody revolution against his regime, authorities are still struggling to modernize the dilapidated city, get its chaotic traffic moving and ease the poverty of many inhabitants.
"The palace is a very good illustration of the totalitarian way of seeing the relationship between people and their leaders," said Mariana Celac, an architect and Ceausescu-era dissident.
"It has walls, boundaries, locked gates and huge distances to be walked through, presumably with humility."
Ceausescu, who initially named the building "House of the People," was once quoted as saying the Palace would become Romania's "Acropolis."
"I need something grand, something very grand, that reflects what we have already achieved," he is reported to have said.
KITSCH AND SECURITY
Thousands of tonnes of crystal, marble and wood were hauled to Bucharest from across Romania for the construction of the Palace, with its sprawling corridors and glitzy halls, as well as secret tunnels and a nuclear bunker.
The security features, a testimony to Ceausescu's fears of attack, might still be useful during the April NATO meeting if the Alliance's leaders were to come under threat, said its designer and chief architect, Anca Petrescu.
"The building is prepared for a high degree of security," she said.
Ceausescu and his feared wife Elena regularly inspected the construction site. Some 40,000 residents were evicted to make way for the palace, and many were housed in the drab apartment blocs that now make up large swathes of Bucharest, rusting and crumbling only a couple of decades after being built.
Petrescu said six people died in accidents during the construction of the 3,000-room building, which now contains both of Romania's chambers of parliament, an art museum and a vast conference venue.
The Palace's eclectic facade is replete with soaring marble columns. Together with matching tower blocs nearby—inspired by North Korean architecture—it looms over Bucharest.
"During construction, the entire (national) production of stone was reserved. Marble was banned for private use," said Celac.
Bucharest was once a quietly elegant capital, with tree-lined boulevards and discreet villas designed by progressive Modernist architects in the 1920s and 30s.
At the start of World War Two it was considered one of Europe's most advanced in terms of urban planning.
But after Ceausescu's demolitions, two earthquakes and free-for-all construction that marred Romania's sluggish transition from communism to democracy, the city is struggling to regain its style.
This leaves Ceausescu's palace as its biggest tourist attraction. Despite being widely considered a monstrosity, its sheer size means it isn't going away soon—and it does have its uses.
Romanian President Traian Basescu, asked by Reuters what he thought of the building, was diplomatic.
"In my mind this building is relevant for a single reason. It is the second largest building in the world after the Pentagon. Period," he joked.
(Additional reporting by Iulia Rosca and Luiza Ilie; reporting by Justyna Pawlak; editing by Andrew Roche)
|28 March 2008
New York Times
BUCHAREST (Reuters) - From sealing off streets and lining up snipers to catching stray dogs, Romania has beefed up security in the capital Bucharest for next week's NATO summit of world leaders.
The April 2-4 gathering is Romania's highest profile event ever. Hotels have been booked for the 3,000 delegates, including U.S. President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin, as well as some 3,500 journalists.
Squads of workers gave the usually grimy city a frantic facelift—planting flower beds, hanging new street signs and painting some downtown facades.
But the real focus of the event's organizers has been ensuring the security of Romania's important guests, and that has been realized on a massive scale.
Fighter jets and warships are on standby in Romania and neighboring Bulgaria, both NATO's newest members. Authorities have brought in chemical and biological warfare experts, divers and thousands of additional personnel.
Police officers have already begun patrolling Bucharest's main arteries, many of them already cleared of parked cars and the city's usually log jammed traffic.
Some sectors of Bucharest plan to prohibit the sale of alcohol during the summit. Trash cans have been dismantled and sewers sealed along official summit routes.
More controversially, workers have picked up scores of stray dogs, a legacy of communist-era housing policies when thousands of people were evicted from their villas in the 1980s and housed in drab apartment blocs.
Many household dogs were left on the streets in the process.
The gathering will be held in Bucharest's landmark Parliament Palace, the gargantuan product of megalomaniac dreams of communist-era dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, which now serves as the city's main tourist attraction.
On the summit's agenda are the alliance's tensions over its mission in Afghanistan and a potential deployment of additional troops there. Heads of NATO's 26 member states may also agree on further enlargement to include Croatia, Macedonia and Albania.
For the capital's 2 million inhabitants, the summit is already taxing as restrictions have concentrated traffic in Bucharest's outer areas.
"It takes forever to get to the centre. ... We won't have any peace until this is over," said Florica Gheorghe, a 77-year-old pensioner.
With more than 9,000 inhabitants per square kilometer, Bucharest is one of Europe's most crowded and polluted cities. Nearly 1 million cars are trapped daily in sooty traffic along main boulevards, most lined with decaying buildings.
Officials hope the summit will catch the eyes of foreign tourists and boost the city's popularity.
"If we were able to organize the world's youth festival in 1950s I don't see any reason why we could not organize a NATO summit these days," President Traian Basescu told foreign journalists earlier this week.
(Reporting by Luiza Ilie; Editing by Mary Gabriel)
|25 March 2008
by George Grigoriu
Romania will attend for the first time the “London Book Fair” during April 14 – 16, in a stand organized by the Romanian Cultural Institute (ICR) the public relations department of the institution announced.
ICR mentioned that 25 Romanian publishing houses present over 650 books and albums, as well as 650 audio books in the 108 square metre stand offered to Romania. The slogan of the stand organized by ICR at the “London Book Fair 2008” is “Writers from a Country Hard to Write: Romania.”
At the Romanian stand, publishers will be granted locations for meeting potential partners or foreign collaborators.
On April 15, there will be a discussion on contemporary literature and the Romanian book market, meant to synthesize the Romanian presence at “London Book Fair”, and a section of the fair will be dedicated to the project of supporting translations, developed by the National Book Centre, an institution founded within ICR in 2007.
According to ICR, most of the publishers agreed to offer copies of the books they presented to the libraries of Romanian Cultural Institute subsidiaries located abroad, after the closing of the “London Book Fair 2008.”
Targeted on publishers, distributors, book sellers and professionals in publishing all over the world, the Book Fair hosted by Earl Court from London is the most important British event in this field and one of the most significant global events related to publishing. The 2007 edition had attracted over 230,000 attendants from 109 countries. Details on “London Book Fair” may be found on the website of the event: http://www.londonbookfair.com.
The first-time Romanian attendance to “London Book Fair” is part of a program of intense promotion to Romanian literature abroad. By the programs “TPS – Translation and Publication Support” and “Twenty Authors”, ICR supported the publishing of over 30 volumes in more than ten European countries, as well as in Israel and the United States.
Moreover, 25 financing requests submitted by foreign publishers were selected by the TPS jury at the end of 2007 and will be granted financing in the forthcoming period. (Further details may be found on the website http://www.icr.ro ).
|20 March 2008
Preparations for next month's Nato summit in Romania are being overshadowed by a row - over toilets.
Parliamentary official Mihai Unghianu says Nato has complained that there are not enough lavatories at the venue.
Nato is said to have asked the government to install 1,000 temporary toilets - one for every five delegates, each costing $9,500 (£4,700) a week.
Nato has not publicly commented on the issue. Key talks on its Afghanistan mission are expected at the summit.
It will take place at the vast parliamentary palace in Bucharest, built for the late dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, but now the site for both houses of parliament.
The palace is among the largest buildings in the world, and although it has more than 1,000 halls and rooms, and 4,500 chandeliers, it appears to be short on some of the bare essentials.
The dispute emerged after minutes from a parliamentary committee meeting were leaked.
According to these, in the meeting Mr Unghianu reported that after Nato officials had asked him for the plans of the building, they said they were displeased with both the number and quality of the toilet facilities.
Nato suggested the installation of temporary toilets, but Bucharest objected that they did not have the money to fit them, and that they might upset the aesthetic appeal of what some consider to be an architectural jewel of a building.
The palace's architect, Anca Petrescu, has called the request for extra temporary facilities humiliating.
She told Romania's Adevarul newspaper that all the toilets would be working during the summit, and suggested that someone with portable toilets for hire was trying to make money at the taxpayers' expense.
Wikipedia 18 March 2008
Did you know...
|17 March 2008
by Mihai Iordanescu
The sharpest contradiction of the modern world lies in the gap between the desperate warning about an imminent ecological catastrophe caused by political irresponsibility and the inability to bring global pollution to a halt, despite its being the biggest threat for the planet. If anybody were to survive a nuclear accident, the climate changes brought by such disaster would reduce any such chance, small as it is, to nil. Not only the UN, UNESCO or the European Union, but even the Roman Catholic Church, must intervene, employing own methods, to make humanity aware of the deadly perils posed by world pollution. A pollution wilfully committed sometimes even by the states most vocal in criticising it. Although world community is cohesive on many aspects, its savage egotism cancels such unity when the need calls for it.
Unfortunately, Romania is also torn by this contradiction. Its ecological environment degenerates at a pace that stuns anybody but those living in this country, whose words and actions are so much apart from one another, whether they stand the top or the base of the social pyramid. A gap that grows increasingly wider as the base gets larger and the top narrower. In this respect, Bucharest has acquired a double symbol, Romania’s capital and EU’s most polluted capital city.
It is the city’s green spaces that suffer the most. Even as public rallies were being underway for saving the Bordei Park from turning into a real estate project, the green surface area in Bucharest fell from 3,740 hectares to a paltry 1,400 hectares, which means there are only 7 sqms of green space per inhabitant, from 50 sqms recommended by the EU. The forests surrounding Bucharest are cut at an alarming rate to be replaced by all sort of menacing constructions. So big is the threat that even the Baneasa Zoo, which is facing all sorts of aggressions, is in danger of being closed and its grounds snatched overnight.
And Bucharest’s example has been propagating fast throughout the country. And not since yesterday but 15 years ago, when Romania expressed its commitment to join the EU. Property diversification was the first condition set for that to happen, which the clientele-subservient state officials saw as the forced privatisation of state property. And although the Maastricht Treaty made environment protection the EU’s top priority, the forced and fraudulent privatisation practised here have undermined exactly that goal. The forest privatisation law is telling in this respect. Despite the law stipulating that private forests shall continue to abide by the national forestry policy, once started, massive tree-cuttings could not be brought to a halt any more.
Trees are being cut even on tens and hundreds of thousands of hectares of state-owned forests. Once they’ve made it to Parliament or governing coalitions, local happy-go-lucky fellows destroy the forests and shamelessly steal their wealth. This is how Romania has made the gross wood from recklessly cut forests and the scrap metal from purposely ruined industrial units into its chief exports. Exports which are way below the level of imports, with all the consequences this imbalance has on the living standards of Romanians and the state of Romania’s economy in general.
Yet, the consequences are not just social and economic, but environmental as well. The savage forest-cuttings have begun being dramatically felt under the form of landslides responsible for entire localities being flooded, homes, bridges, railways and roads being destroyed. Torrent adjustments for which Romania used to be renowned Europe-wide is about to become a thing of the past thanks to the steep deterioration of forests.
Forests recklessly cut in plain areas and even the destruction of protective forest belts are felt increasingly painful, among others, by agricultural production per hectare being below the European average. Not to mention Romania’s cynegetic fund, whose Carpathian bear, stags and wild boar are unique in Europe. Its rational exploitation could bring hundreds of millions of euros into the state coffers, without any investment but intelligence and respect for the natural riches of this country.
Yet it is exactly intelligence and respect that are polluted in Romania, to such extent it has often been requested to serve as the dumpsite of Europe.
|12 March 2008
by Radu Rizea
The "Save Bucharest" Association presented on Thursday its independent report called "Bucharest, an urban disaster", drawing the attention towards the fact that historically priceless buildings are left to ruin or destroyed on purpose by people interested in the terrain beneath them. The document also reveals that the traffic in Bucharest is less and less tolerable, since the populace density reached 9,009 people per square kilometer, and the green space is decreasing in surface from one year to the next. The same report shows that the number of people affected by respiratory diseases is increasing alarmingly.
To compare the figures, Berlin has a populace density of 3,905 inhabitants, Vienna has 3,850 and Budapest has 3,674.
"It is widely considered that the level where the social comfort dramatically drops is 3,500 inhabitants per square kilometers. Despite this, Bucharest authorities offers countless construction authorizations in already overpopulated areas", the report shows.
The same paper indicates that the green space in Bucharest decreased from 3,500 hectares in 1989 to 1,500 in 2007.
|7 March 2008
Radio Romania International
A few weeks ago, the Romanian Environment Ministry received a letter from the Ukrainian authorities announcing their decision to finalise the controversial Bastroe project. Romanian environment minister Korodi Attila responded by taking the matter before the European Council of environment ministers, a move that brought swift results. Attila Korodi:
“The European Commission makes it clear that Ukraine has breached international agreements on the cross-border impact of an investment, and publicly requests Ukraine to revise its decision. The European Commission will send a letter to the Government of Ukraine, stating this position and asking Kiev to account for it.”
In Bucharest on Thursday and Friday, European Commissioner for Transport Jacques Barrot voiced EU support for Romania's stand and confirmed that Stavros Dimas, the Environment Commissioner, was writing a letter to Ukraine, warning against the environmental issues it gives rise to. But what is the Ukrainian project about, and why such reactions to it? The Chilia arm, the northern branch of the Danube Delta, delineates the Romanian-Ukrainian border, and in its turn has a small delta, with the 4-km long Bastroe channel being the main outlet into the Black Sea. Flying in the face of international legislation, Ukraine has resolved, without consulting with its southern neighbour, to broaden not only this channel, but the 100-km long Chilia arm as a whole, (which is a shared border with Romania), creating a canal allowing access for large-tonnage transport vessels. This, according to experts in numerous countries, including Ukraine, is a major threat to the Danube Delta environment, which lies mostly in Romania and is protected by UNESCO programmes.
Romania has chosen the path of dialogue and international arbitration, although it has the means to try and force Ukraine into considering Romania and the European Union ‘s objections against the Bastroe project. For example, Kiev is seeking NATO admission, and Romania's veto may hinder the accession. Offering political realism as well as elegant diplomacy, Foreign Minister Adrian Cioroianu stated on Thursday that Romania backed a partnership between the North-Atlantic Alliance and Ukraine, as a prerequisite for accession. The partnership may be endorsed in the forthcoming NATO Summit in Bucharest. Will Kiev match this pragmatism, and pursue political interests over the economic ones in the Bastroe affair?
|6 March 2008
by George Grigoriu
An exhibition including paintings, graphic works, drawings, glassware and furniture entitled “Art Nouveau in the collections of the Cotroceni National Museum and the Pelisor Castle”, conceived by Czech artist Alphonse Mucha, Romanian painters of the “Tinerimea artistica (The Young Artists, editor’s note)” group or glass designers Emile Galle and Rene Lalique, will be opened on Thursday at the Cotroceni National Museum.
Alphonse Mucha (1860 – 1939), Czech artist who emigrated in Paris in 1887, was one of the most significant personalities of the Art Nouveau movement, who approached several art genres, but excelled in graphic works and conceived some of the most famous posters of his time, including “Gismonde” for actress Sarah Bernhardt.
The exhibition will also include works by Privat Livemont (1872 – 1909), Adolphe Cossard (1880 – 1952) and Marcel Lenoir (1898 – 1980). Art Nouveau is an art movement that highly influenced visual arts, design and architecture at the beginning of the twentieth century, in most European countries, but also in North America.
In Romanian plastic arts, Art Nouveau was represented by works of painters representing “Tinerimea artistica)”, who enjoyed great support by Heiress Princess Marie. The future queen was thoroughly familiar with the Art Nouveau principles, reflected in her book design works, but above all in her interior design projects currently exhibited at the Pelisor Castle.
The last Romanian artist affiliated to the Art Nouveau movement is Lucia Beller (1881 – approximately 1961), artist who conceived several stained glass window, tapestry, printed fabrics and painted pottery projects. Beside Art Nouveau paintings, graphic works and drawings, the Cotroceni Museum will also exhibit glassware created by famous artists such as Emile Galle (1846 – 1904), Rene Lalique (1860 – 1945), the brothers Jean-Louis Auguste Daum (1854 – 1909) and Jean – Antonin Daum (1864 – 1930).
The opening will take place on Thursday, at 18.00. The exhibition will be opened until April 6, 2008.
Wikipedia 6 March 2008
On this day...
1945 – Petru Groza (pictured) of the Ploughmen's Front, a party closely associated
with the Communists, became Prime Minister of Romania.
26 February 2008
PYONGYANG, North Korea — For much of his 60 years, Valentin Hirsu has thought of those three Korean boys in his class.
It was at Music School No. 1 in Bucharest, Romania. The boys were North Korean orphans from the war that had torn up their country. One played piano, another clarinet, the third flute.
After about six years, they were taken home.
Mr. Hirsu never heard from them again. Now, in Pyongyang as a cellist with the visiting New York Philharmonic, he is asking about their fate.
“It’s a crime not to look for them if I’ll be there,” he said on the eve of the orchestra’s departure from Beijing. “I don’t know if they are alive or minister of culture. How am I supposed to know?” he said.
Mr. Hirsu kept a picture that includes the three Koreans among a clutch of students around a teacher, like a “mother hen,” he said.
He recalled the three boys as excellent students and good kids. “They were the best in drawing,” he said. “They were the best in geography, even Romanian, volleyball, everything.”
After graduating, Mr. Hirsu embarked on a successful career as a soloist in Romania. In 1975, he immigrated to Israel and a year later to the United States, where he almost immediately won an audition for the Philharmonic.
Mr. Hirsu gave the photograph to Fred Carriere, the executive director of the Korea Society, which helped the Philharmonic with logistics for the trip. Mr. Hirsu had a phonetic recollection of the names, but that did not prove to be much help. Mr. Carriere said Monday, after the orchestra arrived in Pyongyang, that he had had no success in locating the three.
A disappointed Mr. Hirsu said he would not give up, promising to ask every North Korean musician he encountered about them. “I can find them on my own,” he said.
25 February 2008
A fierce debate is raging in Romania over investigations into the activities of the communist-era secret police.
The investigative body's work was outlawed by the Constitutional Court - but a government decree overruled the court's decision earlier this month.
The feared Securitate came to symbolise the dictatorship of Nicolae Ceausescu, whose regime collapsed amid bloody street fighting in December 1989.
The National Council for the Study of the Securitate Archives (CNSAS) was set up in 1999.
For several years, it struggled against a reluctant post-communist Romanian Intelligence Service, custodian of the two million surveillance files compiled by the Securitate.
Eventually the council got hold of what was described as "kilometres of files". Its main duties were to help people find and photocopy their personal records and to check the backgrounds of high-profile candidates for important public positions.
Some criticised the council for being slow, disorganised or politically motivated, but most agreed that Romanians needed to know and understand their past.
Several hundred cases of collaboration were publicised - and sometimes the CNSAS information leaked out.
Search for truth
Romania - a new member of the EU - is now awaiting a new law for the investigation of secret files.
Former anti-communist dissident Doina Cornea represents one side in the debate. In the opposite corner is retired Securitate agent Ilie Merce.
"We need the truth about our own lives, we need to break the chain of secrets and lies of the past if we want to be free," says Mrs Cornea.
As one of the few opponents of the Ceausescu regime in the 1980s, this diminutive woman found herself at the centre of a massive surveillance operation.
Her Securitate file consists of 30 volumes, amounting to 7,000 pages. She has only begun to look through this mass of papers.
How does it feel to read all those surveillance notes now?
"First of all, I found it hard to believe how important I was to them," she says.
"Around 100 Securitate employees, some of them high-ranking officials, were involved in the operation.
"There were agents monitoring my moves, my home, family and neighbours, tapping and transcribing everyone's conversations.
"As my calls to fight the oppression were broadcast on Radio Free Europe and followed by my telephone number and address, many people across Romania tried to get in touch with me, only to find themselves grabbed by the Securitate. It was very moving to find these people's letters, complete with envelopes, in one of the files."
Mrs Cornea says the CNSAS "verdicts" were meant to have moral and symbolic value - they were not the equivalent of judicial verdicts.
She deplores the Constitutional Court's ban and its argument that the council had unlawfully acquired judicial powers.
She hopes the new law for probing Securitate files will provide a better framework for the council's activities and will continue to bar former collaborators or Securitate agents from high office.
But Ilie Merce, a member of the legislature and former Securitate agent, has a different view.
"The CNSAS had become an instrument for personal or political vendettas, or trafficking of files, and a new-style political police," he argues.
"The old law proved divisive and sometimes libellous. Yes, the files of officials should continue to be checked, but not made public. Parliament should get the relevant information, or the government, if a particular file seems to involve a cabinet member.
"Whenever an abuse was committed, the victims should seek justice according to the law - otherwise there will be chaos. Whoever did anything wrong should pay for their own mistakes.
"But we can't make culpable whole social or professional categories of people."
The CNSAS has been pursuing cases file-by-file, not collectively punishing those who served in the communist regime.
Its "verdicts" can reveal whether senior officials have lied about their communist past - and can lead to prosecutions.
The right to know
Mr Merce was the Securitate chief in Buzau County, central Romania, when the communist regime collapsed in 1989.
Now an MP for the nationalist Greater Romania Party, he says he is proud to have worked for Romanian intelligence for 25 years, before retiring in 1996.
"In everything I did, I observed the law. But to this day I believe some sensitive information should remain classified. I won't reveal who my informers or the people I used to work with were - that would be very demeaning and unprofessional."
He welcomes the Constitutional Court ruling and considers the CNSAS "dead and buried". So does Romania need an institution to probe the communist secret files at all?
"I won't say such an institution shouldn't exist, mainly to grant people access to their personal files if they were under surveillance and if they want to see them. And then people should decide what to do next, seek justice if they were mistreated.
"But the management of this institution shouldn't issue verdicts, publicise their findings, or reveal them brazenly on TV in the middle of talk shows, as they sometimes did, because such acts can have serious consequences."
Former political prisoners in Romania get only a small allowance - not enough to compensate for the loss of a job or a house. The pursuit of justice for Ceausescu-era crimes remains difficult.
23 February 2008
MIHAIL KOGALNICEANU AIR BASE, Romania (AP)—It always happened at 1 a.m. In a secluded corner of this heavily guarded airfield, two snipers would creep across a rooftop and take their positions. Moments later, just below, a black minibus would arrive and wait.
Three times in 2004, and twice more in 2005, a jet landed and the black bus drove out to meet it. Large, mysterious parcels were exchanged that, according to a Romanian official who says he witnessed it, looked like bundled-up terror suspects.
The official, a high-ranking veteran with inside knowledge of operations at the base, said the planes then left for North Africa with their cargo and two CIA handlers aboard.
His descriptions, told on condition of anonymity to The Associated Press, add to suspicions surrounding Romania's involvement in ''extraordinary rendition''—the beyond-the-law transfer of U.S. terror suspects from country to country by the CIA. Human rights advocates say renditions were the agency's way to outsource torture of prisoners to countries where it is permitted practice.
Romania's precise role is a little-reported part of the system that is being slowly revealed, often to the chagrin of U.S. allies. In an embarrassing reversal after years of denial, Britain admitted Thursday that its military outpost on the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia had twice been used as a refueling stop for the secret transport of terrorism suspects.
The European Commission on Friday accused Poland and Romania of dodging its requests to clarify their involvement. Both countries deny accusations of wrongdoing, including a report by Dick Marty, a Swiss official working for the Council of Europe, the continent's top human rights watchdog, who accused the CIA of running secret prisons in the two countries.
Prisoners typically were shackled and kept naked and in isolation, he alleged, in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights. Such treatment also would run contrary to Romania's own laws and its commitment to human rights, a key condition to the Balkan nation's 2007 accession to the European Union.
According to the Romanian official:
-- U.S. pilots routinely filed bogus flight plans—or none at all—and headed to undeclared destinations.
-- C-130 Hercules cargo planes and other U.S. military aircraft arriving from Iraq regularly parked in a restricted area just off the runway, where they feigned technical trouble and sat under guard for days at a time—awaiting repairs that never occurred.
-- Three buildings on the military portion of the air base were strictly off-limits to Romanians but were frequented and controlled by the Americans.
''It was all set up and simulated to look like normal activity. But believe me, it was very unusual,'' said the official, who said he needed anonymity to protect himself.
''If you are 50 yards away, you say they are 'parcels,''' he said. ''But I think people were on (the plane) and I think they were bundled up.'' The entire scene was completely out of character with normal aircraft arrivals or standard cargo protocol, he said.
But top Romanian authorities deny the CIA ran so-called ''black sites'' on their territory. While the official described a pattern of highly unusual flight maneuvers and covert American activities, he says he never saw a prisoner.
Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base, former presidential security adviser Ioan Talpes said in an interview with the AP, had an arrangement with the CIA that gave the agency the right to use the base as needed.
''There were official arrangements of a secret and confidential nature which gave CIA planes the right to land at Romanian airports,'' said Talpes, who worked at the time for ex-President Ion Iliescu. ''They had actions there that we didn't know about,'' Talpes said. He said Iliescu signed an agreement guaranteeing that Romania would secure the perimeter and otherwise not interfere.
John Sifton, who conducts independent human rights investigations, said the dates and descriptions of the flights described by the base official match the timing and routes of known CIA rendition flights recorded in Eurocontrol flight databases.
Those included an April 2004 flight from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, that went out of its way to stop at Mihail Kogalniceanu before heading on to Casablanca, Morocco.
''It was a time when they were moving people around,'' Sifton told the AP. The Romania stopovers, he added, ''look pretty shady to me.''
Marty's report concluded that the CIA secretly held al-Qaida operatives, Taliban leaders and other ''high-value detainees'' in Romania and Poland between 2002 and 2005.
The report, citing unnamed intelligence officials, said five people either authorized or were aware of the Romania operation: Iliescu, Talpes, former Defense Minister Ioan Mircea Pascu, Sergiu Medar, a former head of military intelligence, and current President Traian Basescu. Detainees were subjected ''to interrogation techniques tantamount to torture'' and underscored ''a permissive attitude on the part of the Romanian authorities.''
Basescu's office refused to discuss the allegations. ''What business do we have with this?'' it replied. Pascu called it ''a closed subject,'' and Medar declined a request to be interviewed.
Beyond the midnight flights and the bus, the base official who spoke with the AP said he had questions about what went on aboard larger aircraft from Iraq that arrived at the base and then parked for several days, supposedly awaiting repairs.
''They misinformed. They lied,'' he said. ''It happened many times and there was nothing anyone could do about it.''
President Bush and other administration officials have confirmed the existence of the rendition program but have not named the countries involved. They say the U.S. does not engage in torture.
Romanian officials said the U.S. military has invested about $18 million in Mihail Kogalniceanu Airport, including a $4 million perimeter fence, a new hangar and road improvements. Romania has supported and provided troops for the U.S.-led campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Talpes, the former presidential security adviser, said Romanian authorities did not intrude on the U.S. ''respected zone'' at Mihail Kogalniceanu, used mostly to ferry troops and supplies to Iraq and Afghanistan—because they did not want to make ''an unfriendly gesture.''
Pressed about whether prisoners were tortured, he said bluntly: ''Even if I knew that one of my allies did something, I wouldn't tell you.''
CIA chief spokesman Mark Mansfield said the agency had no comment about the black bus scenario, but he defended renditions as both legal and effective.
''They have disrupted potential attacks by taking terrorists off the streets, and they have allowed us, as well as our foreign partners, to gain invaluable intelligence on the terrorists who remain at large,'' Mansfield said.
Sen. Norica Nicolai, a former prosecutor who led a parliamentary investigation, said her probe found no evidence that the CIA operated a prison or conducted interrogations in Romania.
Nicolai said she was still waiting for Marty to respond to a September request to divulge his sources. ''It's in our interests to try to see what happened. We are not a third-world country,'' she said.
But Cosmin Gusa, a leading opposition lawmaker, said a full accounting was unlikely. ''Nobody wants to go deeper,'' he said. ''They don't want to talk about this. This topic is a deadly one.''
Associated Press Writers Alison Mutler in Romania and Pamela Hess in Washington contributed to this report.
21 February 2008
As the Yiddish linguist Max Weinreich once said, "A language is a dialect with an army and a navy."
Landlocked Moldova doesn't have a navy, and isn't known as a regional military heavyweight, but that isn't keeping it from battling with Romania over the existence of a "Moldovan" language.
The Moldovan government asserts that its official language is distinct from Romanian—a claim vigorously contested by Romania, which believes the language Moldovans speak is merely Romanian by another name.
The outside world was recently offered some insight into the controversy when Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin and Romanian Foreign Minister Adrian Cioroianu squared off for some verbal sparring during an international security conference in Munich.
Despite the fact that their native languages, whatever their label, differ mainly in accent and in some vocabulary words, the Romanian foreign minister chose to address the Moldovan president not in his mother tongue, but in French.
"In my opinion, the Moldovan Republic has a very important place in the line proposed by Europe's neighbor policy," Cioroianu said. "I hope the detail that the Moldovan Republic and Romania share the same language will be an advantage, at least in a technical sense."
The Moldovan president responded in kind—speaking in Russian. "I have answered a million times, and I will answer again a billion times: It's up to the population to name its country's language," Voronin said. "We held a referendum on October 1, 2004, in which 87 percent defined their language as Moldovan. But we're still having never-ending debates with Romania about which came first, the chicken or the egg."
It is Voronin who has carried the torch in Moldova's quest for linguistic independence since he took power in 2001.
While the language issue has since then been irritant in Moldova's relations with Romania, which was forced to cede most of what is today Moldova to the Soviet Union after World War II, the European Union is increasingly finding itself in the middle of the debate.
This is because Brussels must placate one of its newest members, Romania, while also facilitating ties with one of its newest neighbors, Moldova.
Good-neighborly relations with Moldova are of great importance to the EU because developments in the country's separatist republic of Transdniester could have Europe-wide ramifications.
Romania, meanwhile, has insisted that the EU make no reference to a "Moldovan language" it in its official documentation regarding Moldova, which belongs to the bloc's European Neighborhood Policy.
That argument sits well with those officials who believe the EU, which already has 23 official languages, is struggling with "linguistic proliferation."
To further complicate matters, such language issues are overseen in the EU by a specially appointed commissioner for linguistic diversity. And currently that post is held by Leonard Orban, whose Romanian citizenship makes him subject to questions of neutrality.
Orban says that "on the one hand, the EU recognizes the right of every [outside] country to [name] their language according to their wish." But on the other hand, "there is the sensitivity of a member state regarding this subject," he added. "And from this point of view, the European institutions should and are accommodating this issue of the sensitivity of the member state [concerned]."
During a recent speech on January 14 before the European Commission, Moldovan President Voronin was thwarted in his efforts to speak "Moldovan," as the commission could only provide a Romanian interpreter.
At Voronin's insistence, the little makeshift booth housing the interpreter initially sported a sign saying "English—moldovenesc." Before the long wait for the press conference was over, however, the sign had disappeared. European Commission officials had apparently been advised that it offended the sensitivities of EU member Romania.
The interpreter herself provided the icing on the cake—when, upon emerging from her booth, she told RFE/RL she was Romanian.
Does Moldovan Exist?
The controversy isn't only confusing within the walls of bureaucratic institutions, however. Ask nearly any Romanian if the Moldovan language exists, and you will likely receive a negative answer.
And you will commonly get a similar answer within Moldova's borders, as RFE/RL found out on the streets of Chisinau. "Well, someone thinks it exists," answered one Moldovan man.
"Romanian is a holy language and it will remain our language for good. Romanian will always be Romanian. The only language I speak," another Moldovan said. "I don't think the Moldovan language exists; it was simply invented."
When RFE/RL asked another man what language he speaks, he answered, "Bessarabian!" Bessarabia was the official name of the former Romanian province that makes up much of modern Moldova.
When asked if there is a difference between the Romanian language and the Moldovan language, another Moldovan answered, "There is no doubt about it; normally it's Romanian." He continued: "People who have completed [higher] studies realize what language they speak. Common people may be fooled, because from 1812 [to 1918] this land was a Russian province, and Russian has clearly made its way into our lexicon, in this way modifying the Romanian language. It is easy to realize that we do not need translators between two brothers, who can understand each other alone. Mr. Voronin mixes up two things: his political ideology with the roots of this people and the history of this people."
Despite his critics, Voronin is carrying on in his crusade—even if he has to resort to Russian to make his point.
"The Moldovan state will celebrate its 650th anniversary next year, while the Romanian state is only 170 years old," Voronin said. "So what came first: the chicken or the egg? The Moldovan Republic's Constitution says that the country's national language is Moldovan, not Romanian. Yes, they are identical. But historically it's called Moldovan, and it's going to stay that way."
22 February 2008
The holiday is the Romanian version of the Valentine’s Day
The “Dimitrie Gusti” National
Village Museum, under the protection of the Ministry of Culture and
Religious Denominations will organise the Dragobete, the Romanian
love holiday, on Saturday, February 24, 2008. The celebration will
include folklore songs and dance performances, folk music,
traditional Romanian party music, theatre performances and
competitions, while the group “Cucii” from Branesti will perform
traditional greetings. The celebration will include exhibitions
featuring artisans’ works and stands providing sponge cake, pies and
ginger bread, as well as beautiful March amulets that symbolise the
beginning of spring. The Dragobete is the Romanian version of the
Valentine’s Day, that celebrates love. It is likely that February 24
symbolized the beginning of spring for our ancestors, the joy of
nature’s awakening, fully shared by human beings. Mythological
entity similar to Eros or Cupid, Dragobete, unlike the kind and
gentle Saint Valentine of the Catholic tradition, is a charming,
restless and passionate man. Initially an ancient Dacian god, a
matchmaker and a godfather of animals, Romanians turned Dragobete
into the protector of the love of couples that meet on Dragobete
Day, a love that was forecasted to last for the whole year,
similarly to birds that “get engaged”on the same day, tradition
says. A special saying is dedicated to this day: Dragobete kisses
21 February 2008
BUCHAREST (Reuters) - An ardent fan of former Olympic gymnast Nadia Comaneci is suing Romania president Traian Basescu for not awarding a special sports merit medal to his idol, local media reported on Thursday.
"It is not possible that the only Romania president to honor Nadia can be the former dictator Nicolae Ceausescu," fan Gheorghe Ion told the Cotidianul daily.
"I can't force the president to offer Nadia a medal but I don't want Ceausescu to be the only one to show respect for our great champions."
The special sports medal is handed out on merit in Romania.
Comaneci received her medal from Ceausescu immediately after changing the world of gymnastics when, as a 14-year-old, she gained the first perfect mark of 10 at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal.
(Reporting by Radu Timofte, Editing by Tony Jimenez)
21 February 2008
February 21, 1876, Hobita, Romania
original name Romanian Constantin Brîncusi pioneer of modern abstract sculpture whose works in bronze and marble are characterized by a restrained, elegant use of pure form and exquisite finishing. A passionate wood-carver, he produced numerous wood sculptures, often with a folk flavour, and he frequently carved prototypes for works later executed in other materials.
11 February 2008
Oscar botches the best foreign films. Again.
YOU CAN NOW SEE TWO OF the best movies not nominated for the foreign-language Oscar: the charming and poignant "The Band's Visit" from Israel and the powerful, haunting "4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days" from Romania. The Israeli movie, directed by Eran Kolirin, was disqualified from the competition because too much dialogue is in English—that being the common language between the Egyptian military band invited to perform in Israel and their hosts in the desert town where the band is stranded. A beautifully observed comedy about cultural misunderstandings and shared humanity, "The Band's Visit" has some of the wry, deadpan wit of the Czech comedies that made the reputation of Milos Forman and Ivan Passer.
You can argue with the rules that excluded this delightful movie, but rules are rules. The snub to "4 Months," however, is further confirmation that the Academy's system for selecting foreign films is a longstanding joke. Cristian Mungiu's film, set in the waning days of Ceaucescu, depicts the labyrinthine efforts of a college student (Anamaria Marinca) to arrange an illegal abortion for her roommate (Laura Vasiliu)—a harrowing 24-hour journey that reveals the soul-deadening weight of life in a totalitarian regime. "4 Months" won the Palme d'Or in Cannes and the European Film Award; it was voted best foreign film by both the National Society of Film Critics and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association. Not only was it not nominated for an Oscar, it failed to make the shortlist of nine films announced several weeks ago.
This wasn't the only embarrassing omission. The French submission, the groundbreaking animated movie "Persep-olis," also failed to make the nine, as did the award-winning South Korean entry, "Secret Sunshine"; the superb Spanish chiller "The Orphanage"; Johnny To's smashing Hong Kong gangster movie "Exiled"; Germany's riveting "The Edge of Heaven," and Carlos Reygadas's demanding, visionary "Silent Light" from Mexico. One that did make the shortlist—but mercifully not the final five—was Giuseppe Tornatore's flashy "The Unknown Woman," bogus from first frame to last.
Last year, in an attempt to reform the misbegotten system, a smaller, more informed committee was installed to choose the five Oscar nominees out of the nine. But this can work only if the volunteer committee doesn't eliminate the best movies to start with. Made up of roughly 400 Academy members (more than half of whom failed to see enough movies to qualify them to vote), the group tends to be top-heavy with retirees—who else has the time? But as one committee member suggested, the real problem isn't seniority—these folks had the same bad taste at 30. Clearly embarrassed by this year's gaffes, Mark Johnson, chairman of the committee, has vowed further reforms. History suggests it's going to be an uphill battle.
The National Village Museum hosts photo exhibition by Belgian artist Baudoin Lotin, on the subject “Maramures”, until February 25.
Bucharest - The black and white photographs made by the Walloon artist offer an encounter with the Maramures of “honest, open-hearted people who live in simplicity and perfect harmony with nature.”
Attracted to the rural universe due to his parents’ provenience, Baudoin Lotin confesses being fascinated about the stacks of hay from Maramures. Actually, bigger versions of photographs representing stacks of hay are included in the exhibition, as “in Maramures, hay is a source of life.” “I am the son of a farmer; beauties of the countryside are deeply rooted in my being. There, I find myself,” Baudoin Lotin declared. Beside the photographs showing stacks of hay, the exhibition includes scenes in the life of peasants from Maramures, scenes reproduced in smaller versions, similar to postcards, a fact that determines the visitor to get closer to the photograph, in order to admire it. “Photographs by Baudoin Lotin do not show churches, wooden gates or people. They are windows to everyday life”, Ana Barca, “Dimitrie Gusti” National Village Museum Patrimony Manager declared at the opening of the exhibition. “This is Maramures of the year 2007, seen by the author in a particular manner and shares this vision with us. It is an ageless Maramures. The author of the pictures avoids the accents of poor taste that appeared in this region during the latest decades and concentrates on the honourable traditions. The usage of black and white photographs creates the impression of patrimony images”, Virgil Nitulescu, General Secretary at the Ministry of Culture declared on the same occasion. “Baudoin Lotin’s photographs reveal the point of view of a Walloon on an impressive region. I hope that he will continue exploring this region, and that his pictures will be exposed in other Romanian cities as well, but also in Brussels and other countries”, the General Representative of Wallonia to Bucharest, Mr. Daniel Sotiaux declared on his turn. A photographer, as well as a documentaries and scientific films producer, Baudoin Lotin is a constant presence in the Belgian and European cultural space. He started his work in photography with a report referring to the monks of the Maredsous Abbey (1974). During the next two years, he concentrates his activity on the boxing environment in Belgium.
After 1982, he dedicates his activity to Mexico. His works are presented in various Belgian galleries and institutions, as well as abroad.
5 February 2008
The Venice Mayoralty offered Romania a permanent invitation to attend annually the Carnival with tourist and cultural pavilion, Ovidiu Silaghi, Minister for Small and Medium Enterprises, Trade, Travelling and Liberal Professions (MIMMCTPL).
“From the year to come, Romania will have a permanent pavilion at the Carnival from Venice. We were offered a partnership proposal from behalf of the Venice Mayoralty, suggesting that Romania’s stand during the period of the Carnival would gain permanent status. I am sure that we will be excellently prepared next year, as we received the invitation to attend this year’s edition of the Carnival three months before the event”, Ovidiu Silaghi mentioned. The Minister further explained that the number of Italian tourists in Romania is due to increase significantly, as Venice is Italy’s most visited city, with approximately 20 million visitors annually. Romania is the first honorary guest of the Carnival of Venice, organized by the Italian city during January 25 - February 5. During the 2008 edition, Romanian culture and traditions were the main attractions of the festival.
Romania attends the festival with theatre companies, such as the Masca Theatre, folklore and traditional music groups, as well as artisans. Romanian attendance also features a 5.500-square-metre sized stand promoting tourism, culture, history and traditions of Romania. The attendance requested investments of approximately EUR 150,000 for the events referring to Romanian tourism.
Wikipedia 5 February 2008
1 February 2008
BUCHAREST, Romania (AP)—The Constitutional Court has struck down the law that opened Romania's secret police archives, a blow to efforts to further expose the country's communist past.
Many Romanians contend the law had been used for retribution and blackmail. In the eight years since it took effect, many public figures have been exposed as collaborators with the communist-era Securitate secret police.
The court ruling, issued Thursday, effectively forces the Council for the Study of the Securitate Archives to shut down, and makes its previous decisions null.
The Constitutional Court said it found the law to be unconstitutional in allowing the council to act as a court—playing both prosecutor and judge and hearing initial appeals.
Although Romanians found to have collaborated with the Securitate were not prosecuted, they could be barred from public office.
Parliament has 45 days to amend the law.
One council member, Ticu Dumitrescu, called the ruling ''immoral and shocking'' and said it was issued as the council was studying the files of high-ranking magistrates, some of them Constitutional Court members.
Another council member, Mircea Dinescu, noted the ruling was issued just before elections, and after the council had received the full archive with some 2 million cases for inspection. Previously, the council had some 7,000 cases to review, he said.
''This (decision) has long been dreamed of by some people, who will be able now to have a good night sleep,'' Dinescu said.
Romania has long debated how best to deal with its communist past, when an estimated 700,000 informers spied on friends and relatives for the secret police.
The council has said some files were destroyed after the 1989 revolution that ended communism in Romania.
More than 20 civil society organizations condemned the court ruling, which they said represented a ''return to communist practices.''
Others were pleased with the verdict. Sen. Serban Nicolae called the ruling ''good, constitutional and useful to Romanian society.''
30 January 2008
The project is worth EUR 80 million. The new location will provide reading rooms for approximately 3,000 persons.
The new residence of the National Library, located near the Union Square, is due to be inaugurated until May 2011, and the construction works are scheduled to start in April 2008, Culture and Religious Denominations Minister Adrian Iorgulescu announced on Tuesday.
The total sum allocated to this project is EUR 78,345,000, money granted by a loan from the Council of Europe Development Bank, including a 20 per cent contribution from the Romanian Government. The Bank demanded the Government to finish the project in at least 33 months, Iorgulescu declared.
The Minister further appreciated that building a new residence for the National Library is one of the most representative objectives for Romania’s image, as well as for the inhabitants of Bucharest, as the condition of the current building of the institution is “something between a building and a ruin”. “The National library will be more than a residence that includes a huge deposit of books, magazines and papers from Romania, it will be a multicultural space, at the same time”, Adrian Iorgulescu declared.
The building will include special reading rooms for very type of book - for approximately 3,000 persons, rooms for research and individual study - for approximately 500 persons and also a virtual computerised library. Several cultural spaces will be arranged as well - an amphitheatre with 400 seats, conference hall, multimedia spaces, book shop and antiquities shop, cafés and restaurants with terraces for approximately 200 persons. In addition, the library will have elevators and rolling stairs.
The low floors, starting with the ground floor, are destined to public and readers, and they will also host halls for cultural events, exhibitions, informing and documentation.
The higher floors of the building will host book deposits, laboratories for restoring and repairing books as well as personnel offices.
All these spaces will be placed around a massive atrium with glass ceiling and natural lights. The Library will include an amphitheatre once owned by the Ministry of Education, Research and Youth and will cover an area of 112,000 square metres.
The project will be completed with an additional one, destined for building parking spaces and garages. During the Nastase Government, this place was selected as future residence of the Governments. Afterwards, the building was destined to be the new National Library. Building a new residence for the National Library is part of the program “The restoration of Romanian historical monuments”.
30 January 2008
As any Romanian citizen knows, January 24, 1859 was the day when two Romanian states, Moldova and Walachia united, with the hope that the third state of the ancient Dacia, would soon become a part of the Mother-Country. January 24 is therefore a day of historical value for Romanians’ national endurance to the belligerent expanding actions of the three surrounding Empires: The Ottoman Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Russian Empire. In no another European area may we find another small country so troubled by aggressive territorial raptures and harshly exploited by three colonial Empires, that would successfully preserve national self-conscience, as Romanians did. They not only managed to do it by difficult battles, but also by diplomatic action that managed to turn the three Empires against one another. This is why January 24, 1859 is a date of historical significance as well. Beside other similar western events, January 24, 1859 announces a major change in International Relationship: the replacement of Force by Law.
This explains the fact that, in the conscience of Romanians, January 24 was perceived from the very beginning as a sign of future. The Sign of the Great Union that would soon follow, on December 1, 1918. It was – and still remains - the highest ideal of Romanians. Although during 1966–1990, the National Day of Romania was changed under the pressure of an ephemeral power, due to temporary reasons and interests, the nimbus of history continued to glow on the dates of January 24 and December 1. These dates remained in the collective memories as “The Small Union” and “The Great Union”. By their specific force of recollection, reflection an hope, these genuinely national days were – an are still acknowledge in the conscience of the average Romanian citizen – as the responses of authentic national value against the noisy, arrogant, artificial, pompous and ephemeral celebrations of petty politics.
This supreme value is still preserved up to the time being. Both on January 24 and December 1, our national soul is not concentrated on bombastic declarations made by MPs and military parades, but on recollection at the heroes’ graves and sharing the sacred value of their holy confessions. Obviously, when the official attitude and the intimate one superpose, the respective celebration becomes the most impressive.
Yet, when they enter flagrant contradiction, the respective date turns into genuine drama. This is the case of January 24, 2008 as celebrated in Iasi.
The Municipium of Iasi was selected as the official space of celebrating 149 years since “The Small Union.” Many people from various regions of the country, including Bessarabia, came to attend the event: ordinary people, everyday people, caring people, who brought along either their children, or their flags, or, sometimes, both. Yet, it was also attended by the Romanian authorities, by the President and the Premier, beside representatives of all parties. And the dramatic noise started. Because the celebration soon became a ridiculous political divergence, a disgusting electoral scandal. The historical significance of January 24 was thus altered by an annoying petty politics attitude, by superficial speeches and mutually aggressive speeches from behalf of the President and the Premier, followed by mutual whistles and hoots from their partisans. The national flag was replaced by flags of each party, and the traditional Union “Hora” (Romanian national dance, editor’s note) was replaced by two desolating, isolated, contradictory and depressing Union “Horas”. The officials’ arrogance increased their shallowness, and their shallowness increased their arrogance. Under the pressure of these “genetic ciphers”, in his speech, President Basescu announced the 149th anniversary as the 159th. And Premier Tariceanu had the tremendous arrogance to declare himself as a successor of Cuza, Kogalniceanu and I. C. Bratianu.
We cannot forget, on the other hand, the booing between the left-wing vs. right-wing parties during the ‘90s during celebrations of December 1 Day. In fact, these kind of manifestations leave the impression of a divided society – that was indeed true, at least at that time.
All of these result in a grotesque and tragic show, which proves that, beside their power, wealth, titles, international relations and limitless arrogance, Romanian politicians lack the most important thing: the virtue of national solidarity. They lack the symbol of the Union itself, so beautifully described by Romanian poet Alecsandri by the verse “Let’s hold each other’s hand/ As we all are Romanians in our hearts”. Yet, the hearts of Romanian politicians are empty of national ideals.
Therefore, the hope of redemption comes from the everyday people, the caring people who tenderly hold their children and national flags. After the high officials left Iasi, these were the ones who succeeded to provide the special light deserved by the date of January 24, 2008.
These were the people who danced, in Targu Mures, Cluj Napoca and other Romanian cities, the authentic Union “Hora”, as a symbol of Romanian victory and permanence. They are the symbol of hope in the struggle between recollection and arrogance.
24 January 2008
In 1859, the pro-western unionist elite from the medieval principalities of Moldova and Wallachia, which were still under the rather formal sovereignty of the Ottoman Empire, came up with the political solution of a union that had until then been denied to them. Having finally become a political decision maker, the generation of the 1848 revolution took advantage of a favourable geopolitical context following the recently ended Crimean War, in which Russia, hostile to the union, was defeated and pro-Romanian France emerged victorious. Soon after being appointed the ruler of Moldova on the 5th of January, colonel Alexandru Ioan Cuza, himself a participant in the 1848 Revolution, was also elected ruler of Wallachia by an ad-hoc election assembly on the 24th of January.
The double election of colonel Cuza implied a personal union, something which the great powers agreed to. At first, they said they would recognise the union only as long as Cuza remained in power. Cuza's rule lasted until 1866 and saw a number of essential reforms: the unification of the legal systems, the administration and the armies of the two principalities, the beginning of institutional Europenisation and a far-reaching agricultural reform, thanks to which many properties belonging to boyars and monasteries were distributed among farmers living in poverty. Also, for the first time in its history, Bucharest became the capital of all Romanians. The Romanian state started funding schools and churches for Romanians living everywhere from the Balkans to Transylvania, under the rule of multinational empires such as the Ottoman Empire, the Habsburg Empire and the Tsarist Empire.
Thus, Cuza became, and remains to this day, one of the most popular rulers of Romanians. However, his authoritarian tendencies, his lack of international experience and his libertine behaviour created a gap between Cuza and the political class. Forced to renounce power and go into exile, Cuza eventually died far his home country. Determined to bring the country closer to the West, Romanian politicians invited prince Carol to take over the throne, a member of the German aristocratic family of Hohenzollern. His rule, the longest in Romania's history, lasted 48 years and had a decisive contribution to the consolidation of the Romanian state. It was during his rule that the country acquired full independence in 1877 and saw the proclamation of the Romanian Kingdom in 1881. Carol's successor, Ferdinand 1st, acquired the union of all Romanians in 1918, after World War One.
Known in history as Greater Romania, this was a rather temporary construction. In 1940, Bolshevik and Stalinist Russia re-annexed the eastern Romanian territories of Bassarabia and northern Bukovina, today divided between the ex-Soviet republics of Moldova and Ukraine. The relationship today between Chisinau and Bucharest is not very good. Having resumed power, the pro-Russian communists in Moldova are trying to legitimise the artificial concept of a Moldovan identity as something different from Romanian identity. Blinded by a pathological anti-Romanian feeling, president Vladimir Voronin and his people are seeking to manufacture a Moldova for their own personal use, and intentionally forget that the unification of Romanians started with Cuza's first election in Iasi, which is, in fact, Moldova's historical capital.
20 January 2008
“HAVE YOU SEEN THE ROMANIAN MOVIE?” This somewhat improbable question began to circulate around the midpoint of the 2005 Cannes Film Festival. For some reason, the critics, journalists and film-industry hangers-on who gather in Cannes each May to gossip and graze rarely refer to the films they see there by their titles, preferring a shorthand of auteur, genre or country of origin (“the Gus Van Sant”; “the Chinese documentary”; “that Russian thing”). It’s a code that everyone is assumed to know, and in this case there was not much room for confusion. How many Romanian movies could there be?
More than most of us would have predicted as it turned out. But for the moment we were happy to have “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu,” the second feature by Cristi Puiu, though given the movie’s methods and subject matter there was perhaps something a little perverse in our joy. Its exotic provenance was not the only thing that made Puiu’s movie sound like something only a stereotypical film snob could love. More than two and a half hours long, “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu” chronicles the last night in the life of its title character, a flabby 63-year-old Bucharest pensioner with a stomachache and a drinking problem. Filmed in a quasi-documentary style in drab urban locations — a shabby apartment, the inside of an ambulance, a series of fluorescent-bulbed hospital waiting and examination rooms — it follows a narrative arc from morbidity to mortality punctuated by casual, appalling instances of medical malpractice.
And yet viewers who witnessed poor Dante Lazarescu’s unheroic passing on the grand screen of the Salle Debussy emerged from the experience feeling more exhilarated than depressed. “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu” is raw, melancholy and unflinching, but it is also lyrical, funny and, perhaps paradoxically, full of life. And though the wobbling camera and the use of unflattering available light create an atmosphere of tough, unadorned naturalism, the film is also, on closer inspection, a remarkably artful piece of work, with a strong, unpredictable story, rigorous camera work and powerfully understated performances. The excitement that greeted it came from the feeling that one of the oldest and strongest capacities of cinema — to capture and illuminate reality, one face, one room, one life at a time — had been renewed.
When the festival was over, Cristi Puiu returned to Bucharest with an award, called Un Certain Regard, given to the best film in a side program that frequently upstages the main competition. The rest of us went home with the glow of discovery that is one reason we go to film festivals in the first place. This is not an especially unusual occurrence on the festival circuit. Every so often, a modest picture from an obscure place makes a big splash in the relatively small international art-film pond. But the triumph of “Mr. Lazarescu” in Cannes turned out to be a sign of things to come. In 2006, the year after “Mr. Lazarescu,” attentive Cannes adventurers would find room in their screening schedules for two new Romanian movies, Catalin Mitulescu’s “Way I Spent the End of the World” and Corneliu Porumboiu’s “12:08 East of Bucharest,” both of which dealt, albeit in very different ways, with the revolution of 1989. When the time came to hand out awards, Porumboiu won the Caméra d’Or, given to the best debut feature.
A year later, the first film in the Cannes competition to be shown to the press was Cristian Mungiu’s second feature, “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days,” a harrowing, suspenseful story of illegal abortion and an unsparing portrait of daily life in the last years of Communist rule. By the end of the festival, “the Romanian abortion movie” (its inevitable and somewhat unfortunate shorthand designation) had overpowered a competitive field. There was much delight but no great surprise when Mungiu, a soft-spoken, round-faced 39-year-old, walked onto the stage of the Salle Lumière on the last night of the festival to accept the Palme d’Or, the festival’s top prize and a token of membership in the world fraternity of cinematic masters (or at least in a diverse club whose other recent inductees include Roman Polanski, Lars von Trier and Michael Moore). Earlier in the day, the Certain Regard jury (one of whose members was Cristi Puiu) gave its award to “California Dreamin’,” yet another Romanian movie whose director, the prodigiously talented Cristian Nemescu, died in a car accident the year before at the age of 27.
In three years, then, four major prizes at the world’s pre-eminent film festival went to movies from a country whose place in the history of 20th-century cinema might charitably be called marginal. The post-Cannes triumphal march of “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” (it opens in New York on Friday) to the tops of English-language critics’ polls and year-end lists, as well as to a Golden Globe nomination, offers belated confirmation of last spring’s news flash from the Côte d’Azur. But perhaps you are hearing it here first: the Romanian new wave has arrived.
IS THERE OR IS THERE NOT?
Such is the consensus, or at least the hype, within the worldwide critical community. In Romania itself, where Mungiu’s Palme d’Or was front-page news and occasioned a burst of national pride (including a medal bestowed on the director by the country’s president), there is a bit more skepticism. The Romanian title of “12:08 East of Bucharest,” the 2006 Caméra d’Or winner, is “Fost sau n-a fost,” which translates as “was there or was there not?” The question is posed by the pompous host of a provincial television talk show to an undistinguished panel (consisting of an alcoholic schoolteacher, a semiretired Santa Claus and a desultory handful of callers) on the 16th anniversary of the revolution that overthrew Nicolae Ceausescu. The moderator wants his guests to address whether or not, in their sad little city in Moldavia (Porumboiu’s hometown of Vaslui), the revolution really happened. A long and inconclusive debate follows, punctuated by verbal digressions and technical difficulties: a production assistant’s hand reaches into the frame; the camera abruptly zooms in on the host’s nose. (“At last, a close-up,” he says). A discussion of contemporary Romanian cinema with Romanian filmmakers and critics can sometimes resemble that scene: “Is there or is there not a Romanian new wave?” Or, as it was put recently, with some irreverence, before a very distinguished panel at a contentious public debate held at the Romanian Cultural Institute in New York, “Romanian Cinema: The Golden Age?”
Compared with what? Romanian cinema, it will be pointed out, was not born with “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu.” As it happened, Cristian Mungiu’s Palme d’Or arrived punctually on the 50th anniversary of the first Romanian Palme, awarded in 1957 to Ion Popescu-Gopo’s “Short History,” a charming, wordless animated short in which human evolution and industrial development culminate in the planting of large daisylike flowers on distant planets. More to the point, there was a Romanian movie industry in the 1970s and ’80s, and many of the filmmakers whose movies traveled the festival rounds in those days — directors like Stere Gulea, Dan Pita and Mircea Daneliuc — are still active. The younger generation, furthermore, does not necessarily represent a unified or coherent movement.
In an article published last summer in the English-language journal European Alternatives, Alex Leo Serban, one of Romania’s leading film critics, instructed readers to keep in mind that “there are no ‘waves,’ . . . just individuals.” When I met him in Bucharest in November, Puiu, the director of “Mr. Lazarescu,” was more emphatic. “There is not, not, not, not, not a Romanian new wave,” he insisted, hammering the point home against the arm of his living-room couch. Puiu, who studied painting in Switzerland before turning to film, is given to grand, counterintuitive statements. (“I am not a filmmaker!” he practically shouted at me when I asked him, in all innocence, what inspired him to become one.) To spend time with him — as I discovered in the course of a long evening at his apartment, during which several bottles of Romanian wine and countless American cigarettes joined Mr. Lazarescu in the great beyond — is to be drawn into frequent and fascinating argument. Over hors d’oeuvres, we stumbled into a friendly quarrel over the idea that anyone’s life has ever really been changed by a book or a film, and as we ate roast lamb at Puiu’s high, narrow kitchen table we debated whether or not a camera’s zoom could be said to correspond to any activity of the human eye.
When it comes to new waves, the critics who announce (or invent) them have more of an investment than artists, who understandably resist the notion that their individuality might be assimilated into some larger tendency. Ever since the French Nouvelle Vague of the late 1950s and early ’60s, cinephiles have scanned the horizon looking for movement. In Czechoslovakia before 1968, in West Germany and Hollywood in the 1970s and more recently in Taiwan, Iran and Uzbekistan, the metaphor signaled newness, iconoclasm, a casting off of tradition and a rediscovery of latent possibilities. It also contains an implicit threat of obsolescence, since what crests and crashes ashore is also sure to ebb. Which may be one reason for partisans of Romanian cinema to resist the idea of a wave. If no one wins a prize next year in Cannes, will this golden age be over?
But it’s hard, all the same, for an outsider to give full credence to the notion that the current flowering of Romanian film is entirely a matter of happenstance, the serendipitous convergence of a bunch of idiosyncratic talents. For one thing, to watch recent Romanian movies — the features and the shorts, the festival prizewinners and those that might or should have been — is to discover a good deal of continuity and overlap in addition to obvious differences.
Though they might be reluctant to admit it, the new Romanian filmmakers have a lot in common beyond their reliance on a small pool of acting and technical talent. Because of the stylistic elements they share — a penchant for long takes and fixed camera positions; a taste for plain lighting and everyday décor; a preference for stories set amid ordinary life — Puiu, Porumboiu and Mungiu are sometimes described as minimalists or neo-neorealists. But while their work does show some affinity with that of other contemporary European auteurs, like the Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, who make art out of the grim facts of quotidian existence, the realism of the Romanians has some distinct characteristics of its own.
It seems like something more than coincidence, for example, that the five features that might constitute a mini-canon of 21st-century Romanian cinema — “Stuff and Dough,” Puiu’s first feature; “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu”; “12:08 East of Bucharest”; “The Paper Will Be Blue,” by Radu Muntean; and “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” — all confine their action to a single day and focus on a single action. This is less a matter of Aristotelian discipline than of respect for the contingency and loose-endedness of real experience. In each case, the action is completed — Lazarescu dies; the abortion in “4 Months” is performed; the broadcast in “12:08” comes to an end — but a lingering, haunting sense of inconclusiveness remains. The narratives have a shape, but they seem less like plots abstracted from life than like segments carved out of its rough rhythms. The characters are often in a state of restless, agitated motion, confused about where they are going and what they will find when they arrive. The camera follows them into ambulances, streetcars, armored vehicles and minivans, communicating with unsettling immediacy their anxiety and disorientation. The viewer is denied the luxury of distance. After a while, you feel you are living inside these movies as much as watching them.
When Otilia, the heroine of “4 Months,” joins a dinner party at her boyfriend’s house, the camera stays across the table from her, putting the audience in the position of a silent, watchful guest. We know she has just been through an unspeakably strange and awful experience, but the others, friends of the boyfriend’s parents, are oblivious, and their banal, posturing wisdom becomes excruciating. The emptiness of authority — whether generational, political or conferred by elevated social status — is an unmistakable theme in the work of nearly all the younger Romanian filmmakers. The doctors who neglect Mr. Lazarescu; the grandiose, small-time television host in “12:08”; the swaggering army commanders and rebel leaders in “The Paper Will Be Blue” and their successors, the officious bureaucrats in “California Dreamin’ ” — all of these men (and they are all men) display a self-importance that is both absurd and malignant. Their hold on power is mitigated sometimes by their own clumsiness but more often by unheralded, stubborn acts of ordinary decency. An ambulance technician decides to help out a suffering old man who is neither kin nor especially kind; a student stands stoically by her irresponsible friend; a militia officer, in the middle of a revolution, goes out of his way to find and protect an errant, idealistic young man under his command.
There is almost no didacticism or point-making in these films, none of whose characters are easily sorted into good guys and bad guys. Instead, there is an almost palpable impulse to tell the truth, to present choices, conflicts and accidents without exaggeration or omission. This is a form of realism, of course, but its motivation seems to be as much ethical as aesthetic, less a matter of verisimilitude than of honesty. There is an unmistakable political dimension to this kind of storytelling, even when the stories themselves seem to have no overt political content. During the Ceausescu era, which ended abruptly, violently and somewhat ambiguously in December 1989 — in the last and least velvety of the revolutions of that year — Romanian public life was dominated by fantasies, delusions and lies. And the filmmakers who were able to work in such conditions resorted, like artists in other communist countries, to various forms of allegory and indirection. Both Puiu and Mungiu describe this earlier mode of Romanian cinema as “metaphorical,” and both utter the word with a heavy inflection of disgust.
“I wanted to become a filmmaker as a reaction to that kind of cinema,” Mungiu told me. “Nothing like this ever happened in real life. And you got this desire to say: ‘People, you don’t know what you’re talking about. This is all fake. This is not what you should be telling in films. I could do way better than you.’ I felt this way, but I think this whole generation had that feeling. Those movies were badly acted, completely unbelievable, with stupid situations, lots of metaphors. It was a time when, you know, saying something about the system was more important than telling a story.”
The new generation finds itself with no shortage of stories to tell, whether about the traumas of the Stalinist past or the confusions of the Euro-consumerist present — and also, for the moment, with an audience eager to hear them.
TALES FROM THE GOLDEN AGE
Or perhaps with several different audiences. “Make sure you pay attention to the words on the screen at the beginning,” Mungiu advised a packed house of moviegoers who had come, six months after Cannes, to see “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days.” This was in Silver Spring, Md., at a program of new European movies presented by the American Film Institute. I saw Mungiu in Cannes in May and met him briefly at the New York Film Festival, but as it happened I would be unable to catch him in Bucharest. After his triumphant homecoming and a kind of roadshow Romanian release of “4 Months” over the summer, he had been in a state of frequent-flier exile familiar to successful filmmakers, crisscrossing the globe — with stops in Korea, Berlin, Los Angeles and now the suburbs of Washington — to show his movie.
His opening remarks were meant to direct the audience’s attention to the only part of “4 Months” that provides its story with explicit context, a note in the lower right-hand corner that says, “Romania, 1987.” But for this crowd, it turned out, the explanation was redundant. They knew exactly where they were. Two-thirds of the way through the screening — at a point when the viewer is fully immersed in the helplessness and dread that are the film’s governing emotions — I bumped into Mungiu just outside the theater doors. He appeared to be listening intently to what was going on inside. “I think there are a lot of Romanians here tonight,” he said, looking up. I asked what gave him that impression. “They’re laughing,” he said. “They always do.”
Now, it should be noted that “4 Months” is about as far from a comedy as a movie can be. If you were looking for a generic label, you could do worse than to call it a kind of horror movie, in which the two main characters, young women in jeopardy, are subjected to the sadism of an unscrupulous abortionist and, almost worse, the indifference, hostility and incomprehension of just about everyone else. It is not an easy film to watch, but it feels, to a non-Romanian, like an absolutely convincing anatomy of what ordinary people endured under communism. And it clearly felt that way to the members of the Romanian diaspora as well, except that they found humor in addition to horror in revisiting a familiar bygone world. What followed the screening was less the anticipated Q-and-A session than a trip down memory lane, which spilled out into the theater lobby and continued well into the night. “That was exactly like my dorm room at university,” one woman announced. Another wanted to know how Mungiu found the brands of soap, gum and other items that had been staples of the Ceausescu era. (“You can find anything on the Internet,” he replied.)
Mungiu originally conceived “4 Months,” which is based on something that happened to a woman he knows, as part of a series of “Tales From the Golden Age,” an ironic reference to the way Ceausescu characterized his reign, which began in 1965. Born in 1968, Mungiu calls himself a “child of the decree,” meaning Ceausescu’s 1966 edict restricting abortion and birth control for the purpose of spurring economic development by increasing the Romanian population. Though the law fell short of its demographic goals, it did in its way spawn a handful of new Romanian filmmakers, who reached adolescence and early adulthood just as Ceausescu’s monstrous utopian experiment was collapsing. Puiu was born in 1967. Muntean, whose experience in the military during the 1989 revolution is the basis of “The Paper Will Be Blue,” is four years younger. Corneliu Porumboiu was 14 (and playing table tennis with a friend) when the old regime fell.
Its demise was an anomaly, much as the regime itself was. One especially painful aspect of Romanian communism was that it was, well, Romanian — an indigenous outgrowth at least as much as a foreign imposition. For much of his reign, Ceausescu was admired in the West for his relative independence from Moscow, but internally he fostered a nationalist cult of personality that in some ways had more in common with Kim Il Sung’s North Korea (which Ceausescu came to admire after visiting in the early 1970s) than with desultory bureaucratic police states like Czechoslovakia and East Germany. And perhaps for this reason — because Romanians were not simply throwing off an imperial yoke, but at the same time exorcising a leader who claimed to be the highest incarnation of their identity as a people — the Romanian revolution was by far the most violent in Eastern Europe in 1989. Elsewhere, the imagery of that year consists of hammers chipping at the Berlin Wall and a playwright installed in Prague Castle, but in Romania there are soldiers firing into crowds, torn flags and the summary execution, on Christmas Day, of the dictator and his wife. And the nature of the event is shadowed, to this day, by doubt and irresolution. Was it a popular uprising or a coup d’etat sponsored by an opportunistic faction within the military and the ruling party? Its aftermath — in particular the violent suppression of pro-democracy demonstrations in June 1990 — was nearly as bloody as the revolution itself, and the transition out of communism in the 1990s was marked by economic crisis, political stalemate and social malaise.
It would be an unwarranted generalization for me to claim that Romanians are still preoccupied with this history. I can say, though, that every conversation I had in Bucharest, even the most casual, circled back to the old days, so that I sometimes felt that they ended much more recently than 18 years ago. And the physical aspect of Bucharest confirms this impression. The busy shopping streets have the usual storefronts — Sephora, Hugo Boss, various cellphone carriers and European grocery chains — and the main north-south road out of town is jammed with Land Rovers and lined with big-box discount stores. Turn a corner, though, or glance behind one of the billboards mounted on the walls of old buildings, and you are thrown backward, from the shiny new age of the European Union (which Romania joined only last year) into the rustiest days of the Iron Curtain. The architecture is a jumble of late-19th-century Hapsburg-style villas and gray socialist apartment blocks, some showing signs of renovation, others looking as if they had fallen under the protection of some mad Warsaw Pact preservation society.
This layering of the old and the new was perhaps most apparent when I visited Bucharest’s National University of Drama and Film (U.N.A.T.C.), a venerable institution housed in a building rumored to have been previously used as a training facility for the Securitate, Ceausescu’s notorious secret police. Mungiu, Porumboiu and Nemescu are all U.N.A.T.C. graduates, and Puiu currently teaches courses there in screen acting. Like much else in the city, the complex was under renovation, with freshly painted walls and tools banging and buzzing in the corridors and courtyards. In a drafty classroom downstairs, I was introduced to members of the faculty, who sat silently and warily, arms folded, as, with the help of an interpreter, I fumbled through an explanation of my interest in new Romanian film. It was not an interest any of them gave much indication of sharing, apart from one voluble professor. “We are all dinosaurs, but at least I will admit that I am one,” he announced, before going on to praise the achievements of his former students.
Afterward, feeling as if I had just failed an oral exam, I went upstairs to meet with some current students — about 40 of them, crowded into a small screening room. The difference between them and their professors seemed to be more than just a matter of age and status. They belonged to a different world, one in which I felt perfectly at home. I wanted to talk about Romanian cinema, and while they had a lot to say about the subject, they also wanted to talk about Borat and David Lynch, about Sundance and the Oscars, about Japanese anime and “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.”
Fost sau n-a fost? You tell me.
“There is no Romanian film industry.” This is not another one of Cristi Puiu’s counterintuitive provocations but rather a statement I was to hear again and again in Bucharest as I visited the offices of film schools and production companies, a studio back lot and the headquarters of the National Center for Cinematography (C.N.C.). There was no shortage of industriousness, but Romania lacks the basic infrastructure that makes the cycle of production, distribution and exhibition viable in other countries. What is missing, above all, is movie theaters: there are around 80 cinemas serving a country of 22 million people, and 7 of the 42 largest municipalities have no movie screens at all. (In the United States there are almost 40,000 screens and millions of movie fans who still complain that there is nothing to see).
What Romania does have, in addition to a backlog of stories crying out to be told on screen, are traditions and institutions that give filmmakers at least some of the tools required to tell them. The “dinosaurs” at U.N.A.T.C. take their pupils through a rigorous program of instruction that includes courses in aesthetics and art history and requires them to make two 35-millimeter short films before graduating, one of them in black and white. This kind of old-school technical training, which extends to acting as well, surely accounts for some of the sophistication and self-assurance that Mungiu, Porumboiu and their colleagues display.
Not that anything comes easily. The shortage of screens means that the potential for domestic commercial returns is small, and therefore it is hard to attract substantial private investment, either from within Romania or from outside the country. And the scarcity of theaters makes exhibition quotas — which other countries use to protect their film industries from being overwhelmed by Hollywood — untenable. But if there is no film industry, there is at least a Law of Cinematography (modeled on a French statute) that establishes a mechanism by which the state helps finance movie production. Taxes collected on television advertising revenue, DVD sales and other media-related transactions go into a fund, money from which is distributed in a twice-yearly competition. Winning projects are ranked, with the top selections receiving as much as 50 percent of their production costs from the fund. Film costs tend to be modest — the budget of “4 Months” was around 700,000 euros — and the filmmakers have 10 years to pay back the state’s investment, at which point they own the film outright.
Many of the filmmakers I spoke to complained about the system. Porumboiu, impatient with its slow pace and bureaucratic obstacles, financed “12:08” himself. Shortly before Cannes last year, Mungiu was involved in a public spat with the C.N.C. that made headlines in the local press. After a dispute with the center, Puiu circulated a letter pledging never to participate in the system again.
But a collection of the movies that arose from harmonious relations between filmmakers and their financiers would consist largely of home videos and vanity projects. Even frustrated artists, in other words, can flourish. And their success abroad, moreover, feeds the system with prestige and helps bring in money from the European Union and adventurous foreign investors.
Though Romania’s homegrown film industry will most likely remain small, it exists in close proximity to Hollywood itself. American audiences may not be familiar with “The Paper Will Be Blue” or “Stuff and Dough,” but those who have seen “Cold Mountain,” “Borat” or “Seed of Chucky” can claim some acquaintance with Romanian cinema, or at least with movies made in Romania. About 20 miles outside of Bucharest, where newly built suburban developments give way to farmland, is the Castel Film Studio, a vast complex that houses the largest soundstage in Europe, a 200,000-gallon tank for underwater filming and standing sets like city streets, a full-size wingless jet and the mountain hamlet from “Cold Mountain.”
Castel promises skilled labor at a lower cost than producers are likely to find in the United States or Western Europe (though the weakness of the dollar has made its prices a bit less attractive to Americans). Its crews are trained at the rigorous Romanian film schools, and in turn receive hands-on experience with equipment that is hard to come by in modest Romanian productions. Oleg Mutu, the director of photography who brought Bucharest to gloomy life in “Mr. Lazarescu” and “4 Months,” spent a few weeks operating a camera on “Cold Mountain.” Cristi Puiu recently shot an insurance commercial at Castel. The U.N.A.T.C. students, even as they dream of Golden Palms and envision making tough, realistic movies about immigrants, Gypsies and alienated youth, acknowledge that they are more likely to find paying work in advertising or television.
Meanwhile, the stars of the current wave — who are part of what is to my mind the most exciting development in a European national cinema since Spain in the 1980s — contemplate their next projects and prepare their proposals for the next round of C.N.C. competitions. One afternoon in Bucharest, Corneliu Porumboiu and I sat in the cafe at the Bucharest Cinematheque, drinking coffee and talking about movies: Woody Allen; “The Lives of Others”; the Italian neorealists. The Cinematheque is a kind of mothership for Bucharest cineastes. It’s where they went to discover exotic films when they were younger, and where their films are now shown and celebrated in a country without many other public places for movie going.
After a while, we got up, and Porumboiu offered to show me around the screening rooms. At the box-office entrance, decorated with a “4 Months, 3 Weeks and Two Days” flier, a guard confronted us and shooed us away. The facilities were closed. Porumboiu tried to explain that he wanted to show them to a guest from New York, but he was rebuffed. We could buy a ticket or rent out a theater, but we couldn’t just walk in and look around. And so we wandered away, to find another place to hang out in this bustling, bedraggled city. It occurred to me that maybe there was no Romanian translation of the sentence “Do you know who I am?” — which would have been the first thing out of an American director’s mouth in a similar situation. Or perhaps this was a double-edged metaphor: maybe in Bucharest, nowadays, a filmmaker with a prize from Cannes is nothing special.
A.O. Scott, a film critic at The Times, last wrote for the magazine about the history of the Hollywood Western.
16 January 2008
In 1991, after a failed neo-Bolshevik coup in Moscow, anti-communists around the world seemed to rejoice all too soon. The USSR did not just vanish. Rather, it multiplied. A case in point is the strategy of Ukraine, of a brand of cynicism previously associated with Soviet diplomacy, employed in the dispute with Romania over the delimitation of the Black Sea continental shelf. Covering only 17 hectares, without fresh water, without economic operations and, as the name suggests, mostly populated by reptiles, in terms of international law the isle can best be defined as a barren rock.
This prevents Kiev from expanding its exclusive economic area as much as it would like to, and to thus appropriate the bulk of the rich hydrocarbon resources under the Black Sea. Ukraine received the Island as a successor state of the USSR. In 1948, after the Paris Peace Treaty had already defined the Romanian – Soviet borders, the Bucharest communists transferred the island to the USSR, as a token of gratitude for bringing them to power. Since the '90s, over 20 bilateral rounds of negotiation have failed.
As they were unable to reach an agreement, Bucharest and Kiev eventually sought the arbitration of the International Court of Justice in The Hague. Awaiting the ruling, the Ukrainians resorted to repeated, although unconvincing, attempts to prove that the Island is inhabited by people. They first announced that a bank office would be opened on the island. Then, the Parliament in Kiev decided to name the frontier guard’s barracks as “White Village”, and to put it on the map. The climax was reached on Tuesday, with President of Ukraine Viktor Yushchenko announcing that a decree had been signed, which turned the Serpent Island into a free economic zone. But Kiev's efforts will come to naught, says Romania’s representative at The Hague, Bogdan Aurescu:
“We have addressed notes to the Embassy of Ukraine in Bucharest, reiterating the same stand that we have always taken, namely that such measures cannot affect the natural features of the Serpent Island. Such actions cannot have judicial effects. The Romanian authorities are doing the right thing. At the moment, the written stage of the proceedings is drawing to an end. All the documents have been submitted, the memorandum of the Romanian side, versus the memorandum of the Ukrainian party.”
Aurescu is confident not only that the Romanian party stands to win in the Hague, but also that, reluctant though it may be, Ukraine will comply with the ruling. This is because...
“Rulings by the International Court of Justice are not of an advisory nature; they are binding.”
January 15 proposed to be celebrated as National Culture Day in Romania
The most important spiritual project of the Romanian nation, the publishing of Mihai Eminescu’s facsimiled manuscripts will soon be put into practice, Eugen Simion, the President of the National Foundation for Art and Culture announced on Tuesday, at the launching of seven volumes containing the “Manuscripts”.
“I hope that, on the same day of the year to come, I will have the pleasure to announce you: ‘we successfully finalised our most important spiritual project!’ “, Eugen Simion, the initiator of the daring project proudly declared.
Simion announced that the book was simultaneously and similarly launched at the Library of the Romania Academy, at subsidiaries of the Academy in Iasi, Cluj and Timisoara, and also in Venice, Rome, Gyula, Belgrade and Chisinau.
The former President of the Romanian Academy severely criticised “those who criticise Eminescu’s nationalism”, declaring that “on the contrary, those who curse Eminescu, such as Statie from Chisinau with his so-called Romanian-Moldavian Dictionary, or the historian who considered Eminescu a reactionary, should know that Eminescu was a Nationalist highly familiar with the European culture, and not a racist and a xenophobe”.
“Eminescu is considered by Romanians as the National poet, because he successfully presented the Romanian history, the ancient myths, and he depicted the issues of the Romanian society, the internal negative aspects as well as the threats coming from abroad”, Eugen Simion mentioned.
Eminescu’s manuscripts, kept by Titu Maiorescu in Eminescu’s famous case and donated to the Romanian Academy in 1902 by the author of the “Critical Notes” (Titu Maiorescu, editor’s note), consisted of 45 notebooks of about 14 000 pages, without a rigorous chronological order or a plan of themes. “The Notebooks” were read, studied, evaluated and published in several editions by several generations of critics, from Perpessicius and George Calinescu, up to Dimitrie Vatamaniuc or Petru Cretia. According to estimations made by historian Nicolae Iorga, they represent “a national monument”, based on the principle that “every phrase written by Eminescu is worth publishing.”
The Culture and Religious Denominations Minister, Adrian Iorgulescu announced on Tuesday, in a press realease, that he intends to suggest within a Government meeting that January 15 - Mihai Eminescu’s birthday - be declared the National Culture Day. Adrian Iorgulescu has previously circulated this idea in 2005 as well, on the poet’s anniversary, but he gave it up at that moment. On Tuesday, he restarted discussions on this matter.
Under these circumstances, Iorgulescu mentioned that every culture has a universal representative: Dante for Italians, Shakespeare for Englishmen, Goethe for Germans. And so must be Eminescu for Romanians. It is a day that must be highlighted in the calendar. Perhaps I will propose in a Government meeting that this day be celebrated as the National Culture Day. We already have a National Day; we should have a National Culture Day as well. And there is no better date than January 15”, the Culture Minister mentioned.
The Romanian Television broadcasted an extraordinary Saturday edition of the television show “Profesionistii” by Eugenia Voda, featuring 85 year old Majesty Queen Anne of Romania as special guest. This is actually the first interview offered by Queen Anne in her entire life.
During the show, Her Majesty counted the story of her life with King Michael I, as well as the story of her family. During the interview, Queen Anne described how she met her husband, King Michael and revealed details on the life of a Royal family. “The King did not know how to attend a queue, in front of a cinema theatre, how to buy a ticket”, the Queen smilingly mentioned. Then, the Queen nostalgically remembered how she sold ribbons and artificial flowers in a New York florists’ shop, and the moment when her mother and her mother-in-law went to an audience at the Pope Pius XII in order to ask for his approval to her marriage to King Michael, as she was a Catholic and the King was Orthodox. The Pope’s refusal determined her mother to hit the table with her fist. From the secrets of the Elizabeth Palace, Queen Anne revealed that the ghost of a very beautiful woman haunts the building.
Queen Anne of Romania, daughter of Prince Rene de Bourbon-Parma and of Princess Margaret of Denmark, was born on September 18, 1923, in Paris. In 1939, she accompanied her family in Spain, Portugal, and afterwards, in the United States. In New York, she attended an art school. Since 1943 and until the end of the War, she attended the campaigns from Algeria, Morocco, Italy, Luxembourg and Germany, with the Free French Forces (under the command of General Charles de Gaulle). At the end of the war, she was awarded the “War Cross”. In June 1948, she married King Michael I of Romania, in Athens.
Wikipedia 10 January 2008
On this day...
8 January 2008
The EU will let Romania continue slaughtering animals in the traditional way for Christmas and Easter, Romania's agriculture minister says.
Dacian Ciolos told the BBC that for a few more years the EU would not require the stunning of animals in Romania.
Pigs and lambs have their throats slit in Romania for Christmas and Easter celebrations, respectively.
The European Union has banned pork exports from Romania because swine fever has been a recurrent problem.
Mr Ciolos said he had persuaded EU officials by citing other exemptions for animal slaughtering in Europe.
"The issue I raised was why the Spaniards' killing of bulls in an arena should not be considered an infringement of animal welfare rules, while our traditional way of sacrificing animals for Christmas and Easter should be," Mr Ciolos told the BBC Romanian Service.
Most Romanian pig farmers rear only small numbers of animals and slaughter them a few days before Christmas, selling the meat at markets.
EU law stipulates that animals must be killed in a way which avoids unnecessary suffering.
Animal health and food safety standards have been major concerns since Romania and Bulgaria joined the European Union on 1 January 2007.
The EU told both countries they would have to eradicate swine fever before they could sell pork in the rest of the EU without restrictions.
Most Romanian farmers rear only a few pigs.
3 January 2008
Romania made a splash on the world stage in 2007, becoming the film industry's feel-good story by walking off with two top honors at the Cannes Film Festival.
Romanian director Cristian Mungiu followed up his win of the Palme d'Or in May for his tale of life under oppression, "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days," by globetrotting to pick up top awards in Los Angeles and Stockholm, and best picture and best director awards at the European Film Awards in Berlin in December.
The filmmaker's successful run might not stop there. On December 13, "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days" was nominated for a U.S. Golden Globe award for best foreign-language film, and the picture enters 2008 as a front-runner for an Oscar for best foreign picture.
Ceausescu's 'Golden Age'
Mungiu's efforts are focused on personal experiences that bring new light to the realities of communist Romania.
Mungiu's groundbreaking "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days," already being called a masterpiece in some circles, is the first in a series of pictures envisaged by the director to expose the realities of living under oppression. "Tales From The Golden Age," as the series is called, draws on human stories to paint a realistic picture of life in Romania under the rule of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, without specifically focusing on the regime.
Aside from bringing some of his country's darkest days to light, the 39-year-old Mungiu tells RFE/RL's Romania-Moldova Service, the approach has helped fuel the comeback of Romania's film industry.
"I myself think it is the result of individual efforts by a generation with an exceptional talent for cinema," Mungiu says, "a generation that all of a sudden understood that a film today means going back to storytelling, a very passionate and honest way of telling a story, also a modern one, and not using a storytelling technique that says nothing to the moviegoer."
In the case of the award-winning "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days," the total repression in Romania in the late 1980s is depicted through the story of a young woman who is forced to go underground to seek an abortion.
Following a ban on abortion in the late 1960s, Romania experienced baby booms. But the law also led to a huge increase in the number of women who had to resort to illegal abortions, which could lead to lengthy jail sentences for both patient and doctor. The abortion ban was among the first laws lifted following Ceausescu's fall from power.
In "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days," the expecting Gabita and her best friend soon find that in seeking assistance, they fall prey to others seeking to capitalize on their dire situation. At one point, when confronted with a demand that she decide about the fate of her unborn baby, Gabita says wanly: "I feel sick. I can't believe this is happening. What do I do now?"
After winning the prestigious Palme d'Or at Cannes, director Mungiu admitted that the film took shape at the last minute and with budget problems. He also expressed his hope that "this award will be good news for small filmmakers from small countries."
Other Notable Successes
Mungiu tells RFE/RL that the emergence of Romanian filmmakers is in itself a crowning achievement, considering they did not benefit from association with a traditional "film school" such as those in other countries.
"The reform of the institutional film-industry system, a reform in which we are also involved, has been done to the point that every year more and more young filmmakers were given the chance to make their debut," Mungiu says. "At the end of the '90s, there was a debut once in two years; today we have four, six, even eight filmmaker debuts each year. And if there are real talents among them, that will be seen."
The reward, likely coming soon to a theater near you, is the chance to watch the development of a new, "Romanian school."
(reporting by RFE/RL's Romania-Moldova Service and contributions by RFE/RL's Mike Scollon)
3 January 2008
60 years after being forced to abdicate, His Majesty King Michael of Romania signed on Sunday a new dynastical statute of the Royal family. According to the new statute, the throne is inherited by Heiress Princess Margareta of Hohenzollern. The document was signed one day before the New Year's Eve and established the rights and obligations of the members of the Romanian Royalty.
In case Romania will ever return to monarchy as form of government, the Parliament will have to vote the canceling of the 1866 Salic Law, preventing women from mounting the throne.
In the new statute document, "Fundamental Norms of Romania's Royal Family", the Salic Law is described as "not corresponding to either the existing European rights, nor to the Romanian society values".
The Salic Law, adopted in 1866, forbid women from ascending the throne and imposed the elder brother or cousin as heir, in case the King had not any male descendents.
The husband of Princess Margareta, Radu, will receive the title of His Highness Consort Prince of Romania.
In a press release, His Majesty King Michael of Romania pointed at the fact that the new fundamental document of the Royal family was signed on the same day and at the same hour as his forced abdication, 60 years ago.
The King also announced his intention to reactivate the "Carol I" (Charles I) family order, emphasizing on the fact that it is not His Majesty's intention to have the royal decoration in conflict with the Presidential distinctions and medals. The order will be offered to those who supported the Royal Family in its effort for a democratic, free, prosper and dignified Romania.
3 January 2008
When film-maker Cristian Mungiu lifted the prestigious Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival in May, a high point in the history of Romanian cinema was attained.
His prize-winning 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days - a gritty drama set in the dark days of Ceausescu's dictatorship - followed triumphantly on the heels of other Romanian films to have made a recent international impact.
With Mungiu's film winning awards in the US and picking up a Golden Globe nomination, there is a palpable sense that Romanian cinema is the flavour of the month.
There is also hope it could also pick up the country's very first Academy Awards nod.
Era of stagnation
The 39-year-old director says the current crop of young, successful Romanian film-makers emerged in 2001 and began to get noticed after an era of stagnation and "failed" cinema about the communist years.
"Someone young had a film entered at Cannes and the following year I had a film at the festival - then we started to get awards," he explains.
"The new directors wanted to preserve this level of film-making and started positive competition. This got Romanian cinema a lot of attention."
Mungiu's 432 starkly tells the tale of two friends who seek an illegal abortion in dreary, tense 1980s Romania.
He says the skill of bringing human stories to the screen epitomises the strength of the country's contemporary cinema.
"I wanted to tell the story of these people and not the system. We as directors are all realists and decided that film should be about how real life is and how real people talk," he says.
Mungiu, also a producer, hopes the current interest in Romanian film does not prove to be just a flash in the pan.
"It will continue as long as the talent to keep making honest films and not being seduced by their own success still exists.
also recognised at Cannes
"I never make predictions about anything, but I hope it's not just a festival trend which gives special attention to cinema from certain countries. If you have a strong story, people are going to be interested."
Mungiu says he "won't be disappointed" if an Oscar nomination fails to materialise, and feels that the Palme d'Or is a more "reasonable" award for his small budget picture.
"I can't really appreciate what the consequences of a nomination would be, but I'm very calm."
Of the attention his film has grasped since May, he adds: "I have no idea whether all of this can last, but I'm going to use my influence well."
Mungiu's cinematic muscle will continue to be flexed with the Tales of The Golden Age - a series of human interest stories from the communist era, of which 432 is the first.
Other Romanian directors will be involved in the ongoing project.
Michael Gubbins, editor of Screen Daily, recently visited the Romanian capital Bucharest, and calls eastern Europe "a rich film-making area with a lot of strong stories to tell".
"They can tell tales which make our own look rather insipid. Romanian film-makers are developing these skills - it has become a credible cinematic country," he says.
"Romania has been put on the map and there are strong possibilities for growth."
But he concedes that another country is likely to be the buzzword in 2008, even though previous international hotspots, including South Korea and Denmark, have endured.
"Romania has been put on the map"
Meanwhile, Mr Gubbins is personally optimistic about 432's major US awards hopes.
"When you look at the other films, there is something extraordinary about it. It doesn't take a moral stance on abortion which may work in its favour there.
"I don't think there's too much else like it."
4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days opens in the UK on 4 January, with a limited release in the US from 25 January.