25 December 2011
where John Bagley was working
A Warwickshire man has managed to bring a stray dog he befriended in Romania back to this country.
John Bagley, 45, had to get a pet passport to bring the dog, called Husky, back to his home in Warwick.
He also had to get the stray released from a pound where he had been put by Romanian dog wardens.
Mr. Bagley said: "I could have gone down to the local dogs trust and picked one, but the dog that I've got has almost picked me."
Mr. Bagley works for a firm that installs paint spraying equipment for car manufacturers.
He first came across Husky when he spent three months working in Romania early in 2010.
"In winter it drops to minus 20 degrees and I was on nights so I was able to let him spend the night in our office—it was nice and warm and I used to feed him," he said.
Mr. Bagley then spent six months back in England before returning to Romania.
"I walked back on site and he came up to me and started fussing like I'd never been away," he said.
He had already thought about adopting the stray as a family pet when the dog was caught by government dog wardens.
"I found out which pound he was taken to and I took him back to my apartment and kept him there.
"Then I took him to the vets where he had his rabies shot and I got him microchipped and all the other things you have to do to bring a dog back to the UK," he said.
To get a pet passport Husky had to have a blood test and then spend six months in quarantine.
Once the six months had passed Mr. Bagley was able to make the journey back to Romania by plane and car to pick Husky up.
"It's cost me a bit of money do it but once I've said I'm going to do something I go through with it and do it whatever," he said.
On this day...
1947 – Michael, King of Romania, was forced to abdicate by the country's communist government.
29 October 2011
The last thing I expected was for Prince Charles to crack a joke about being descended from Dracula.
But when I spoke to him for my new TV show Wild Carpathia, he told me he can trace his ancestry back, through his great-grandmother Queen Mary, to the half-brother of Vlad the Impaler, the inspiration for Dracula. Prince Charles seemed quite amused by his dark lineage.
A friend took him to visit the monastery, near Bucharest, where Vlad is buried and showed him his grave. ‘So I do have a bit of a stake in the country,’ he joked. Prince Charles has been visiting Transylvania–the home of his infamous ancestor–for more than a decade and feels passionately that it’s the last corner of Europe where there’s still a real balance between mankind and nature.
And it needs to be preserved, not just for its incredible biodiversity but because it nourishes the soul. To visit Transylvania (part of modern-day Romania) and the Carpathian mountains is to enter a time warp. It’s one of the last great wildernesses in Europe, where bears, wolves and lynx roam a medieval land in which farmers and shepherds live as they’ve done for hundreds of years. Prince Charles has fallen in love with this place, and so have I.
When I travelled to Romania earlier this year to make the programme, we stayed in the remote village of Zalanpatak, in a 400-year-old farmhouse and barn that have been restored for HRH by his friend, Count Tibor Kalnoky.
The forest is just yards from the back door, and one teatime we saw two brown bears enjoying the last of the sunlight as they grazed in the meadow in front of the house. It was a magical moment.
Sadly, if we don’t preserve this landscape, there’s a danger it will disappear within the next ten years. ‘Transylvania has so much to teach us,’ Prince Charles told me. ‘It’s the last corner of Europe where we see true sustainability. We must learn from that before it’s too late.
‘People will say, “Oh, you’re trying to preserve things in aspic, you’re trying to prevent progress.” But you’d think by now we might have learned our lesson from all that’s gone wrong with the agroindustrial approach,’ he said, referring to the large-scale, highly mechanised production prevalent in farms today.
That’s why Prince Charles has been working with Count Tibor to restore some of these beautiful houses, not only to preserve local skills, but to promote responsible tourism so people have a means of supplementing their incomes. If you wander through villages like Viscri, now designated by UNESCO as a world heritage site, you see a landscape much like England was in the Middle Ages. Yet it’s a way of life that’s being destroyed.
From the air, you can see great swathes of deforestation. HRH kindly allowed us to film him at Birkhall, his home at Balmoral–because that’s the Carpathian landscape of the future if they continue cutting down trees at the present rate. The Scottish Highlands are undoubtedly beautiful, but they are barren. Yet this was once the ancient Forest of Caledon, with wolves, bears, lynx and European elk.
But bears and other big carnivores need vast tracts of wilderness, linked by corridors that let them migrate and move freely. The wilderness, on the other hand, needs large carnivores because they keep the ecosystem in balance. Without wolves at the top of the food chain, deer and chamois stray down from the mountains, damaging crops and the shoots of trees that support countless species of birds, butterflies and flowers.
In one Carpathian meadow you can find 60 different flowers in one square metre–I counted six different orchids alone. That’s because the land has never been fertilised or sprayed. And in May, when we were there, the high alpine pastures are a stunningly beautiful sea of white daffodils.
However, these days lots of villages have been abandoned and wonderful houses and medieval fortified churches are crumbling into decay. After the fall of Communism, many Transylvanian families moved to the West, leaving everything behind. Those small farmers who remain are custodians of the landscape and their survival ensures the survival of this place. But they’re poor.
Understandably, if they can’t get fair prices for what they produce by traditional methods, they’ll be tempted by intensive farming–with all that means for the environment. Prince Charles believes it’s vital that Transylvanian farmers continue living in harmony with the natural world–and that we in the West also put nature back at the heart of the way we produce our food.
‘The great thing about Transylvania,’ he told me, ‘is that unique relationship between man and his surroundings.’ Because that’s what’s missing from our own society. ‘People yearn for a sense of belonging, identity and meaning,’ he went on. ‘It’s in us but we’ve denied it and discarded it as if it’s irrelevant. It isn’t.’
26 October 2011
Liviu Ciulei directing “Spring Awakening” at Juilliard in 1977
Liviu Ciulei, who was voted best director at the Cannes Film Festival in 1965 and who led the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis in the 1980s, when it won a Tony Award, died on Tuesday in Munich. He was 88.
The cause was multiple organ failure, his stepson, Thomas, said. Mr. Ciulei had homes in Munich and in Bucharest, Romania.
Mr. Ciulei (whose name was pronounced LEEV-you CHEW-lay) made films in his native Romania, but in the United States he was best known for his provocative interpretations of classic plays. “Contemporary art,” he once said, “is one that brings all the conflicts of the world into the poem, into the theater, into the painting.” And the world’s enduring turmoil often rumbled, at least subliminally, through his presentations.
He made his American debut in 1974 at Arena Stage in Washington with Georg Büchner’s “Leonce and Lena,” a 19th-century German absurdist political satire. The New York Times theater critic Clive Barnes called the production “electric” and “eclectic,” describing it as “a sort of time capsule of world theater right up to the foolish epics of Brecht and the epic follies of Ionesco.” Mr. Ciulei, Mr. Barnes wrote, “is one of the most imaginative directors in the world.”
Among his other notable productions were a “Hamlet” at Arena Stage in 1978, set in Bismarck-era Germany, which Richard Eder in The Times called “not the triumph just of a season but of a decade”; “The Inspector General,” Gogol’s skewering of bureaucracy, which appeared on Broadway at Circle in the Square, also in 1978; and a second “Hamlet,” less well received, at the Public Theater in New York, starring Kevin Kline, in 1986. Among many other productions at Arena, he directed “The Lower Depths,” “Don Juan” and “Six Characters in Search of an Author.”
His first production at the Guthrie, in 1981, was a “Tempest” that depicted Prospero’s kingdom as an island surrounded by a bloody moat with cultural artifacts—the Venus de Milo and the Mona Lisa among them—floating in it. His “Midsummer Night’s Dream” underscored a psychological savagery and sadism in the play’s romantic roundelay, depicting Bottom, the leader of the jesterlike players, as humiliated to the core by the indifference of his royal audience, a comment, some felt, on Mr. Ciulei’s own lack of recognition by American audiences.
“I think there is, in this country, a certain prudence or refusal to be troubled, much encouraged by TV,” he said. “Many people still want the theater to be like cool lemonade when it’s hot.”
Trained as an architect, Mr. Ciulei was a set designer and an actor as well as a director, and his work was characterized by a precise visual sense. He believed that physical form suggested meaning, not just in design but in performance, and rather than having actors create actions to suggest the emotions of a moment, he encouraged them to begin with the actions and seek their psychological underpinnings.
“With Liviu, every moment was born out of a form, a shape,” said Zelda Fichandler, a founder and former artistic director of Arena Stage. “He would say, ‘Now she puts her head down, so her hair falls over her face,’ and he taught actors to find what generated the cause of that action.”
Liviu Ioan Ciulei was born in Bucharest on July 7, 1923. His father ran a large construction company, and though he preferred that his son become an architect rather than an actor, he gave young Liviu a Bucharest theater, where he made his acting debut as Puck in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in 1946. In the 1950s Mr. Ciulei joined the Bulandra Theater, a leading Bucharest troupe, and became its artistic director in 1963. The American director Alan Schneider saw his work there and recommended him to Ms. Fichandler at Arena as the finest theater director in Europe.
“Liviu was the first, and maybe the only, director I ever hired without seeing his work,” Ms. Fichandler said.
Mr. Ciulei’s first two marriages ended in divorce. In addition to his stepson, he is survived by his wife, the former Helga Reiter, whom he married in 1979. Mr. Ciulei was artistic director of the Guthrie for five seasons in the early 1980s, during which he redesigned the main stage and added challenging productions by himself and directors like Andrei Serban and Peter Sellars to the schedule and was generally credited with bringing increased national attention to the theater. In 1982 the Guthrie won the Tony given annually to an outstanding regional theater. He later taught at the New York University Tisch School of the Arts and at Columbia.
In Romania Mr. Ciulei was also known as a filmmaker. His films included “Padurea Spanzuratilor” (“Forest of the Hanged”), about a soldier who takes part in the execution of a deserter during World War I and is overcome by guilt. Shown at Cannes, the film earned Mr. Ciulei the festival’s best-director award and he considered it, at least in part, to be his finest work.
“The most beautiful scene I have ever directed in my career is the last scene of ‘Padurea Spanzuratilor,’ ” he said. “We see a young peasant woman preparing the last meal for the man she loves who is sentenced to death by hanging—a man, a woman, bread, salt and wine, love, life and death.”
25 October 2011
The former King of Romania won a standing ovation as he addressed the country's parliament for the first time since 1947, to mark his 90th birthday. But the past few months have not been easy, with accusations flying that he betrayed Romania to the Soviet Union and allowed the deportation of the Jews.
Asked to react to recent criticism of him in his own country, King Michael of Romania laughs gruffly.
He is ninety years old and much admired in Romania, and the occasional barbs which come his way bounce off a skin hardened by both the battles of history, and the bitterness of exile.
I spoke to him at his home in Aubonne, a peaceful Swiss hamlet perched above Lake Geneva, just before he travelled to Bucharest for his birthday celebrations.
In a television chat show this summer, President Traian Basescu blamed the king for "betraying the national interest" by delivering Romania into the hands of the Soviets, when he was forced to abdicate in December 1947.
"It's not even worth reacting to a thing like that, because it's so small, you know. And that's the type. The small insults from him, the bigger he thinks he is. I couldn't care less!" the former monarch says.
President Basescu, the prime minister, and several ministers stayed away from the king's address to both houses of parliament in Bucharest on 25 October.
The aged king, his back as straight as a ramrod, sits forward in his chair to recall his abdication.
"It was the end of the year [30 December]. My secretary called up from Bucharest and said, Groza would like to see you as quick as possible... because they wanted to talk about a 'family problem'. We had just come back from Switzerland, and my future wife and I had just got engaged, so I thought they wanted to talk about that," he says.
Petru Groza was the communist prime minister, known as the "red bourgeois" because of his own, upper middle-class background.
"Well the family question was, to put it to me that I have to abdicate. That the times have changed, monarchies don't count any more, and all sorts of nonsense of that sort."
A glance out of the window confirmed that troops had taken up positions around the royal palace. Groza then threatened him, that if he did not sign the paper of abdication lying on the desk, then he would order the execution of about 1,000 pro-monarchy supporters, most of them students, who had been arrested at earlier rallies.
"What are you supposed to do in a situation like that?" he asks, rhetorically. To back up his threat, Groza even grabbed the king's hand, and forced him to touch a pistol in his jacket pocket.
Moment of Glory
He bowed to the inevitable, and signed the paper. There was an impromptu meeting of parliament the same day, and the republic was proclaimed by a handful of deputies, in a session which only lasted 45 minutes. It was the end of a Romanian monarchy which had begun just 66 years earlier, after Romania's emergence as an independent country, and the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in the Russo-Turkish War.
Another criticism of the king which occasionally surfaces, as it did in the Swiss newspaper Neue Zuercher Zeitung this summer, is that he did not do enough to stop the deportation of the Jews.
Again, the former king says there is no case to answer.
Marshal Ion Antonescu, Romania's wartime leader, excluded the young monarch (Michael was just 18 at the outbreak of World War II) from all key decisions. Antonescu's rule was marked by anti-Semitic atrocities, including racially discriminatory laws, deportations and pogroms.
The chief rabbi of Romania, Alexandru Shafran, kept the king and above all his mother Queen Helen informed about the next actions planned against the Jews. The queen then sought urgent meetings with Antonescu, and managed to have many anti-Jewish measures and orders rescinded. Her role in saving many thousand Jewish lives was later recognised by the Yad Vashem organisation in Israel.
"It was extraordinary, how much Antonescu respected my mother," King Michael recalls now. "Even though he didn't like what she was telling him, he listened to her."
The king's moment of glory came in August 1944, when he requested a meeting with Marshal Antonescu, and demanded his resignation.
"What—and leave the country in the hands of a child?" Antonescu retorted.
The king uttered a coded phrase, and three soldiers and a captain, listening in the next room, entered and arrested the furious marshal. A provisional government was formed, and an armistice announced—an end to hostilities with Soviet troops who were already pressing towards Romania's borders.
Within hours, German planes bombed the royal palace. Romania joined the Allied side, became a victor in the war, and the country was spared the devastation and loss of life of a Soviet military conquest.
Antonescu was executed by the Communist authorities after the war, and Romanian nationalists today still accuse the king of responsibility for the death of their hero.
King Michael is one of the few men alive who can claim to have had lunch with Hitler—once with his father in Bavaria in 1937, and with his mother in Berlin in 1941.
He cannot remember what they had to eat, but does remember Hitler praising the performance of Romanian troops on the eastern front—at that time, still fighting the Soviet army.
But what was Hitler actually like? He says he doesn't remember much of what was said—on one of the occasions, there was no translator to help him understand the German conversation.
"He would sometimes screw up his face..." says the king, grimacing for my benefit.
The festivities to honour his birthday in Bucharest include a royal gala performance at the opera, a dinner at the National Bank, and a presentation of awards.
In his first speech to parliament for 64 years, he offered a little criticism of his own.
"The time has come... to finally break with the bad habits of the past," Michael told a packed house.
There should be an end, he said, to "demagogy, selfishness and attempts to cling to power".
outbreak of World War
A Life Less Ordinary
Attended three royal weddings in London, most recently Prince William's
Is a great-great-grandson of Queen Victoria on both sides of his family
One of the last surviving monarchs from WWII
Shared company with Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin and Churchill
Has five daughters and lives on Lake Geneva but spends a lot of time in Bucharest
A King's Opinions
On Churchill: "There was no
question that he was a great man. But there was also
On Hitler: "I knew from the
moment I met him that I was facing someone mad but
On Yalta (which brought Romania
under Soviet control): "What was really
25 October 2011
King Michael's speech was boycotted by the president The former king of Romania has addressed parliament in Bucharest for the first time since he was forced to abdicate in 1947.
Speaking on his 90th birthday, King Michael I called on politicians to strengthen democracy in Romania and restore the country's dignity.
He received a standing ovation from many MPs.
However, some government ministers, and President Traian Basescu, refused to attend the event.
Members of Europe's royal families were joining him for his birthday celebrations, attending a gala concert at the Romanian Opera before a private dinner.
But officials say there are no plans for Romania to revert to a monarchy.
"We want to honour and to celebrate an important person of our history and of contemporary history," Romania's Liberal Party leader Crin Antonescu—whose party invited the former monarch to speak—was quoted as saying by the Associated Press news agency.
"It is a symbolic gesture that has no connection to the idea of changing Romania's status as a republic," Mr Antonescu added.
The king, who sat on a throne-like chair in parliament, said since the collapse of Nicolae Ceausescu's dictatorship in 1989: "The last 20 years have brought democracy, freedom and a beginning of prosperity."
"The time has come after 20 years to... break for good with the bad habits of the past", such as "demagogy, selfishness and attempts to cling to power".
"It is within our power to make this country prosperous and worthy of admiration", he added, prompting a standing ovation.
King Michael I reigned from 1927 to 1930, and again from 1940 to 1947.
In December 1947, Romania's new Communist leaders threatened to carry out mass executions if he refused to abdicate.
In an interview with the BBC's Nick Thorpe (see above article), the former monarch described how the authorities had blackmailed him: "If you don't sign this thing now, we're going to have to shoot or kill 1,000 people that are already in prison."
"What do you do in a case like that?"
The king was then banned from returning to Romania for nearly half a century.
The Romanian royal family settled near Geneva in Switzerland, and the former king had to find work.
He said one of his favourite jobs was as a test pilot on private aeroplanes in Europe and the United States.
He met his future wife, Anne of Bourbon-Parma, at the wedding of the future Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh in London in 1947.
King Michael's Romanian citizenship was restored in 1997.
25 October 2011
BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Romania's aged former King Michael delivered his first speech to parliament Tuesday since Soviet-backed communists forced him to abdicate more than 60 years ago, highlighting deep divisions over the country's past.
While opinion polls show most Romanians do not want the monarchy back, post-communist leaders have tried to limit Michael's influence, fearing he could erode their own power if given a platform.
"We cannot have a future without respecting the past," Michael, 90 and looking sprightly in a suit and striped tie, told a packed parliament on his birthday.
"The royal crown is not a symbol of the past but a unique representation of our independence, sovereignty and unity," said Michael, Europe's oldest former monarch and one of the last surviving World War Two-era heads of state.
Parliamentarians from across the political spectrum gave the king, who was forced to quit the throne in 1947, a standing ovation before and after his speech and some even took pictures on mobile phones.
Michael's speech was proposed by the opposition Liberals but opposed by the ruling Democrat-Liberals (PDL).
President Traian Basescu, who has close links to the PDL, has criticized the former king for leaving the throne, saying he was "Russia's servant," and did not attend the speech in parliament. Many PDL deputies did attend, however.
"This is a gesture of normality," said Mircea Geoana, speaker of Romania's upper house of parliament. "His Majesty's presence 64 years after his last speech in parliament is proof that the communist era is a closed bracket."
Romania is now a member of the European Union.
EXILE AND RETURN
But its record in World War Two and its aftermath still stir heated debate. The country fought alongside Nazi Germany and was occupied by Soviet Union, which engineered the removal of the monarchy, fearing it could be a rallying point for opponents.
Michael played a central role in a 1944 coup to overthrow fascist wartime leader Marshal Ion Antonescu, after which Romania broke with Nazi Germany and switched to the Allied side.
After communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu was overthrown and executed in a violent revolution in 1989, Romania blocked the first few visits Michael tried to make after decades of exile in Switzerland, Britain and the United States.
He finally returned to Romania in 1992 and only managed to regain his citizenship in 1997 after reformist President Emil Constantinescu took over from former communist Ion Iliescu.
Michael made several appeals for a restoration of the monarchy in the early 1990s. Iliescu deported him on several occasions and even deployed tanks on one occasion to prevent him from touring the eastern Balkan country.
Born in 1921 in his family's Peles castle in the Carpathian mountains, Michael is a descendant of the German Hohenzollern dynasty and a cousin of Britain's Queen Elizabeth.
The king still has many supporters—thousands wished him happy birthday on his website—and some gathered Tuesday outside parliament, a huge marble palace built in central Bucharest by Ceausescu.
Michael is to attend a concert Tuesday evening at Bucharest's opera with several other European royals and is expected to greet supporters, who will be able to watch on a big screen outside.
(Additional reporting by Sam Cage; Editing by Mark Heinrich)
BRUSSELS—Bulgaria on Wednesday was warned of serious deficiencies in its judicial system, urged to get more convictions from its fight against organized crime and told that its battle against corruption had yet to lead to convincing results.
The warning, in a formal assessment from the European Commission, highlighted continuing worries about law and order in Bulgaria and Romania, four years after they joined the bloc.
Both nations are subject to a European monitoring mechanism intended to ensure that reforms take place and will continue for another year when the five-year period will be assessed; the final findings could have an effect on the level aid sent to the two countries, and could also limit prospects for their citizens’ passport-free travel in the European Union.
This year’s report on Bulgaria was more critical than that of 2010, which appeared to give the benefit of the doubt to government. It is led by Prime Minister Boiko M. Borisov, who was elected in 2009 on a pledge to improve law and order. The European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union, said in its report that the number of acquittals in cases involving high-level corruption, fraud and organized crime “have exposed serious deficiencies in judicial practice in Bulgaria.”
Though the commission praised Bulgarian police efforts to tackle crime gangs, it said the results needed significant improvement. “The fight against high-level corruption has not yet led to convincing results,” it said.
Mark Gray, a commission spokesman, said in Brussels: “Both Romania and Bulgaria have made some progress. The laws are largely in place if not totally concrete. We are not yet seeing those laws turned into concrete actions, whether in the case of corruption and organized crime in Bulgaria and whether in prosecution and convictions in Romania.”
Mr. Gray said that in Bulgaria, the issue of “private and public donations to police have raised concerns” but that its government had “shown determination and commitment in driving the reform process.”
Romania received a less critical report, though it was told that “progress in the fight against corruption still needs to be pursued” and that “urgent action is needed to accelerate a number of important high-level corruption trials.”
“The effectiveness of the fight against corruption is hindered by serious weaknesses in recovering the proceeds of crime,” the commission’s report said.
The assessment was released two months before European ministers are expected to debate whether to admit Romania and Bulgaria, the two newest E.U. members, to the Schengen zone, which allows travelers to cross frontiers without showing passports. Though the report is not technically connected to that application, it is unlikely to placate France, Germany, the Netherlands and other countries that have called for a delay over the countries’ admission.
The Romanian president, Traian Basescu, said his government had the “determination and commitment” to continue fighting crime and corruption.
“The report is correct and shows the progress made to achieve the objectives,” Mr. Basescu said in a speech on state television, Bloomberg News reported. It “also pinpoints the perpetual problems of the judiciary which affect the credibility of the system as a whole and Romania’s credibility as well.”
Mr. Borisov, who has himself criticized Bulgaria’s judges, said he welcomed the findings and pledged to act on them, according to novinite.com, a news agency Web site in Sofia.
“Personally, I am glad that this report exists, and that this mechanism is in place,” he said. “It was introduced for a purpose several years ago, because imagine what it would be like if we had to evaluate the work of our own Parliament and our own government. That is why this report is friendly indeed; it is a matter of partnership, and it is extremely important with its conclusions and precise recommendations and an actual work schedule that it provides for us by the next summer.”
A version of this article appeared in print on July 21, 2011, in The International Herald Tribune with the headline: E.U. Warns Bulgaria and Romania on Reforms.
8 July 2011
at the Battle of Inkerman in 1854
The Crimean War - A History
The Crimean War was the first major war to be covered by professional foreign correspondents, who reported on the disastrous blundering of commanders and the horrors of medical treatment at the battlefront. Today, we remember fragmentary stories: the charge of the Light Brigade, symbolizing the blundering; Florence Nightingale, for the medical treatment. But the real war has faded away, eclipsed by the two vastly worse world wars that were to come.
Still, the Crimean War—in which three-quarters of a million soldiers and untold multitudes of civilians perished—shattered almost four decades of European peace. It inflamed Russia’s rivalry with the Ottoman Empire over the Balkans, providing the tinder for World War I. And by thwarting Russian’s ambitions in Europe, it made possible the fatal rise of Germany.
In “The Crimean War: A History,” Orlando Figes restores the conflict—which predated the American Civil War by eight years—as “a major turning point” in European and Middle Eastern history. He argues forcefully that it was “the earliest example of a truly modern war—fought with new industrial technologies, modern rifles, steamships and railways, novel forms of logistics and communication like the telegraph, important innovations in military medicine and war reporters and photographers directly on the scene.” The ferocious yearlong siege of Sevastopol “was a precursor of the industrialized trench warfare” of World War I.
The war itself was initiated when religious squabbles over holy places in the Ottoman towns of Jerusalem and Bethlehem prompted Russia to march troops into present-day Romania, threatening the partition of Ottoman lands. In response, the Ottoman Empire declared war, and Britain and France rallied to its defense. The devastating combat around the Black Sea proved unbearable for Russia: two-thirds of the soldiers killed in the war were Russian. After losing Sevastopol, Russia accepted a humiliating peace.
Figes, a renowned professor of history at the University of London, might be thought the loneliest of creatures, the Crimean War buff. But his history is a huge success. His harrowing recounting of Sevastopol presents an inferno of military absurdities and gruesome deaths, with people hit by rocks, gored with lances, hacked by swords, decapitated by shells and disemboweled. Figes artfully uses painstaking archival work—disturbing dust in London, Paris, Istanbul, Moscow and St. Petersburg—to expose the secret machinations of statesmen, but he never overlooks the awful human costs, like the nonchalant willingness of aristocratic Russian officers to sacrifice their peasant soldiers. And the book traces the roots of many modern crises: Britain, trying to create buffer zones against Russia, occupies Afghanistan and considers seizing Baghdad, where a British diplomat blithely proclaims that Sunnis and Shiites “could always be played off against each other.”
This is history with an argument. Figes maintains that the conflict was essentially a religious war, and he is frustrated that most writers have neglected that theme: “If the Balkan wars of the 1990s and the rise of militant Islam have taught us anything, it is surely that religion plays a vital role in fueling wars.” Figes writes of Russians and Turks clashing over “religious battlegrounds, the fault line between Orthodoxy and Islam,” and explains that “every nation, none more so than Russia, went to war in the belief that God was on its side.” The Crimean War “opened up the Muslim world of the Ottoman Empire to Western armies,” and “sparked an Islamic reaction against the West which continues to this day.” The title of the British edition of the book is “Crimea: The Last Crusade.”
Figes presents czarist Russia as a deeply religious state, on a “divine mission” to recapture Constantinople and deliver millions of Orthodox Christians from Ottoman rule. More than anyone, he blames the war on Czar Nicholas I: a militaristic reactionary, a pioneer in the use of secret police and censorship, who Figes also suggests was mentally ill. In the decisive hours of 1854, as Britain and France threatened war against him, Nicholas failed to make “any calculation” about his military strength or give “any careful thought” to British and French military superiority; he chose war in a “purely emotional reaction,” based “perhaps above all on his deeply held belief that he was engaged in a religious war to complete Russia’s providential mission in the world.”
Figes makes a powerful, if not entirely convincing, case. Russia could be a fickle friend to the Orthodox peoples. It blew hot and cold in its support for an earlier Greek revolt against Ottoman rule. And it had some pragmatic reasons to try to dominate the Ottoman Empire. As Figes notes, Russia needed Black Sea ports for its trade and to project naval power.
As Figes himself emphasizes, ideologues, whether Islamist or Christianist, who seek historical evidence of a permanent war between Islam and Christianity will have to look elsewhere. Britain and France fought for the Ottoman Empire. And Western and Eastern Christians despised each other, sometimes more than they loathed Muslims. Nicholas, declaring himself the champion of Slavs throughout the Balkans, hoped that Britain would not dare “continue to ally with the Turks and fight with them against Christians.” He was dead wrong. If Britain was on a crusade, it was against Russia, not the Ottoman Empire. Britain spent most of the 19th century trying to thwart Russian expansion, with some Britons feverishly dreading Russia as the only land power that might be able to threaten India; Disraeli once claimed, “Constantinople is the key of India.” Figes depicts Britain as obsessed with the Russian menace to liberty and civilization—an obsession, he adds, that partly shaped cold war attitudes about the Soviet threat.
To resist Russia, Figes observes, Britain had spent decades trying to revitalize the Ottoman Empire. Many Britons developed a soft spot for the Ottoman Empire, hoping that it could successfully reform itself under British tutelage. Some Anglicans admired Islam, and some influential Britons praised Ottoman religious toleration. These pro-Turkish Britons held “a romantic sympathy for Islam as a basically benign and progressive force,” which was “preferable to the deeply superstitious and only ‘semi-Christian’ Orthodoxy of the Russians.” Figes wryly quotes a British speaker: “The Turk was not infidel. He was Unitarian.”
The war was also a clash between political systems: British liberalism against Russian absolutism. The freedom-minded British (as well as many French people, despite Napoleon III’s stifling rule) were horrified by Russia’s despotism, and by its bloody military suppression of liberal revolutionaries in Poland and Hungary. When the Crimean War came, Figes writes, the British public saw it as a defense of “British principles” like “liberty, civilization and free trade.”
Figes, like other scholars, chillingly shows how British freedoms and open institutions helped drive the country into catastrophe: “This was a war—the first war in history—to be brought about by the pressure of the press and by public opinion.” Lord Palmerston, a wartime prime minister whom Figes calls “the first really modern politician,” had stoked the xenophobic indignation of the British people, while the rabble-rousing press smeared those who questioned the wisdom of the war. Palmerston once said he wanted Britain to be “the champion of justice and right” while “not becoming the Quixote of the world.” In this, as in much else, the Crimean War remains alarmingly relevant.
Gary J. Bass is a professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton and the author, most recently, of “Freedom’s Battle: The Origins of Humanitarian Intervention.”
6 July 2011
BUCHAREST, Romania. A 6-month-old bear cub who has captivated Slovenians arrived at a Romanian orphaned bear center where he will spend two years developing natural instincts before being returned to the wild.
Lucky has been at the sanctuary in Harghita in central Romania since last week and is doing well, bear orphanage chairman Leonardo Bereczky said Wednesday.
The cub became a celebrity in Slovenia, after a family who had found him agreed to hand him over to Vier Pfoten—an animal protection group. However, just as he was about to be rehoused, Lucky disappeared—apparently stolen.
The charity offered a euro1,100 ($1,575) reward, and the cub was eventually recovered. Police were investigating the disappearance.
Bereczky said the cub seems to have integrated well into a group of 11 animals of his age—spending a lot of time in the trees, and returning to the ground in the evening to feed. He said the bear will return to Slovenia, if he shows he can manage to live in the wild.
Lucky is the first bear cub from another country to arrive at the Romanian orphanage, which Bereczky said was unique in Europe.
The orphanage currently houses 18 bears, some slightly older than Lucky.
Bereczky said that the center had successfully returned about 50 bears to the wild in the last six years.
30 June 2011
On The Road To Babadag:
Travels In The Other Europe
In 1846, when Jacub Szela first ascended as a Polish leader, he guided a ragtag mob of peasants and serfs in a fight against their landowners and gentry. Szela had been anointed "king of the peasants" for 24 hours by the ruling Austrian empire, and in that time he raised an army, running into taverns with the cry, "Get to work, boys, and hurry, for time passes." Those men would slaughter almost 1,000 noblemen in their quest for economic freedom. Szela and his followers came to a bad end (as uprisings of these sort tend to do). More than a century and a half later, writer Andrzej Stasiuk now sits in a dusty co-op on Szela's old stomping grounds in Vicsani—which are once again filled with the poor and powerless drinking their vodka and pear brandy—imagining the second-coming of the rebel leader. The land here may still be full of the poor and oppressed, but missing now are the oppressors to direct their fury against. Stasiuk, a Pole himself, addresses this frustration to his dead countryman: "There's no one for you to go after... The most you could do is go to Suceava and like a postindustrial Luddite smash a sky-blue ATM."
With On the Road to Babadag: Travels in the Other Europe, Stasiuk has ostensibly written a travel book, but calling it that would be a diminishment. Sure, there are the requisite passages about lush landscapes, anecdotes about unusual people met along the way, accounts of the generosity of strangers and miscommunications on trains and buses. Yet the book stretches far beyond the confines of its genre. Its scope is massive, covering philosophy and history, literature and politics. It's more along the lines of Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, Rebecca West's epic travelogue of the post-WWI Balkans, than anything you'd want to file next to Bill Bryson.
The "other Europe" of the subtitle is the region beyond the more postcard-ready sights of Paris, Stonehenge or the beaches of Spain. Stasiuk ruminates on the forgotten corners and cubbyholes of Europe, from small villages in Hungary and Romania to parcels of land off Moldova newly impacted by the first stirrings of sovereignty, where he can't even get his passport stamped because no other nation would recognize as legitimate the seal. He comes across a map of Europe, its Western countries clearly demarcated, its capitals noted with stars. "But to the east and south of Prague and Budapest lay a terra incognita: countries without capitals," he writes. "Some countries [aren't] even there. No Slovakia. Moldova, Ukraine and Belarus all evaporated in the dried-up sea of old empire." Likewise, the people of these nations have been largely forgotten. Many of the farmers and the habitues of bars express nostalgia for communist and long-dead tyrants, as democracy and capitalism have done nothing to improve their lives.
Not that it's all gloom. On the Road to Babadag has great humor and a wonderful loopiness. Stasiuk shows what life is like when the stakes are so low the rest of the world regularly overlooks you. And as for that thoroughly trodden area west of here? He has little interest in exploring what everyone else has already seen. "Observation," Stasiuk notes, "irons out objects and landscapes. Destruction and decline follow. The world gets used up, like an old abraded map, from being seen too much." He prefers the previously overlooked world, and he witnesses it with wise eyes and an immense curiosity.
30 June 2011
Basescu said in an interview last week that Romania's war against the Soviet Union was justified because it wanted to regain a territory—Moldova—taken by the Soviets in 1940. He said: "I probably would have done the same."
The order to attack Soviet troops was given by the pro-fascist dictator Marshal Ion Antonescu and led to the slaughter of thousands.
Russia's Foreign Ministry said in a statement it is "outraged" at Basescu's comments.
"Such shameless bravado, justifying the fascist aggression and desecrating the memory of millions of Nazi victims, is unacceptable and should get an appropriate appraisal from civilized Europe," the statement said.
Basescu was talking in an interview with B1 television on the 70th anniversary of Antonescu's order that the Romanian army cross the River Prut into Moldova.
"We had an ally and we had to retake a territory," he said, referring to the German army. "If I had the conditions of that time, I probably would have done it."
Romanian officials took exception to Russia's condemnation, and accused Moscow of "inappropriate" language in a responding Foreign Ministry statement. The ministry lamented that Basescu's comments on "tragic events, both for the Romanian people and the Russian people," were being used politically.
"We consider the expression of such public reactions to be regrettable and groundless, with unacceptable violence in the language used." The statement said Romania was disappointed there was no diplomatic correspondence before Russia went public, but said it hoped the episode would not affect relations.
Antonescu was Romania's prime minister from 1940 to 1944 and is considered responsible for the death of about 280,000 Jews and 11,000 Gypsies.
Critics accused Basescu of trying to soften the image of Antonescu as a war criminal in statements made last week, but in Wednesday's interview Basescu firmly accused Antonescu of having a hand in the Holocaust.
He added that if Antonescu had stopped at the Dniester — the river that was Moldova's border with the Soviet Union before the war — "it would have been perfect." Instead, Romania joined the Germans in attacking the Soviet Union beyond Moldova.
Alina Wolfe Murray contributed from Bucharest, Romania
28 June 2011
When the central character in “Aurora” begins eyeballing another person—turning his shiver-inducing gaze on a complaining co-worker, on a salesgirl who anxiously laughs out of turn and even on a child who innocently returns his look—he seems like a man possessed. His eyes lock and the whites catch the light, shining without revelation. You may think you’re in Charles Manson-ville. (It’s only Romania.)
For the most part, Viorel, the character played by the film’s director, Cristi Puiu, doesn’t explain or, for that matter, bother to do much talking. Mr. Puiu also directed the 2005 festival favorite “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu,” by turns a deadly serious comedy and comically deadpan drama about a broken-down man in a broken-down society dying alone among a veritable crowd of people. That film felt like a relative talk-a-thon compared with “Aurora,” a quiet, steady burn filled with stretches of unsettlingly reverberant silence cleaved in half by a midpoint eruption of violence. Here there is before, and then there is after.
The movie opens on a man whose name, like so much else in the story, is held back from you for a relatively long time even as he and his world come progressively into focus. For the next hour or so the camera closely tracks the man, Viorel, and brings to mind the nominally objective style of those fly-on-the-wall documentaries in which the camera hovers near subjects without conspicuous commentary, seemingly following rather than predicating (or predicting) the action: Viorel idles in one apartment and then another, smokes, drives a car, smokes some more, buys groceries and steadily, imperceptibly unnerves you. As in such documentaries, Mr. Puiu’s fingerprints are all over “Aurora,” evident in both style and sensibility.
Money counts here for starters, and it’s notable that shortly after the movie begins a woman who appears to be Viorel’s lover discusses the price of a dress with him (a satiny chartreuse number bought by a different man, suggesting that there’s another lover or sugar daddy in the background). A short while afterward, Viorel (a metallurgical engineer) visits a factory where he lurks about, ducks out of the view of one worker and retrieves money from another. After passing the cash over, this man carpingly implies that Viorel doesn’t believe his excuses, an outwardly innocuous comment that leads to a near-comic, uneasy conversation with a shudder of violence. Not long after, Viorel buys a shotgun and a little later fires it.
Like Viorel, a thickly set man who at times moves as if through a heavy fog, the film unwinds deliberately if not slowly, its rhythms those of someone going about the business of an apparently unremarkable life. In some mainstream movies, the rhythms can be so obvious you can keep the beat with your tapping toe as you play along with the three-act structure (calm, crisis, resolution). In “Aurora,” Mr. Puiu thwarts various narrative (and rhythmic) expectations, reversing or avoiding many familiar rules, including psychological explanation for what happens. When some clarification finally arrives, it’s about as illuminating as the shrink’s yammering about why Norman Bates done it in “Psycho,” which is the point.
This is the second film in Mr. Puiu’s projected cycle, “Six Stories From the Outskirts of Bucharest,” a series about love, morality and human relations. (The cycle’s title refers to Eric Rohmer and his “Six Moral Tales.”) He has said he sees “Aurora” as something of a counterpoint to “Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans,” the 1927 F. W. Murnau lyrical classic.
“Murnau’s film is about his hopes concerning the relationship between a man and a woman, what that should be,” Mr. Puiu explained in one interview. “This film is about what I think is the relationship between human beings.” He added that he doesn’t “know what real life is like outside Romania, but in Bucharest, where I live, relationships are pretty brutal.”
That may make “Aurora” sound like a dirge rather than a song, when it’s not. Clocking in at an engrossing, immersive three hours, the movie is a mystery about the human soul. It’s brutal in its particulars, with dreary streets, bleak houses, stray and (maddeningly) barking dogs and the grim, hard faces of men and women wearing masks bequeathed to them by Ceausescu. Yet the film is also marked with oddly funny, touching exchanges that waver between the ridiculous and the tragic (a mother chastising her child so harshly that she becomes absurd) and that are more generous about people than Mr. Puiu’s tough talk may suggest. His stare may seem at times pitiless, but there’s compassion in his insistence on looking.
Opens on Wednesday in Manhattan.
Written and directed by Cristi Puiu; director of photography, Viorel Sergovici; edited by Ioachim Stroe; produced by Anca Puiu and Bobby Paunescu; released by the Cinema Guild. At the IFC Center, 323 Avenue of the Americas at Third Street, Greenwich Village. In Romanian, with English subtitles. Running time: 3 hours 1 minute. This film is not rated.
WITH: Cristi Puiu (Viorel), Clara Voda (Gina), Valeria Seciu (Pusa), Luminita Gheorghiu (Mioara), Catrinel Dumitrescu (Mrs. Livinski), Gelu Colceag (Mr. Livinski) and Valentin Popescu (Stoian).
23 June 2011
Romania's president has launched a stinging attack on the country's former ruler, King Michael, accusing him of being responsible for the Holocaust in Romania, and calling him "a Russian lackey."
In an interview on the B1 television channel late Wednesday, Traian Basescu said as Michael was head of state during the pro-fascist regime of dictator Marshal Ion Antonescu—prime minister from 1940 to 1944, during World War II — he should also be considered responsible for the death of some 280,000 Jews and 11,000 Gypsies.
In 1944, when Romania was allied with Hitler's fascists, Michael staged a coup against Antonescu, and Romania switched sides to the Allies.
Basescu called Michael "a Russian lackey" in the interview, adding that his abdication—forced by Soviet-backed Communists in Dec. 1947 — was "an act of treason."
In Nov. 1947, with the communists gaining a hold over Romania and the region—which led to the monarchs of eastern Europe moving to Western Europe—Michael surprised the government by returning to Bucharest after attending the royal wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip in Britain.
A month later the Soviet-backed communist government told him if he did not sign his abdication, 1,000 Romanians would be executed. He abdicated on Dec. 31, 1947 and began a life of exile in Britain and Switzerland. His Romanian citizenship was restored in 1997.
Basescu's comments stunned Romanians, who respect the former monarch, and praise his role in their history. Basescu's stance echoed that of the communist era when Michael was belittled by the regime, and his role was downplayed.
Relations between Basescu and Michael became strained after the former king's son-in-law announced he would run for president against Basescu in 2009 elections.
The president is embattled after his plans to reorganize Romanian territory were refused by opposition parties and an ethnic Hungarian party whose support the government needs to survive.
Michael, who will be 90-years old this year, is one of the few surviving World War II leaders and had good relations with the Jewish community when he was king.
In June 1940, the USSR presented Romania with an ultimatum for conceding Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina. The takeover did not only translate into a loss of territory, but leaving the population in the grip of the most oppressive regime in history: communism.
According to Polish philosopher Leszek Kolakowski, communism was “the embodiment of devil in history”. This will become more transparent in Soviet-occupied states. One of the unmistakable signatures of this regime was to be mass-deportations.
Apparently grounded on political criteria, which were equally disgraceful, while in fact the result of random causes, deportations spelled as tragedy for those who experienced them: separated families, people forced into labour until they dropped dead, cruel living conditions in labour camps and death, a great of it.
Anyone who has experienced the Soviet labour camps will be haunted by memories until the day they will cease to exist altogether. The Romanians in Bessarabia were among the first to experience the hard way the horrors of communism, which were at a very far remove from the communist humanism pervading the writings of Marx, Engels and Lenin.
On June 22nd 1941, a year following the Soviet occupation of Bessarabia, Romania entered the war alongside Germany to liberate Soviet-occupied territories. Nevertheless, 10 days before Soviet troops were driven out of Bessarabia and Bukovina, on the night of June 13th 1941, the first wave of deportations started in Bessarabia, heading for Siberia and Central Asia where thousands of Romanians were to be resettled.
The same practice was commonplace in the case of the Baltic States, Poland, Ukraine and other countries on the USSR’s western borders. The deportation of civilians prior to Germany’s entry into the war alongside its allies is clear evidence against the lie the Soviets repeated years on end, claiming that the USSR had been allegedly taken aback by the Axis attack.
Between 2003 and 2008, historian Vasile Soare identified 20,054 people in Kazakhstan who descend from people who were deported during several waves of resettlements, of whom 594 Romanians and 19,460 Moldovans. He was extremely surprised to find out that the Soviets had learned from Romanian textbooks that Romanians in Bessarabia and Bukovina were considered gypsies.
“When talking freely to people, I discovered a theory that is still very much circulated in the 21st century, namely that Moldovans are gypsies. I was simply outraged. I started doing some research about the reasons behind this. One librarian told me that Pushkin’s poem “The Gypsy” became a compulsory reading in the course on Soviet literature at the time. I looked into Pushkin’s biography, and found that in 1821, during his exile in Southern Bessarabia, he traveled to modern-day Bessarabia, to a location 40 km away from Chisinau, and, fascinated with a throng of gypsies inhabiting the margins of a village and infatuated with a little gypsy girl there, he wrote this beautiful poem. But why was Pushkin’s literature used during the Soviet campaign of denationalization? This was largely because this theory was circulated with a specific purpose, to create a cloud of confusion regarding this territory that was separated from Romania in 1940. Pushkin’s poetry made the entire Soviet Union believe that throngs of gypsies were roaming Bessarabia”.
Vasile Soare consulted literary works in archives and libraries and made oral history interviews in order to retrace the exodus of Romanians to Kazakhstan. He pieced together the events the night when the ordeal began for thousands of miserable Romanians:
“The way in which the operation unfolded was typical. On May 31st 1941, the commissary of the Soviet Union in Bessarabia sent Stalin a request that read: “several parties and middle-class organizations have been operating in Bessarabia, and their leaders took refuge in Romania after Bessarabia was annexed to the USSR. The remaining members of these parties and organizations are actively supported by the Romanian secret police and have intensified their anti-Soviet activities”. Within the category of anti-Soviet elements, the Soviets included landowners, merchants, policemen and state police officers, White Guard mayors, refugees who had fled the USSR and other foreign social elements. He demanded all these anti-Soviet elements be removed and relocated in the Northern and Eastern regions of the USSR. He also indicated a round figure, some 5,000 people who were to be identified”.
Tens of thousands of people were taken during the first wave. Vasile Soare explained the Soviet deportation procedure, which the Nazis copied in the case of Jews. As it was typical under the totalitarian regime, people were taken from their homes, taken to the railway station and put on trains.
“On the night between June 12th and June 13th, 29,839 people were taken from Bessarabia and Bukovina, of which 5,479 were arrested. These were the heads of family. They were put in train cars, which were later lined up on parallel lines after crossing the Dniestr. Men were put in train cars, while the ones carrying women, children and the elderly were lined up in parallel. This is where the real drama began and lives were torn apart. Some were sent to forced labor, to work on deforestation in the taiga, road and bridge construction or rock mining, while the women and children were sent to work in agriculture. 1,655 train cars were used to transport all those people.”
The people who were abducted left behind homes, relatives and customs that many of them never came back to. Despite such personal tragedies, some modern historians of communism like Jean Jacques Marie found economic justification for the Soviet genocide policies through forced labor and subhuman living conditions.
Nevertheless, a regime’s economic achievements, which were fairly modest in the case of the Soviet Union, do not justify mass murders. Romanians from Bessarabia and Bukovina, along with other peoples that suffered under Soviet oppression, can confirm this.
30 May 2011
Twenty years ago, Romanian culture lost one of the most brilliant people of the 20th century. On 21 May 1991, historian of religions, fiction writer and essayist Ioan Petru Culianu was shot in the back of the head with a handgun. The incident happened in the lavatory of the Divinity School of the University of Chicago. The FBI arrested two suspects, one of whom was immediately released. The second was sentenced later, but only because there existed prior warrants. At 41 years of age, Culianu left behind a vast corpus of writing in several areas, revealing great creativity, an uncommon analytical spirit and a desire to explore the edges of knowledge.
Ioan Petru Culianu was born in the NE city of Iasi, on January 5th 1950, in a family of noble extraction. His paternal great-grandfather was one of the founders of Junimea, a cultural movement with a huge influence on Conservative groups. He was a brilliant student at the School of Letters of the University of Bucharest, with a graduation paper on Italian humanist philosopher Marsilio Ficino. Since high school, Culianu was fascinated by a great personality of Romanian culture of the 20th century, Mircea Eliade, whom he tried to copy to the letter. Upon his 1972 graduation, Culianu left Romania and settled in Italy where, alongside Ugo Bianchi of the Catholic University of Milan, he specialized in Gnosticism, early Christianity and the Renaissance. In 1976 he moved to the University of Groningen, in the Netherlands, and, in 1990, to the US, where he obtained a teaching job at the Divinity School, where Mircea Eliade had taught.
The special relationship between Eliade and Culianu was a topic for study for Romanian philosopher Horia Roman Patapievici, who has written various essays on Culianu. It was a meeting of minds, a means of inner transformation: “What fascinated Culianu when dealing with Eliade was just what had fascinated Eliade when dealing with Giovanni Papini. That is, a means of utilizing culture. This is illustrated in an article that Mircea Eliade published in the Royal Foundation Review, in 1937. The title was ‘Folklore as an Instrument of Knowledge’. In essence, what it said was: all cultural fact, including the facts that became cultural relics, such as folklore, store within them a cognitive set of tools that can be used not only for knowing, but for inner transformation. In this way, one attains a cognitive set of tools allowing them access cultural or ontological areas inaccessible before that. What fascinated a young Culianu about a young Eliade was this cognitive utopia".
Culianu’s biography is that of a restless individual, in a quest for boundaries to cross. While in Italy, Culianu made acquaintances in radical circles, his Italian girlfriend being a peer of the terrorist group the Red Brigades. For a short period of time he worked as a librarian for the Iosif Constantin Dragan Foundation, named after a well-known business man, close to the Nicolae Ceausescu regime. While in a refugee camp in Italy, he had one suicide attempt. He left for the Netherlands and this was the beginning of a calmer period in his life. He wrote most of his works at the Groningen University.
After 1989, the fall of communism fully opened the Romanians’ horizons. People who had lived the bitter life of exile were now free to step in and help the reconstruction of Romania. This is how Culianu also became better known. Writer Gabriela Adamesteanu interviewed Ioan Petru Culianu in Chicago, in December 1990. This was to be his last interview.
Gabriela Adamesteanu, who at the time was touring US, told us how she flew in to Chicago from Los Angeles to talk to Culianu: ‘’It’s very hard to explain why I got back to Chicago. I met Culianu who looked unbelievably young. He was forty, but he looked as if he were in his late 20’s. I compared him to other people I’d met in exile. He seemed perfectly adapted to the world he was living in and he really looked like a personality, somebody who was carried on his shoulders an opportunity for Romanian culture. I took the interview in the restaurant where he used to go with Mircea Eliade. I still remember the music, the movements, and the light that evening.”
Ioan Petru Culianu’s death has fueled lots of rumors and scenarios. American journalist Ted Anton wrote a book about Culianu and his death, actually describing five potential scenarios: a revenge of exiled Romanian far-right activists, considering that Culianu has written texts against the Iron Guard ideology, an act masterminded by the communist political police who wanted to punish Culianu for his disclosures regarding the 1989 revolution, a student’s revenge, a drug dealers’ settling of accounts and even a scenario in which his girlfriend killed him to get insurance money. Despite all these hypotheses, more or less convincing, his death remains shrouded in mystery, 20 years on.
30 May 2011
TULCEA, Romania—Alas, poor Harald. Wired up to a satellite transmitter, he had much to teach science about the life of the great sturgeons of the Danube River and Black Sea.
His probable demise is a cautionary tale of the multiplying threats to the great sturgeons, sought since Roman times for the wealth they yield in meat and caviar.
Consider: A living creature from the age of the dinosaurs, a fish that can grow as long as a minibus, lives longer than most men, sniffs its way to its birthplace to spawn and can yield a fortune in caviar.
When in 2009 a team of Romanian and Norwegian researchers attached a satellite transmitter to Harald's 2.9 meter (9 1/2-foot) body, they hoped the data beamed back would show them ways of halting the rapid drop in the sturgeons' numbers. But now the Beluga sturgeon is missing, presumed to be a victim of poachers.
Sturgeon have thrived in the Danube for 200 million years, migrating from feeding grounds in the Black Sea to Germany 2,000 km (1,200 miles) upstream. Archaeologists have found wooden sturgeon traps in the ruins of Roman fortresses behind the willow trees on the Danube's banks, along with sturgeon bones dated to the 3rd century.
In the 1970s and '80s Romania built giant dams across the Iron Gates gorge, cutting off half the sturgeons' spawning grounds.
Fishermen, unrestrained after the collapse of order in eastern Europe in 1989, caught them in huge numbers as they began their migration, trapping them before they could reproduce. Pollution from agricultural run-off and expanding cities put them under further pressure, although the construction of water treatment plants in the last decade has lessened the flow of filth.
Now environmentalists are trying to head off the latest threat: a European Union plan to deepen shipping channels in the Danube that they fear could eliminate the last shallows where the sturgeon deposit their eggs, which would doom the fish to vanish in its last stronghold in Europe.
"Right now it's teetering on the edge of extinction," said Andreas Beckmann, director of the Danube-Carpathian program of the Worldwide Fund for Nature, or WWF. "That one project, depending on how it's done, could push it over the edge."
Under the plan, engineers would block partially several side channels of the Danube and divert water to the main fairway, enabling year-round shipping through what are now low-water bottlenecks. Concrete would reinforce the banks of some islands.
European and Romanian officials insist the proposed action would not further endanger the fish in the wild, free-flowing waters of the Lower Danube.
"There will be enough water to ensure migration," said Serban Cucu, a senior Transport Ministry official and Romanian negotiator. Still, construction has been delayed for a year to allow more monitoring of the channels.
"If the data collected shows there is some influence, we will decide together whether to stop the project," said Cucu, interviewed in his Bucharest office.
Sturgeon, which can live a century or more in both salt and fresh water, are genetically wired to reproduce only where they themselves were born. Equipped with four nostrils, each fish sniffs its way to its birthplace, says researcher Radu Suciu.
After the Iron Gates went up, fish west of the two dams effectively were rendered infertile. The reproduction rate was reduced by half, said Suciu, of the Danube Delta National Institute in Tulcea, at the mouth of the Danube Delta.
Even now, 40 years later, older fish congregate at the foot of the dam in spawning season.
This month, conservationists, governments and the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization agreed to explore building a fish ladder for the sturgeon to crawl around the Iron Gates dams. But unlike salmon, sturgeon cannot jump and would have to use powerful underside muscles to climb nearly 40 meters (130 feet) through a chain of pools.
In a separate attempt to revive sturgeon stocks, experiments have begun to breed sturgeon in fish farms, safe from poachers who kill them for their roe, which is processed into expensive caviar.
In 1999, Stelic Gerghi, an unemployed aquaculture engineer from the Tulcea area, famously caught a 450 kilogram (990-pound) fish and extracted 82 kilograms (180 pounds) of roe. It earned him enough to finish building his home and buy a new car. He is now serving his third term as mayor of the Vacareni district.
International trade in sturgeon was banned in 2001, and in 2006 Romania outlawed sturgeon fishing, followed by Serbia, Ukraine, Moldova and lately Bulgaria.
"We stopped the clock," says Suciu.
But as Harald's story illustrates, the threats have not disappeared.
Harald, named for the king of Norway because that country sponsors sturgeon research, was 12 years old and weighed 80 kilograms (175 pounds) when he was caught and taken to an experimental farm. There his sperm was harvested to artificially fertilize the eggs of females.
After a month he was tagged with a transmitter and released back into the Danube in May 2009, carrying the hopes of scientists to learn how sturgeons travel and behave.
"He was in very good health, a strong fish," said Suciu.
He made his way downstream to the Danube Delta and into the Black Sea. Abhorring light, he stayed in murky depths of 10 to 50 meters (30-150 feet).
Scientists pieced together his movements from 11,000 messages transmitted over five days after the tag reached the surface six months later.
Harald had foraged for herring, sprats, mackerel and other small fish for several weeks. Then in October he swam north.
Suddenly, on Nov. 2, he stopped moving. For three days he stayed on the bottom of the sea, 65 meters (215 feet) down, immobile.
During the night of Nov. 6, sometime after 2 a.m., Harald rose swiftly to the surface and went in a straight line 11 kilometers (7 miles) to Ukraine's Crimean coast. He remained offshore for two days and on land for another two. The transmitter's final messages, plotted with the help of Google Earth, indicated movement along a railway line.
Much of Harald's data was lost during transmission to the satellite, but the scientists had enough information to surmise his fate: he had been snared by a hook or net, then hauled up in the dead of night and taken ashore by rowboat.
"This was really sad. It was a young fish. He came into the Danube to spawn for the first time," said Suciu.
But the scientist was consoled that Harald left offspring that were released into the river. "The sons and daughters of Harald are safe in the Black Sea. He didn't die for nothing," he said.
20 May 2011
Prince Charles, the heir apparent to the British throne, is once again visiting Romania, where he is contributing to the preservation of Medieval German Saxon villages set up around the 13th and 14th centuries.
Prince Charles, the heir apparent to the British throne, believes that Transylvania is Romania’s best export. These past few days he was on a personal visit to the region. He seems to be quite fond of it, since a few years ago he purchased property there, including a few buildings over 100 years old in a tiny hamlet with only 150 inhabitants. Far from the maddening crowd, this village seems stuck in time in the Middle Ages.
The Prince of Wales got involved in restoring several Transylvanian villages settled by the Saxon colonists of the 12th century, some of them included by UNESCO in their world heritage list. In an interview with the public television, he said there was a lot to do in Romania and Transylvania in terms of preserving the multiethnic heritage in order to prevent these cultural treasures being lost.
He said that if these places were lost, it would be a tragedy for the people in the region and for humanity as a whole. As part of his visit, the Prince of Wales went to a fortified church in Delniţa, in Harghita county, a monument dating back to 1333, mentioned in Vatican documents. The vault of the church was built in late Gothic style, but also preserving Roman elements, which, according to experts, is the oldest and most beautiful of its kind in Transylvania.
The British heir enjoyed for a few day the simpler life, far from the etiquette of the palace. He took strolls and went riding horse drawn carts, went on picnics and even went reaping grass. He is also a supporter of organic farming in Romania. His foundation, Transylvania Authentica, wants to encourage local farmers to preserve their traditions. In Mures county he visited a dairy modernized to European standards with funds from the Norwegian government, and met local farmers.
When he visits Romania, the prince also takes the time to visit the mansion of Count Kalnoky Tibor in Miclosoara, a 16th century Renaissance style building. The Kalnoky family was, next to former King Mihai I, among the few guests from Romania who attended the royal wedding in London between Prince William and Kate Middleton.
18 May 2011
A look back on the 60th anniversary of RFE's first Romanian broadcasts.
Earlier this week, Moldovan Foreign Minister Iurie Leanca stopped by RFE headquarters, where he discussed Moldovan democratization, the conflict with Transdniester, and the potential for further integration with Europe. His visit was both informative and topically appropriate, as this year marks the 60th anniversary not only of the Czechoslovak Service, but also of its Romanian counterpart, Radio Europa Libera.
Now succeeded by the Moldovan Service, official broadcasts from Radio Europa Libera into Romania were halted in 2008. In its 57 year existence, however, Europa Libera’s Romanian iteration made a lasting impact on the society into which it broadcasted, and on a number of its most prominent citizens.
During his visit, Minister Leanca spoke of his personal relationship that RFE growing up. Said Leanca, “I still remember when I was a child in the 70’s and [my father] was listening to your radio. And it was a really a source of inspiration, of unbiased information, and a source of hope. And by the way, today, we now all live in completely different conditions, but Radio Free Europe is playing a very important role.”
Also impacted was Vladimir Tismaneanu, a noted Romanian/American political scientist, professor at the University of Maryland, College Park, and President of the Scientific Council of The Institute for the Investigation of Communist Crimes and the Memory of the Romanian Exile (IICCMER). Tismaneanu recently drafted a statement in honor of the anniversary, speaking of the catalyzing effect that RFE’s Romanian broadcasts had on him growing up.
Wrote Tismaneanu: “In a Bucharest pervaded by official lies, with newspapers dominated by sycophantic poems and hagiographic articles celebrating the ‘victories of socialism’ and the ‘triumphant march of Marxism-Leninism,’ not to speak of the infinite genius of the general secretary (first Gheoghiu-Dej, then Ceausescu), Radio Free Europe was indeed the source of our refusal to despair.”
Tismaneanu specifically praised broadcasts by former director Noel Bernard, calling his editorials “superbly informed and remarkably balanced.” In the statement, he also looks back on the particularly virulent brand of opposition that Radio Europa Libera faced in Romania at the hands of the totalitarian government.
“For totalitarianism, truth is subversive. The regime reacted accordingly, unleashing sordid, slanderous campaigns against RFE’s most active editors. An attempt against Monica Lovinescu’s life was hatched. Directors Noel Bernard and Vlad Georgescu most likely lost their lives as a result of Securitate-planned criminal plots.”
Nevertheless, despite the regime’s efforts, Radio Europa Libera endured, even after the fall of communism. Today, the Moldovan Service carries on the legacy, serving as the largest international radio broadcaster in the country.
14 May 2011
On 8 April 2011, Romanians celebrated the 100th anniversary of Emil Cioran’s birth. Aside from the usual public events, on this occasion a large number of manuscripts written in the Romanian language were recovered by the Romanian state. The importance of this event is increased by the fact that Cioran stopped writing in Romanian altogether in 1945, writing only in French.
After a bid by telephone, held in the French capital by a famous auction company, all the manuscripts were bought by a Romanian American, George Brailoiu, through his company, KDF Energy, for a total of 575,500 Euro. Right after the transaction, the Romanian businessman said that he planned to donate the manuscripts and objects to the Romanian state, namely to the Romanian Academy Library.
For this, the Romanian Academy granted him their highest distinction, the Academic Merit decoration. The motivation for this symbolic gesture, in a world that sorely needs symbols, was explained simply and directly in his acceptance speech, in the Grand Hall of the Romanian Academy in Bucharest.
Here is what George Brailoiu said: “Surely, there are inner drives within all of us. These drives are as simple as they are real. Some haunt us since childhood, other accompany us obsessively without a clear explanation. Maybe it is because, as Cioran put it in his “Tears and Saints”, there is only one failure in all of us: that of stopping being a child. Perhaps that is why we feel so strongly attached to thoughts that have been with us since childhood. I grew up in Targu Jiu, a small time city, where some of Brancusi’s works are, and I grew to understand that, nowadays more than ever, man needs symbols. Like everyone else, I have weaknesses, and one of them is to not miss opportunities that may never occur again. The fact that Cioran’s manuscripts and possessions went on the market 100 years from his birth is, in my opinion, one of those opportunities not to be missed. In fact, what will matter the most over the years will not be my obsession with not missing Cioran’s things from across continents, but the fact that they returned whence they came”.
Two Romanian public institutions forming a partnership also participated in the auction, namely the public television and the Central University Library in Bucharest. The two found out at the last moment that the Cioran collection was being put up for auction. Despite acting swiftly, the competition was too strong for their limited financial resources.
Alexandru Lăzescu, the director general of the Romanian Television, recalls: “We believed that together with the Central University Library we would be able to raise 150,000, which seemed it would be enough. It turned out it wasn’t enough. We hoped we would be able to buy the entire collection with that money. When the manuscripts were auctioned, we saw the bids were 5-6 times higher than in the catalogues. We were forced to make a decision. It was impossible for us to bid for the whole collection. We realised the bids could go up a lot, so we decided to concentrate on some elements of the collection. We had two important goals: the manuscripts of the books in the collection and a set of postcards sent by Cioran, mainly those sent from Berlin and Paris. They had never been published and contained interesting information, especially about the Nazi period. It was interesting to see how Cioran perceived this unfortunate period in the history of the European continent. But we also ended up bidding for other items, such as Cioran’s baccalaureate diploma.”
Shortly after the auction and after George Brailoiu donated the collection to the Academy Library, there was some controversy about the source of the collection. Gradually, things became clear. The person who sold the collection at the Paris auction house was Laurence Tacou, the director of L’Herne publishing house, who confirmed in a press release that she bought the documents last summer from Cioran’s sister-in-law, Eleonora Cioran, the wife of Aurel Cioran, the writer’s brother who died some years ago.
The Prosecutor’s Office of the High Court of Cassation and Justice was called on by the filmmaker Sorin Iliesu and the philosopher Gabriel Liiceanu to look at accusations that the Emil Cioran collection was removed from the Romanian cultural heritage. Sorin Iliesu, the director of a documentary film made together with Gabriel Liiceanu and called “The Apocalypse according to Cioran,” says it was Emil Cioran’s wish that this personal archive dating back from the years spent in Romania should be donated to the Astra Library in Sibiu.
The Cioran collection donated by George Brailoiu will add to the collection of 14 million Romanian documents of the Academy Library. The manuscripts included in this fund are obviously not the only such documents that belonged to Emil Cioran and that are now part of Romanian public archives.
Philosopher and researcher Marin Diaconu enlarges on their content and the places where they are now archived:‘’Manuscripts of Cioran can be found in important institutions such as the Astra Library in Sibiu, the Romanian Academy Library, Romania’s National Library, The Romanian Literature National Museum, Romania’s Historical Archives, the Central University Library in Bucharest, and the archive of the Foreign Ministry. The Astra Library hosts 540 letters and documents, submitted by Mrs Eleonora Cioran. She also donated 520 books of the family’s library, last autumn. Some books bear Emil Cioran’s signature as a school student, as well as books autographed by French authors for Cioran. The Academy Library holds 49 letters to Arsavir Acterian, sent between 1968 and 1981 and 4 more sent to another person. There are also manuscripts on the black market. I hope the documents will be donated to the Academy Library. Most of them have been published in books and magazines.’’
The collection of letter is quite rich, and is shared by various public and private archives. A complete works edition that will be published under the aegis of the Romanian Academy will rely on these sources.
27 April 2011
One person attending Britain's royal wedding has seen it all before: Michael I, the taciturn former king of Romania.
Michael, who will be 90 this year, traveled from Romania to London in 1947 to be a guest at the marriage of Princess Elizabeth—now Queen Elizabeth II—to his cousin Prince Philip. He returns to London for Friday's wedding of their grandson, Prince William, to fiancée Kate Middleton.
Thirty years ago, he also attended the 1981 wedding of William's parents, Prince Charles and Princess Diana.
Michael is one of the few surviving heads of state from World War II, and his life has been nothing if not tumultuous. A great-great-grandson of Britain's Queen Victoria and a third cousin of the current queen, he was first crowned king at age six and reigned as a boy from 1927 to 1930, and then again from 1940 until 1947.
The young king returned to Bucharest after the 1947 wedding as communists backed by Soviet ruler Josef Stalin had just taken over Romania. He was forced to abdicate the throne a month later, stripped of his citizenship and sent into exile, where he worked as a commercial pilot and briefly as a chicken farmer.
Even as communism collapsed in Romania in 1989, the country's leaders remained wary of the former king. He was unceremoniously expelled from Romania in 1990, a year after the bloody revolt against communism in which more than 1,300 people died.
Finally, in 1997, his citizenship was restored by a pro-European government, he was awarded compensation for his castles that were confiscated by the communists, and given use of former royal palaces.
This week former king will be arriving from Switzerland, where he spent some of his 50 years in exile.
How times have changed. In 1947, playwright and wit Noel Coward was a fellow royal wedding guest. Elizabeth had saved up her clothing rations to pay for her wedding dress fabric and women all over Britain had sent in their own coupons to help her. The service was the first royal wedding to be broadcast on live radio.
The grand nuptials of Charles and Diana were watched by 750 million people around the world, and Michael rubbed shoulders with former U.S. first lady Nancy Reagan, the wife of former President Ronald Reagan, who was among the 3,500 guests.
13 April 2011
Bucharest still lives off the cosmopolitan city reputation it acquired during the inter-war period. It used to be a city where life was good, where people would take long strolls on the Victory Road, so that at a certain point in time a municipal order was issued, regulating one-way walks on the sidewalks. The city used to have as its architectural and cultural landmarks buildings bear the names of the personalities of that time; these buildings would play host to lifestyle events that often enjoyed international participation.
Time passed, and with it the splendor of many of the buildings that once used to be famous. Some of these sites were crushed down during World War II bombings; others fell down later, during the devastating 1977 quake. Other buildings were forcibly taken by the state and refurbished into public institutions. In the 1990s, some of the buildings were given back to their owners, who had been stripped of their property by the communist regime. Other buildings have been rated as first-grade seismic risk sites, which means they are to be demolished or completely refurbished. Today the state of many of these buildings speaks about blatant disinterest in preserving heritage sites.
Adriana Alexe is 83. She will now be spinning the yarn of what Bucharest used to be like when she was in her prime.
“What was beautiful in Bucharest? First of all, people were more relaxed, the city was cleaner and neat, there was much more greenery, the city was teeming with gardens, parks and lakes. There were the boyars’ houses. There was the Victory Road, which was the promenade area, stretching from the boulevard to somewhere beyond the Athenee Palace, in front of the Telephony Corporation Building. And on Sundays the grand boulevard walks, of course.”
But how do people live today? Speaking about that is Andrei Multescu, an architect holding a doctorate in town planning.
“We live in an environment which is continuously changing, but change is uncontrolled, and to me this seems to be the major flaw on the part of local authorities: their inability to put an end to outrageous demolition works. This is not only about the demolition of buildings already listed as heritage sites, but also about very nice buildings that were brought down and nothing was built instead. This irrational urban development was stopped in cities across Europe, using fairly simple methods. For instance, they decided that no demolition would start unless the financial capability was demonstrated to build something instead.”
So what does the future have in store for Bucharest's old buildings? Dan Lungu is head of the National Institute for Historical Monuments and teaches construction safety at the Technical University of Civil Engineering in Bucharest. He analyzes the current condition of the city's old buildings.
“The situation is simply tragic. Some buildings will disappear completely, while others will suffer alterations in shape or structure. As we walk down the street, we see how height restriction laws are violated. In residential areas, with beautiful houses built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, in French architectural styles, less and less buildings keep their original form. Many houses have either been demolished or modified, with the addition of new floors. New architectural concepts have allowed for tall buildings to be erected in Bucharest, but sadly, these were built in the locations that were the least recommended. I believe that if this goes on, Bucharest will not be able to find a new personality of its own and won't gain appeal as a European city.”
It seems, however, that the issue of building height variations has a simple solution, which Germany, for example, has already implemented. Here is Dan Lungu again at the microphone.
“Years ago, while working at the University of Karslruhe, I came across a basic rule of urban planning: the distance between a tall building and a low-height one had to be equal to half the height of the taller building. When building a one- or two-storey building next to another one of similar height, the distance between them had to be equal to the height of the new building. The Germans implemented this rule without modifying attics or balconies.”
The attitude in Bucharest—down with the old, up with the new—seems to be related to its history. Andrei Multescu knows more.
“Ever since before WWII, Bucharest has been suffering from an obsession with style and modernity. It was a modern city in the '40s. What we're experiencing now is an obsession with tall buildings and glass facades. It's just like in the 60s with high-density apartment blocks and in the 40s with cubist architecture.”
So where can we still find Bucharest's authentic atmosphere? Andrei Multescu told us.“There are many areas you can visit. There's the area around Lascar Catargiu Boulevard, formerly known as Ana Ipatescu, with very interesting buildings, resembling the German style of the 1900s. There is architectural unity in this area, which I enjoy very much. The Ioanid Park is beautiful, as are the houses around it. I think that for tourists, the Parliament Palace and the Unirii Boulevard are still a hotspot. Those who want to see new developments can go to Pipera. For a taste of old Bucharest, go to the Old Town, even if it's currently undergoing refurbishment. It's still the Old Town everyone knows and loves.”
Still waiting for Bucharest to gain new personality, we live surrounded by the ruins of old age and look back nostalgically at the days of yore.
Hedda Sterne, an artist whose association with the Abstract Expressionists became fixed forever when she appeared prominently in a now-famous 1951 Life magazine photograph of the movement’s leading lights, died on Friday at her home in Manhattan. She was 100.
Her death was announced by Clara Diament Sujo, the director of CDS Gallery in Manhattan.
Ms. Sterne, who was the last surviving artist from the Life photograph, shared few of the stylistic or philosophical concerns of the Abstract Expressionists, nor did she cast herself in the heroic mold favored by many artists in the movement.
She did, however, join with 17 prominent Abstract Expressionists and other avant-gardists in signing a notorious open letter to the director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1950 accusing it of hostility to “advanced art.”
The letter, with signatures from the likes of Barnett Newman, Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, caused a stir. The artists were dubbed the Irascible 18 by Emily Genauer, the chief art critic of The New York Herald Tribune, and 15 of them were gathered by Life magazine for a group portrait by the photographer Nina Leen. Ms. Sterne, who arrived late, was positioned on a table in the back row, where, she later said, she stood out “like a feather on top.”
Although the photograph achieved mythic status, and some of its subjects scaled the heights of fame, Ms. Sterne retreated to the margins of art history. She spent the next half-century working steadily at her art and exhibiting frequently, but she never developed a marketable artistic signature. Her frequent stylistic changes, reflecting an exploratory bent, made her an elusive figure.
“Hedda was always searching, never satisfied,” Betty Parsons, her longtime dealer, once said. “She had many ways; most artists just have one way to go."
Hedwig Lindenberg was born on Aug. 4, 1910, in Bucharest, Romania. After graduating from secondary school she took art classes at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna and studied art history and philosophy for a year at the University of Bucharest before dropping out to become a full-time artist.
In 1932 she married Fritz Stern, from whom she soon separated, retaining his last name but adding an “e.”
Encouraged by the Romanian surrealist Victor Brauner, a family friend, she exhibited several Surrealist collages in a group show organized by Hans Arp in Paris in 1938. There she met Peggy Guggenheim, who included one of her works at a show at her London gallery the following year.
In 1941, Ms. Sterne narrowly escaped a roundup and massacre of Jews at her apartment building and fled Bucharest for New York, where she immediately fell in with the artistic avant-garde. Her work was included in “First Papers of Surrealism,” the pioneering exhibition of Surrealist art organized by André Breton and Marcel Duchamp in 1942, although she later confessed that she had absolutely no interest in the radical politics espoused by most members of the movement.
She exhibited at Guggenheim’s gallery, Art of This Century, and was soon given a solo show by Betty Parsons at the Wakefield Gallery in 1943. Through Parsons she became friends with many of the Abstract Expressionists and met the artist and cartoonist Saul Steinberg, a fellow Romanian, whom she married in 1944.
While visiting Vermont with Mr. Steinberg, from whom she separated in 1960 and who died in 1999, she became fascinated by farm machinery and began producing mechanical images with human overtones that she called “anthropographs.” These were followed by canvases, some of them spray-painted, inspired by the roads, bridges and skyscrapers of Manhattan.
She later arranged horizontal bands of subdued color on vertical canvases she called “vertical-horizontals,” which, in characteristic fashion, she denied were abstract. For a time, in the 1960s, she made ink drawings of organic forms and splayed heads of lettuce. She sometimes referred to herself as a diarist, a role that became explicit when, in the mid-1970s, she began putting diary entries directly onto canvases sectioned into checkerboard-like grids.
Ms. Sterne, who leaves no immediate survivors, executed portraits of friends and colleagues throughout her career. In 1970 she gathered dozens of her head portraits in an installation work, “Hedda Sterne Shows Everyone,” at the Betty Parsons Gallery.
6 April 2011
Peter Weir is Australia's most acclaimed film director, with movies like "Gallipoli," "Picnic at Hanging Rock," "The Truman Show," and "Dead Poets Society" to his name.
His most recent release, "The Way Back" starring Ed Harris and Colin Farrell, traces the purportedly true journey of prisoners who escaped from the Siberian gulag and made it to India, via the Gobi Desert, the Himalaya Mountains, and Tibet.
Weir recently visited Prague for the Febiofest film festival, where he was given the Kristian Award. He spoke with RFE/RL writer-at-large James Kirchick about his research of the gulag, his political reawakening, and how audiences are reacting to "The Way Back."
RFE/RL: What was it that inspired you to make this movie?
Peter Weir: I generally tend to say "no" to everything so I'd said "no" to it initially although I'd enjoyed the book very much that had become the primary inspiration, The Long Walk by Slawomir Rawicz. But I felt I couldn't get it off my mind. It would come back to me. And I'd pick an odd book off the shelf to read about this period, which was essentially the Soviet era, although it's set in the Second World War.
I found myself reading a little around it, and I read Anne Applebaum's book "Gulag." I was drawn into it, it was irresistible, finally, and I accepted to do it and found one of the great experiences was the research and interviews with survivors and so on.
RFE/RL: In many ways it's an adventure story, but there's something of a political message in the movie, do you think, or was that not intentional?
Weir: I know you don't mean this, but a gentleman got up at a preview during question-and-answer time and said to me, "You know, this film is basically anticommunist." I said, "Yeah." I said: "I'm anticommunist and I'm anti-Nazi. I'm anti-police states, generally."
I'm not a political filmmaker, although everything is political, as somebody said. It's always been the human condition which has interested me and, in this case, these people had suffered injustice as the result of a political system that was an incredible experiment of the 20th century. The first thing I noted was how little I knew about it. I had to do a lot of reading.
RFE/RL: About communism?
Weir: Yup. Because for my generation growing up through the '60s, when you're a part of, particularly, the antiwar movement in Australia, and as it was in America, you came to distrust your own side's version of what was going on.
And in some ways obviously you came to realize this had been the result of clever dissembling on the part of communists or communist sympathizers or apologists, and partly because of the ineptitude of the McCarthy hearings, with the House un-American Activities [Committee]—that might as well have been a communist organization, it so brilliantly turned people against them—that you grew up really thinking it wasn't as bad as it was made out to be.
And that's a shock. I know many of my friends from that period—we were all vaguely leftish as all young people often are—idealistic. I can't believe how gullible we were in looking back.
RFE/RL: Movies like this aren't made in Hollywood. There are so many movies about Nazism and fascism. There are very few movies about communism, and so many great stories that could be told. Why do you think that is?
Weir: Again it's "be careful if you tread on my dreams." I think in the world of creativity and even in the academic world to a degree, those who had their leftist sympathies when they were young, or communist sympathies, and the romance of it, found it very hard to give it up. They still sell the Che Guevara T-shirts like he was John Lennon or something. No one really wants to criticize Castro.
It's almost impossible for a lot of people to admit that this experiment of communism went so disastrously wrong and face the facts. Whether its Stalin or Lenin, for that matter, I can't let him off the hook, he was all for the terror. Through to Pol Pot, through to North Korea. What can you say? It's just dreadful, appalling.
But there's still resistance. I've noted that, even amongst friends to this day. When I said I was making this film and what it was about, there was just that moment, just that flicker across the face: "Oh, you're going along a right-wing road." And that fascinated me that that was still possible, to have held onto that romance from youth.
Mr. Smith The American
RFE/RL: The character I find most interesting is Mr. Smith, played by Ed Harris, an American who moves to Russia. He's one of those people who is in wonder at this new experiment. And there were many people like him, actual Americans who moved to the Soviet Union. Did you base him on somebody in particular, or is he a composite character?
Weir: He's the only name I've kept from the book, in my moving him to fiction from the purported true book. And I only kept his name and his nationality, and the fact that he was working on the Moscow Metro as an engineer.
But then I just built him out of books that I'd read about Americans. There were some 8,000, most of whom disappeared into the gulag; they never got home again. Not all of them were communist sympathizers. A lot were economic refugees from the depression and got good money for a period until Stalin, the paranoia caused him to turn on foreigners generally.
So he was an amalgam of types from that period and then Ed Harris did his own research on it and built up a back story for himself that wasn't necessarily referred to.
But there's a story, one excellent source. I came across a book that talked about how the author had gone into the KGB files during that brief period when they were open under Yeltsin; Putin shut everything down again. But he managed to interview KGB people and get a look at KGB files and so one of the incidents had been about an American woman and her son and the son was informing on his mother. And so I sort of used that as a basis for changing the sexes around and have Mr. Smith informed on by his son.
Reception In The Postcommunist East
RFE/RL: Do you find when you're screening this movie around the world, do you get a different reaction here in the Czech Republic than you would, say, in the West.
Weir: It's a little too early to know. I've only been here a few days, done a dozen, 15 interviews, but people seem to be rather discreet.... I've had a few people come to me to say that the film affected them deeply, but that's been true around the world. And people don't generally come up and say, "I've hated it."
But I have noticed that it is one of those films that appeals to a certain type of sensibility. It's not for everybody. I mean, I strip the film down to its barest working components, try to make those components very strong. But in doing that, I dispense with a lot of convention in this kind of film.
It's an escape story so you're probably going to have a pursuit, that's an obvious thing. You maybe have a wicked commandant who is intent on killing them all. So none of that.
They get out. They get away, because the real prison is Siberia, as I have it stated. Then on the journey itself, there aren't the more conventional cliff-hanging movements of a Hollywood film, there's no internal fights between the characters. It's rather simple, but I felt that would lend authenticity to it and would also increase the power of the emotion, it would be, as it were, true sentiment. That was my ambition.
RFE/RL: Do you plan or are you able to show the film in Russia today?
Weir: Yes, I sold it.... I've only spoken to a couple of Russian journalists in Los Angeles, a couple of stringers there, an older woman. I said, "How do you think it will go in Russia?" And she said: "Oh, all the people know. They don't want to talk about it. But the young ones, they already e-mail me, when's it coming? They have an interest." Maybe 30 years old, but they never lived under the system.
RFE/RL: Because Russia's Vladimir Putin has tried to resurrect Stalin.
Weir: Yes, it's like those people who said Hitler built great freeways. He was a strong man. You can see Putin's leaning very clearly. The admiration of the tyrant.
16 March 2011
On March 14, Oana Serafim—Director of RFE/RL’s Moldova Service—spearheaded a panel debate following the premiere screening of the controversial Romanian film "Kapitalism: Our Improved Formula” at the One World Film Festival, which took place in Prague from March 8-17.
In the film, director Alexandru Solomon investigates the rise of Romania’s unique brand of capitalism. The film paints a picture of a business oligarchy plagued by allegations of corruption, money laundering, and close ties to the Securitate (communist Romania’s former secret service).
In her role as RFE/RL's Director of the Moldova Service, Oana Serafim has spent a lot of time listening to the voices of the past via RFE/RL archival reports in an effort to understand the roots of today's problems. A long-time film critic and specialist on the region, Oana described "Kapitalism" as altogether “brilliant, tough, real and profound to watch.”
Serafim explained to the audience that the film’s subjects—Romania’s corrupt, oligarchic elite—felt themselves to be “heroes of capitalism” and simply above the law. Such predicaments, she explained, are an inheritance of communism.
Director Solomon is not new to RFE/RL. In a previous film, “Cold Waves,” he explored the Radio's impact on Romanian society and the ruling elite during the last era of Nicolae Ceausescu’s dictatorship. His new work focuses on that regime's anarchic aftermath.
Fittingly, the most succinct summation of the film's central theme came near its conclusion—and from one of its subjects. In the words of Dinu Patriciu, currently the richest tycoon in Romania:
"You won't be successful unless you steal."
16 March 2011
The troubles surrounding Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power plant in the wake of the recent earthquake and tsunami there have set off a debate on the safety of nuclear power in general. Part of the problem at Fukushima appears to be the plant’s outdated design and the engineers’ lack of foresight to plan for both an earthquake and a tsunami. But after Three Mile Island, Chornobyl, and now Fukushima, the question remains whether nuclear power can ever be truly safe.
Romania’s only nuclear power plant, Cernavoda, was designed in the 1980s by a Canadian company and commissioned in 1996. The plant’s two working reactors account for around one-fifth of Romania’s power needs, but the reactors have been plagued by problems. As recently as January, one of the reactors had to be shut down for maintenance. In April 2009, the site’s second reactor was also shut down briefly due to electrical problems.
While Romania is not as seismically active as Japan, the country does have its share of earthquakes. In recent times, the 1977 Vrancea earthquake—of 7.2 magnitude—killed more than 1,000 people in Romania and Bulgaria. It destroyed some 35,000 buildings throughout Romania.
12 March 2011
In February we celebrated the 75th anniversary since the birth of Marin Sorescu, a worldwide known Romanian poet, playwright, essayist and translator. World of Culture today features this leading Romanian writer.
Although the official date of his birth is February 19th, in fact Marin Sorescu was born on February 29th. That is why, it has become a custom to celebrate his birthday by means of various events in late February and early March.
On this occasion, some top Romanian institutions such as the Romanian Academy and the Romanian Literature Museum in Bucharest teamed up. February 28th opened with a discussion panel at the Romanian Literature Museum, which presented Marin Sorescu’s poetry volumes “Mladost don Kihota / The Youth of Don Quixote” translated into Serbian by Adam Puslojic and published in Belgrade in 2010, as well as Srba Ignatovic’s “Blind Traveller” published last year as well under the care of the very same Adam Puslojic.
Moreover, the first translation of Sorescu’s works to be published abroad was “Life in a Wheel”, brought out over four decades ago, in 1969 and translated by the same Serbian poet Adam Puslojic, himself an honorary member of the Romanian Academy.
On March 1st, discussion panels moved to the Romanian Academy Library where they were chaired by former president of the Romanian Academy Eugen Simion, at present the head of the National Foundation for Science and the Arts within the Academy. Those present attended the opening of the Marin Sorescu documentary exhibition, followed by a session devoted to artist. The Romanian writer was known in the early 90s as the most celebrated Romanian writer abroad. Eugen Simion has the details:
”Marin Sorescu is a poet who made a key contribution to post-war literature and Romanian literature in general. Literary critics believe him to be the most important Romanian post-war playwright, and a very renowned and appreciated essayist. Just think of his book, “Slowly taking the piano up the stairs”. Besides being an excellent writer and painter, I like to think that, if anything, Sorescu was a very special figure, the only one of his kind”.
According to Eugen Simion, Marin Sorescu won his life-long fame and international recognition through his own efforts. His works have been translated in over 20 countries in Europe, South America, Asia, the U.S. and Canada, totaling some 60 volumes published abroad. His theatre masterpiece, “Jonah”, continues to be performed in many theatres in the world.
Marin Sorescu made his poetry debut in 1964 with his mock-poetry volume “Alone Among Poets”, a series of mock-poems that immediately arrested public attention. Academician Eugen Simion again:
“He continued with a kind of poetry which we called myth debunking, but not spirit-breaking, and finished, tragically and surprisingly, with poems that had never been written before, in my opinion. Actually, he wrote his own death, as many said when he passed away and those poems, that he wrote hours before his death, became public. There was also another stage, a very important one. In the early 70s, after a year he had spent in the United States, he returned with the first volume of the series “In the Lilieci Village”. The book operated an essential change in Romanian poetry. It represented a recovery of Romanian civilization and spirituality, which were in the process of disappearing. I later found the right concept: Sorescu had invented post-modernity.”
His reputation as a playwright is even greater, as Eugen Simion noted.
“His plays follow existentialist theatre and theatre of the absurd, as it had been created by Eugen Ionescu. Marin Sorescu was probably Eugen Ionescu’s most noted apprentice, with his own original approach to poetry. He revived historical theatre and theatre in general, making it famous all over Europe. “Jonah”, “The Verger”, “The Matrix”, “The Third Stake” and “The Cold” are some of Marin Sorescu’s best-known plays.”
One of the guests to speak at the artist’s 75th anniversary was Serbian poet Adam Puslojic, a friend of Sorescu’s and lover of Romanian literature. He spoke of the large public that Sorescu’s writings addressed.
“I believe that Sorescu’s works are timeless, and that he wrote for a cosmic audience. Plainly put, he was a marvellous person, simple, divinely melancholic and full of tragic humor. He covered the entire spectrum between laughter and tears. When I first started writing about his poetry, I called him “the most clear-headed Romanian poet”. I still believe this.”
The meeting held at the Romanian Academy ended with a recital from “Jonah” by popular actor Ilie Gheorghe, who this year will receive an award for lifelong achievements from UNITER, the Romanian Theatre Union.
On the same occasion, the city of Craiova in South-Western Romania once again played host to the yearly “Marin Sorescu Festival”, which included events dedicated to Marin Sorescu-the painter, writing and performing competitions, poetry shows, the show “The Matrix”, as well as the award gala following the 8th “Marin Sorescu—The Power of Word” national creativity, translation and visual arts contest.
Marin Sorescu received a number of national and international awards throughout his career and after his death, such as the Romanian Academy Award, the Writers’ Union Award, the Herder Award in Vienna in 1991 and the Fernando Riello Award in Madrid in 1983. In 2007, 11 years after the poet’s untimely death, the Romanian Cultural Institute in Stockholm founded the “Marin Sorescu” Award, for Swedish writers and fine artists who go beyond borders, bridging gaps and linking various forms of cultural expression.
11 March 2011
CHISINAU, Moldova—U.S. Vice President Joe Biden was in Moldova today for a brief visit to encourage reform in the impoverished nation and push for a peaceful settlement of its separatist conflict.
Biden, the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit Moldova since the country declared independence from Soviet rule, heaped praised on Prime Minister Vladimir Filat and his pro-Western government.
Speaking at a joint news conference, he said Washington firmly supported Moldova's efforts to introduce reforms after violent postelection riots ousted long-ruling communist leaders in 2009.
"On behalf of the entire [U.S.] administration, Mr. Prime Minister, I am back to reiterating to you what I did a year ago," Biden said. "To offer America's support for both the political and the economic reforms that your government is implementing, and for the important steps that you have taken to improve democratic institutions in your country."
Biden praised the government's crackdown on the sex trade, which has earned Moldova the reputation as Europe's hub for human trafficking.
He told his host that Moldova could count on Washington in its endeavor to join the European Union—an assurance he repeated hours later during his speech on a Chisinau square that was a focal point of the 2009 anticommunist protests.
He pledged continued financial assistance to help the small nation develop its agriculture sector, strengthen its democratic institutions, improve its business climate, and promote civil society and the independent media.
Filat, for his part, said his country was strongly committed to embracing democracy.
"Moldova wants to tell the world today that its citizens have once and for all chosen the path of democracy," Filat said. "That we are ready to fight any obstacle, that our country will no longer be isolated, that we will not allow anyone to rob people of their hope for a better future. We are doing our best to consolidate democratic instruments that will make our country a model of success."
Biden, whose visit follows two days of talks in Moscow that focused largely on trade, said the United States was keen to deepen investment in Moldova—currently Europe's poorest country.
He said the U.S. administration was considering repealing the Jackson-Vanik amendment, a set of Soviet-era restrictions on trade with countries like Russia and Moldova.
As expected, Biden also sought to revive stalled negotiations on the so-called "frozen conflict" over Transdniester, Moldova's pro-Russian breakaway region.
"Let me be clear," Biden said. "America supports a settlement, but not any settlement—a settlement that preserves Moldova's sovereignty and Moldova's territorial integrity. Transdniester lies within Moldova and the people of Moldova deserve an end of this dispute that has divided this country for far too long."
The small territory, home to some 500,000 residents and 1,500 Russian troops, broke away from Moldova in a war in the early 1990s. It is not internationally recognized.
Biden said he had raised the White House's concerns with Russian officials while in Moscow.
Analysts, however, say Moldovans should not expect too much from Biden's visit on the Transdniester issue.
"I don't think Moldova is, or will ever be, a priority in U.S. foreign policy since the United States is involved in two wars and must now also deal with the turmoil in Arab countries," said Vlad Spanu, who heads the Moldova Foundation, an advocacy group based in Washington.
"These are U.S. priorities, and these regions are likely to climb even higher on the U.S. agenda. In this context, Washington sees Russia as a partner who can help it tackle such problems. This is why the United States doesn't interfere too much with Russia's interests in places like Moldova, Georgia, Ukraine, Belarus, and other countries in Eastern Europe."
Biden was scheduled to hold talks with acting President Marian Lupu before leaving Moldova late today.
11 March 2011
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden March 11, 2011
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden arrived in Moldova today for a brief visit aimed at encouraging reform in the impoverished nation and pushing for a peaceful settlement of its separatist conflict.
Authorities in Moldova have pinned high hopes on the visit, which Prime Minister Vladimir Filat has called "extremely important" for the future of Europe's poorest country.
It's the first visit to Moldova by a U.S. president or vice president.
Speaking ahead of Biden's arrival, Prime Minister Vladimir Filat said the visit could herald renewed support from Washington.
"I hope that, when he returns to Washington after his visit, the vice president will help us overcome some of our problems through his own actions and through the actions of his administration," he said.
Biden arrived in Moldova from Moscow, where he held two days of talks devoted largely to trade issues.
The White House said Biden's trip to Chisinau is aimed at reenergizing efforts to resolve the so-called "frozen conflict" over Transdniester, Moldova's pro-Russian breakaway region.
The small territory—home to some 500,000 residents and 1,500 Russian troops—broke away from Moldova in a war in the early 1990s. It is not internationally recognized.
Analysts, however, say Moldovans should not expect too much from Biden's visit.
"I don't think Moldova is, or will ever be, a priority in U.S. foreign policy since the United States is involved in two wars and must now also deal with the turmoil in Arab countries," says Vlad Spanu, who heads the Moldova Foundation, an advocacy group based in Washington.
"These are U.S. priorities, and these regions are likely to climb even higher on the U.S. agenda. In this context, Washington sees Russia as a partner who can help it tackle such problems. This is why the United States doesn't interfere too much with Russia's interests in places like Moldova, Georgia, Ukraine, Belarus, and other countries in Eastern Europe."
It is unclear whether the U.S. vice president broached the topic of Transdniester with Russian officials while in Moscow.
In Moldova, Biden is also expected to signal U.S. support for democratic and economic reforms undertaken by the pro-Western government, which swept to power after violent postelection riots ousted long-ruling communist leaders in 2009.
Biden is expected to voice his support for the government's drive for European integration during his talks with Filat and acting President Marian Lupu.
Spanu says Biden's encouragements can only benefit efforts to lift the country out of its crippling political and economic crisis.
"I think Biden's visit is important because it shows U.S. support for progress in Moldova's democratic reforms," Spanu says. "Whatever you want to call these reforms—'European integration' or something else—Moldova really needs them for the good of its citizens. Ordinary Moldovans must improve their economic standing and Moldovan society can only benefit from sharing democratic values with the United States".
Biden will cap his visit with a speech in a central Chisinau square.
3 March 2011
Kathleen Laraia McLaughlin/via Flickr
"Black cloth is the mark of a widow. She will wear something black every day she remains on earth until God decides she should join her husband. ...
Transylvania, Romania ... is unique among the former Soviet Bloc for the way it has preserved its way of life. After World War II, for 40 years of communist rule, a few valleys in Maramures escaped collectivized farming because of poor soil and hilly landscape. In the post Cold-War period, preservation continued because of pervasive impoverishment which slows the advancement of modernity into the reaches of northern Transylvania."
From The Color of Hay: The Peasants of Maramures, a monograph of photographs by Kathleen Laraia McLaughlin.
see: The Color of Hay
26 February 2011
Listening to our programs, you have heard mentioned many, many times a word that may have left you wondering: mamaliga. It is a word that we sometimes approximate in English with polenta, or with cornbread, but unfortunately it is not exactly either of those. It is one dish that is as simple as it is fundamental to Romanian traditional cuisine.
Its simplicity ensured that even nowadays, at a time when ethnic foods from all over the world are available in any Romanian supermarket, ‘mamaliga’ is still a staple in any Romanian household. It is simply cornmeal boiled in water salted to taste until it reaches a cake like consistency, but which you adjust to your own preference. Since it is so popular, it is served with a wide variety of dishes, and an experienced cook will adjusted its thickness to the main dish it is a side to. But, make no mistake, this is no easy feat to accomplish, and it takes many failures to cook it to a perfect consistency without leaving it raw, burning it, or having it full of lumps.
As a result, many Romanians raised in an urban environment have a hard time getting it right. This is a typically peasant food, and its origins lie deep into the past of this region. Obviously, no Romanian had ever seen an ear of corn before well into the 17th century, when that plant reached this area. Before that, just like with many other Europeans, the grain of choice was millet. However, this is now a thing of the past, and ‘mamaliga’ is now exclusively made of corn.
In the end, there are two secrets to making the perfect ‘mamaliga’. One of them lies in the way the corn is ground. It should not be fine as for polenta, and not too coarse, as cracked corn is. The other secret is boiling the cornmeal properly. That may prove a tricky proposition, because you have to get the corn to water ratio just right, and get the amount of salt just right from the start.
Bring water to a boil, preferably in a thick cast iron pot. Put salt in it, then slowly add the cornmeal, stirring to avoid lumping. When you reach the right ratio, turn down the heat to its lowest, then leave it to simmer, stirring occasionally to have a uniform mix. If the bubbles cause spattering, which could be a hazard to your skin, melt in some butter. Now the trick is to cook the corn properly without burning at the bottom.
Bear in mind, the finished product will be tougher in consistency once it cools enough to eat, so we advise you stop cooking before it reaches your preferred thickness. Enjoy with your favourite main dish. It keeps extremely well in the fridge, but it will form a tough crust in a couple of days. It can be eaten cold, it can be sliced and made into a sandwich with your favourite topping, or it could even be sliced and fried, in a pan or on a metal sheet, with oil or on its own.
One of the most popular ways of eating a hearty, fairly light and meat-free meal is to mash together in a deep plate piping hot ‘mamaliga’, sour cream, and your choice of crumbly cheese, be it cottage or gorgonzola, or even a mixture of them. Remember, you need to practice! Enjoy.
8 February 2011
A senior U.S. senator has introduced legislation into Congress that would lift trade restrictions on Moldova, scrapping a Cold War-era barrier.
Richard Lugar, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, authored the bill, which would repeal the Jackson-Vanik amendment's restrictions on Chisinau.
In a statement, Lugar said doing so would "provide an important impetus for improving trade relations between the United States and Moldova and advancing Moldova's Western ambitions."
First enacted in 1975, the Jackson-Vanik amendment was considered a critical tool in U.S. policy toward the Soviet Union. Designed to pressure Moscow on its refusal to allow Jews and other minorities to leave and move abroad, the amendment prohibited normal trade relations with countries that had nonmarket economies and restricted emigration.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the accession of post-Soviet countries to the World Trade Organization (WTO), the financial restrictions were lifted for more than a dozen states.
Moldova, which joined the WTO in 2001, has yet to be "graduated."
John Todd Stewart, who was U.S. ambassador to Moldova from 1995-1998, told RFE/RL that a lifting of the restrictions is long overdue. "Certainly there's absolutely no reason to keep Moldova subject to Jackson-Vanik," he said.
"There has never been any question at all since Moldova's independence of the ability of residents and citizens to emigrate freely, so its continued application to Moldova is simply an anachronism. It has been an unfortunate besmirching of Moldova's reputation," he added.
While the legislation has remained in place, Moldova, along with Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, have been given "no violation" status by U.S. lawmakers, essentially waiving the amendment's trade restrictions.
The continued Jackson-Vanik label, however, has been rebuked by Moldova advocates and has proven an especially sensitive topic in U.S.-Russian relations, with some in Moscow accusing Washington of purposely clinging to outdated, punitive measures.
Matthew Rojansky, deputy director of the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a Washington think tank, described the argument of many Moldovans for officially repealing the restriction.
"The call has been outstanding for a long time from Moldova advocates. They always pointed to the irony that as unfair as it is, frankly, that Russia is still subject to Jackson-Vanik, it's even more illogical with respect to Moldova because the logic that's marshaled on Russia -- that Russia may not practice discrimination against Jewish emigration, but they still practice various human rights abuses -- it's hard to make that case for Moldova. It's a pretty democratic, pretty low-key government in terms of human rights abuses," he said.
Rojansky said the new push to repeal the amendment for Chisinau may also be indicative of Washington's current thinking toward the country, whose government is now led by a coalition of pro-European parties.
In looking to expand Euro-Atlantic relations with countries on Russia's periphery, Rojansky said, "Some [in the West] view Moldova, now that Ukraine has fallen off the wagon and Belarus, clearly, was never on the wagon, as the best remaining candidate."
Stewart says the delay in pushing for a Jackson-Vanik appeal for Moldova is simply "an oversight," with the need to do so long overshadowed by more pressing issues on the legislators' agenda. "I think the primary reason [for the delay] is just the difficulty in passing what to the U.S. Congress is a less-than-significant piece of legislation," he said.
"It does take a certain amount of time and effort to push a bill through the Congress and there has to be a certain amount of steam behind the effort," he added.
The bill must be approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and voted on by the full Senate before becoming law.
8 February 2011
There's more bad news in the cards for Romania's beleaguered witches.
A month after Romanian authorities began taxing them for their trade, the country's soothsayers and fortunetellers are cursing a new bill that threatens fines or even prison if their predictions don't come true.
Superstition is a serious matter in the land of Dracula, and officials have turned to witches to help the recession-hit country collect more money and crack down on tax evasion.
Witches argue they shouldn't be blamed for the failure of their tools.
"They can't condemn witches; they should condemn the cards," Queen Witch Bratara Buzea told The Associated Press by telephone.
Critics say the proposal is a ruse to deflect public attention from the country's many problems. In 2009, Romania needed a $27.31 billion International Monetary Fund-led bailout loan to pay salaries and pensions when its economy contracted more than 7 percent. Last year, the economy shrank again. However, this year a slight recovery of 1.5 percent growth is forecast.
European Union and Romanian officials say local authorities are hampered by political bickering and bureaucracy. The centrist government is unpopular, the opposition is weak, the press thrives on conspiracy and personal attacks, and EU officials say the justice system needs to be reformed. Romanians are jaded and mistrustful.
"The government doesn't have real solutions, so it invents problems," said Stelian Tanase, a well-known Romanian political commentator. "This is the government that this country deserves."
In January, the government changed labor laws to officially recognize the centuries-old practice of witchcraft as a taxable profession, prompting angry witches to dump poisonous mandrake into the Danube in an attempt to put a hex on legislators.
The latest bill was passed in the Senate last week but must still be approved by a financial and labor committee and by the Chamber of Deputies, the other house of Romania's Parliament.
Bratara called the proposed bill overblown. "I will fight until my last breath for this not to be passed," she said.
Sometimes, she argued, people don't provide their real identities, dates of birth or other personal details, which could skew a seer's predictions. "What about when the client gives false details about themselves? We can't be blamed for that."
The new bill would also require witches to have a permit and provide their customers with receipts, and it would bar them from practicing near schools and churches.
Tanase has a solution.
"Maybe they should put a spell on [Prime Minister Emil] Boc and [President Traian] Basescu, so they can find the solutions," he said.
8 February 2011
Bucharest—Legislation being debated in Romania would require witches to get a permit and make it possible to fine or even imprison one whose prediction turns out to be false.
The draft bill has just started its way through Parliament in Romania, where witchcraft has been part of its culture for centuries.
On Jan. 1, Romania changed its labor laws to officially recognize witchcraft as a profession, angering some witches.
Vasile Bleotu, a Social Democrats lawmaker, said Tuesday that the Senate passed the draft legislation last week but it still must be approved by a financial and labor committee and Romania's Chamber of Deputies.
It also would require witches to provide their customers with receipts and bar them from practicing near schools and churches.
5 February 2011
CHISINAU—The head of a U.S. organization promoting democracy in Eastern Europe says Moldova has wasted two decades in terms of democratic reforms and European integration, RFE/RL's Moldovan Service reports.
Bruce Jackson, head of the Washington-based Project on Transitional Democracies, told RFE/RL in Chisinau that Moldova missed a big opportunity in the 1990s to emulate the Baltic states in their EU integration and has little chance of catching up with them.
Jackson said the communist governments that ruled Moldova during the previous decade and especially Communist Party head and Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin "turned down many overtures" from the West and also "mismanaged relations with Russia, Ukraine, and Romania."
On the EU membership ambitions of the new pro-Western Moldovan government that came to power in 2009, Jackson said it is highly unlikely that a new round of EU expansion will take place in the forseeable future.
But he added that when the EU does decide to expand beyond the western Balkans—a region that has been promised full membership—Moldova and Ukraine will probably be the next candidates.
Unlike Serbia, Macedonia, or Bosnia-Herzegovina, Moldova is not considered by the EU as a potential candidate but is instead part of Brussels' Eastern Partnership program, which offers those six neighbors in that program closer ties in exchange for democratic reforms.
Last month, the EU presented Moldova with a "road map" by which its citizens could eventually be granted visa-free entry to EU countries.
28 January 2011
Cell phone, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter video coming out of Egypt and Yemen are as murky and chaotic as the pictures we had coming out of Romania or Warsaw in 1989. What brings people to the streets isn't as important as what happens if they win.
In Bucharest in 1989, young people took over the state's television and looked for a moment like leaders elected spontaneously to bring an end to the dictatorship. And then the real guys showed up, the generals and the apparatchiks who had been getting ready to seize power.
The demonstrators in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and wherever there is a next, are drunk with freedom and ready to die for it, but it's the freedom of being together in a raging mass, the madness of crowds, as Charles Mackay called it in 1841. And what happens when and if they succeed won't look anything like what we are seeing on the Web and on TV.
In the bipolar world of 1989, the media broadcast, dutifully, images of the visible struggle, but those images didn't add up to a neat story of a communist demise and capitalist triumph.
The scenes we are seeing in Tunis, Yemen, and Egypt in the schizophrenic teens of the millennium won't add up to a simple story of the triumph of democracy and new media over tyrants and state-controlled news, either.
In Romania before 1989, they used to say that it was a country blessed with everything: oil, gold, good soil and great weather, just like Switzerland. The only problem, Romanians weren't Swiss.
In Cairo in 2011, just like in Bucharest in 1989, it took guts to imagine a different world. In Europe, that world came eventually, and it was a lot better than the one before. Let's hope the same thing happens now.
18 January 2011
BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — Cristian Paturca, the composer of a song that inspired Romanians in their struggle against vestiges of the Communist government, has died. He was 46.
Pro-TV in Romania reported that a friend said he found Mr. Paturca dead in his apartment Tuesday. Mr. Paturca had been suffering from tuberculosis and long-term liver problems.
Mr. Paturca became one of Romania’s most prominent democracy activists when he wrote “Imnul Golanilor” (“The Hooligans’ Hymn”) in 1990 for antigovernment protesters, who were being called “hooligans” by President Ion Iliescu. The Communist government of Nicolae Ceausescu had collapsed in 1989 in a revolution in which more than 1,300 people died. Romanians then protested for weeks in University Square against the continued presence of former Communists in the government.
The protest was broken up by club-wielding miners in June 1990; six people were killed and dozens injured.
One line from the song, “Better dead than a Communist,” became part of Romania’s post-1989 vocabulary. The word “golan” now means a pro-democracy activist as well as a hooligan.
Dan Voina, who investigated Romania’s revolution, compared “The Hooligans’ Hymn” to France’s national anthem, “La Marseillaise,” which was a rallying call for the French Revolution. “It had an important role that is necessary in popular revolts for the solidarity of protesters,” the newspaper Romania Libera quoted him as saying on Tuesday.
The president of Romania, Traian Basescu, awarded Mr. Paturca the National Cross in April for faithful service, 20 years after he composed the song.
14 January 2011
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — About the same time the Jets were throwing obscenities around their locker room this week, a few New England Patriots players were engaged in discussions on scholarly subjects like biodiversity and genetics. Linebacker Jerod Mayo and punter Zoltan Mesko were discussing the human genome when Mesko revealed that his father, Michael, was a pro bowler.
“He’s a Pro Bowler?” a stunned Mayo responded. “See, that explains it.”
Mesko was confused until he realized his own mistake. Mesko clarified that his father had never been selected to the N.F.L.’s Pro Bowl, but instead was a professional bowler.
In his native Romania, Michael Mesko was paid under the table, as he explained it, to play club 9-pin bowling. He was also an engineer, and he met his wife, Elisabeth, in engineering school. So began an unusual journey that eventually led to their son, an engaging, humorous 24-year-old, setting a rookie record for punting footballs for the best team in the N.F.L.
Zoltan Mesko was born March 15, 1986, in Timisoara, near the Hungarian and Serbian borders, during the final gasp of Nicolae Ceausescu’s communist dictatorship. Before Zoltan was 4, he and his parents lived through a harrowing week in December 1989 when violent protests, sparked in their hometown, led to the violent overthrow of the Ceausescu regime.
The streets of Timisoara were marked by gunfire, tear gas and armored vehicles while the Meskos hunkered down in their concrete, Soviet-era apartment building.
“It was scary,” Elisabeth Mesko recalled. “For one week, we could not go out because of all the shooting. We didn’t have much food. I remember my husband’s mother died that week, but only he could go to the funeral. It was too dangerous to take Zoltan out.”
Even after the revolution, life was still hard in Timisoara. Although both parents were educated and held prestigious jobs, the Meskos scratched out a meager existence in an economy making a transition to an open market. Two- and three-hour lines for food were the norm, and gas prices neared $9 a gallon. Zoltan remembers wearing shoes long after they fit properly, until his toes poked through.
“Then we used duct tape,” he said, before adding with a laugh, “but we didn’t have duct tape.”
The hardships reinforced what the Meskos always wanted, to emigrate to America, and after years of waiting, the family finally won the lottery for a green-card visa. On May 8, 1997, they arrived in New York ready to begin a new life. At first they moved in with Julia and George Lutas, old friends from Timisoara who lived in Mamaroneck, N.Y.. The Lutases sponsored them and picked them up at the airport. After a few weeks, the Meskos found modest accommodations in Maspeth, Queens.
“They worked very hard and put themselves on their feet very fast,” Julia Lutas said. “Now, every year on the anniversary of the day they came here, they call and thank us. That is the kind of people they are.”
Although the elder Meskos were qualified engineers, their degrees did not transfer to the United States, so they found whatever work was available. Michael earned minimum wage working for a locksmith in Queens, and Elisabeth cooked and cleaned houses.
“It was a shock in Queens,” Elisabeth said. “I would never go back to Romania, but oh, my gosh.”
While his parents found their bearings, Zoltan began to add English to his other three languages: Romanian, Hungarian and German, which he speaks fluently.
“I first learned English watching Barney on TV,” he recalled, shaking his head. “One time I was watching it and it was especially confusing. Then I realized I was watching in Spanish.”
After half a year in Queens, the family took the advice of a friend and moved to Twinsburg, Ohio. Both parents found work in their fields, Michael as a quality control inspector for an industrial manufacturer and Elisabeth as a laboratory supervisor for a geotechnical engineering firm. (His father gave up bowling.)
At school, Zoltan excelled at everything he did.
That even included kickball. As a child in Romania, Zoltan was a left wing in soccer. He became a legendary schoolyard kickball player in Twinsburg, with a thunderous left leg.
“I was a fifth-round draft pick this year,” he said, “but I was always a first-round draft pick in kickball.”
Once, after he broke a ceiling light in the gymnasium, the school’s coach implored him to play football. That suited Zoltan, if not his mother.
“I didn’t want that,” she said. “I said, ‘They will kill you and they will hit you and they will beat you.’ He said: ‘Mom, a kicker and a punter, they don’t get nothing. They won’t beat me.’ So I was O.K. if he just be a kicker.”
His kicking prowess and academic success led to a scholarship from Michigan, where he became a cult figure for his name, his booming kicks and his wit. In April the Patriots made him the 150th overall pick in the draft, 49 spots higher than his fellow Michigan alumnus Tom Brady was in 2000. Mesko’s net average, 38.4 yards per punt, was the highest mark for a rookie.
“It’s a rags-to-riches story,” he said, “but the story is not over yet.” If it continues as it has, he may one day follow in his father’s footsteps, as a Pro Bowler.
13 January 2011
The full normalisation of ties between Romania and the Republic of Moldova was reconfirmed on Wednesday, when the government in Bucharest approved the ratification of the treaty on the border between the two states.
According to a government release, this bilateral document creates the necessary framework for border cooperation between the competent authorities of the two states. The release also writes that at the moment, collaboration is made difficult by the absence of appropriate mechanisms and procedures.
The treaty contains provisions referring to border delimitation and maintenance, the construction of joint projects, and the use of watercourses, roads and railroads and other communications installations crossing the state border. The draft law will be submitted to Parliament for urgent debate and approval.
The treaty, seen by the Romanian foreign minister Teodor Baconschi as a strictly technical document, is the crowning of long and intense diplomatic and political efforts. Talks on the treaty between Bucharest and Chisinau started in 2003, when the Republic of Moldova was ruled by the pro-Russian communists.
Their visceral anti-Romanian feeling and their constant attempts to block bilateral dialogue delayed progress by 6 years. It wasn’t until the installation of a new, pro-western administration in Chisinau that the bilateral treaty on the state border was finally signed in November 2010, thus putting an end to seven decades of both political and geo-political tribulations.
What is today known as the Republic of Moldova was created on some of the eastern Romanian territories annexed by the former Soviet Union in 1940 following an ultimatum.* For dozens of years, the Romanian-Soviet border created by Stalin was one of the most hermetic borders behind the Iron Curtain, being meant to create a permanent division between the Romanians in the two states.
This goal was not achieved, so that in 1991, when Chisinau proclaimed its independence from Moscow, Romania was the first country in the world to recognise the new state. Having thus become a Romanian-Romanian border, the border between the two states no longer divides them, but brings them closer.
Thanks to a number of bilateral agreements, small-scale border trade ensures the survival of many poor families, while thousands of students and high school pupils from the Republic of Moldova can now cross the border to attend classes as beneficiaries of various grants from the Romanian state.
*NOTE: This was part of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact
10 January 2011
An article on the BBC and elsewhere notes that witches and astrologers are now recognized occupations in Romania and no longer part of the underground economy. Practitioners’ incomes are now taxable—and practitioners are now covered by the country’s pension and health insurance schemes. Some witches have cast spells to overturn the new regulations, while others like the new benefits more than they dislike paying the new taxes.
This bizarre case should be an important reminder in these Tea Party days: Our taxes buy something—the services of government. Being locked out of government, as the witches were, has both costs and benefits. It’s natural to try to free-ride on the taxes of others; but if enough of us did that, simple economics shows that the services wouldn’t be provided. In a country like the U.S., with relatively low taxes and few services, do we want to provide even fewer services in order to keep taxes so low or cut them still further?
Dan Hamermesh is a professor of economics at the University of Texas at Austin. Follow @freakonomics on Twitter.
6 January 2011
CHITILA, Romania (AP — Everyone curses the tax man, but Romanian witches angry about having to pay up for the first time hurled poisonous mandrake into the Danube River on Thursday to cast spells on the president and government.
Romania's newest taxpayers also included fortune tellers — but they probably should have seen it coming.
Superstitions are no laughing matter in Romania — the land of the medieval ruler who inspired the "Dracula" tale — and have been part of its culture for centuries. President Traian Basescu and his aides have been known to wear purple on certain days, supposedly to ward off evil.
A witch at the Danube named Alisia called the new tax law "foolish."
"What is there to tax, when we hardly earn anything?" she said, identifying herself with only one name as many Romanian witches do.
Yet on the Chitila River in southern Romania, other witches gathered around a fire Thursday and threw corn into an icy river to celebrate Epiphany. They praised the new government measure, saying it gives them official recognition.
Witch Melissa Minca told The Associated Press she was "happy that we are legal," before chanting a spell to call for a good harvest, clutching a jar of charmed river water, a sprig of mistletoe and a candle.
The new tax law is part of the government's drive to collect more revenue and crack down on tax evasion in a country that is in recession.
In the past, the less mainstream professions of witch, astrologer and fortune teller were not listed in the Romanian labor code, as were those of embalmer, valet and driving instructor. People who worked those jobs used their lack of registration to evade paying income tax.
Under the new law, like any self-employed person, they will pay 16 percent income tax and make contributions to health and pension programs.
Some argue the law will be hard to enforce, as the payments to witches and astrologers usually are small cash amounts of 20 to 30 lei ($7-$10) per consultation.
Mircea Geoana, who lost the presidential race to Basescu in 2009, performed poorly during a crucial debate, and his camp blamed attacks of negative energy by their opponent's aides.
Geoana aide Viorel Hrebenciuc alleged there was a "violet flame" conspiracy during the campaign, saying Basescu and other aides dressed in purple on Thursdays to increase his chances of victory.
Romanian officials still wear purple clothing on important days, because the color supposedly makes the wearer superior and wards off evil.
Such spiritualism has long been tolerated by the Orthodox Church in Romania, and the late Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife, Elena, had their own personal witch.
Queen witch Bratara Buzea, 63, who was imprisoned in 1977 for witchcraft under Ceausescu's repressive regime, is furious about the new law.
Sitting cross-legged in her villa in the lake resort of Mogosoaia, just north of Bucharest, she said Wednesday she planned to cast a spell using a particularly effective concoction of cat excrement and a dead dog.
"We do harm to those who harm us," she said. "They want to take the country out of this crisis using us? They should get us out of the crisis because they brought us into it."
"My curses always work!" she cackled in a smoky voice, sitting next to a wood-burning stove, surrounded by potions, charms, holy water and ceramic pots.
But not every witch threatened fire and brimstone.
"This law is very good," said Mihaela Minca, sister of Melissa. "It means that our magic gifts are recognized and I can open my own practice."
“If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle,” Romania’s official submission for the best foreign-language film Oscar, is a study in confinement. Like many other recent Romanian films—Cristi Puiu’s “Stuff and Dough,” Cristian Mungiu’s “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” or Radu Muntean’s “Boogie”—it trails after a young protagonist whose choices are drastically limited and not very promising. Silviu, an 18-year-old inmate at a juvenile prison in a drab rural area, is a few weeks from the end of a four-year sentence, but the idea that his release will bring any kind of freedom seems like a delusion or a cruel joke.
Played by a nonprofessional actor named George Pistereanu, whose sensitive eyes soften his impassive, bullish physical presence, Silviu is at the end of a childhood that has hardened him without quite destroying his humanity. He is tough and angry, but he also seems a little softer than some of his fellow prisoners. When his younger brother, Marius (Marian Bratu), visits, Silviu displays a capacity for tenderness and a streak of boyish naïveté, which are both on display later when he flirts with Ana (Ada Condeescu), a social work student who has come to conduct a prerelease interview.
For the most part, the director, Florin Serban, sticks to the look and texture of contemporary European realism, allowing Silviu’s story to emerge slowly and organically out of the details of his existence. The casual belligerence of the guards and the bureaucratic impatience of the warden (Mihai Constantin) are keenly observed, as is the volatile mixture of camaraderie and bullying that defines life in the prison’s dormitories, mess halls and work sites.
Mr. Serban is a dutiful student of cinematic naturalism, and “If I Want to Whistle,” his first feature, is a worthy example of the kind of ground-level, conscientious storytelling that fills up festival programs across Europe. (The film won prizes last year in Berlin and Cluj, home of the Transylvania International Film Festival). His reliance on hand-held tracking shots that train the viewer’s gaze on the back of Mr. Pistereanu’s head suggests familiarity with the work of Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne, but imitating one of their visual signatures does not, by itself, impart the mixture of concrete detail and spiritual gravity that has made the Dardennes heroes of world cinema.
Instead, Mr. Serban and Catalin Mitulescu (a producer who wrote the screenplay with him), adapting a play by Andreea Valean, introduce elements of melodrama and suspense that raise the dramatic temperature at some cost to the film’s lasting power. When Silviu learns that his mother (Clara Voda) plans to take Marius with her to Italy—where she, like hundreds of thousands of other Romanians, can seek a better life—he reacts with panic and fury. And his inability to prevent what he sees as the destruction of his family and his future drives him to a desperate act that turns the last third of “If I Want to Whistle” into something like a nerve-racking, grimly absurd replay of “Dog Day Afternoon.”
But as the movie becomes more explosive—and more demanding of its cast—it loses some of the quiet, careful intensity that made Silviu’s situation worth attending to in the first place. The seams of the narrative start to show, and by the end you are more aware of the filmmakers’ ideas than of the character’s life.
IF I WANT TO WHISTLE, I WHISTLE
Opens on Wednesday in Manhattan.
Directed by Florin Serban; written by Catalin Mitulescu and Mr. Serban, based on the play “Eu Cand Vreau Sa Fluier, Fluier” by Andreea Valean; director of photography, Marius Panduru; edited by Catalin F. Cristutiu and Sorin Baican; production design by Ana Ioneci; costumes by Augustina Stanciu; produced by Catalin Mitulescu and Daniel Mitulescu; released by Film Movement. At Film Forum, 209 West Houston Street, west of Avenue of the Americas, South Village. In Romanian, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 34 minutes. This film is not rated.
WITH: George Pistereanu (Silviu), Ada Condeescu (Ana), Clara Voda (Mother), Mihai Constantin (warden), Marian Bratu (the Brother) and Chilibar Papan (Ursu).
4 January 2011
Many people living in regions that used to form part of Hungary have started applying for Hungarian citizenship.
Thousands applied at Hungarian consulates in Romania on Monday, when a new citizenship law took effect, a Hungarian community leader said.
Zsolt Szilagyi said he thought "hundreds of thousands" would apply in Transylvania, northern Romania.
Some Slovak politicians have condemned the new law. Slovakia, like Romania, has a large ethnic Hungarian minority.
Hungary ceded two-thirds of its territory under the 1920 Treaty of Trianon, after being on the losing side in World War I. That left large Hungarian communities living in neighbouring countries.
Hungary joined the EU in 2004 and has just taken over the EU's six-month rotating presidency.
Speaking to the BBC from Transylvania, Mr Szilagyi said the new law was primarily "symbolic" and would help the community's drive for greater autonomy and cultural rights.
He stressed that, as EU citizens living in Romania, ethnic Hungarians had the right to move to Hungary and work there well before the new law came into force.
Citizenship "is a form of symbolic relationship - recognition that after 90 years of living without Hungary we maintain our identity, we value our mother tongue," he said.
Officially Romania has about 1.5 million ethnic Hungarians, though Mr Szilagyi put the figure at "nearly two million".
He is a colleague of the independent Euro MP Pastor Laszlo Tokes, who heads the Transylvanian Hungarian National Council (EMNT). Mr Tokes's defiance of the former Communist authorities in 1989 was a catalyst for the Romanian revolution.
Mr Tokes and his family were among the first to apply for Hungarian citizenship on Monday, in the town of Oradea.
Southern Slovakia is home to roughly 500,000 ethnic Hungarians, about a tenth of the country's population.
In May last year Slovakia's former Prime Minister Robert Fico described the Hungarian law as "a security threat" and an attempt to revise history.
More than 250,000 ethnic Hungarians also live in Serbia.
Hungary's parliament, dominated by Prime Minister Viktor Orban's centre-right Fidesz party, adopted the new citizenship law last May.
It means that people identifying themselves as ethnic Hungarians can acquire citizenship without living in Hungary.
They are required to give consular officials proof of Hungarian roots - for example, the birth certificate of a Hungarian parent or grandparent - and demonstrate some proficiency in the Hungarian language.
But as non-residents they will not be entitled to vote in Hungarian elections.
Obtaining a Hungarian passport is now expected to take just a few months, under a new fast-track procedure, whereas previously it often took years.
Mr Szilagyi said dual citizenship was common in the EU, and he welcomed Romania's "correct" attitude on the issue. Romania had encouraged Moldovans to obtain Romanian citizenship, even though Moldova was not in the EU, he said.
Hungary's ambassador to Belgrade, Oszkar Nikowitz, said the new law had "primarily a moral dimension for Hungarians who lost Hungarian citizenship due to historical circumstances".
Quoted by Serbia's B92 news website, he played down any practical advantages offered by the law.