Wikipedia 30 December 2007

On this day...
    1947 King Michael I was forced to abdicate as Romania became a People's Republic.

Christmas Traditions

26 December 2007
Radio Romania International

On this Christmas Day we invite you on a trip down memory lane, to some places in Romania where traditions are more alive than ever. Guesthouses keep their doors wide open, awaiting visitors. We start our journey in Bucovina, northern Romania, one of the regions in Romania where old customs and traditions are best preserved. Lucy Glacer, owner of a guesthouse in Bucovina:

“A custom that we observe every year is going to church at 11 pm on Christmas Eve. Everybody attends the mass of the Birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ. After mass, grownups who feel up to it go carolling all night long. Tradition has it that on that night people most open the door to anyone who comes knocking and to to accept their carolling. You cannot refuse.”

Next day, on Christmas Day, the whole family sit around the Christmas table. We asked our host from Bucovina whether the dishes they serve are traditional:

“Of course they are. We have a lot of dishes specific to our region. You probably know that Bucovina was under Austro-Hungarian domination for almost 150 years. The Austro-Hungarians influenced a great deal the cuisine in this area, influences which have been preserved to this day.”

Alongside main dishes made of pork or goose meat, also remarkable are the poppy seeds pound cake and the traditional cake from Bucovina, made with wheat and honey. As for drinks… Well, if you’re thinking of having a glass of wine, maybe it’s not the best choice. Not if you want to stick to local traditions. Lucy Glacer:

“In Bucovina people don’t drink a lot of wine. Some of our local strong drinks are tuica, a kind of plumb brandy, afinata, a spirit made of blueberries or another kind of spirit made of strawberries and raspberries, called zmeurata. Women prepare these berries’ spirits all throughout summer, to have them when winter comes. They are all our traditional alcoholic beverages.”

Another Christmas tradition Romanians observe is Ignat, the killing of the pigs on December 20th. After they slaughter the pig, poeple prepare all kinds of traditional dishes: sausages, smoked ham, thick sausage, which are all going to go on the family Christmas table. The ritual of sacrificing the pig is followed by a kind of celebration, a pork meal served to all those who attended or helped in the killing of the pig.

Our next stop is in the village of Oarda, in Alba County in central Romania. We visited Sorin Marginean, who modestly recommends himself as a mere peasant. When we got there, he had just killed the pig and was now preparing sausages, thick sausage and what Romanians call jumari, small pieces of fried ham. We asked Sorin Marginean to tell us how thick sausage is made:

“First you boil everything: meat from the pig's head, some beef, kidneys, and heart. They are all nicely chopped into small bits, with spices added, and then you make some jelly out of pig skin, to make them stick together. Then you stuff everything into a casing made of a large intestine, you boil it for about 10 minutes, and let it cool and smoke at least for one day.”

Next, our journey took us to the nearby village of Romos, in Hunedoara County, where we foudn a Morris dance ensemble. On Christmas Eve the dancers go caroling from door to door. Ioan Igna, a local of the Romos village and a former Morris dancers, will tell you more about the ensemble:

“Our Morris dance ensemble carries on old Christmas traditions from our region. In our village, Morris dancers go caroling on Christmas Eve. Then, on Christmas Day, December 25th, they dance for their host, while on the second day of Christmas they dance for anyone who invites them into their homes, like friends and relatives.” While dancing, the Morris dancers also sing traditional carols. To end our journey, we invite you to listen to a carol the Morris dancers from Romos village usually play for their host.

Wikipedia 22 December 2007

On this day...
    1989 Romanian Revolution: After a week of bloody demonstrations, Ion Iliescu took
    over as President of Romania, ending the Communist dictatorship of Nicolae Ceauşescu.

Chisinau, Unleashed Against Romania

20 December 2007
Radio Romania International

The Bucharest daily newspaper GARDIANUL bluntly writes: “Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin’s paranoia towards everything reminding him of Romania has reached its climax”. On Wednesday, Radio Romania’s correspondent to the Republic of Moldova (a former Soviet republic with a majority Romanian speaking population) fell victim to the communist head-of-state’s fits. Together with the correspondents of the Romanian National Press Agency Rompres and the television station Prima TV, Radio Romania correspondent was denied access to Voronin’s press conference.

Still, the Romanian journalists received from the pro-Western Moldovan newspaper TIMPUL a recording of the President’s statements, which bring nothing new to the picture. Voronin launched a maniac attack against neighbouring Romania. The Moldovan President has secreted Romanian-phobia his entire life. A former activist of the single party and a general in the repressive Soviet apparatus, Voronin had to be worthy of his positions by promoting Stalinist ideas.

In 1940, when the Russians occupied Romanian eastern territories which currently make the Republic of Moldova, Moscow tried to justify its actions by crediting the existence of a so-called Moldovan people, speaking a language other than Romanian. Specialists from Romania and Moldova or the Western world ( and after the fall of the Kremlin communist regime even those from Russia), reject such an appalling distinction and point out the historical and cultural union between the two states. The linguistic argument is actually a weak pretext.

This month, Chisinau expelled, with no arguments, two Romanian diplomats, evoking Cold War practices. Making up foreign enemies and unleashing, once again, his anger against Bucharest, President Voronin tries to cover up, in a pre-electoral year, the total failure of his two successive presidential terms.

He is further than ever from keeping his promise of re-establishing Chisinau’s authority on the breakaway region of Transdniester, in the east of the Republic of Moldova. The illusion of the revival of the economy was shattered, while in all specialized classifications Moldova still ranks as the poorest European state. Any ambitions for a European integration seem ridiculous as long as the despotic and abusive communist power does not even fulfil Brussels’s political requirements.

Speaking for Romania, Romanian President Traian Basescu said that Bucharest would not take similar measures and it would not respond to Chisinau’s challenges. He recalled that communism did not succeed anywhere and said he was convinced that it would also fail in the Republic of Moldova.

Moldovan Mayor Wins "Battle of Christmas Trees"

20 December 2007
New York Times

CHISINAU (Reuters) - The mayor of Moldova's capital Chisinau, who backs closer ties with neighboring Romania, has scored a symbolic victory over the ex-Soviet state's communist president in a duel focusing on rival Christmas trees.

Municipal staff on Thursday decorated the city's tree by the town hall, but the operation was not as easy as it seemed. It had initially been erected near the government offices only to be removed overnight to make way for the government's own tree.

"We have been putting up a Christmas tree for 12 years, but this is the first time I have seen such a mess. And such a fight over where to put it," said Eugenia Bondarenco, who works for the city firm that supplied its tree.

Moldova and Romania broadly share a common history and language but are locked in a row over borders and national identity, with President Vladimir Voronin furious at Bucharest's suggestions that his people are merely ethnic Romanians.

And though both countries are predominantly Orthodox Christian, Romania's independent church marks Christmas on December 25, while Moldova's, part of Russia's Orthodox Church, follows the old Julian calendar and celebrates on January 7.

Admiring one or the other of the firs, and at which point in the festive season, clearly betrays one's political convictions.

"We want to take a step forward to Europe," said Chisinau's Romanian-educated mayor Dorin Chirtoaca, 29.

Chirtoaca had the tree erected by government headquarters on December 9, but municipal workers sealed off the area with metal barricades and took the tree to a park. It was later allowed to stand by the town hall, 300 meters (yard) from the government building.

The government tree has yet to be erected in keeping with the Russian tradition of waiting for the run-up to the New Year.

The mayor uses every occasion to expand ties with Bucharest. Two days after his election he met Romanian President Traian Basescu, who this week called Moldova a "sea of Romanians" and offers its people fast-track citizenship.

Voronin, the only communist leader of an ex-Soviet state, accuses Romania of "permanent aggression" against his much smaller state, which also has longstanding links to Russia.

Moldova last week expelled two Romanian diplomats.

Romania, now a European Union member, refuses to sign two treaties with Moldova, saying they would legitimize borders set after the Soviet Union seized large areas of Romanian territory.

(Writing by Ron Popeski)

Timisoara Marks 18th Anniversary of Anti-Communist Uprising

18 December 2007
by Mihai Barbu
Nine O'Clock

Dozens of people died and hundreds were injured in Timisoara, the city that initiated a mass protest against the communist rule which engulfed the entire country and led to Dictator Nicolae Ceausescu’s ousting.

The first signs of tension emerged in Timisoara on December 15, 1989 when a small group of people gathered in front of the house of reformed Bishop Laszlo Tokes, unhappy with the communist authorities’ decision to move the pastor to another city by force. The people initially demonstrated in peace but later in the evening began singing “Wake up, Romanian” and chanting slogans against Dictator Nicolae Ceausescu.

The following day, the demonstration spreads across the city and the riots develop a more pronounced anti-communist character. The demonstration moves to the city’s centre, where the first violent clashes with security forces take place.

Dozens of people are arrested, while news of the protests reached Bucharest. On the evening of December 16, Ceausescu talks to Timisoara local leaders and orders fire at will against demonstrators without previous warning.

Early in the morning on December 17, the city’s streets were packed with army tanks and soldiers. In order to justify their force intervention, security forces say there were packs of hooligans raiding the city and robbing stores. Demonstrators however, determined to continue protests, boo the marching troops and start throwing rocks at them. More and more people flood the streets, yelling “Down with Ceausescu, don’t be afraid, down with communism.”

Security forces open fire on protesters later in the afternoon, after the latter make their way into the communist party’s headquarters in the city and start throwing out and destroying all the documents and archives, along with the portraits of the Ceausescus.

Meanwhile, 11 high-ranking officers from the leadership of the militia, the Securitate and the army, arrive in Timisoara, determined to keep the situation under control. Later in the evening, the city becomes real hell, with security forces continuously firing at protestors. Dozens of people, the figure varying between 60 and a hundred, are killed.

Demonstrations fade in intensity on December 18 and 19 following the brutal crackdown. On the evening of December 18, the bodies of all the people shot by security forces are taken from the city’s morgue and transported to Bucharest, where they are cremated. The ashes are thrown in the sewer, in order to cover up the traces of the repression.

However, it was already too late to stop the anti-communist movement. On December 20, Timisoara is flooded by thousands of workers. About 100,000 people gather in the city’s centre, yelling slogans against the communist leadership, such as “We are the people,” “the Army is with us,” and “don’t be afraid, Ceausescu is falling down.”

On the morning of December 21, Ceausescu is calling a mass assembly of workers in front of the headquarters of the Communist Party’s Central Committee in Bucharest, with the intention of publicly denouncing the “Timisoara riot.” During his speech however, participants start booing and dispersing. Small groups gather in front of the Intercontinental Hotel and start protests.

Army and security forces gradually join protesters, which already start riots in several important cities, most prominently in Bucharest. Losing the Army’s support, Ceausescu and his wife try to flee on board a helicopter, but they are caught and arrested. They are executed after a mock trial three days later.

Up to this moment, violent clashes continue in several cities, but it still remains unclear who is fighting who. Reports varied, speculating that it was members of the Securitate loyalists to the communist rule that fought against demonstrators, while others suggested the existence of foreign terrorists. No report was ever confirmed.

According to official figures, a total of 1,142 people were killed in the 1989 Revolution, while 3,138 were injured and a further 760 were arrested.

Wikipedia 18 December 2007

Did you know...
...that Romanian princess Catherine Caradja was nicknamed the "Angel of Ploieşti" for
    her humanitarian deeds by American and British airmen who were taken prisoner during
    the bombing of Romania in World War II?

Moldova: A Political Battle, with Christmas at its Center

17 December 2007
by Claire Bigg and Viorica Zaharia
Radio Free Europe

Christmas trees have been going up in cities
worldwide - but Chisinau must wait (AFP)

CHISINAUWith Christmas just days away, most Western cities are resplendent with twinkling lights, wreaths, and lavishly adorned Christmas trees.

Chisinau, by contrast, conspicuously lacks a tree. In its place: a bitter political feud that is spoiling many a Moldovan's holiday spirit.

The dispute began earlier this month when Moldova's Communist president, Vladimir Voronin, declared that the traditional holiday tree would appear on Chisinau's main square only on December 30—days after Western Christmas.

Chisinau's new, pro-reform mayor, Dorin Chirtoaca, had different plans.

"We thought that the Christmas tree shouldn't come after Christmas," says Lucia Culev, the deputy mayor of the Moldovan capital. "The mayor then ordered that a tree be erected and decorated by December 23, so that December 24 or 25 could be a proper holiday."


On December 9, accordingly, a Christmas tree went up on Chisinau's main square. But the mayor's initiative was short-lived. That night, police removed the tree and blocked off the site. In televised remarks, the city's police chief declared he had no intention of obeying the mayor's directive, even if it meant breaking the law.

Like Russia, Moldova officially celebrates Christmas on January 7, according to the old Julian calendar. But growing numbers of Moldovans now prefer to observe Christmas on December 25, particularly in the capital, where the tree's removal has upset many.

"All European countries put up Christmas trees as soon as December 1," said one woman in the city center. "Even in Moscow, in Russia, they have Christmas trees, beautiful ones. Why not here?"

"I would like the Christmas tree to come earlier, because it's a national holiday and it should be celebrated in a bigger way," a man added. "December 30 is too late; people travel to the city center and have nowhere to go. Some go to expensive restaurants where they can have a good time. But the Christmas tree is available to everyone; that's where most people converge."

East Vs. West, Old Vs. New

Nearly all Moldovans are Orthodox Christians. Some are loyal to the Russian Orthodox Church, which follows the Julian calendar. Others, however, are members of the Romanian Orthodox Church, which celebrates Christmas according to the new Gregorian calendar, on December 25.

Voronin's decision to postpone the tree's debut until the final days of the year belies not only his pro-Russian stance but his communist loyalties as well. In the Soviet era, New Year's was the main winter holiday, and fir trees traditionally went up on or around New Year's Eve.

Advocates of the December 25 Christmas say there is no sense celebrating the birth of Christ according to one calendar and the new year according to another.

The row has a certain comical dimension. But Igor Botzan, a Moldovan political analyst, says alarming tendencies lurk behind the squabble.

"It would be very funny if it weren't so sad," says Botzan. "In this country, no initiative, not even holidays, can be carried out without the president's approval. This dispute has to be viewed within the context of the ongoing conflict between the central authorities and the opposition."

Political Feud

This is, in fact, the first time Chisinau residents have been denied a Christmas tree before December 25. Voronin's government has not publicly taken responsibility for the tree's removal. But many view the move as retribution for the election this year of 29-year-old Chirtoaca, a dynamic opposition figure, who took the post after years of communist mayoral rule.

"The ruling party's popularity is dropping. It's lost almost 20 percent over the past two years," Botzan says. "That's why during the [June] local elections, the president declared the end of the political partnership with the opposition, and launched a fierce campaign against the opposition."

Many see the Christmas tree ban as a direct result of that campaign. They say it can also be interpreted as a hostile gesture toward neighboring Romania. Relations between the two governments soured after Romania vowed to ease legislation allowing Moldovans to obtain Romanian citizenship, prompting Voronin to accuse Bucharest of undermining his country's national security.

In the meantime, Chisinau residents may have to brace for more spoiled celebrations. Christmas is the second holiday to be marred by political feuding. On October 14, border guards attempted to bar Romanian mayors from reaching Chisinau, where Chirtoaca had invited them to attend City Day festivities.

City Day happened to coincide with Wine Day, a celebration overseen by Voronin—and no Romanians, seemingly, were welcome.

On This Day Britannica - 15 December

1989 - Antigovernment demonstrations erupted in Timişoara, Romania, beginning the revolution that toppled the communist leader Nicolae Ceauşescu from power a few days afterward.

Wikipedia 15 December 2007

On this day...
    1467 – Troops under Stephen III of Moldavia defeated the forces of Matthias Corvinus of
    Hungary at the Battle of Baia in Baia, present-day Romania.

Ion Fiscuteanu, a Star of Romanian Stage and Film, Dies at 70

10 December 2007
by A. O. Scott
New York Times

Ion Fiscuteanu in “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu” in 2005 / Tartan Films

Ion Fiscuteanu, a Romanian stage and film actor known to international audiences for his role in “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu,” died early Saturday in Bucharest. He was 70.

Romanian news reports said the cause was colon cancer.

“The Death of Mr. Lazarescu,” directed by Cristi Puiu, won the Prix un Certain Regard at the Cannes Film Festival in 2005, a watershed moment in the current renaissance of Romanian cinema. Mr. Fiscuteanu, who went on to win acting awards for his performance at the Copenhagen and Transylvania film festivals, appears in nearly every frame of the movie.

He plays Dante Remus Lazarescu, a Bucharest pensioner who lives in a drab apartment with his cats, his health problems and his fondness for liquor. The film chronicles the last night of Mr. Lazarescu’s life as he shuttles from one hospital to another, confronting the indifference of the Romanian medical system and finding succor only from a harried medical technician played by Luminita Gheorghiu.

Fleshy, unshaven and haggard-looking, Mr. Fiscuteanu is painfully believable in the role. “He looked like a real person, not an actor,” Mr. Puiu said in a telephone interview, recalling the qualities that had first attracted him to Mr. Fiscuteanu. “Nothing glamorous, but something strong and powerful and very alive.”

“He said, ‘There is no actor in Romania who will do this character better than me,’ ” Mr. Puiu remembered. “I thought this was actor’s ego, but he was right.”

After meeting Mr. Fiscuteanu, Mr. Puiu said, he changed his conception of Lazarescu to accommodate the actor’s Transylvanian accent, but in the course of the 40-day shoot the two men often disagreed about how Lazarescu should be portrayed.

“He was a strong character with strong ideas,” Mr. Puiu said of Mr. Fiscuteanu. “Every day he told me how much he hates Bucharest, how much he hates his character, how much he hates playing this character, but he accepted it and had to go to the end.”

Ion Fiscuteanu was born in Bistrita, in northern Transylvania, on Nov. 19, 1937. He studied acting in Bucharest and worked in theater companies in his native region. Starting in the 1980s he appeared regularly in films, including “Glissando” (1985) and “Jacob” (1988), both directed by Mircea Daneliuc. After the 1989 revolution he continued to work in both theater and cinema. He also wrote short stories and poems.

He is survived by his wife, Maria Serb, and their two children.

Wikipedia 8 December 2007

On this day...
    Constitution Day
in Romania (1991)

EU orders Silence of the Pigs!
But squeaks will still be heard in ancestral Romania this winter

6 December 2007
by Ruxandra Hurezean

Pig breeder in Mocirla / Foto: HotNews

No squeaking pigs should be heard across the muddy glens across Romania come this Christmas, the first since the country joined the European Union in January 2007. At least that is what Brussels bureaucrats have requested from a land where tradition demands pigs be slaughter in every rural backyard on the eve of winter holidays. Still, the heirs of a pig farmer famous for his dramatic appearance in a traditionalist novel of long ago promise to stick to their tradition and slaughter the pigs as they've done it for centuries. For such dare, Hungarian farmers were applied heavy EU fines after their European accession in 2004.

Lica Samadau was a pig breeder that appeared in a famous Romanian novel as a harsh man who ruled over a village with an iron hand. That is, until law enforcers of a century ago began hunting him down for his wrongdoings. He eventually had to choose between prison and death - and opted to smash his head against a tree.

His heirs are still living in the village of Mocirla (Romanian word for 'mud'), and they are still breeding pigs. But this year was the first the villagers there were not allowed to chose a pig herder, who was usually picked from among the poor on January 1 of every year and given some food and money to take care of the livestock for the next 12 months.

This time around, as Romania joined the EU, authorities banned the practice. Pigs are no longer to be seen in the meadows and forests near the pond on the village outskirts. These are the European rules. And this is how pig breeder Lica Samadau was killed once again.

Mocirla, the village of literary resonance

Mocirla is a village close to the Western Romania city of Arad. This is where Lica Samadau left with his stock to make a fortune. It is not easy to get there as the roads are muddy, slicing the deserted surroundings under flocks of crows.

On a street banner in the middle of nowhere, a poster depicting a grinning Gigi Becali - the businessman-politician who believed he could make it to the European Parliament in the recent EP elections that took place in Romania, but failed. From the forgotten poster, he tells locals he wants to lead them into the EU. They answer back: move away with your darned Europe.

The local priest's home: Sunday fish is baking while an old woman, Catita Pele, the grand-daughter of Lica Samadau, sits beside the stove with a cat on her knees.

She doesn't know who invented these new rules on breeding pigs and says they're harmful for the local community.

Bony face, huge hands cut by strong veins, thin lips of a manly cut, Catita Pele throbs at hearing her grandfather' name. "Lica was a brave man. So was I. Or how would I dare leave to Bucharest when I was 14? I worked as a house maid there, I earned some money and bought some and my brother and I returned home and rebuilt Lica's home, then a ruin as nobody else of his kin was around".

"We've been breeding pigs as long as we've been around. We had stocks of four hundreds, we herded them across the land, just as Lica did with his stock".

"But what would they do with the pigs, now?", old Catita wonders. "I don't know who invented this new stuff, 'cause he did no good. Everything breaks apart!"

There's a pink house in the muddy village. On its porch, a forgetful old lady has a pig for sale. She sells it cheaply—some 600 Romanian lei (less than 200 euro). Unless she manages to sell it to a foreign client, she'd sell it to the guys who come from the city of Arad by car to buy pigs—4-5 lei per kilo. "Is it expensive? Alas, how much we fed it... It's not worth the effort anymore!"

Slashing throats and boiling blood

Mocirla was thus named long ago, after the muddy pond where pigs used to bathe. It was then renamed Vasile Goldis, after a politician "who had his role in bringing Greater Romania together in 1918 and whose house is now deserted - the yellow one with geese in its gate", as a local says.

Next to it comes the hose of Florea Goldis, the politician's grandson. He has a marked pig and shows us his housuehold, built on pig-breeding business for more than 80 years. He is skeptical: I wouldn't imagine the vet reaching his house to sacrifice the Christmas pig in proper conditions when Christmas comes. A gun? Hoh-hoh!

Shortly before Christmas Eve, locals used to leave a pig running around, squeaking with dread through the yard, hunt him down, slash his throat and let women collect its blood in a through.

Florea Goldis tells how it all goes. "Some eight-ten men would come at dawn, to have a good sight of it. We'd let the pig in the yard to run around, like it is out in the fields, and the men would make some noise, hunting the pig, pretending they'd not catch it, then slash his throat".

The blood collected in a through would then be boiled, the animal would be burned whole to clean it up, then cut to bits and pieces.

An epoch-old tradition, which the heirs of Lica Samadau promise to stick to from now on despite EU orders. These say that in order to slaughter a pig a vet must come around with a tranquilizer gun, shoot the pig and let it be sacrificed without suffering, in a clean environment.

What now?

Back in 2006, as Romania was preparing for EU accession, authorities in Bucharest issued an order making the new practice compulsory throughout the country. But they failed to prepare the means for that to be possible.

In late November 2007, the National Vet Authority management met with the Veterinary Doctors College to pass the responsibility for applying the new procedures as soon as possible, as Christmas is getting near. They failed to reach an accord. Vets would follow the procedure if they wanted to, but it's not compulsory.

There are some 80 vets In the county of Cluj. We spoke with some, and none was ready and willing to go tranquilizer gun in hand and kill some pigs: in one single morning, at around 7 a.m., some fifty households in one village would like to have their pig slaughtered—all simultaneously.

That would seem rather impossible as an average of six-seven villages come under the supervision of a single vet, Alexandru Duma, head of the top vet authority in Cluj says.

But it doesn't end here. Authorizing butchers under EU rules means having them state their incomes, pay taxes and undergo psychological tests. Butchering pigs is a tradition that nobody has ever paid taxes for in rural Romania. And using tranquilizer guns is at least funny, if not dangerous to think of as the whole slaughtering ceremony includes large amounts of booze as a rule.

The practice is also met extensively in Hungary despite it having to comply with the EU regulations since it joined the EU in 2004. But the country received a hefty fine because of the continuing tradition.

Romanians have a long tradition breeding pigs—some four million bred yearly and fed on the leftovers from rural meals and whatever would not be useful in any other purpose. Pork was the cheapest food to have around when Romanians faced the communist rule and the famines of the first half of the 20th century.

But now Romania has entered the hypermarket era: it's shown by the never ending queues at stores across the country, where pork is sold by the hundred grams, in colorful, clean wrappings. And the taste—what about the taste, when you have such a beautiful wrap?

Saint Nicholas is coming!

6 December 2007
by George Grigoriu
Nine O'Clock

According to traditions all over the world, Saint Nicholas is one of the most beloved characters, as he brings lots of joy and presents.

Bucharest - December 5 is one of the most beautiful days of the year, as Saint Nicholas is expected by everybody, to leave his presents in our boots. Beside the commercial aspect of the Saint Nicholas Day, celebrated by both Catholic and Orthodox believers, he is considered one of the most beloved Saints according to popular traditions, as he brings joy to the homes of Christians, and especially to children.

His kindness is depicted by several legends. They say that he has rescued the daughters of a poor aristocrat from perdition, as he secretly threw a bag of gold in the aristocrat’s house, during the night, so that the man could assure the girls’ dowry. According to the legend, Saint Nicholas threw the gold for the third daughter through chimney, and it fell in a sock that was drying there and this is the origin of the tradition of hanging socks at the fireplace.

They also say that, after his travel to the Holy Land, trying to remake Jesus’ travel, Saint Nicholas returned to his native country, on a ship. A storm started, threatening the ship. Then, the Saint prayed to God, and the storm suddenly stopped, to the surprise of the sailors. Thus, Saint Nicholas became the protector of sailors, fishermen and travelers.

Disobedient children are warned by their parents that they will receive only twigs if they do not improve their behaviour and this is the origin of the analogy of the Romanian tradition, mentioned by writer Ion Creanga – disobedient pupils ride the “white horse” and receive the “blessings” of “Saint Nicholas” in his novel “Childhood Memories” (the “white horse” is a special chair and “Saint Nicholas” is the twig used for beating them, editor’s note.)

Saint Nicholas was born in the Middle East, in the third century, under the reign of Emperors Diocletian and Maximilian. He was the Bishop of Mira, a city located on the territory of contemporary Turkey. He was acknowledged as a Saint during the sixth century. He was born in a wealthy family and, after his parents died, he inherited their entire fortune and used it in order to help people in need.

The Holy Scriptures describe him as a special child. According to the Writs, he only sucked his mother’s right breast and, on Wednesdays and Fridays, he refused the milk until dusk.

He died in the year 340 and, since 1087, his relics are preserved at Bari, in Southern Italy, as the Crusaders carried them home from Mira.

He is the spiritual protector of Russia, Holland, Greece, and of the regions Apulia and Sicily (in Italy), Lorraine (in France) and of several cities in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy and Belgium.

In Bucharest, at the Saint George Church, the right hand of the saint is placed in a box, and thousands of pilgrims travel there every year.

A holiday that has become European…

30 November 2007
by Sergiu Iosipescu
Nine O'Clock

For the first time in its history, Romania celebrates this year its December 1 national holiday as a European Union Member. A landmark in the history of the Romanian nation state is added today to the collective memory of a united Europe. But what exactly happened 89 years ago, a time which has left behind no survivors, but only their written memories?

On December 1, 1918 in spite of the short time for preparations, 100,000 people gathered in Alba Iulia, representing the entire Romanian nation in Ardeal, Banat, Maramures, Crisana, the Baia Mare and Satu Mare areas - from the Carpathians to the Tisza River. It was the first proof of an in-depth sense of urgency involved by that moment: the establishment of a state that would bring together all Romanians.

As many as 1,228 delegates elected from constituencies as well as representatives of all the Romanian political, economic, cultural, religious, military and sports rendered the event a plebiscite nature.

Under the patronage of Romanian church leaders from across the mountains, bishops Ion Papp and Demetriu Radu, leaders of the national and political arena such as Gheorghe Pop de Basesti, Stefan Cicio Pop, Iuliu Maniu, Teodor Mihali, Vasile Goldis, Alexandru Vaida-Voievod, Ancel Lazar, Ioan Suciu, Ion Flueras, Iosif Jumanca, Tiron Albani, Enea Grapini coordinated the assembly works.

After the religious service at 7 AM in the Orthodox and Greek-Catholic churches, at 10 AM the works of the National Assembly of Romanians in Transylvania, Banat and Hungary were opened, and the Declaration of the Romanian National Council was read. After a review of developments in the history of the Romanians in the Austrian-Hungarian Monarchy, Vasile Goldis read the Resolution under which “The National Assembly of all Romanians in Transilvania, Banat and Hungary, gathered through their legitimate representatives in Alba Iulia on November 18 / December 1, 1918 decree the unification of those Romanians and of all the territories inhabited by them with Romania.” Justifying its name and drawing on the centuries of oppression experienced by the Romanians in Transylvania, the Assembly also put forth the fundamental principles for the foundation of the new Romanian State, which included equal rights and freedoms for all co-inhabiting ethnic groups, religious freedom and autonomy, a democratic political system based on universal, direct, equal and secret suffrage, freedom of speech and of association, a radical agrarian reform, labour legislation in line with that of the most advanced Western states. Unanimously endorsed, the Resolution thus became the unification act of Romanians in Transylvania with the Kingdom of Romania.

On the same day when the Alba Iulia Assembly declared the unification of Transylvania with Romania, at 9 AM King Ferdinand I of Romania entered Bucharest, accompanied by Queen Maria, heads of the Romanian Army - Generals Constantin Presan, Ieremia Grigrescu, the French General Henri Mathias Berthelot. They were welcomed by the Government, the diplomatic corps, the metropolitan bishops of Walachia, Moldavia, Bucovina and Basarabia. The religious service was followed by a military parade in front of the statue of Michael the Brave.

Just days later, a delegation was arriving in Bucharest, headed by Iuliu Maniu, Vasile Goldis, Alexandru Vaida-Voievod and Aurel Vlad, to communicate the Resolution of the Alba Iulia Assembly to the King.

On November 10, 1918 Romania had entered the war alongside allies France, England, Italy and Serbia. And while a truce had been signed on the Western front the very next day, for a devastated and famished Romania the war was still to last. Battles on the Transylvanian front, freeing Dobrogea, freeing Bucovina to Ceremus, the defence of the Dniester line to the Black Sea. The Romanian army was only to be discharged in the summer of 1920.

With the Peace of Versailles, European decision makers acknowledged the achievement of the Romanian national unification, under the treaties of Versailles, Trianon, Neuilly and Sevres. It was also the logical upshot of a principle that the European officials had turned into a keystone of the construction of our continent ever since the 1856 Treaty of Paris: the principle of nationalities.

The unification of Transylvania was the conclusion of a historic process that had been launched ever since the winter of 1917. On April 9, 1918 the Country Council – the democratically elected representatives of the entire population of Moldova between the Prut and Dniester rivers, splintered from the Russian Empire – declared the unification of this province, known as Basarabia, with the Kingdom of Romania. Later the same year, with the dismantling of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire – a “prison of the peoples” just like the Tsarist Empire – the Romanians in Bucovina represented by the National Council decided, on November 28, 1918, the unification of this part of Moldova with the Kingdom of Romania. Thus, December 1, 1918 completes this splendid process of unification of the Romanian nation.

We are bringing this fragment of memory to Europe this year, with the hope of a future achievement of the complete re-unification of the Romanian nation within the European Union. A European dimension is added today to our national identity as shaped through the resolutions of the national assemblies that concluded on December 1, 1918.

Britannica Biography of the Day 26 November
Eugène Ionesco

26 November 2007
Encyclopaedia Britannica

Eugène Ionesco, 1959. Mark Gerson

Eugène Ionesco
born Nov. 26, 1909, Slatina, Romania

died March 28, 1994, Paris, France

Romanian  Eugen Ionescu  Romanian-born French dramatist whose one-act “antiplay” La Cantatrice chauve (1949; The Bald Soprano) inspired a revolution in dramatic techniques and helped inaugurate the Theatre of the Absurd. He was elected to the French Academy in 1970.

Ionesco was taken to France as an infant but returned to Romania in 1925. After obtaining a degree in French at the University of Bucharest, he worked for a doctorate in Paris (1939), where, after 1945, he made his home. While working as a proofreader, he decided to learn English; the formal, stilted commonplaces of his textbook inspired the masterly catalog of senseless platitudes that constitutes The Bald Soprano. In its most famous scene, two strangers—who are exchanging banalities about how the weather is faring, where they live, and how many children they have—stumble upon the astonishing discovery that they are indeed man and wife; it is a brilliant example of Ionesco's recurrent themes of self-estrangement and the difficulty of communication.

In rapid succession Ionesco wrote a number of plays, all developing the “antilogical” ideas of The Bald Soprano; these included brief and violently irrational sketches and also a series of more elaborate one-act plays in which many of his later themes—especially the fear and horror of death—begin to make their appearance. Among these, La Leçon (1951; The Lesson), Les Chaises (1952; The Chairs), and Le Nouveau Locataire (1955; The New Tenant) are notable successes. In The Lesson, a timid professor uses the meaning he assigns to words to establish tyrannical dominance over an eager female pupil. In The Chairs, an elderly couple await the arrival of an audience to hear the old man's last message to posterity, but only empty chairs accumulate on stage. Feeling confident that his message will be conveyed by an orator he has hired, the old man and his wife commit a double suicide. The orator turns out to be afflicted with aphasia, however, and can speak only gibberish.

In contrast to these shorter works, it was only with difficulty that Ionesco mastered the techniques of the full-length play: Amédée (1954), Tueur sans gages (1959; The Killer), and Le Rhinocéros (1959; Rhinoceros) lack the dramatic unity that he finally achieved with Le Roi se meurt (1962; Exit the King). This success was followed by Le Piéton de l'air (1963; A Stroll in the Air). With La Soif et la faim (1966; Thirst and Hunger) he returned to a more fragmented type of construction. In the next decade he wrote Jeux de massacre (1970; Killing Game); Macbett (1972), a retelling of Shakespeare's Macbeth; and Ce formidable bordel (1973; A Hell of a Mess). Rhinoceros, whose protagonist retains his humanity in a world where humans are mutating into beasts, remains Ionesco's most popular play.

Ionesco's achievement lies in having popularized a wide variety of nonrepresentational and surrealistic techniques and in having made them acceptable to audiences conditioned to a naturalistic convention in the theatre. His tragicomic farces dramatize the absurdity of bourgeois life, the meaninglessness of social conventions, and the futile and mechanical nature of modern civilization. His plays build on bizarrely illogical or fantastic situations using such devices as the humorous multiplication of objects on stage until they overwhelm the actors. The clichés and tedious maxims of polite conversation surface in improbable or inappropriate contexts to expose the deadening futility of most human communication. Ionesco's later works show less concern with witty intellectual paradox and more with dreams, visions, and exploration of the subconscious.

Additional Reading

Surveys of Ionesco's life and works include Nancy Lane, Understanding Eugène Ionesco (1994); and Deborah B. Gaensbauer, Eugene Ionesco Revisted (1996).

Romania's Horse and Cart Crackdown

17 November 2007
by Nick Thorpe
BBC News, Romania

If I shut my eyes and think of Romania, I smell apples and hear horses

In the mountains around Arieşeni, winter lasts for seven months

The steady clip-clop, but rather the more urgent clippety-clop, clippety-clop of a horse or two pulling a covered wagon down the homeward straight.

On my atlas of Central Europe, published in Budapest on the eve of the World War II, there is even a horse map, each dot representing perhaps 100 horses.

The dots, not surprisingly, become more heavily concentrated the further east your eye wanders.

What would a horse map of Europe look like today, I wonder?

A great white blank for much of the continent but still a healthy number east and south of the rusty old Iron Curtain, like red ants on the page, down over Romania and parts of the Balkans.

There are still an astonishing 750,000 carts registered in Romania as a whole. Yes, carts, not cars.

But now the horses and their owners are in trouble, and it seems they have nowhere to turn.

A new law which bans them and their wagons from all main roads because they are blamed for 10% of all road traffic accidents in the country, is a cruel blow, aimed by the bureaucrats in Bucharest at the solar plexus of their own peasantry.

Confiscation threat

I met Andorin Gligor in the mountain village of Arieşeni, where I stood in the market place asking passers-by what they thought of the new regulation.

No-one had a good word to say about it.

Andorin suggested that we go and talk to his father, as long as we did not mind a good walk in the deep snow up the mountain to his house.

I stepped in his tracks in knee-deep, dazzling snow between the pines, leaving the village far below us in the valley.

The horses were cantering wildly about the small yard when we arrived, bells ringing round their necks, enjoying the snow as much as any child might.

They scared the hens from under their hooves, and were watched by a slow-chewing, wide-eyed calf lying in the straw from the safety of the stable.

"If police confiscate any horses and carts they find using the roads... many people will starve" Ilarie Gligor

Ilarie Gligor arrived and tamed the horses in a moment with a soft word and a cob of corn.

He led them both with one hand and harnessed them to his cart as we spoke.

"It takes a long time to take care of horses," he began, "twenty-five, 30 years of my life."

What worries him most is if the police follow through on their threat to confiscate any horses and carts they find using the roads.

So far they have just warned people.

"If that happens," he says simply, "many people will starve.

"Winter here lasts seven months. We use the horses for everything: to travel, to plough the fields.

"But especially to take timber from the woods here down on to the plains to sell. And with the money, we buy food to bring home."

Long winter

A significant proportion of Romania's population lives from subsistence farming.

The mayor of Arieşeni, Marin Giurg, admits it is a big problem, especially in places like this where the main road runs right through the middle of the village.

As mayor, all he can do is to try to gather funds for alternative roads.

But where the mountains slope down so steeply, it is difficult to see where he would build them.

The prefect, the top state official for Alba county, is Cosmin Covaciu.

"It's difficult to convince people not to drive fast," he explained.

I searched his face to confirm he is talking about drivers of cars, not their more ancient wooden equivalents.

"But they're in a hurry to get to their homes or their businesses."

Speeding fines

He told me how many new speed detection devices the county had bought in the past few years and how, right across Romania, the penalties for breaking the limit have increased dramatically.

But he admitted that the regulation on horses was not well thought-out.

"That's an issue in Romania all the time," he said, rather offhandedly.

"We put legislation in place and we don't find solutions for the people concerned."

Like the mayor, he sees the answer in the long run as the construction of side roads for horses and carts.

Back in his yard, in snow as white as the icing on a Christmas cake, Ilarie climbed up into his cart to show me his brake pedal.

"It may happen from time to time that a driver falls asleep at the reins but even then the horses usually know where to go" Ilarie Gligor

"Why could they not just ask everyone to wire this up to some lights on the back, like a car?" he suggested.

"Or tell everyone to put reflectors on the back?"

"It may happen from time to time," he added, "that a driver falls asleep at the reins, but even then the horses usually know where to go."

He blamed reckless car drivers for most of the accidents.

Down in the main square, all the horses and carts of the village have congregated.

They have brought their animals to the vet to be vaccinated.

A cheerful young man in a woolly hat, he rubbed the necks of each horse in turn, before applying his syringe.

The horses, with a patience beyond human history, barely flinched.

From Our Own Correspondent was broadcast on Saturday, 17 November, 2007 at 1130 GMT on BBC Radio 4. Please check the programme schedules for World Service transmission times

20 Years After

16 November 2007
by Rodica Pricop
Nine O'Clock

November 15, 1987, Brasov, Romania. We were in full delirium of the “golden epoch,” when Romania had become a huge prison for a starving and exhausted people, who had lost not only its freedom, but also the spirit of revolt.

On that cold day of November, in Brasov, the portrait of the dictator Nicolae Ceausescu was put on fire. A symbolic gesture, which marked the beginning of the end of communism in Romania, that came implacably two years later. At the same time with the anti-communist revolt of the workers from Brasov Truck Company, the roller of history began its march and nobody, not even the communist Militia, or the terrifying Securitate could stop it.

The revolt of the workers from Brasov was followed by the brutal intervention of the special Securitate troops, the arrests and the physical and psychological tortures.

After announcing initially the capital punishment for the arrested workers, under the pressure of the international public opinion the communist authorities changed their mind, deporting 61 workers and changing the places of work of another 27.

Over 300 people were arrested and investigated in the Militia and Securitate headquarters from Brasov and Bucharest. 86 workers, as well as five pupils and three students had forced domicile in various localities from Brasov County and in other places around the country.

Officially, the only victim of the revolt from Brasov is Vasile Vieru, father of five underage children, dead at Barlad less than one year after the brutal inquiry from Bucharest. The Brasov revolt represents today, 20 years after those tragic events, not only a history lesson, but, more importantly, a necessary exercise of memory.

Caught in the daily whirl, some lulled asleep by the comfort conferred by the consumer society, others, more numerous, overwhelmed by worries, the Romanians frequently forget to pay a homage to their heroes and martyrs with whose help this people has recovered its freedom and national dignity.

In the past few years, remembering the revolt from Brasov was just formal, one more duty on the agenda of some politicians, whose transient in the leading positions of the country, will be definitely taxed by history. The memory of those tragic days that have painfully marked the destinies of the 300 anti-communist fighters and of their families was maintained alive by the Association November 15, 1987. We cannot deny the importance of the revolt from 1987 in the collapse of the communist system in Romania. And, yet, the role played by the workers from Brasov in the recent history of the country, is not fully recognized, as it would have been fair and necessary. Moreover, the truth about the revolt from Brasov is unhappily distorted.

In a letter addressed to the Presidential Commission for the analysis of communist dictatorship in Romania, the president of the Association November 15, Florin Postolachi, requests to repair the mistakes included in Tismaneanu Report for the condemnation of the communist system. According to the letter, published on Thursday by “Ziua,” the president of the Association cautions that the report, a document that has stirred significant controversies, does not present the anti-communist character of the revolt. For good reason, Mr. Postolachi draws the attention to the fact that the Report presents incompletely and erroneously the events, the anti-communist character of the revolt being entirely occulted. It is difficult to understand, even inadmissible, how the Presidential Commission, which had access to all the documents, to the transcripts of the interrogatories, and to Securitate archives, behaved like a group of amateurs and approached with dilettantism these events.

In Poland, “Solidarnost” is a monument, an institution of the fight for freedom. Its role in the anti-communist fight and in the fall of the Iron Curtain was universally acknowledged. Unfortunately, Romania still has to learn even today, 20 years after the moment from Brasov, from the Polish lesson.

Paying a homage to the heroes and learning the lesson of history are the guarantee of a future in which the horrors of the past do not have a place any longer.

Today, 20 years after the revolt that has sealed the fate of communism in Romania, the existence of the Association November 15 - which, we should say, distinguished itself also after 1989 as one of the real representatives of the civil society, not simply an NGO set up in order to raise funds for various purposes - represents the guarantee that the still recent past will not be forgotten. The problem is that someone must relay it…

Wikipedia 16 November 2007

On this day...
    1979 – The first line of Bucharest Metro, the M1 Line, opened from Timpuri Noi to
    Semănătoarea in Bucharest, Romania.

Britannica Biography of the Day 12 November
Nadia Comaneci

12 November 2007
Encyclopaedia Britannica

Romanian gymnast, the first gymnast to be awarded a
 perfect score of 10 in an Olympic gymnastic event.

Nadia Comaneci performing the floor exercise at the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal, where she received seven perfect scores.

Nadia Comaneci

Born this day in 1961, Romanian Nadia Comaneci (who later defected to the U.S.) was the first gymnast to be awarded a perfect 10 in Olympic competition, scoring seven of them at the 1976 Summer Games in Montreal.

Comaneci was discovered by Bela Karolyi, later the Romanian gymnastics coach, when she was six years old. She first competed in the national junior championships in 1969, placing 13th, and she won the competition in 1970. Her first international competition was in 1972 in a pre-Olympic junior meet for the communist-bloc countries in which she won three gold medals, and in 1973 and 1974 she was all-around junior champion. In her first international competition as a senior in 1975, she bested the Russian Lyudmila Turishcheva, the five-time European champion, winning four gold medals and one silver. She won the American Cup in New York City in 1976, becoming the first woman to perform a backward double salto as a dismount from the uneven parallel bars.

At the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal, Comaneci received seven perfect scores and won the gold medals for the balance beam, the uneven bars, and the all-around individual competition. She won a silver medal as a member of her team and a bronze medal for the floor exercises. After the 1976 Games, she was named a Hero of Socialist Labour by her country. The song used to accompany her floor exercises was retitled "Nadia's Theme (The Young and the Restless)" and became an international hit, earning a Grammy Award in 1977. She finished a disappointing fourth in the world championships in 1978, however, and was out of competition during most of 1979 with an infected hand. At the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow, she won gold medals for the beam and the floor exercises (tying for first in the latter event with Nelli Kim of the U.S.S.R.). She won a silver medal as a member of her team and tied with Maxi Gnauck of East Germany for second place in the all-around individual competition. She retired from competition in 1984.

Comaneci defected to the United States in 1989; she became a U.S. citizen in 2001. In 1996 she married American gymnast Bart Conner, with whom she works to promote gymnastics. She published an autobiography, Nadia (1981), and a book on mentoring, Letters to a Young Gymnast (2003).

Romanian Andrei Alexandrescu, a C++ Guru

9 November 2007
by Vlad Mixich

Andrei Alexandrescu used to be a rocker. Andrei Alexandrescu used to be a sky diver. Andrei Alexandrescu was a Wall Street consultant. Today, Andrei, a Romanian IT expert working in the field of natural language processing in the United States, is the author of a best-selling programming book and is holding conferences around the world.

Reporter: Many in the computing community speak of you as a guru of C++ programming. How would Andrei Alexandrescu recommend himself before a Romanian empty-pocket pensioner carrying his bag from the market, who knows nothing of computing?

Andrei Alexandrescu: 'Dear madam, dear sir, I am a man like you, with goods and bads, I was just lucky to be born in other times.' I believe that the generation of our parents was a sacrificial one. I still feel sorrow when I think what my parents went through to raise their children.

It is a huge pity that pensioners in Romania are living a life of misery. They have endured the communist gulag, and are now enduring the indifference of new capitalism. They received the worst from everything.

In the nineties, I used to hear that some of the elderly have a nostalgia for communism and I thought of them badly. Slowly I learned that things are not that simple.People had structured their lives in a specific style and found themselves that the whole structure disappeared from beneath their feet. It's devastating.

I read that convicts freed after 20 years want to go back to prison where life has a meaning fro them and don't like it in the outer world, which they find chaotic.

Rocker, sky diver, scientist

Reporter: Your biography looks more like one of an adventurer than of a computing expert. You were the member of a rock band, a parachutist in the Romanian army and a Wall Street consultant. Are there any close links between these and the calm wisdom of a researcher?

Andrei Alexandrescu: There are two somehow contradictory tendencies within each man. One is to play the card he gets the best he can and the other to fulfill what he thinks his destiny is.

The first tendency relates to his capacity to adapt, while the second to a spiritual question that I believe anybody should ask himself, no matter the God he believes in: Had I been built with a purpose, what is that purpose? Once this purpose found, there's no greater joy in life than fulfilling it.

The path of lives of many can be explained as a mix of these two tendencies, and I am no exception. I had to enroll in the army and I thought I'd better make it interesting, so I volunteered to be a parachutist; I enjoyed doing music, so I sang; and I had the luck to get on the Wall Street, so I was glad to learn some of the financiers' secrets.

But imagine a Star Trek-like scenario: 'Computer! Remind me to call friend Vasile every December 15 at 10 a.m.' 'Of course' - comes the reply. That'd be all!

Andrei Alexandrescu graduated the Electronics Faculty of the Bucharest Politechnics University.

He emigrated to the US as beneficiary of a green card for Extraordinary Scientific Abilities. He obtained a master's degree in computer science in  2003.

He is attending the last year of a PhD programme of the University of Washington.

Andrei Alexandrescu is author of the book “Modern C++ Design” (2001, Addison-Wesley), considered to be one of the most valuable works in the field internationally. It was translated in several languages.

He is the author of over 40 expert papers and is due to hold conferences in Oxford, Kyoto and Beijing over the next several months

Computers - an invention on par with wheel and writing

Reporter: Wouldn't it be scary in a world where a computer is ready to listen to you everywhere? Wouldn't it mean cementing the addiction of men to their computers?

Andrei Alexandrescu: Of course it may be scary. I believe such dystopian scenarios have been obsessing us for such a long time already that it's impossible for them to come true. We are too vigilant! Anyway, computers are still very far from the intelligence of humans.

In a way, we're like aborigines who saw a plane flying over, they'd like to build one and are cutting through a tree trunk to build a fuselage. I believe a much more realistic scenario is one where global warming causes a severe fall of the quality of living throughout the world. THAT is an emergency!

Anyway, it's clear that it only depends on us to use technology properly and that we have the responsibility to use it to improve our lives, not to have it more controlled or dull. Today we're truly dependent on computers, but instead of 'addicted' I'd rather say 'helped' or even 'amplified'.

There has not been a tool in history to multiply our power to think and create to such an extent. I believe the only inventions truly comparable to computers are the epoch-making ones, like the wheel or writing. So we are the one to win from this relationship of addiction. And we're only beginning!

European universities are dominated by bureaucracy

Reporter: Some say about Americans that they're 'stupid'. Would this be the reason for which so many Romanians manage to become successful scientists in the United States? Or is there another reason...?

Andrei Alexandrescu: (laughing) I was afraid of such a question. I don't agree with this stereotype. I met many a wise American and in its short history this nation delivered remarkable people. General terms applied to large populations cannot be dealt with but with scepticism.

We Romanians for example tell anybody willing to listen that we are a nation of wise people. Here is a stereotype that I'll never oppose. (laughing again) The next question is, 'then why are you behind other nations who started reform as early as you?' And that's when stammering begins... oh well, you see, the heritage, politics, geography, corruption and so on.

Breaking Through

4 November 2007
by Karen Durbin
New York Times

Alexandra Maria Lara

Alexandra Maria Lara, 28, doesn’t shrink from a challenge. Francis Ford Coppola has given her not one but three women of different cultures and eras to play in “Youth Without Youth” (Dec. 14). Based on a novella by the Romanian writer Mircea Eliade, the movie is a complex story of time travel, the transmigration of souls and the longing for eternal youth.

Ms. Lara portrays the great love of an aging linguistics professor, Dominic (Tim Roth), and, as the film’s press notes have it, three variations on one migrating soul. Potentially this is the stuff of camp. (Charles Busch, are you listening?) But Ms. Lara never gets close, breathing such intelligent life into each of her overlapping characters that she keeps the movie grounded. She displays a similar command of character in the recently released film “Control,” bringing both passion and unexpected delicacy to the role of a model-chic music journalist who was the lover of Ian Curtis, the charismatic, suicidal and married lead singer of the post-punk Manchester band Joy Division.

Two of the roles in “Youth Without Youth” are simple enough: Laura, a 19th-century university student whom Ms. Lara makes so gentle and warmly appealing that when she breaks off her engagement to the ambition-crazed young academic, you pity him; and Veronica, a vividly beautiful, exuberant young woman of the 1950s, who represents the time-traveling professor’s second chance. Veronica is glorious, but it’s when she’s struck by lightning and wakes up as Rupini, a seventh-century Hindu mystic, that Ms. Lara’s gifts are put to the test.

Not only does Rupini huddle behind her mid-20th-century hospital-room nightstand, terrified and babbling in Sanskrit, but before long, under the professor’s care, she is regressing nightly through time and a series of ever more obscure languages, until she approaches the dawn of language itself. As she thrashes around, hissing and spitting in a wordless struggle, Ms. Lara isn’t absurd at all. Poised at the prehistoric interface of animal and human, she embodies nothing less than the agony of a being clawing its way into speech.

Anamaria Marinca

In Cristian Mungiu’s “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” (Jan. 25) the Romanian actress Anamaria Marinca plays Otilia, a college student in her early 20s in Bucharest, who, by the story’s end, has the disillusioned gaze of someone who isn’t young at all.

The movie, which won the Palme d’Or at Cannes this year, is set on a single day in 1987 in Romania, two years before the violent end of the Ceausescu regime, which had outlawed both abortion and contraception. Otilia’s best friend, Gabita, is pregnant and barely capable of facing the brute reality of her circumstances. It falls to Otilia to wheedle, bribe and contend with the grotesque demands of the leather-jacketed abortionist who creepily calls himself Mr. Bébé, and to provide what comfort she can to her hapless friend.

At a New York Film Festival luncheon last month Ms. Marinca, 29, right, appeared spritelike, slim, pretty and ebullient, quoting a favorite writer (“As Ondaatje says, ‘Biography is everything.’ ”) and bubbling with curiosity and ideas.

On the screen her transformation is remarkable. Tense and, initially at least, briskly competent, her Otilia looks tall, strong and rather plain, while Ms. Marinca’s quick intelligence is evident in the character’s alert, expressive face. At first Otilia seems like a typical college girl: eagerly examining some American cosmetics for secret sale in her dorm, giving her boyfriend a good-luck snuggle before he takes an important exam. But as she navigates the darker irregularities of a dangerous black market transaction in a severely deranged society, her youthful resilience loses its elasticity, gradually giving way to something bruised and worse.

At the festival luncheon Ms. Marinca pointed out that Otilia emerges from the ordeal knowing her own strength as never before. She does, but in a last close-up, her still face and anguished eyes suggest the terrible cost.

Forbes: Bran Castle, the Scariest in the World

29 October 2007

The best known Romanian brand, Bran Castle is classified by Forbes as being the scariest place in the world. The American magazine thinks Bran is the perfect location to celebrate a scary Halloween.

The second place is taken by the Tower of London, closely followed by the Paris catacombs in France and Area 51 in Nevada, USA.

The Romanian castle is seen as scary due to the small corridors or its dark places that shiver the 500,000 foreign tourists that come to visit it yearly.

Romania's Maramureş Offers Peek at Peasant Life

28 October 2007
by Carol PucciSeattle Times
Minneapolis Star Tribune
Courtesy of Kevin K.

In the Maramureş village of Sapanta in Romania, Teodosia Stan, right, and her neighbor Maria Stan hand-spin wool from newly sheared sheep. Carol PucciSeattle Times

Quaint villages in a once-hidden corner of Transylvania are a cultural time capsule

Maria Stan sits in front of her house on a dirt street in the village of Sapanta, twirling a spindle as if she were spinning cotton candy instead of wool from her newly sheared sheep.

Dumitru Pop, a woodcarver, chisels grave markers from blocks of oak, creating images of his deceased neighbors the way he remembers them—drinking, dancing or playing music.

Gheorghe Rednic, a shepherd, makes cheese by curdling milk over an open fire in the mountains.

This is life in Maramureş, a once-hidden corner of Northern Transylvania known for its abundance of timber and villages filled with medieval-style wooden churches and log houses decorated with hand-carved gates. Isolated even today by mountains on three sides, Maramureş was insulated from invasions by the Romans and the Turks. Religious traditions, food and dress that disappeared elsewhere survived. Even the Communists failed with a plan called "systematization" to raze villages and relocate people in "agro-industrial" centers.

Once prohibited by Dictator Nicolae Ceausescu from housing foreigners in private homes, families now welcome visitors as part of an agritourism program aimed at preserving the local culture. And tourists come, for a glimpse of authentic European peasant life.

Guesthouses promise home-cooked meals, cozy rooms and bottomless glasses of homemade plum and apple brandy. All you have to do is get here, easier today than it was for the Romans and the Turks, but still enough of a challenge to deter the Dracula-themed bus tours.

With Nicolae Prisacaru, a local guide I hired for the first few days, it took two hours to drive the 40 miles from the train station in Baia Mare over a winding mountain pass that cut through pine forests. When we reached the other side, it was like walking onto a movie set where all the actors were dressed in period costumes.

Younger Maramureş women have adopted an updated style of traditional dress: short pleated floral-print skirts, heels, fitted jackets and flowered scarves. Carol PucciSeattle Times

It was nearly 10 p.m. when Prisacaru dropped me at my first guesthouse in Vadu Izei, a village of thatched-roofed houses in a valley a few miles from the Ukraine boarder. Our hosts, Ioan Borlean, an artist who paints religious icons on glass, and his wife, Ileana, had dinner waiting in the century-old wooden house they restored.

First came the plum brandy, called tuica, then a light red wine and homemade vegetable soup. The main course was a steaming pot of bulz, a traditional polenta dish made with sheep's cheese and sausage. Dessert was a dreamy Boston-meets-the-Balkans cream pie.

Like most everything in Romania, a home stay in Maramureş is a bargain. We paid $34 each a night, including breakfast and dinner, for a second-floor room decorated with pine furniture. Wool blankets dyed in bright reds and greens covered the beds, and the bathrooms were new. The Borleans didn't speak much English, but we managed to communicate, using gestures, sounds and a little Italian and French.

From Vadu Izei, we moved on to the village of Botiza.

Eighteen years ago, there were just two cars (one owned by the priest) and one color TV (also owned by the priest) in Botiza, a village of about 3,000 known for its Ukraine mountain views and hilltop wooden church. Botiza doesn't yet have a high school, but horse carts share the roads with plenty of cars. It seems most everyone has a satellite dish and cell phone. New-home construction is booming as locals find work in Western Europe, and return to invest what they earn in new homes or guesthouses.

"Soon," predicts local guide George Iurca, the land of wood "will become known as the land of concrete and asbestos."

For now, though, life remains simple, and the villagers friendly to outsiders. Social life centers on church, and everyone turns out Sunday for a service that can last two hours or more. The older villagers arrive first, the men wearing nubby wool vests and felt hats; the women in black knee-length skirts, dark scarves and vests of wool or leather. Literally fashionably late are the younger women in short pleated floral-print skirts, heels, fitted jackets and flowered scarves.

We stood watching one afternoon as 100 or so turned out for a funeral that began with a procession through the streets, and ended with a feast in the town hall.

Three priests led a graveside service that was brief and filled with chanting. Then everyone walked down the hill to the hall, where long tables were set with cakes and plastic bottles of orange drink.

"Familia," one woman said to me, putting her hand to her mouth in a gesture inviting us to share in the meal.

Men and women sat separately, as they do in church. Everyone stood while the trio of priests blessed the bread, and each man put his hand on the shoulder of the one in front of him.

It wasn't the first time I didn't understand all that was going on. That's the mystery of Maramureş. For a traveler who's content just to be included, it doesn't get much better.


See or call 1-212-545­8484.

See also, the website for Foundation OVR Agro-Tur-Art. Its office in Vadu Izei can arrange home stays, guides and tours.

The best guidebooks are the "Rough Guide to Romania" and the "Lonely Planet Guide to Romania and Moldova."

King Mihai turns 86

25 October 2007
by Antena 3
Nine O'Clock

King Mihai yesterday celebrated his birthday. His Majesty turned 86. Mihai I of Romania is the son of King Carol II. He was born in Sinaia, on October 25, 1921. He was the King of Romania from 1927 until 1930, after his death of his grandfather, King Ferdinand, and his father’s renouncing the throne. Mihai I was King of Romania a second time, from 1940 until 1947. He was forced to abdicate on December 30, 1947, when he had to flee the country and went to Switzerland where he remained until the spring of 1992, when he was allowed for the first time back to the country.

Exhibition of Grigorescu’s Works at the National Art Museum of Romania

25 October 2007
by George Grigoriu
Nine O'Clock

The event is an anniversary of 100 years since the death of the great artist.

Bucharest - An exhibition entitled “Grigorescu, painter of the nature” will be opened today at the National Art Museum of Romania (MNAR), as a commemoration of a 100 years since the death of the painter, the institution announces.

The exhibition will provide the public a substantial selection based exclusively on works from the MNAR collections, as the museum possesses the most complex patrimonial fund, as far as Grigorescu is concerned.

The exhibition includes 230 works, paintings and graphics and it is based on the theme of the landscape, a domain the artist excelled in and it represents a significant part of his work. In an attempt to schow the great talent of Grigorescu as a landscape painter, the exhibilition discloses the artistic evolution of the great painter, including works from all the periods of his creation.

The public has the opportunity to discover both famous works, such as “Autumn at Fontainebleau”, “Andreescu at Barbizom”, “French peasant woman in the vineyard”, “The chevalier”, “A study for the battle at Smardan”, “Girls working at the gate” and less known ones, such as “Prince Carol reviewing Turk prisoners”, realised in monochrome chromatics, with photographic suggestions. After his debut in the countryside, as painter of churches, Nicolae Grigorescu succeeded in an amazingly short period an extraordinary evolution in the direction of synchronising with the Western art. IThe “Grigorescu, painter of nature” exhibition is accompanied by a bilingual album, including reproductions of all the works exhibited.

The exhibition will be opened until March 30.

Romanian Leader Apologizes to Gypsies

23 October 2007
Associated Press

Traian Grancea, a 101 year-old Romanian Gypsy survivor of the Holocaust, arrives at Romanian Presidency headquarters, before being awarded by Romanian President Traian Basescu, unseen, one of Romania's highest honors, The Faithful Service, in Bucharest Romania, Monday Oct. 22 2007. Three survivors received the award in the of the Romanian Gypsies that perished during WWII deportations in the Dniestr region 65 years ago. The International Committee for the Study of the Holocaust, a panel of historians, says the wartime Romanian regime was responsible for the deaths of more than 11,000 Gypsies and over 300,000 Jews. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

Traian Grancea, right, a 101 year-old Romanian Gypsy survivor of the Holocaust, is awarded by Romanian President Traian Basescu, left.

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP)—Romania's president apologized for the deportation of thousands of Gypsies to Nazi death camps during World War II, the first time a government official has done so publicly.

President Traian Basescu also awarded the Order for Faithful Service to three Gypsy Holocaust survivors at a ceremony Monday.

More than 25,000 Gypsies, half of them children, were sent from Romania to extermination camps in the eastern Moldovan region of Trans-Dniester, which was then part of the Soviet Union. About 11,000 of the Gypsies, also known as Roma, died there.

''The authorities were merciless. They took the Roma from their homes, from the towns and army and sent them far away, to obtain a pure nation,'' Basescu said.

''We must tell our children that six decades ago children like them were sent by the Romanian state to die of hunger and cold,'' Basescu said.

A lack of wartime records makes it difficult to determine the overall number of Gypsies killed in the Holocaust. According to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, it is between 220,000 and 500,000.

Part of Basescu's apology was in Romanes, the language spoken by Roma, an unprecedented gesture by a Romanian head of state.

It was the first time a Romanian official apologized for the persecution of Gypsies during the Holocaust. Romanian leaders have in the past apologized for the role of the state in the killings of Jews.

Officially, about 500,000 Gypsies live in Romania, but surveys have put the actual figure at more than 1 million. The majority live in poverty and face discrimination in Romania and other parts of Europe.

Basescu said Europe should take steps to better include Gypsies in society, and Romanian schoolchildren should be taught about how they were enslaved and killed in the Holocaust.

Romania has begun work to improve the rights of its Roma minority, but many still do not have identity papers allowing them to receive social benefits. They also face discrimination in seeking jobs.

Gypsy children are more likely to drop out of school than their peers from other ethnic groups.

Bran Castle, Second Most Expensive World Properties in Forbes

16 October 2007

Bran Castle Photo: Rompres

The Bran Castle in Romania - better known worldwide as Dracula's Castle - comes first among the most expensive historical building with residential purposes in Central and Eastern Europe with a value of 140 million USD, according to a new Forbes list.

The list includes buildings that have either been bought from the state, or returned to their former owners and which have changed their initial destination for the past several years.

The Bran Castle, considered one of Romania's most important brands, is listed by Forbes despite a series of controversies regarding the inheritance rights over the property, which is still disputed in court.

The building is considered one of the most important tourism attractions in Romania as it is visited by some 450,000 tourists annually.

"Cold Waves" Documentary to open Astra Film Festival

17 October 2007
by George Grigoriu
Nine O'Clock

The film praises the role of Radio Free Europe during the communist dictatorship.

BUCHAREST – The documentary “Cold Waves” by Alexandru Solomon, a co-production between Romania, Germany and Luxembourg, will open the Astra Film Festival in Sibiu on October 22. This is the first time Solomon’s new feature-length documentary is presented. The celebrated filmmaker states that “Cold Waves” is a film about propaganda and terrorism during the Cold War.

“All characters in this story face each other again in ‘Cold Waves’: radio voices, terrorists, the general public, intellectuals as well as Securitate people and Communist Party leaders; Romanians, Germans, Americans, French and others,” Alexandru Solomon explains.

This is “an unparalleled love and hatred story woven around something you can neither see, nor touch, nor weigh: radio waves.” In the ‘70s and ‘80s, Radio Free Europe was a pressure valve for millions of Romanians to release their discontent, as well as their witness and close friend. But to the communist apparatus people, the radio station was a deadly enemy.

Prior to the release of the film, Alexandru Solomon told Rompres that Radio Free Europe had a major influence in Romania. “We grew up with this radio station, it was the only source of information before ’89, and it was a force that the communist regime did take into account. There was an all-out war between Ceausescu, his people and Radio Free Europe,” Alexandru Solomon pointed out. He said there were several sources for the film script, since there are a lot of editors and journalists having worked with Radio Free Europe in the respective period (’77-‘89). Solomon also added that there were the listeners, and the regime people who struggled against this radio channel, which they saw as “the Americans’ puppet.”

The project won the National Cinema Centre award for 2005.

Alexandru Solomon found co-producers for his film, alongside Hi Film, i.e. Geppert Productions and Paul Thiltges Distributions, jointly with TVR, YLE Finland. The project was supported by the Jan Vrijman Foundation.

After the Astra Festival, the documentary will be presented in the Leipzig and Amsterdam festivals, and will be released in Romanian cinema halls on November 30.

Wikipedia 6 October 2007

Did you know...
...that Romanian writer Dumitru Ţepeneag was a founding member of the Oniric group,
    an avante garde aesthetic movement, which tries to describe a world which cannot be seen?

In Bucharest, a Flourishing Housing Market

3 October 2007
by Jon Gorvett
New York Times

Leslie Hawke, mother of the movie star Ethan Hawke, lives in a
 rooftop apartment on Calea Victoria, the main street in Bucharest

The streets may sometimes be chaotic and the sidewalks crowded, but to some of the New Yorkers who live in Romania’s capital, it can also be one of the most rewarding cities in Europe.

Leslie Hawke, mother of Ethan Hawke, the actor, is one such resident. She moved here seven years ago and now lives in a rooftop apartment on the city’s main street, Calea Victoria.

“It’s Bucharest’s Fifth Avenue,” she said, looking down from her 45-square-meter (485-square-foot) terrace, which curves around her apartment. “It has all the major department stores and museums, palaces and squares.”

Spreading out below her apartment is the eclectic jumble of downtown. And across the rooftops are the onion domes of a Russian church rising above 19th-century French-style apartment buildings. This is Europe’s sixth-largest city, with a population of 1.9 million.

Ms. Hawke’s 1930s-era apartment has 95 square meters (over 1,000 square feet) of living space, with a large living room, kitchen, two bedrooms and a bathroom, and is just a few minutes’ walk from her office. She works for Ovidiu Rom, a nongovernmental organization that uses education programs to support families and children, a job that spun out of the Peace Corps volunteer work she did when she first arrived in the country.

“One of the really great things about Bucharest is the sense of proximity,” she said. “Here, everything is still going on in the city center. I almost never have to go to a social or work event by car.”

That suits Anthony Raftopol, too. “As someone who grew up in the Big Apple,” he said, “I am absolutely fine with the metro and the buses.”

Mr. Raftopol works for Salans, a law firm. He moved here when it opened a local office in the 1990s. He bought a two-bedroom, one-bath apartment in the city center near Cismigiu Park, where he and his partner, Shawn Hargon, now take their 13-month-old daughter, Zoe.

Mr. Raftopol’s parents were Romanians who fled the Communist regime in 1968. Although the family ended up in New York, he was born in a refugee camp in Austria — where, he said, an exiled Hungarian countess used to help take care of him.

As both a buyer and a real estate lawyer, he has seen the market evolve. “Prices have exploded here,” he said. “The economy has been growing fast, yet the supply of apartments just hasn’t kept up with demand. We estimate they need about 300,000 new units at the moment, and so far this year there are plans to build just 30,000. At that rate, the boom in prices should continue for a decade.”

Because of the shortage, prices are comparable with those in Vienna and Berlin.

“Residential property in new developments in the suburbs goes for around 1,500 euros a square meter these days,” or $198 a square foot, said another real estate specialist, Brian Jardine, an American who works here for Wolf Theiss, an Austrian law firm. He said that 100- to 150-square-meter (1,100- to 1,500-square-foot) apartments downtown sell for around 300,000 euros ($426,000). “That’s five or six times what it was five years ago,” he said.

With high potential yields, Bucharest has become an increasingly popular place for foreigners to invest, and now that Romania is a member of the European Union, the number of those investments is likely to grow.

“Many individuals from places such as Germany, the U.K. and Austria are already here,” Mr. Raftopol said. “The U.S. resident community is pretty small but tends to be made up of people who have quite a commitment to the place.”

Ms. Hawke added: “Buying here is quite different from back home too. One great thing is, you can do it all via a notary, without all the lawyers you need back in the States.”

There are no restrictions on Americans’ buying houses or apartments. Land purchases, however, must be done through a company registered in Romania, although foreigners are allowed to own such companies. “Setting one up is a no-brainer,” Mr. Raftopol said. “It’s very quick and at about 300 euros ($426), pretty cheap.”

Transactions can be complex. When Ms. Hawke bought her apartment, she explained, she was asked for 113,000 euros ($160,460) in cash. “I didn’t feel so great carrying that around town in a bag, though,” she said, “so eventually I persuaded them that we could all just go to the bank and watch the wire transfer go through.”

Finding a place also can require unconventional methods.

“Word of mouth is the best way,” Ms. Hawke said. "I bought a little place out in the countryside recently and, to get that, I first asked a guy in a local shop, who took me to the local priest, who took me to the mayor, and while I was there a guy came by wanting to buy some wine off the mayor and said he had a place for sale. It’s not quite that extreme in Bucharest, but it always helps to network.”

Another issue to be aware of is restitution, Mr. Raftopol said. He explained that in 1946, private owners were stripped of their property by the Communists’ nationalization process, and that after 1989, those owners were shut out when current residents were allowed to buy their homes. Problems sometimes cropped up later, when the original owners were allowed to claim restitution.

“It’s a good idea to hire a local lawyer to do a full title search to find out if there are any restitution issues on the place you want to buy,” Mr. Raftopol said. “They should also look to see if the property is earthquake proof.” Bucharest is in an earthquake zone, and buildings are graded according to their ability to withstand tremors.

Restoring a property also can be a challenge, as Romanian workers have been heading to other European Union countries in search of higher wages, creating a shortage of skilled workers. Yet “all the big home-improvement stores are here,” Mr. Raftopol said. “The materials cost what they would in the U.S., but the labor is much less.” The restoration of his apartment cost 20 to 25 percent less than what it would have in America, he said.

Bucharest has appeal but it is definitely for someone who likes a challenge. “It is a city still figuring out what it wants to be,” Mr. Raftopol said. “It’s not the sort of place you come because everything is already fixed up and done; you come here because it’s not like that. Instead, the potential is still there for it to become something else — something really different.”

Dacia Vehicle Number 3 M Out the Production Line

3 October 2007
by Andrada Cristea
Nine O'Clock

The 4,000,000th to come by 2010

August 20, 1968 – the first Dacia vehicle is produced. October 2, 2007 the vehicle number 3,000,000 comes out of Dacia Renault plant in Mioveni. Six types of auto vehicles and a wide range of utilitarian vehicles were produced throughout that period.

‘The Dacia auto vehicle number 1 million was produced in 1985, 17 years from the start of production in Mioveni. 13 more years were needed so that the plant’s total production would reach 2 million vehicles in 1998,’ reads a company communiqué. The vehicle produced yesterday is a platinum gray Logan MCV 1.5 DCI of 85 HP. Charles Morillo, the new Director of the Dacia plant, took the opportunity to announce that the Mioveni plant registered starting October 1 a production rhythm of 1,050 vehicles per day. He says 2008 would see the production of 350,000 vehicles in Mioveni, thanks to the ongoing investments, so that the vehicle number 4,000,000 could be produced by the end of the current decade. Renault has invested over EUR 600 M in Dacia’s production equipments since 1999, so that they now respect the highest standards of Renault Group plants.

The goal set for 2010 is the production of 500,000 Dacia vehicles of which 200,000 in Romania and the rest in other production centers abroad. With over 110,000 vehicles commercialized in 47 countries, Dacia registered 8 per cent hike in sales in the first quarter of 2007, 54 per cent of Dacia’s sales being registered outside Romania. Western Europe is the region that saw the strongest sales growth – 63.3 per cent.

In France, Dacia holds a market share of 1.38 per cent in the personal vehicles’ market. With close to 15,000 units sold (a growth of 30.8 per cent against the first quarter of 2006), Dacia ranks 13th in the table of car brands in the French market. In Germany, the reference market for break models, Dacia sales tripled against the level registered in the first half of 2006. This result was possible thanks to the launch of the Logan MCV model at the start of February 2007. Logan’s family break version represents 75 per cent of the 8,319 units Dacia sold in the German market in the first half of 2007.

Britannica Biography of the Day
30 September - Elie Wiesel

30 September 2007
Encyclopaedia Britannica

Elie Wiesel, 2001
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Elie Wiesel
September 30, 1928, Sighet, Romania

byname of  Eliezer Wiesel  Romanian-born Jewish writer, whose works provide a sober yet passionate testament of the destruction of European Jewry during World War II. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1986.

Wiesel's early life, spent in a small Hasidic community in the town of Sighet, was a rather hermetic existence of prayer and contemplation. In 1940 Sighet was annexed by Hungary, and, though the Hungarians were allied with Nazi Germany, it was not until the Germans invaded in March 1944 that the town was brought into the Holocaust. Within days, Jews were “defined” and their property confiscated. By April they were ghettoized, and on May 15 the deportations to Auschwitz began. Wiesel, his parents, and three sisters were deported to Auschwitz, where his mother and a sister were killed. He and his father were sent to Buna-Monowitz, the slave labour component of the Auschwitz camp. In January 1945 they were part of a death march to Buchenwald, where his father died on January 28 and from which Wiesel was liberated in April.

After the war Wiesel settled in France, studied at the Sorbonne (1948–51), and wrote for French and Israeli newspapers. Wiesel went to the United States in 1956 and was naturalized in 1963. He was a professor at City College of New York (1972–76), and from 1976 he taught at Boston University, where he became Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities.

During his time as a journalist in France, Wiesel was urged by the novelist François Mauriac to bear witness to what he had experienced in the concentration camps. The outcome was Wiesel's first book, in Yiddish, Un di velt hot geshvign (1956; “And the World Has Remained Silent”), abridged as La Nuit (1958; Night), a memoir of a young boy's spiritual reaction to Auschwitz. It is considered by some critics to be the most powerful literary expression of the Holocaust. His other works include La Ville de la chance (1962; “Town of Luck”; Eng. trans. The Town Beyond the Wall), a novel examining human apathy; Le Mendiant de Jérusalem (1968; A Beggar in Jerusalem), which raises the philosophical question of why people kill; Célébration hassidique (1972; “Hasidic Celebration”; Eng. trans. Souls on Fire), a critically acclaimed collection of Hasidic tales; Célébration biblique (1976; “Biblical Celebration”; Eng. trans. Messengers of God: Biblical Portraits and Legends); Le Testament d'un poète juif assassiné (1980; “The Testament of a Murdered Jewish Poet”; Eng. trans. The Testament); Le Cinquième Fils (1983; The Fifth Son); Le Crépuscule, au loin (1987; “Distant Twilight”; Eng. trans. Twilight); Le Mal et l'exil (1988; Evil and Exile [1990]); L'Oublié (1989; The Forgotten); and Tous les fleuves vont à la mer (1995; All Rivers Run to the Sea: Memoirs).

All of Wiesel's works reflect, in some manner, his experiences as a survivor of the Holocaust and his attempt to resolve the ethical torment of why the Holocaust happened and what it revealed about human nature. He became a noted lecturer on the sufferings experienced by Jews and others during the Holocaust, and his ability to transform this personal concern into a universal condemnation of all violence, hatred, and oppression was largely responsible for his being awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace. In 1978 U.S. President Jimmy Carter named Wiesel chairman of the President's Commission on the Holocaust, which recommended the creation of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Wiesel also served as the first chairman of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council.

Additional Reading

Ellen Norman Stern, Elie Wiesel: Witness for Life (1982, reissued 1996), is a biography. Among many critical works on Wiesel's writings are Michael Berenbaum, The Vision of the Void: Theological Reflections on the Works of Elie Wiesel (1979, reissued as Elie Wiesel: God, the Holocaust, and the Children of Israel, 1994); Ted L. Estess, Elie Wiesel (1980); Ellen S. Fine, Legacy of Night: The Literary Universe of Elie Wiesel (1982); Robert McAfee Brown, Elie Wiesel: Messenger to All Humanity, rev. ed. (1989); and Carol Rittner (ed.), Elie Wiesel: Between Memory and Hope (1990).

Wiesel, Elie  (Encyclopædia Britannica)
Romanian-born Jewish writer, whose works provide a sober yet passionate testament of the destruction of European Jewry during World War II. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1986.

Encyclopædia Britannica's Guide to the Nobel Prizes  (Encyclopædia Britannica)
In his will Swedish industrialist Alfred Bernhard Nobel left the bulk of his fortune in trust to establish what are considered the world's most prestigious and scholarly awards—the Nobel Prizes. Each December 10, on the anniversary of Nobel's death, the prize-awarding bodies—the Royal Swedish ...

Curtea de Arges - Between Myth and Reality

28 September 2007
by George Grigoriu
Nine O'Clock

There are many beautiful places in Romania, really picturesque places from the point of view of their placement and of the existent tourist’s sites. However nowhere would you find a place where myth has so authentically preserved its perfume and beauty as in Curtea de Arges. The city lies 38 km from Pitesti, in a hilly area, and it has a population of approximately 40,000 people. Curtea de Arges is the former capital of Walachia and could be considered a tourist’s city, maybe very little popularized through the mass-media and the Internet. There are numerous historical monuments and vestiges that make this city worth paying a visit to. The historical monuments and vestiges include the Curtea de Arges Monastery, the Princely Court, Artisan Manole’s Fountain, the San Nicoara ruins. From here you can continue your holiday by going to nearby tourist’s sites that are 1 or 2 hours away by car – the Vidraru Dam, the Transfagarasan road, the Olt Valley, the Rucar-Bran mountain pass.

For the mountaineers Curtea de Arges could be considered an excellent starting point towards Poenari citadel, Vidraru Dam, Fagaras Mountains, Transfagarasan road and the Iezer-Papusa Mountains.

Curtea de Arges Monastery

Its construction started in 1514 out of Neagoe Basarab’s desire to create a uniquely beautiful monument and was completed three years later. By January 7 1517 its founder could talk about ‘my princely monastery in Arges’ and dedicate to it the ‘border crossing at Ocna Mica in Targoviste.’ By taking heed of the legend but also some historical data, it seems that the shortage of funds, despite the fact that his jewelry was sacrificed to fund the project, but mostly the shortage of time caused the painting of the church to remain unfinished until after the death of Neagoe Basarab.

Thus, Radu de la Afumati (1522-1529), the Prince’s son-in-law, continued to decorate the site after he came to the throne, the stone engraving of September 10, 1526 mentioning a painter Dragomir.

The historical sources show that Neagoe Basarab founded the church on the site of an older establishment, none other but the headquarters of the first Metropolitan Bishopric in Walachia. The latter was found by Neagoe ‘derelict and unconsolidated… he constructed it and raised its foundations,’ a fact confirmed by Gavriil Protul, a chronicler of the Prince’s deeds.

Considered ‘one of the wonders of the world’

Curtea de Arges Monastery, known in 1793 as the ‘Episcopal Church’ after it became the residence of the Bishopric of Arges, remains the most representative construction if not the most important monument of the 16th century architecture. Thus it is mentioned in books and by foreign travelers alike, the latter finding shelter in its small rooms. Some of them considered it ‘one of the wonders of the world,’ like Paul of Aleppo did in 1654. Englishman Robert Ainslie puts down the same words of high praise in 1794 and later on the travel notes and prints of painters Bouquet and Lancelot spread abroad the fame of Neagoe Basarab’s monastery.

Following some partial restorations and construction supplements that were performed with time, and the damage it sustained after a powerful fire, the Curtea de Arges Episcopal Church as seen today was restored in the second half of the previous century by French architect Andre Lecomte de Nouy and Romanian architect Nicolae Gabrielescu, the latter being also the restoration overseer. The restoration was finished in 1885 and subsequently hallowed in 1886.

Today the church is made up of a pre-navel, organically fused with the building itself, whose interior columns support a central belfry with two side towers that crown the western façade. The latter’s exterior decorations spin like a large bundle of thick masonry fibers, giving the illusion of imminently toppling on each other as well as screwing upwards towards the sky. The rest of the church and altar – with apses that complete its cross-like shape – also supports a high belfry that combines with the architectural ensemble through arches, completing an architectural ensemble of unequaled slimness.

An opened holy water sprinkler supported by four columns stands near the entrance, made up of marble of different tones and outlines. It is an admirable work of art, just like the rest of the church. Seen from the West, the holy water sprinkler with its lead cover and golden cross projects its shadow on the 12 steps that climb towards the entrance of the holy site and on the frame that covers it like an applied portal. During the restoration, the motifs used and the engraving style sought to convey as close to the original as possible the old decorations of Neagoe Basarab’s construction, decorations whose outside elements were harmonized by the art of local artisans giving it their particular style.

Concerning this art, the contemporary onlooker finds it obvious that although working by the side of foreign artisans, the locals managed not only to equal them but also to impose their own personality when accomplishing most original decorative harmonies. The belfries’ roof, richly decorated, looks like it came out of the hands of goldsmiths and the chains that support the crosses are like large jewels shining in the Sun.

Inside, beside the oil painting executed by French painters F. Nicolle, Ch. Renourad and Romanian N. Constantinescu, a local of Curtea de Arges, beside the votive panels, the founders’ tombs and the temple made up of marble, gold plated bronze and onyx, beside the mosaic icons, attention is drawn by an exceptional sculpture – the group of 12 columns that represent the 12 Apostles. Being florally ornamented, these columns really give the sensation of life and movement.

The old temple from the 17th century, one of real ornamental and iconographic originality – once temporarily housed in the state church in Danuluii Valley – is now part of the Collection of church art from Curtea de Arges Monastery. The wall that separates the altar from the nave and several icons date to the time of Prince Serban Cantacuzino (1678-1688), judging by their style. As a matter of fact, one of the engravings on the church’s western wall does note that Serban Cantacuzino repaired the holy site in 1682.

‘Manole’s fountain’

Close to the church there one can find the fountain of artisan Manole, the legendary builder of Neagoe Basarab’s foundation and the hero of several popular ballads. The legend states that artisan Manole walled his wife in this magnificent monastery because everything he built during the day would collapse during the night. The legend also gives an explanation for artisan Manole’s fountain. When the Prince saw this magnificent construction, he asked the 10 artisans if they would be able to build another monastery than would rival in beauty with this one. The artisans answered in the affirmative and the Prince, in order to prevent the possible construction of a monastery that could rival in beauty with the already built one, ordered that the scaffolding be brought down, thus stranding the 10 ‘great artisans, journeymen and masons’ on the roof. The artisans resorted to building wings from the shingles on top and jumping in the hope that they would get away unharmed, but all of them died. A spring appeared in the place where artisan Manole fell and that is now the fountain of artisan Manole.

Location of Curtea de Arges

Bucharest – Pitesti – Curtea de Arges: the city is situated 150 km from Bucharest and 38 km from Pitesti. You only need two hours to reach Curtea de Arges if you choose the Bucharest-Pitesti highway (110 km) then drive on National Road 7c (DN 7c) that connects Pitesti with Curtea de Arges. Curtea de Arges – Vidraru Dam: maybe the most spectacular tourist site in the area, Vidraru Dam is very close to Curtea de Arges, approximately 27 km away. You can make a tour of the Vidraru Lake which has a 14 km long unpaved road on its left hand side and a 30 km long paved road on its right hand side.

From Curtea de Arges you could easily go to other tourist sites that are extremely picturesque: the Olt Valley, the Rucar-Bran passage, the Vidraru Dam, the Transfagarasan road, the Fagaras Mountains. It doesn’t take more than a two-hour trip from Bucharest in order to spend a weekend or pay a short one-day visit to Curtea de Arges.

Dispute Over Dracula Castle

Click image to view video

Bran Castle Return is Illegal, Parliament Rules

26 September 2007
by Alecs Iancu
Nine O'Clock

The legal representatives of the Habsburg family, the rightful owners of the castle, threatened to sue the Romanian state for EUR 150 M, charging that the vote by lawmakers was based on political reasons.

The Chamber of Deputies passed yesterday a report of an investigation commission into the legality of the Bran Castle retrocession to its rightful owners, the Habsburgs, in May last year, which found that the return of the property was against the law. The report, which says that the return of the Bran Castle was illegal because it was in violation of constitutional and legal provisions referring to the right to property and succession, was passed with 159 votes in favour, 56 against and four abstentions.

According to the commission, the return of property was illegal because two of the five heirs were not even taken into consideration. Moreover, the report criticised the fact that the Bran domain was returned to its owners directly, saying it would have been more appropriate if the estate had been transferred from public state property to private property and only afterward returned to its owners.

The castle was given back to the Habsburgs last year, based on an accord signed by Culture Minister Adrian Iorgulescu and Dominic of Habsburg. Under the accord, the castle was to remain a museum for three more years. The report of the investigation commission triggered wide debates in the Chamber of Deputies yesterday, with members of the ruling coalition parties opposing the document, while most of the opposition was in favour of declaring the Bran Castle return illegal.

After the vote, lawmakers of the Liberal Party (PNL) and the Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania (UDMR) said they were sure the result of the vote will be challenged in a court of justice and even at the European Court for Human Rights. “The parliamentary group of the PNL respects the governing programme and is in favour of giving the castle back. What was voted here today will have a different ending in court and I still think that the losses that the state will suffer in this case be covered by those who voted in favour of the report,” said PNL Deputy Mihaita Calimente.

UDMR Deputy Marton Arpad also criticised the result of the vote, saying he regretted that some of his right-wing colleagues voted as if they belonged to the left-wing, a veiled reference to the Democratic Party, whose lawmakers voted overwhelmingly in favour of the report.

Among the parties that supported the report were the Social Democrats (PSD), the Greater Romania Party (PRM) and the Conservatives. According to PSD’s Titus Corlatean, his party voted in favour of the report for two reasons. “The right-wing governing programme cannot serve as a pretext for violating the law and the Constitution and the return of some national interest objectives is a thing we cannot accept,” he said.

PRM Deputy Ilie Merce also welcomed the passage of the report as “a positive signal that things are starting to head the right way,” while independent Deputy Dragos Ujeniuc said the report of the investigation commission did not question the property of the return itself but underlined the amateurism with which the retrocession was carried through. “Everything was done in a hurry. A retrocession accord needs to be done by professionals,” he said.
“We’ll prove Bran was returned correctly”

The decision triggered criticism from the lawyer of the Habsburgs as well. Corin Trandafir slammed the vote as a “political decision” and threatened he would sue the Romanian state in a Washington court, seeking moral damage of about EUR 150 M. In fact, the Habsburgs said in a letter to Parliament last week that they would sue the state if the report of the investigation commission was going to be passed.

Culture Minister Iorgulescu also said that from the point of view of the ministry, the retrocession of the castle was legal and underlined that the lawmakers’ vote showed “a communist perception on property.” The Minister also agreed with Trandafir that the vote was a political decision and added that his ministry will check the retrocession once again. “We will prove that the retrocession was correct,” he said. “As for legal consequences, things will be made clear for good by a court decision. In fact, the lawyers of the Habsburgs have already begun a legal suit in this respect,” added the Minister.

Romanian Deputies: Retrocession of Bran Castle was Illegal

25 September 2007

Romanian deputies adopted on Tuesday a sub-commission report on the legality of the retrocession of the Bran Castle, known worldwide as "Dracula's Castle". By this vote, the Parliament fully assumes a report according to which the retrocession of the Castle was illegal and thus the Habsburg family are not the rightful owner, according to existing legislation.

The Habsburg family said that they will sue the Romanian state as they challenge the decision which they classify "a hint of political fight". Family lawyer Corin Trandafir said the decision was not judicially valid as the ownership acts would not change.

In his opinion, the decision brings serious prejudices to Romania as it reminds Soviet-style rulings.

The Habsburgs sent a letter to the Parliament in which they threated to sue the Romanian state unless the report was rejected.
The Castle, on of the most important Romanian brands, was returned to the Habsburg family in 2006 when the Culture Ministry and Dominic de Habsburg signed an agreement for the administration of the property stipulating that it should remain a museum for three years.

Lawmakers Debate 'Dracula' Castle Fate

19 September 2007
New York Times

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) Lawmakers began debating Wednesday whether the Transylvanian fortress commonly known as Dracula's Castle was legally returned to an heir of Romania's royal family and whether he is allowed to sell it.

Bran Castle, which has been featured in many movies, was returned to Archduke Dominic Habsburg, the son of Princess Ileana, last year. The princess had been given the castle in exchange for good deeds done by the royal family, which ruled Romania from 1866 until the Communist era.

The 14th century castle was confiscated by the Communists in 1948.

Habsburg, 69, an architect from North Salem, N.Y., pledged to keep it open as a museum until 2009. He offered to sell it last year to local authorities for $80 million, but the offer was rejected because of the high price.

Opposition lawmaker Dumitru Ioan Puchianu said during a parliamentary debate that the return of the castle to Habsburg was illegal due to procedural errors. He said Habsburg is legally not allowed to sell it. Lawmakers ended the debate without voting on the issue.

In a letter released Wednesday, Habsburg's lawyers said he would file a lawsuit for $210 million in damages if parliament voted that the restitution and sale plans were illegal.

''I live once more with the feeling of dread in which I once lived, as a child, when my family and I were forced out of our home and thrown out into the streets in midwinter,'' he said in a letter addressed to parliament and urging lawmakers not to allow ''such a dreadful injustice to happen.''

Bran Castle, perched on a cliff near Brasov in mountainous central Romania, is a major tourist attraction because of its ties to Prince Vlad the Impaler, the warlord whose cruelty inspired Bram Stoker's 1897 novel, ''Dracula.''

Legend has it that Vlad, who earned his nickname because of the way he tortured his enemies, spent one night in the 1400s at the castle.

Bran Castle was built as a fortress to defend against the invading Ottoman Turks. About 450,000 tourists visit it every year.

Wikipedia 19 September 2007

Did you know...
...that Alexandru Papana competed in bobsleigh for Romania at two Winter Olympics
    and later was involved in test flying the P-61 Black Widow

Wikipedia 13 September 2007

Did you know...
...that Mitică, a character in the works of Romanian writer Ion Luca Caragiale, has
    become, especially in Transylvania, a stereotype of both Bucharesters and Wallachians?

Michael Palin Explores a New Europe

10 September 2007
BBC News

In his latest television series Michael Palin has travelled throughout Eastern Europe to explore how the region and its people have developed since the fall of the Berlin Wall almost two decades ago.

Michael Palin meets ordinary and extraordinary people on his travels

New Europe, as the title suggests, is about the vigour and vitality of that half of Europe which has, for most of my lifetime been seen as grey, secretive and unwelcoming.

I am happy to report that almost everywhere we went in the 20 countries of our journey, there was evidence that people were pleased to see us, anxious to talk to us and full of stories to tell.

These ranged from older people who had lived through scarcely believable suffering, like Prague-born Lisa Mikova, to those who have only read about the old divided Europe in books, like Anya Mamenko in Ukraine, a 21-year-old who in perfect English justified the non-removal of a huge statue of Lenin in her home city of Yalta with the wise words "You can't tear a page out of history".

Freedom to Talk

Tearing pages out reminds me of how close we were to history.

The classic photograph of the Nazi book-burning in Berlin was taken a few yards away from where, a few months ago, I sat sipping coffee and having a civilised chat with a local author about the difference between the English and German sense of humour.

His basic thesis was that Germans laughed from a position of authority at those below them, and the British laughed from below at those above them.

The fact that I could talk about almost anything to almost anyone is something that recent European history keeps telling us is not to be taken for granted.

Lisa Mikova survived both Auschwitz and the Dresden bombing

When Lisa Mikova, an immaculately dressed and extraordinarily energetic 86-year old, was the same age as Ukrainian Lydia her life could not have been more different.

In 1939 the Nazis arrived in Prague, and being Jewish, Lisa suddenly found herself excluded from her school and banned from swimming pools, theatres and cinemas.

Forced out of her family home, she was sent to Terezin, a 'model' camp north of Prague in which the Nazis used to make propaganda films to hoodwink the Red Cross.

From there she was sent to Auschwitz before being moved in cattle trucks to an aircraft factory in Dresden.

When the infamous Allied bombing raid of February 1945 hit Dresden she and her fellow workers were locked inside their factory

"We were so happy when we saw the English planes," she told me.

Lisa has now joined with a group of fellow-survivors to talk to the younger generation about what she saw and experienced.

Soviet Times

"We are the last generation they can ask," she says.

This sense of change and loss and re-adjustment was a constant theme.

I met very few who talked with real anger about the Soviet times. And a number who had very surreal memories.

Mira Staleva in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, remembered being a Young Pioneer and having to learn to strip down Kalashnikov rifles at school.

"You go in the classroom and there are 30 Kalashnikovs on the desks."

It was inculcated into her that she must always be ready. She was never told what for but it was the happiest time of her life.

"When someone is trying to force you to do something, you find different ways of escape."

Tanks and Transvestites

Bulgaria's hugely popular transvestite, gypsy, turbo-rock star Azis was also a Young Pioneer, but he told me he always wanted to wear the girls uniform.

Azis (centre) represented Bulgaria in the Eurovision Song Contest

The more I talked to people in Eastern Europe the more I realised how historical enmities were manipulated on both sides.

In eastern Germany, just on the Polish border, I was given a lesson in how to drive a Russian T-55 tank, at a school run by two brothers.

One of them, Axel Heyse, was a middle-aged, rather dashing man, who was funny and friendly and very easy to talk to.

I realised that for much of my life he was vilified as "the enemy", and the tank he was teaching me to drive was, I was continuously told, a threat to my entire way of life.

Now, as I grated my way through the gears, we just laughed together.

It is difficult to forget the past because so many of the worst excesses are, rather admirably, documented and in some places like The House Of Terror in Budapest, unflinchingly displayed.

In East Germany the extensive files kept by the Stasi (the secret police) are available for anyone to see, and even those that the Stasi shredded when they knew their number was up are being patiently re-assembled.

Taking a lesson in how to drive a Soviet-built T-55 tank

Rich and Poor

There seems no vindictiveness in all this. It comes from the feeling that the ideological, totalitarian regimes were wrong, and the more we can know and see about how and why they were wrong, the better.

I talked more about the past to people because no-one is really sure what the future holds.

Things are changing so fast. Romanians and Bulgarians found themselves full members of the European Union as we were filming.

Most think this will transform their countries. And, most importantly, it will win them back some international respect.

But the new free economies have their own problems.

The rich are getting very rich and the poor are generally worse off than before.

Without the protective subsidies small farmers in places like Moldova can no longer make any money and more and more of the adults have to find work abroad.

We filmed a very moving play performed by children in a Moldovan village showing how the young girls who are left behind by parents desperate to earn money abroad are highly vulnerable to sex-traffickers.

And the sex-traffickers are usually people not just from their own country but from their own village.

It will take a generation or more before the cruel history of much of Eastern and Central Europe works its way through the system, but things move much faster when people talk to each other.

Michael Palin's New Europe is on Sundays at 2100BST on BBC One from 16 September.

Related Internet Links

Palin's Travels

Francis Ford Coppola, a Kid to Watch

9 September 2007
by A. O. Scott
New York Times

Francis Ford Coppola on the set of his new film, “Youth Without Youth.” “I’m really a lot like the man in the movie,” said the director of his protagonist, who’s restored to youthful vitality.

YOUTH Without Youth,” Francis Ford Coppola’s first film in 10 years, is about Dominic Matei, an elderly Romanian professor of linguistics who, after being struck by lightning, becomes young again. Though Matei, played by Tim Roth, retains a septuagenarian’s memories and experiences, his body, restored to 30-year-old fighting trim, is mysteriously immune to the effects of time.

Tim Roth and Alexandra Maria Lara in “Youth Without Youth,” Francis Ford Coppola’s first feature film since 1997

The professor’s condition is presented as a medical curiosity and a metaphysical conundrum—like the novella by Mircea Eliade on which it is based, Mr. Coppola’s movie is a complex, symbol-laden meditation on the nature of chronology, language and human identity—but it also speaks to a familiar and widespread longing. What if, without losing the hard-won wisdom of age, you could go back and start again? What if you could reverse and arrest the process of growing old, securing the double blessing of a full past and a limitless future?

Seeing “Youth Without Youth” for the first time this summer, I tried to resist the impulse to imagine parallels between the filmmaker and his hero. Was Mr. Coppola trying to recapture something of his own youth in telling this story? Was Matei’s state—a predicament as well as a blessing—also, in some way, the director’s own? Did this project, a return to filmmaking after a long hiatus, represent an attempt to turn back the clock and start again?

Having been trained to be skeptical of easy biographical interpretations, I dismissed such questions as too obvious to take seriously. My high-minded, theoretically correct determination to avoid them did not last long, however. When I spoke to Mr. Coppola on the phone a few weeks later, he was quick to suggest the connection himself. “I’m really a lot like the man in the movie,” he said.

Not literally of course. The plot of “Youth Without Youth” is an otherworldly blend of moods and genres. At first Matei’s story, which begins in Bucharest in 1938, seems like a World War II-era spy thriller, complete with Nazi agents in trench coats and a femme fatale with swastikas on her garters. But the political intrigue dissipates once Matei falls in love with a young woman who seems able to travel backward in time, and the movie settles into a curious blend of romance, mystery and philosophical speculation.

In its calm, formal assurance, in the way it effortlessly tackles difficult shot sequences and narrative tangles, in its almost classical elegance and its reflective tone, “Youth Without Youth” is evidently the work of a master, a mature artist who has probably forgotten more about making movies than the entire current student body at U.C.L.A. film school will ever know. (Mr. Coppola, who is 68, received his master of fine arts degree in directing there in 1967.)

But in other ways the movie feels like the work of a much younger man. It bristles with restless, perhaps overreaching intellectual ambition, and without being overtly autobiographical, it feels intensely and earnestly personal.

All of which seems, to borrow a word that Mr. Coppola uses frequently, quite deliberate. As he sees it, “Youth Without Youth” (set to open Dec. 14) is not so much a return to form as a new beginning. “I wanted to make a movie the way a film student would,” he said.

He was introduced to Eliade’s story by the religious scholar Wendy Doniger, a childhood friend of his and the Mircea Eliade professor at the University of Chicago. With a modest bankroll provided by his successful California winery, Mr. Coppola shot “Youth Without Youth” in Romania, recruiting most of his cast and crew from that country’s flourishing pool of cinematic talent. He also limited himself to equipment that could be transported in a single specially outfitted truck, a technique he had developed when working on his thesis film, “You’re a Big Boy Now,” four decades ago.

Shooting “Youth Without Youth” was “guerrilla filmmaking, real independent filmmaking,” he said with audible enthusiasm. And throughout our conversation he took evident delight in presenting himself—one of the old lions of the New Hollywood; an Oscar and Palme d’Or winner; a man whose professional life has been a 40-year epic of triumph and catastrophe; Francis Ford Coppola, for goodness sake!—as a young upstart with a gleam in his eye and a camera on his shoulder.

“My dream is to have the career I wanted when I was 18,” he said. “When I started, I never thought I was going to be a successful Hollywood director. When I was young, I got to have the big career, and I’m hoping that now I can have the little one.”

The big career offers, among other things, an incomparable case study in some of the paradoxes that define modern American movies. Taking early note of Mr. Coppola in “The American Cinema: Directors and Directions 1929-1968,” Andrew Sarris remarked, rather guardedly, that he was “probably the first reasonably talented and sensibly adaptable directorial talent to emerge from a university curriculum in filmmaking.”

But even as he had pursued his academic studies, Mr. Coppola was also directing “Dementia 13” for Roger Corman, the cheapskate exploitation impresario whose production company served as a kind of unaccredited training school for budding auteurs.

As his talent flowered in the 1970s, Mr. Coppola came to embody some of the tensions inherent in the idea of the director as auteur. As Mr. Sarris had articulated it, the auteur theory was partly a means of identifying movies produced under the aegis of the old studio system as legitimate and coherent works of art. It was understood that they were also, nearly always, works done for hire. And of course the work that is likely to remain Mr. Coppola’s masterpiece, notwithstanding any changes in critical fashion, was a project he took on for money, and for Paramount, while he was trying to finish “The Conversation.”

The first two “Godfather” movies, along with “The Conversation,” will forever quiet any skepticism about whether or not Mr. Coppola is a great filmmaker. Subsequent turns in the big career, however, are often taken as cautionary tales about what happens when artistic ambitions grow too large. The long, difficult making of “Apocalypse Now” is conventionally grouped with other late-’70s New Hollywood flameouts, even though the film itself was both a critical and a commercial success.

But Mr. Coppola’s reputation was nonetheless dented, in the ’80s and ’90s, by other grandiose, ill-fated projects, notably his dreamy Las Vegas fantasia “One From the Heart” (1982) and “The Cotton Club” (1984), a period gangster epic that was sometimes more exciting to read about in magazine exposés than to watch on screen. And of course there was “The Godfather: Part III.”

But all of these films, for all their flaws, demonstrate the talent and adaptability that Mr. Sarris had noticed at the start. If none quite hangs together, each one includes some extraordinary filmmaking.

In retrospect it seems that Mr. Coppola’s sheer technical virtuosity—in particular his ability to bring large, crowded scenes into intimate dramatic focus—has been taken for granted. And his missteps have been dissected with an eagerness that distracts from a record of pretty solid accomplishment. Between “One From the Heart” and “The Cotton Club,” Mr. Coppola released “The Outsiders” and “Rumble Fish,” exquisite, modest adaptations of S. E. Hinton novels that have lost little of their power over the years. These movies also, not incidentally, demonstrate Mr. Coppola’s ability to bring out the best in actors. Have Patrick Swayze and Mickey Rourke ever been better?

Mr. Coppola’s record through the ’80s—at the moment everybody’s least favorite decade in the history of American cinema—is disappointing only when held up against his work in the ’70s. Nobody will argue that “Peggy Sue Got Married” (1986), “Gardens of Stone” (1987) and “Tucker: The Man and his Dream” (1988) are masterpieces, but they hold up pretty well. Kathleen Turner, James Caan and Jeff Bridges are all in good form, and if the movies were underappreciated in their time, it was in no small part because the man who directed them had, not so long before, made “The Conversation” and the first two “Godfather” pictures in a three-year span.

In other words, it may have been the burden of the big career that made it hard for Mr. Coppola to carve out a medium-size career as a maker of moderately ambitious, high-quality commercial movies. So after “The Rainmaker” in 1997—another decent, well-acted, sharply directed movie with no evident aspirations to be anything more—he seemed to enter a phase of semi-retirement, devoting himself to winemaking and proud papahood. The first time I met him, in Cannes in 2001, when he was showing the expanded version of “Apocalypse Now,” he seemed at times more interested in talking about his filmmaker children, Roman and Sofia, than about his own work.

And now, as he talks about the reawakening of his teenage aspirations, he sounds like the youngest Coppola of them all. For his next film he will take his bare-bones outfit to Argentina. Without elaborating, he describes the project as autobiographical. Which is just what a talented, ambitious indie filmmaker might say.

In 1968 Mr. Sarris concluded his short entry on Francis Ford Coppola (in the section of “The American Cinema” called “Oddities, One-Shots and Newcomers”) with a prediction that was prophetic at the time and may still be: “Coppola may be heard from more decisively in the future.”

Winds of Change Shake Romanian Farms

4 September 2007
by Mark Mardell
Europe editor, BBC News, Transylvania
BBC News

In Transylvania in central Romania a cheerful woman with a pink headscarf stands outside her house behind a trestle table. On it she has old-fashioned scales, a couple of plastic baskets of pears and a small crate of apples.

Small-scale agriculture is the lifeblood of the country

She and her husband are teachers, but their large orchard produces far more than they could possibly eat so she sells to passers-by and neighbours.

In the shadow of one of the castles that claims to be Dracula's own, people here avoided the fangs of Nicolae Ceausescu during the communist era.

While he sucked the life out of many villages and wrecked the country's economy, somehow people here survived unscathed and made a good living selling apples.

But all over Romania it is obvious, wherever you go, that small-scale agriculture is the lifeblood of this country, whether for pocket money, home consumption or survival.

Down the road there are more tables loaded with jars and bottles of varying shapes and sizes filled with honey.

Sheep graze on a pocket of grass between two houses, where the owners park their car. A common sight is a man leading a single cow along the roadside. Women sit patiently by their front porch selling piles of shiny aubergines and pyramids of melons.

Wolves and Bears

But Romania joined the European Union at the beginning of this year, and some question whether this way of life will survive.

The EU reformed its Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) a couple of years ago, so that it would no longer encourage over-production by big farms but instead make a key aim the "preservation of traditional rural landscapes, and bird and wildlife conservation".

Milking by hand is not allowed under EU law

But will this really work in Romania, where traditional agriculture will inevitably clash with some other EU values like "standards of farm hygiene and safety"? And will Romania joining the rest of the EU also mean the easy import of foreign standardised produce and modernisation of agricultural techniques?

It is twilight by the time I reach my next destination, a hillside deep in the Transylvanian countryside. It is very tranquil, a scene unchanged for centuries. Smoke rises from a little wooden hut. Its scent and the tinkling of cow bells fill the air.

In the darkness, I am almost upon the sturdy cow pen before I see it, and realise it is milking time.

Three men with weathered, rugged faces crouch on stools, muttering encouragement to the animals as they milk them by hand. This is not allowed by EU law, although the country has been given time to adapt.

In the hut, the source of the woodsmoke, Ion Duculesu shows me his cheese-making equipment. He pours milk into a metal pail which stands in the middle of the muddy floor, next to the simple wood fire, a few sticks also burning on the floor. After it curdles, the moisture is pressed out on a wooden table, the shape of a blunt triangle.

"They'll fine us, and we'll go out of business so I will be out of a job."
Ion Duculesu

This too is unlikely to meet EU health and safety standards. He says that eventually they will have to buy machinery but he wants to carry on like this.

"They'll fine us, and we'll go out of business so I will be out of a job. But I've always worked with animals since I was a child so I will still raise them."

Ion gestures sleeping with his head on his hands for me to have a look at his bed. It is a low contraption like a table, laid with a mattress. A wooden covering and tarpaulin sit on top.

He tells me he stays up with the animals to frighten off predators. If the bears or wolves come he shouts and chases them with sticks, he says.

Woods and Pasture

As the cowherds bring us mugs of frothy fermented yoghurt and the darkness deepens, I chat to Mark Redman, a British agricultural and environmental expert who lives just down the hill. He helps governments and farmers in Ukraine and Turkey prepare for EU membership.

The countryside is a balance of nature, humans and animals

"The EU is clearly creating a whole lot of obstacles for these guys, but there are immense opportunities. The problem is to exploit those opportunities," he tells me.

"The regulations handed down from Brussels have to be interpreted creatively at a national level. But you need a political commitment at a national level to protect this sort of farming system... I don't see people putting themselves out to defend the way of life of these guys."

The farms and orchards create this landscape. In one, chickens run among the sour cherry and apple trees. It means the hillside is divided higgledy-piggledy into corridors and rectangles of varying shapes.

Standing in one field and looking across a valley to the hillside opposite and the mist-topped mountain beyond, Raluca Barbu of the World Wildlife Fund tells me that traditional farming is essential, vital for biodiversity.

"The trees mixed with pastures mean that there are a variety of bird species, five of the most threatened varieties of butterflies, small mammals and closer to the forest, bears and wolves," she says.

"This is the result of a real balance between nature, humans and animals. But in this village people are abandoning the land, getting more involved with tourism - and to maintain biodiversity you need animals."

Foreign Farmers

About 200 miles (320km) to the south-east, near the Danube, it is a rather different story, probably because of its flatter landscape and more temperate climate.

Here, there are some of the biggest farms in Europe, perhaps a legacy of Ceausescu's collectivisation. Cornfields stretch as far as the eye can see, the sort of landscape that environmentalists say is the enemy of biodiversity. Smaller plots of land are being bought up by big business, some of it foreign-owned.

On a big village farm Arnaud Perrain is showing off his shiny new turbo-charged tractor. The man who drives it performs a trick: using the fork to lift the tyres of an old-fashioned Romanian model off the ground.

The EU brings security to farmers who want to buy Romanian land

Arnaud is French, but this is his home. He has been here 10 years and is married to a Romanian.

His neighbour, an Italian, arrived four year ago and to him and his brothers it is more of a business proposition. He goes home to Italy every few weeks, and his wife and child live there. But both men bought land in Romania because they could afford much bigger farms here.

After a tough eight years Mr Perrain now has more than 3,000 hectares, growing sunflowers, soya and corn and employs around 50 people. His tractor is just one of the new pieces of machinery he has bought with the help of an EU grant worth around 104,000 euros (£70,000).

He says the EU has cost him money as well. Old cheap weedkillers have been banned and seed prices have gone up. But the EU brings legal security to foreigners who want to buy here.

He thinks more change to the landscape is inevitable.

"Do people want to look at a pretty landscape or feed people?"
Nicusor Serban of Agroserv Mariuta

"It's not economically viable to have a couple of hectares. Romania has a lot of catching up to do right now. People aspire to a certain level of wealth, of comfort. They don't want to look after one cow and one pig and work on a Sunday, work all the days of the week, cultivating a handful of land."

More Food

The Romanian director of a big farm of 400,000 hectares is even more blunt. Nicusor Serban of Agroserv Mariuta asks me: "Do people want to look at a pretty landscape or feed people? Things look different on a full stomach."

"I am very much in favour of EU, but these kind of things, life-style,
will slowly disappear."

"Such farms cannot remotely meet the modern hygiene standards of
the EU or anybody else for that matter."
Mike Dixon

Mark Mardell's Euroblog

He adds: "Things will change, of course. Small plots will disappear and in the end there'll be medium and big farms. The EU's policy is to subsidise every worked piece of land, big or small. But there's a choice: have intensive agriculture and feed the world or have an ecological agriculture and let people starve."

Ceausescu destroyed villages and forced their occupants into half-built apartment blocks in an effort to make Romania look more modern, and collectivise agriculture.

Some say the EU will succeed where he failed. But that is rather unfair.

EU policy tends to tug in different directions, so one law designed to protect traditional environments may be undermined by another intended to help people stay in the countryside and still make a good living.

But more important than the details of EU policy is the fact that joining the European Union gives access to new markets and gives those markets access to Romania.

It will almost certainly make Romania richer.

Cheaper, mass-produced food will appear in the supermarkets and people will make their choice.

One orchard owner who has recently sold some land and who has stopped breeding sheep and cows told me that people won't buy her rough-pitted but tasty apples any longer.

People have seen the deep red ones in the shop and like the look of them. There is no future for her in the land.

The very process of joining the EU has a certain logic, and all that implies for tinkling cow bells and wolves on the hillside.

Villagers Home Alone as Romania Speeds Up

4 September 2007
New York Times

BOZIENI, Romania (Reuters) - In the picturesque hilltop village of Bozieni in southern Romania, once home to 100 families, Ecaterina Serban is the last remaining resident.

Her once vibrant community was killed, she says, by a French wine company which bought up much of the surrounding land from her neighbors to create a large vineyard. For the past 10 years, she has lived alone.

"People sold their land to the French guys and left for the city, to send their kids to school, to get jobs and get rich," said Serban, 75, sneaking a grey hair lock under a flowered scarf tied around her head.

"I did not want to leave my village, because this is the life I've learned ... apartment blocks are too small, the air is dirty and I'm afraid of cars," Serban said.

Such dramas are occurring all over Romania, as one of the European Union's poorest and most backward members tries to modernize its antiquated agricultural sector.

Of almost 13,000 villages in Romania with an average of 800 inhabitants, 100 villages are completely empty and some 1,500 villages have under 100 people, according to the National Statistics Institute.

Some 40 percent of Romania's 22 million people still live in the countryside. It is common to see them working the fields with their hands or with wooden implements and driving horses and carts. Many villages still lack running water.

In areas like Maramures in the north of the country, residents stillto the delight of touristswear traditional embroidered peasant costumes and preserve a rich historical and cultural heritage.


Around one in five Romanians has a small farm of an average 2 hectares of land and one-third of the active population lives on subsistence farming, official data show.

"It will take at least a decade to solve such a huge structural issue, because Romania is a big country and there are too many people living from agriculture," said Nicolae Idu, head of the state-sponsored European Institute.

Economists may regard Serban as a dinosaur. But she knows no other life and is determined to remain in her deserted village 100 km east of Bucharest until the day she dies.

Still, change is happening. Investors, many from outside the country, are buying small land plots from peasants to merge them into profitable farms, forcing the rural population find jobs in emerging and workforce-needy cities.

"This is a consequence of farming transformation which signals Romania is finally redirecting its workforce to industry and services, the main drivers of modern economies," said Idu.

Romania, a traditional producer of wheat and maize, was the breadbasket of central Europe before World War Two.

Foreign investments could also change the structure of Romania's agriculture, as investors will focus more on cultivating sunflower, rapeseed and soy, which are in heavy demand on EU markets, rather than wheat and maize.

But official data show foreign companies own less than five percent of Romanian farmland of about 14 million hectares.


Big companies like global agribusiness and trading giant Cargill or Germany's Alfred C. Toepfer have already injected cash into Romanian farming.

But analysts expect the process of modernizing fragmented farms to be slow as conservative villagers like Serban would not give up their only source of living easily to try adapting to big, growing communities.

Legal problems stemming from restitution of land, taken away from farmers by the state during the communist rule, also obstruct investors as they cannot purchase a plot with unclear ownership.

"Once these problems are over, Romania has the chance to become an important exporter and a big player in EU markets, as it benefits from a very cheap farming land of a very good qualityvery attractive for foreigners," said Carmen Prodani, farming specialist for USAID in Romania.

Since World War Two, communist mismanagement and a drive by Nicolae Ceausescu to force farmers to work in mammoth industrial plants have drastically cut acreage.

Land reforms that followed the fall of communism in 1989 have also led to extensive fragmentation and subsistence farming.

"It all depends on the government, but its biggest issue is the lack of specialists in this sector to draft clear plans to drain EU funds," Prodani said.

Among the reforms the government has enforced so far, the most notable are subsidies for farming investments and a gradual state-payment plan, depending on the size of the farm, to encourage farmers to form associations and improve equipment.

Labor ministry officials hope farmers could plug workforce shortages which plague many industries in Romania due to emigration and high demand for workers from foreign investors.

Romania could benefit from some 11 billion euros ($15.03 billion) of EU farming aid, which it hopes to get by 2013.

But analysts expect small farms to gain little from EU aid because of their lack of experience in preparing projects and widespread corruption, which risks putting money into the wrong pockets.

Holocaust Museum Honors Romanian

8 August 2007
New York Times

JERUSALEM (AP)—Israel's Holocaust museum on Wednesday posthumously honored a Romanian reserves officer who blocked the deportation of Romanian Jews to Nazi death camps.

Theodor Criveanu was inducted into Yad Vashem's ''Righteous Among the Nations'' group of non-Jews who rescued Jews from the Nazis. His son, Willie Criveanu, accepted the award on his behalf.

Six million European Jews were killed by German Nazis and their collaborators during World War II.

The 20,000 Jews of Czernowitz, Romania, were interned during the war and slated for deportation to death camps.

As a reserves officer in the Romanian army, Criveanu was assigned the task of presenting authorities a list of Jews who were required to work in the ghetto, and were thus spared deportation. According to testimonies given to Yad Vashem, Criveanu risked his own life by handing out permits beyond the allowed limit, including to Jews who were not essential to the work force. Yad Vashem said it could not estimate how many Jews he saved.

Criveanu married the daughter of one of the Jews he saved. He died in Romania in 1988.

''My father's life was based on justness, correctness. He was a great humanitarian, that was his nature,'' his son said at the ceremony. ''He was a gift from God for my mother's family and to so many more.''

More than 21,000 non-Jews have been honored by Yad Vashem, including Oskar Schindler, whose efforts to save more than 1,000 Jews was documented in the Oscar-award-winning film ''Schindler's List.'' Of these, 53 Romanians have been honored.

Wikipedia 8 August 2007

On this day...
    1870 Liberal radicals in Ploieşti, Romania revolted against Romanian Domnitor
    Carol I, only to be arrested the next day.

Wikipedia 3 August 2007

In the news
    Patriarch Teoctist I of the Romanian Orthodox Church dies of surgical complications
    after an operation for prostate adenoma and is buried in Bucharest.

Patriarch Teoctist, 92, Romanian Who Held Out Hand to John Paul II, Dies

Patriarch Teoctist of the Romanian Orthodox Church, left, and Pope
John Paul II arrived at a cathedral for a ceremony in Bucharest in 1999

2 August 2007
by Matthew Brunwasser
New York Times

Patriarch Teoctist, who as head of the Romanian Orthodox Church helped begin healing the thousand-year schism between Christianity’s Eastern and Western churches when he invited Pope John Paul II to Romania in 1999, died in Bucharest on Monday. He was 92.

A church spokesman said that he died in the Fundeni Hospital in Bucharest and that the cause was a heart attack suffered after undergoing prostate surgery.

The visit by John Paul II was the first by a pope to an Orthodox Christian country, and the pope’s first small step toward achieving his dream of full reconciliation between East and West. Romania’s population is 87 percent Orthodox Christian.

Teoctist praised the visit’s importance but also pointed out its limits.

“We hope this visit will deepen and reinforce our efforts of dialogue,” he said during the visit. “This moment represents one effort among others.”

“This is easier than the theological effort,” he added, “because theologians always complicate things.”

Romania was seeking closer ties to the West at the time, and membership in NATO and the European Union. The visit was seen as a key to Romania’s proving its pro-Western credentials. Romania joined NATO in 2004 and the European Union on Jan. 1.

While winning praise internationally for issuing the historic invitation, Teoctist was also criticized for collaborating with the totalitarian government of Nicolae Ceausescu during the Communist era.

He was also criticized for opposing the investigation of clerics who were said to have collaborated with the Securitate secret police under Communist rule.

Teoctist did not condemn Mr. Ceausescu’s destruction of Orthodox churches in Bucharest, but expressed regrets after the Communist system collapsed.

Patriarch Teoctist was born in 1915 in the village of Tocileni, in northeastern Romania with the name Toader Arapasu. He was the 10th child in a poor farming family of 11 children.

“He was a man who was tied to the simple people,” said Dan Ciachir, a Bucharest-based author and specialist on the Romanian Orthodox Church. “He understood the common people, their needs and wants, and was much more in touch with them than he was with the intellectuals.”

He started his religious education at the Theological School of the Neamt Monastery in 1931. In 1940 he joined the Faculty of Theology in Bucharest, from which he graduated in 1945.

Appointed as head of the church in 1986, he resigned after Mr. Ceausescu was overthrown in 1989. He entered a monastery in January 1990 and then returned to head the church three months later.

Romanians Lighten Up Harry Potter Game

29 July 2007
New York Times

BUCHAREST - In the mobile phone version of the "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" video game, the torches hanging along the dark walls of Hogwarts glow in an eerily realistic fashion.

"We invented the technology, it's called 'dynamic lighting'," said Mihai Pohontu, general manager of Romania's mobile phone branch of Electronic Arts Inc., the world's biggest video game publisher.

Romanian programmers, such as Pohontu's team, are among the most sought-after in the world as large international IT companies turn to the east European country to take advantage of strong computing and language skills coupled with cheap labor.

Its computer literacy is not without its dark side—the country has an unenviable reputation as a hotbed for computer fraud and a large community of hackers.

But legitimate IT is one of Romania's fastest growing export sectors with turnover of about 1 billion euros ($1.38 billion).

Roughly 90 percent of some 1,000 IT companies in Romania are foreign-owned and the government hopes exports will reach 1 billion euros in the next couple of years.

In February, Bill Gates opened a Microsoft Corp. technical support centre in Bucharest. The investment followed, among others, the launch of a development centre by Inc. in the university town of Iasi in 2005.

That is the online retailer's only software development hub in Europe besides one in Scotland's Edinburgh. Other centers are located in India, the United States and South Africa.

"Romanian programmers are exceptionally creative. And in games, you need to explore," said Pohontu.


Prospects for large cash inflows from the European Union after Romania joined the bloc this January, cut-rate taxes and low wages add to Romania's appeal.

"In Eastern Europe, Romania is appreciated as having the biggest growth potential together with Turkey and Russia," said Stefan Cojanu, head of Oracle Corp. in Romania.

The software maker, which has a support and software development centre in Romania, has doubled its local staff to 1,000 over the last year since opening a tower office in central Bucharest. It plans to hire an additional 500 employees.

"The geographical distance, the similar time zone and business mentality argue for us to develop our activities in a country where costs are also lower," Cojanu said.

Romania's low wages of around $600 a month compare with $1,050 in Poland and $950 in the Czech Republic. Both countries also attract hefty investment in the IT sector.

However, some see a risk the sector is overheating. Double-digit wage growth and a shortage of skilled labor is dampening the enthusiasm of some investors and Romania is struggling with emigration as workers leave for better pay.

"The battle for specialists is very intense," said Ana Ber, head of human resources firm Dr.Pendl & Dr.Piswanger.

"There aren't enough of them, especially as many emigrated."

Industry observers say this state of affairs has prompted companies to focus on building support or software development centers, which need cheaper and lower skilled labor, rather than hiring high-end programmers.

"Romania remains good for outsourcing but not for first-class software authors," said Dragos Stanescu, sales and marketing manager at GECAD, a Romanian company that sold RAV Antivirus technology to Microsoft in 2003.

"The brains are already with companies that have good salaries and it is costly to buy them. A good senior programmer can earn 2,000 euros gross a month. Plus a 30 percent raise to buy him, and you have a salary of a good programmer in Germany."

(Additional reporting by Iulia Rosca and Marius Zaharia)

Romanian Films Conquer France

26 July 2007
by Alex Elias
Nine O'Clock

‘Love sick’ runs in cinema halls, and ‘4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days,’ winner of the Palme d’Or 2007, will run in French gymnasiums and high schools.

The French National Education Minister Xavier Darcos decided on Wednesday that the film directed by Cristian Mungiu, ‘4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days,’ winner of the Palme d’Or 2007, can be run in the gymnasiums and high schools from France. 

Thus, the French Minister complied with the recommendation formulated by the Commission on film classification, which decided on Tuesday evening to include the pedagogical DVD with the Romanian film in the category “for all the types of public,” but with a warning.

The film signed by Cristian Mungiu adjudicated the Palme d’Or at the 2007 edition of the International Film Festival from Cannes and the National Education Award.

The Ministry of Education decided that the DVD, edited in 1,500 copies, will be “accompanied by a pedagogical document that will contain the warning of the commission and will help the teachers in their activity connected with this work.”

On July 6, Xavier Darcos had announced that he refused to edit the DVD with Mungiu’s film for schools because it is too tough. The next day the minister “suspended” his decision, after the Society of the Film Directors (SRF) denounced “the pressure of some anti-abortion associations” to not distribute on DVD in the educational units the film of Cristian Mungiu about the clandestine abortions from Ceausescu’s Romania. The Ministry decided also to receive the SRF representatives and the members of the jury of the National Education Award and consult the National Commission on classification.

Two scenes were at the heart of the polemics – one of them about an aborted fetus, and another one in which a young woman accepts to have sex in order to pay for the abortion of her friend, although, according to ‘Le Figaro,’ the film was awarded precisely for its “artistic and pedagogical qualities.”

‘Love sick’ on the french big screens

Also starting yesterday, the Romanian film “Love sick” by Tudor Giurgiu appeared on the big screens from France, after running in cinema halls from Taiwan, Poland and Spain. In the next six months, this movie will be distributed also in Great Britain and Bulgaria. “Love sick” – the biggest Romanian box-office success of the year 2006, has participated to over 40 festivals, the most recent of them being in Cleveland, Rotterdam, Hong Kong, Belgrade, London.

The feature “Love sick,” launched last year, in February, in the section Panorama of the Film Festival from Berlin, had the Romanian first on April 7, 2006.

The novel “Love sick” appeared in 2002 at Paralela 45 publishing house, and was republished in the spring 2005 at “Polirom” in the series “Ego. Proza.” Recently, the novel was edited also in French, under the title “Liaisons morbides” (Phebus Publishing House, France), under the programme “Les Belles Etrangeres.”

Wikipedia 21 July 2007

Revolutionary Romania by C D Rosenthal

Did you know…
...that the English-born activist Maria Rosetti (pictured) was the model for Constantin
    Daniel Rosenthal's personification of Romania?

Romania Faces Heatwave Emergency

17 July 2007
BBC News

Romania is sweltering in a new heatwave, which has dried up village wells and caused traffic disruption.

Villagers who rely on wells are worst hit

Temperatures have soared to 38C and are set to reach 40C towards the end of the week. The heat is ruining crops. It is the second heatwave to hit Romania this year. The previous one in June killed more than 20 people. The worst-hit areas are rural counties in the south and east. The authorities have sent emergency water supplies from the cities.

Villagers who rely on wells are worst hit

In some counties officials estimate that more than three-quarters of the crops have been ruined. Few villagers can afford insurance and government compensation schemes cannot cover their losses. The authorities have also ordered train drivers to reduce their speed by 20-30 km/h (12-20 mph), to avoid derailments. At least one person's death has been attributed to the heat.

Wikipedia 8 July 2007

Portrait of Heliade Rădulescu, by Mişu Popp

Today's featured article

Ion Heliade Rădulescu was a Wallachian-born Romanian academic, Romantic and Classicist poet, essayist, memoirist, short story writer, newspaper editor and politician, as well as prolific translator of foreign literature into Romanian and the author of books on linguistics and history. For much of his life, he was a teacher at the Saint Sava College in Bucharest, which he helped reopen. He was a founding member of the Romanian Academy, and the first President thereof. Heliade Rădulescu is considered one of the foremost representatives of Romanian culture from the first half of the 19th century, having first become noted for his association with Gheorghe Lazăr and the latter's support for discontinuing education in Greek. Over the following decades, he had a major contribution in shaping the modern Romanian language, but raised controversy when he came to advocate the massive introduction of Italian neologisms to the Romanian lexis. A Romantic nationalist landowner siding with moderate liberals, he was among the leaders of the 1848 Wallachian revolution, after which he was forced to spend several years in exile. Adopting an original form of conservatism, which emphasized the role of boyars in Romanian history, Heliade Rădulescu was rewarded for supporting the Ottoman Empire, and came to clash with the radical wing of the 1848 generation. (more...)

For Sale: 'Dracula's Castle' in Romania

2 July 2007
New York Times

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP)An heir of Romania's former royal family put ''Dracula's Castle'' in Transylvania up for sale Monday, hoping to secure a buyer who will respect ''the property and its history,'' a U.S.-based investment company said.

The Bran Castle, perched on a cliff near Brasov in mountainous central Romania, is a top tourist attraction because of its ties to Prince Vlad the Impaler, the warlord whose cruelty inspired Bram Stoker's 1897 novel, ''Dracula.''

Legend has it that Vlad, who earned his nickname because of the way he tortured his enemies, spent one night in the 1400s at the castle.

Bran Castle was built in the 14th century to serve as a fortress to protect against the invading Ottoman Turks. The royal family moved into the castle in the 1920s, living there until the communist regime confiscated it from Princess Ileana in 1948.

After being restored in the late 1980s and following the end of communist rule in Romania, it gained popularity as a tourist attraction known as ''Dracula's Castle.''

In May 2006, the castle was returned to Princess Ileana's son, Archduke Dominic Habsburg.

Habsburg, a 69-year-old New York architect, pledged to keep it open as a museum until 2009 and offered to sell the castle last year to local authorities for $80 million, but the offer was rejected.

On Monday, he put the castle up for sale ''to the right purchaser under the right circumstances,'' said Michael Gardner, chief executive of Baytree Capital, the company representing Habsburg. ''The Habsburgs are not in the business of managing a museum.''

No price was announced, though Gardner predicted the castle would sell for more than $135 million. He added that Habsburg will only sell it to a buyer ''who will treat the property and its history with appropriate respect.''

Habsburg said in a statement: ''Aside from the castle's connection to one of the most famous novels ever written, Bran Castle is steeped in critical events of European history dating from the 14th century to the present.''

According to a contract signed when the castle was returned, the government pays rent to Habsburg to run the castle as a museum for three years, charging admission. After 2009, Habsburg will have full control of the castle, Gardner said.

The government has priority as a buyer if it can match the best offer for the castle, he said.

Opposition lawmakers have claimed the government's decision to return the castle to Habsburg was illegal because of procedural errors.

In recent years, the castlecomplete with occasional glimpses of bats flying around its ramparts at twilighthas attracted filmmakers looking for a dramatic backdrop for films about Dracula and other horror movies.

Some 450,000 people visit the castle every year, Gardner said.

(This version CORRECTS that heir of family is selling castle, not the family itself.)

Wikipedia 27 June 2007

Did you know…
...that, in 19th and 20th century Romania, Roma people known as Ursari trained brown
    bears to step on people's backs, as a folk remedy for back pain?

Wikipedia 26 June 2007

On This Day…
June 26
: Flag Day in Romania

Wikipedia 22 June 2007

Did you know…
...that Lake Ceauru in southwestern Romania does not exist, despite appearing on maps

Wikipedia 17 June 2007

Vlad Ţepeş

On this day
  1462 - Vlad III the Impaler of Wallachia attacked an Ottoman Empire camp at night in an
    attempt to assassinate Mehmed II.

Wikipedia 15 June 2007

Did you know…
  ...that a Romantic poem by Alexandru Hrisoverghi is credited with having inspired
    historic preservation in Moldavia?

Romania Defends 'Dracula Castle' Return

14 June, 2007
New York Times

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP)—Romania's government on Thursday defended its decision to return ''Dracula's Castle'' to members of the former royal family, denying allegations that the decision was illegal.

The castle, famous for its links to a 15th-century medieval ruler who inspired Bram Stoker's ''Dracula,'' was confiscated in 1948 by the former communist regime.

''When it comes to property confiscated by the communists, I as a prime minister don't have any problems with returning it,'' said Prime Minister Calin Popescu Tariceanu.

Culture Minister Adrian Iorgulescu said the castle was legally returned last year to heirs of Princess Ileana, its last owner. He noted that it was approved by the Justice Ministry and a national agency for returning confiscated assets.

''We are convinced that the property restitution was done correctly,'' he said.

An opposition-dominated legislative panel had argued the restitution was unlawful because of procedural errors.

''How is it possible that the restitution of a national treasure be done by a museum administering the castle,'' said Dumitru Puchianu, a lawmaker with the Democratic Party, which was recently expelled from the Cabinet.

The 14th-century fortress is associated with Prince ''Vlad the Impaler,'' whose cruelty inspired Stoker's vampire Count Dracula. Legend has it that Vlad, who earned his nickname because of the way he tortured his enemies, spent one night there.

The new owner, New York-based architect Dominic Habsburg, signed a deal pledging to keep the castle open to visitors for three years. He later offered to sell it to local authorities for $80 million. His lawyer also rejected the lawmakers' criticism.

''The (lawmakers panel's) decision is wrong. It's a political one and it proves that private property is not respected in Romania,'' Corin Trandafir said.

The fortress, perched high on a rock and surrounded by snowcapped mountains in southern Transylvania, is one of Romania's top tourist attractions, visited by 400,000 people each year.

In recent years, the castlecomplete with occasional glimpses of bats flying around its ramparts in the twilighthas attracted movie makers as a backdrop for films about Dracula and other horror themes.

Bran Retrocession – Illegal

13 June, 2007
by Mediafax
Nine O'Clock

The Parliamentary Subcomission for investigations decided.

The Parliamentary Subcomission for Investigations decided that the document by which the Bran Castel was retroceded is considered to be null since the retrocession has not been made accordingly to the requests of the Law and the Constiturion. The Subcomission report will be forwarded to the Plenum of the Chamber of Deputies which is to give a verdict through a decision, so that the Parliament would have to inform the Government, the Highest Court of Cassation and the other institutions.

Johnny Depp Praises Musicians from Taraful Haiducilor

12 June, 2007
by Raluca Patru
Nine O'Clock

Taraful Haiducilor (Taraf de Haïdouks)

For six weeks, the caravan of the Roma artists toured the United States

Johnny Depp praised the Roma music band from Clejani, the Taraful Haiducilor (Band of Outlaws), within a documentary broadcasted in US, as Realitatea TV informs. The film presents the tour of some musicians of Roma origin from six countries. The documentary, made by The World Music Institute, is recommended to all the people who love the ethnographical music and films. The two hours movie presents, besides bands from Macedonia and Northern Ireland, some images with Taraful Haducilor and the “Ciocarlia” fanfare while touring in America. For six weeks, the Roma caravan performed for the American public colorful shows full of energy. With lots of humor and soul in their voices, they showed the diversity of the Romas, in an explosion of songs and dances.

Johnny Depp and Ionita, the leader of the band have become friends during filming the movie ‘The Man Who Cried’, whose soundtrack has been composed by the Romas interprets and in which Ionita plays the father of the American star. The band from Clejani also sang for the American actor in his club in Los Angeles, The Viper Room, in 2003. Ionita is very proud for the present received from the great actor, an accordion Depp offered him after his instrument had been broken after filming in the rain. Sources in Hollywood state that the band from Clejani has been booked for the wedding of Johnny Depp with Vanessa Paradis due this summer.

So far, Ionita declared that he didn’t receive an official invitation for the event, but he maintains that, if invited, he will be happy to go there and will ask for no fee. ‘I cannot ask for money from a friend to play for him to the most important event in his life, his wedding. This will be my gift for a true friend, for which I care dearly,’ Ionita recently told ‘Libertatea’ daily newspaper.

The ceremony will take place in the couple’s house, in the south of France, and is announced to be a quite intimate one

Wikipedia: Taraful Haiducilor

Cameras Were Ready; The Revolution Wasn’t

3 June, 2007
by Alan Riding
New York Times

Mircea Andreescu in a scene from “12:08 East of Bucharest,” the first feature by Corneliu Porumboiu.


AMONG the anti-Communist revolutions that swept Eastern Europe in late 1989, that of Romania stood out, not for its velvety idealism, but for its violence — the country’s Stalinist tyrant Nicolae Ceausescu was summarily executed — and for its confusion. Even now there is no consensus over what actually happened. Instead — built around television images, blurred memories and fantasy — there are myriad conflicting accounts of how Romania recovered its freedom. Yes, there must have been heroes, but where are they?

In his first feature film, “12:08 East of Bucharest,” which opens Wednesday at Film Forum in New York, Corneliu Porumboiu goes in search of them, not on the streets of Timisoara, where the national mutiny erupted, or in Bucharest, where the revolution culminated, but in his hometown, Vaslui in eastern Romania, where heroism was apparently in short supply.

Still, he gives Vaslui a chance — of sorts. In a comedy that fits into that absurdist corner of the psyche known as Balkan humor, Mr. Porumboiu revisits the exact moment that Ceausescu fled Bucharest — 12:08 p.m. on Dec. 22, 1989 — and invites Vaslui to take its place in history.

The film fares better than Vaslui. “12:08” won the Camera d’Or for best first feature at last year’s Cannes Film Festival and in a sense paved the way for the Romanian new wave’s great triumph to date: last Sunday Mr. Porumboiu’s countryman Cristian Mungiu won the Palme d’Or, the top prize at Cannes, for “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days.”

When it came to turning the clock back to 1989, however, Mr. Porumboiu was not much helped by his own memories. Now 32, he was only 14 at the time of the revolution. “I was playing Ping-Pong with a friend at 12:08,” he said in a telephone interview from Bucharest.

But he remembers his parents and their friends glued to the television as the flight of Ceausescu and his much-reviled wife, Elena, was followed by their arrest, their trial by a military tribunal and, on Christmas Day 1989, their hurried execution (also shown on television).

“It was like watching a thriller,” Mr. Porumboiu said.

And so it was that television, long devoted to numbing Romania with official propaganda, came to be identified with revolution. And many years later, long after Mr. Porumboiu had exchanged plans for a career in management for the dream of making movies, it was again television that connected him to the events of 1989.

Watching a program in 1999 in which six people were asked to recount “their” revolution, he imagined his own fictional version of such a program. And when he finally came round to making it, after finishing film school in Bucharest, he set it in wintry Vaslui on the eve of the 16th anniversary of the revolution.

Before the movie’s debate goes live at the local television station, Mr. Porumboiu, who also wrote the screenplay, introduces the unlikely participants, starting with the moderator, Virgil Jderescu (Teodor Corban), the television station’s owner, who is looking anxiously for witnesses able to address the key question: “Was there a revolution or not in our town?”

Fortunately (or perhaps not) he finds Tiberiu Manescu (Ion Sapdaru), a drunken schoolteacher, who claims to have joined three other “heroes” in shouting, “Down with Ceausescu!” in the main square in front of Town Hall before 12:08 p.m. on Dec. 22, 1989. Also on the program, almost by accident, is Emanoil Piscoci (Mircea Andreescu), a distracted geezer best known in town as a Santa Claus of last resort.

The problem is that neither Jderescu nor Piscoci believes Manescu’s version. And when Jderescu invites telephone calls, there is no shortage of people ready to testify that no one entered the square on Dec. 22 until after 12:08 p.m., when of course it was suddenly safe to cheer the fall of the dictatorship.

So was there a revolution at all? Well, Mr. and Mrs. Ceausescu were certainly dispatched to another place, but what followed was a very slow transition rather than sudden change. Many former Communists, reinventing themselves as democrats, were soon again running Romania. There were also no trials of members of Ceausescu’s infamous Securitate secret police.

“When Ceausescu was dead, he was guilty of everything,” Mr. Porumboiu said. “If he is dead, we are safe now. A commission was formed to blame the Communists, but it caused a big scandal here. A lot of people said it was not true. We have difficulty in dealing with the past, that’s for sure.”

In one sense the country’s entry into the European Union this year has made it easier to forget what happened before 1989. Yet if Romanians prefer to look forward, now thinking of themselves first and foremost as Europeans, Mr. Porumboiu has at least reminded them that the past is unresolved or rather, as he puts it, it has been turned into fiction.

“I was interested in dealing with these small histories,” he went on, “how people perceive history because each one tried to prove himself and prove his acts through this moment. And they make their own version of history.”

Now Mr. Porumboiu has added his own droll version through what he calls “reconstructing reality.” And for authenticity he shot the movie’s debate scenes with a fixed camera — he said he imagined the cameraman as the raconteur — in a studio of one of Vaslui’s three television stations.

But if television is this director’s accomplice in “12:08,” the popularity of television in Romania today is also an obstacle to young moviemakers who have discovered relatively little domestic demand for art-house films.

For instance, to finance his $300,000 film, which he also produced, Mr. Porumboiu had to improvise, persuading a milk factory, a hotel, a vegetable oil producer and a bakery to invest in the adventure. And in the end it drew an audience of only 13,000 when it played in Romania.

“The people who liked the movie said they liked it,” Mr. Porumboiu noted stoically, “and the people who didn’t like the movie didn’t say anything.”

Yet for all that, “12:08” has confirmed the emergence of a new Romanian cinema. From before the revolution, only the work of the long-exiled director, Lucian Pintilie, stands out. But in the last couple of years, along with Mr. Porumboiu, several other Romanian directors have won praise abroad, notably Cristi Puiu for The Death of Mr. Lazarescu,” Catalin Mitulescu for How I Spent the End of the World and most recently Mr. Mungiu with “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days.” Their number also includes Cristian Nemescu, who died in a car accident last year at 27, and whose “California Dreamin’ ” just won the top prize in Cannes’ Certain Regard section. “12:08,” then, is hardly an isolated phenomenon.

“Porumboiu belongs to a tradition which cultivates like few others a macabre smile, a destructive lucidity, a tragic absurdity and a refined misanthropy,” Le Monde’s film critic, Jacques Mandelbaum, wrote. He added: “Dwelling on human pettiness, this admirably modest film brings together Gogol and Beckett.”

And of course, not for the first time, it celebrates Balkan humor as a weapon of survival.

Britannica Biography of the Day - 2 June

2 June 2007
Encyclopaedia Britannica

American swimmer Johnny Weissmuller, who won five Olympic gold medals and set 67 world records and who was even more famous as a motion-picture actor, most notably in the role of Tarzan, was born in Romania this day in 1904.

Johnny Weissmuller

Born:  June 2, 1904  Freidorf, near Timisoara, Romania
Died:  January 20, 1984  Acapulco, Mexico

Byname of Peter John Weissmuller, original name Jonas Weissmuller American freestyle swimmer of the 1920s who won five Olympic gold medals and set 67 world records. He became even more famous as a motion-picture actor, most notably in the role of Tarzan, a “noble savage” who had been abandoned as an infant in a jungle and reared by apes.

Weissmuller, whose parents immigrated to the United States when he was three, attended school only through the eighth grade but was trained in swimming at the Illinois Athletic Club in Chicago. He was a member of several championship relay and water-polo teams that represented the club during the 1920s. In individual freestyle swimming he was U.S. outdoor champion at 100 yards (1922–23, 1925 [no competition 1924]), 100 metres (1926–28), 200 metres (1921–22), 400 metres (1922–23, 1925–28 [no competition 1924]), and 800 metres (1925–27); and he was U.S. indoor titleholder at 100 yards (1922–25, 1927–28) and 220 yards (1922–24, 1927–28). At the 1924 Olympic Games he won three gold medals, for the 100-metre and 400-metre freestyle and the 4 ´ 200-metre relay (he also won a bronze medal as a member of the U.S. water-polo team); in 1928 he won two more gold medals, for the 100-metre freestyle and 4 ´ 200-metre relay.

Despite his athletic records, Weissmuller is best known for his motion-picture role as Tarzan of the Apes, a character created by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Weissmuller starred in 12 Tarzan films between 1932 and 1948, beginning with Tarzan the Ape Man (1932). He later created the role of Jungle Jim, a guide, for both television and motion pictures. His autobiography, Water, World, and Weissmuller, appeared in 1967.

Europeans Welcome Victory of Romanian in Ouster Vote

21 May 2007
New York Times

BUCHAREST, May 20 (Reuters) — The European Commission urged Romania on Sunday to resume efforts against graft after official results confirmed that President Traian Basescu, widely regarded as an anticorruption crusader, easily repelled Parliament's attempt to impeach him in a referendum.

Returns from 92 percent of the polling stations showed 74 percent of Romanians voted Saturday against impeaching Mr. Basescu on charges that he overstepped his authority.

He survived a bruising battle with Parliament and the government of Prime Minister Calin Tariceanu, whom Mr. Basescu has accused of slowing reforms that Romania committed to when it joined the European Union in January. Mr. Basescu is credited with ushering in reforms that helped the country join the European Union.

The European Commission, the European Union's executive body, has been alarmed at the reform deadlock, and on Sunday its president, José Manuel Barroso, welcomed the referendum’s outcome.

"I want to congratulate President Basescu for the result in the referendum yesterday," he said in a statement.

He said he hoped the outcome would help Romania "to move forward with the reforms that are needed, especially in the areas of judicial reform and the fight against corruption."

Mr. Basescu, a former sea captain and the country's most popular politician, got 5.6 million votes in the referendum, half a million more than in the 2004 election.

Preliminary results showed that turnout was 44 percent, slightly lower than in 2004.

Parliament suspended Mr. Basescu as president last month and called the referendum. Beyond accusing him of exceeding his authority, Mr. Basescu’s opponents have also accused him of using the secret services to discredit them.

No proof of that charge has emerged.

Corruption is endemic in the ex-Communist country. Diplomats say the commission is set to admonish the government in its June progress report, with some saying Romania risks sanctions that could cut aid from the bloc.

Since joining, reforms have faltered and Mr. Basescu's allies in government, like the respected justice minister, Monica Macovei, and Interior Minister Vasile Blaga, have been sacked by the prime minister.

Ms. Macovei said Mr. Basescu's victory should deter a government plan to remove some anti-graft prosecutors, though she did not expect reforms to resume. "Reforms will go nowhere with the current government," she said. "But Traian Basescu's return will at least block attempts to sack top prosecutors, as the president has the final say."

Mr. Basescu, who had to vacate his presidential palace when he was suspended, is expected to return there in the next few days, his aides said.

Cannes Review: 4 Months 3 Weeks & 2 Days

17 May 2007
by James Rocchi


Otilia (Anamaria Marinca) and Gabita (Laura Vasiliu) are college roommates. They may live in the wintry squalor of 1987 Romania—in the last days of Communism—but their lives seem familiar to us despite that gigantic difference; they have exams coming up, friends and lovers, future opportunities and current challenges. They may buy their perfume on the black market, but they still buy it—they're kids, essentially. There's school; there's the joy and effort of friendships; there's the looming reality of future mandatory military service; most pressingly, Gabita needs to have an abortion—in a rigidly-policed state where that's been illegal for decades. Otilia is going to help her—How could she not?—but neither of them are prepared for what that's ultimately going to cost.

Written and directed by Cristian Mungiu, 4 Months 3 Weeks & 2 Days is the sort of film that will inspire a visceral reaction from most moviegoers—a quick grimace, a darting look away: Wow, that sounds not-fun. And no, 4 Months 3 Weeks & 2 Days is not 'fun'—but it's incredibly affecting, magnificently acted and superbly made; in a lot of ways, it reminded me of last year's Oscar-winner for Best Foreign Film, The Lives of Others, insofar as both depict universal challenges of human existence—what to do about one's problems, how those difficulties can poison how we deal with others—with the harsh realities of fascist power making those challenges even more difficult to deal with. I cannot imagine how hard it must be to decide to have an abortion and see it through in the here-and-now; watching that agonizing choice played out with additional layers of challenge—bribes, secrecy, covert meetings and the looming possibility of jail—is achingly painful and fraught with tension.

Mungiu's film is naturalistic—the cinematography is made up of either loose tracking shots or long, locked-down single-take scenes—and we never have a scene without Otilia on-screen. (Gabita may be in trouble, but Otilia is the one who has to take action.) That doesn't mean, though, that the film is without craft; Mungiu's sense of timing and space is exquisite, and his actors give performances so good that they disappear into their roles. As Gabita, Vasiliu is stressed-out and desperate; Marinca's Otilia is more worldly-wise, more self-assured—until she runs into the realities of what has to happen and how. Praise should also go to Vlad Ivanov, who plays Mr. Bebe—the abortionist Gabita puts her life in the hands of.

Ivanov's performance is magnetically repellent; Bebe is a man who knows exactly what he's doing—the risks, the dangers, the ending of lives—and what does has made something in him turn monstrous and meticulous, carefully calibrating how hard he can push his luck and the spirit of his charges. As I said, Ivanov is magnetic in his careful, soft-voiced corruption—and what he ultimately asks of Otilia and Gabita is a grim, inescapable demonstration of the fact that making something illegal often simply places it outside the law. The scenes with the three sitting in a hotel room discussing the nuts-and-bolts of what has to happen and then the ugly business of payment—in cash and more—are fierce and blunt and matter-of-fact, and so superbly acted you feel as if you're watching a documentary. (There's one shot in these sequences—with Bebe sitting talking to Gabita as she stands, her head cut off by the framing of the shot—that says more about the physical realities of abortion than a thousand polemics.)

4 Months 3 Weeks & 2 Days is supposedly the beginning of a series of films Mungiu is hoping to make called The Golden Age, each about life in Communist Romania. I hope he's successful; if this film is an example of the kind of rough-hewn humanity and blunt realism we can expect in future films, I'd definitely seek them out. As it is, 4 Months 3 Weeks & 2 Days moved me and challenged me, made me feel and made me think, demonstrated the personal and political challenges of a heartbreaking choice that, in many ways, is no choice at alland that's a rare enough achievement, and one worthy of seeking out.

Romanian President Faces Impeachment

16 May 2007
New York Times

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP)—Romania's suspended president, who faces an impeachment referendum this week, vowed Wednesday to carry out reforms to stop political corruption.

Parliament, which is dominated by parties opposing President Traian Basescu, suspended him last month on allegations that he violated the constitution by usurping the role of the prime minister and criticizing the courts. The Constitutional Court had ruled that Basescu did not break the law, but its ruling was nonbinding and allowed parliament to make its own decision.

''Romanians will choose in the referendum between my option, to build a modern state, and the lawmakers' option, to leave things as they are,'' he said in an interview with The Associated Press at his campaign's headquarters in downtown Bucharest.

He claimed lawmakers abused their power by suspending him. Five political parties ideologically opposed to each other united to suspend him because they wanted to stop anti-corruption measures and political reform, he said.

''It was a political decision. I'd say it was a sort of coup,'' Basescu said. ''The president can't be held responsible by parliament, he can only be responsible in front of the Romanian people.''

Polls show more than 70 percent of Romanians intend to back Basescu, a former commercial ship captain and Bucharest mayor who is known for his outspoken style. The referendum is set for Saturday.

Basescu has been at odds with lawmakers, accusing them of drafting laws for special interests. He has also clashed with Prime Minister Calin Popescu Tariceanu, a former ally who he accused of tolerating corruption in the Cabinet.

His first confrontation with parliament came last year when he presented a report by a panel of experts condemning the crimes of the former Communist regime.

''It declared the regime as illegal and illegitimate as it was imposed on Romania by Soviet tanks and it ended with the fall of (former Communist dictator Nicolae) Ceausescu when Romanian tanks were on the streets,'' Basescu said.

He added that some leading lawmakers, including former President Ion Iliescu and nationalist leader Corneliu Vadim Tudor, were named in the report as having been part of the Communist regime.

Basescu also irked lawmakers last year by ordering the secret services to declassify more than 1.5 million files from the Communist-era secret police, the Securitate, an action that led to several politicians being exposed as former collaborators.

The president himself faced allegations of collaboration but his Securitate file was not found. He said the main reason for his conflict with lawmakers was his determination to shield prosecutors and judges from traditional interference from politicians.

Romanian President Likely to Escape Impeachment

16 May 2007
New York Times

BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Romania's president Traian Basescu is likely to escape impeachment in a referendum on Saturday but faces a daunting task reviving stalled reforms and anti-corruption efforts.

Huge crowds have demonstrated support for Basescu at rallies across Romania and abroad since he was suspended by parliament in April on charges of abusing power.

Opinion polls show Basescu, the country's most popular politician, is set to survive the vote. Many regard his return as Romania's only chance to rub out widespread graft that plagues all areas of society.

But Basescu, 55, is still likely to struggle to overcome feuding among the ruling centrists and the opposition, and a growing opposition towards fighting graft among some politicians, which have damaged Romania's reforms.

The political wrangling led to the suspension of Basescu and forced the May 19 referendum which was required under Romanian law as a followup to the parliamentary vote.

''Basescu has been instrumental in speeding up reforms in a transparent and modern way. He is seen in the EU as a man who delivered reforms and was one of the big engines behind EU membership,'' said one diplomat in Bucharest.

''But he has alienated himself from the political consensus and you wonder now whether he is now part of the solution or part of the problem.''

Romania still has to prove to the European Union, which it joined in January, that it is serious about fighting graft and reforming its outdated agricultural sector to avoid sanctions, possibly as soon as in June.

EU diplomats say member states are increasingly concerned about Romania's progress in fighting crime, with some going as far as to say the Black Sea state, and its smaller southern neighbor Bulgaria, were admitted too early.


A centrist coalition backed by Basescu after 2004 elections has made vast progress in overhauling a communist-era justice system and state institutions.

But the country is still ranked as the most corrupt in the EU on Transparency International's corruption perception index.

Observers say there appears to be little chance that bickering in Bucharest will subside after the referendum as political groups jostle for influence. Instability may last as long as until the next parliamentary election in late 2008.

''We will be having the same political system reproduced,'' said commentator Emil Hurezeanu. ''If Basescu uses his victory to create consensus, it would be good.''

Basescu's combative style has helped fuel disagreements that led to a split in Bucharest's centrist coalition and caused further delays in justice reforms, some observers say.

A former sea captain, Basescu swept into power in 2004 on an anti-corruption ticket. During his term, he led the opening of the archives of the feared communist-era secret police and issued Romania's first official condemnation of communism.

Despite his backing by ordinary Romanians, Basescu has faced accusations by the ruling and opposition parties of being power-hungry and manipulative, as well as corrupt and involved in illicit secret police activity.

The constitutional court has rejected charges he overstepped his powers. In April, parliament removed him from office for 30 days pending the impeachment referendum.

''It's out of the question that I would abandon my commitments. I will make sure that the judiciary will become more independent,'' Basescu told an evening talk show on Tuesday.

Wikipedia 8 May 2007

Did you know...
    ...that the Romanian Skete Prodromos on Mount Athos shelters an icon of Theotokos
    considered in the Eastern Orthodox world to have been miraculously painted?

On This Day from Britannica - May 7

1918. The Treaty of Bucharest forced Romania to make territorial and financial reparations following its defeat by the Central Powers during World War I.

Treaty of Bucharest - settlement forced upon Romania after it had been defeated by the Central Powers during World War I. According to the terms of the treaty, Romania had to return southern Dobruja to Bulgaria, give Austria-Hungary control of the passes in the Carpathian Mountains, and lease its oil wells to Germany for 90 years. When the Central Powers collapsed in November, the Treaty of Bucharest was nullified.

June Movies

6 May 2007
by Dave Kehr
New York Times

June 6

12:08 EAST OF BUCHAREST From Romania, the country that gave us “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu,” another mordant comedy. The scene is a television studio, where a variety of guests, all with different recollections, share their memories of the downfall of Nicolae Ceausescu in 1989. Corneliu Porumboiu directs.

Professor’s Violent Death Came Where He Sought Peace

19 April 2007
by Colin Moynihan
New York Times

Prof. Liviu Librescu faced many trials in his 76 years, growing up and living in Romania. There were the Nazis, who imprisoned his family when he was a child. Then there was the totalitarian regime of Nicolae Ceausescu, which forbade him from working when he refused to join the Communist Party.

But it was a trial in a most unlikely place that proved to be deadly. On Monday, Professor Librescu faced danger when a student armed with pistols and the determination to kill approached the room where the professor was teaching a class in solid mechanics.

Professor Librescu never moved from the door of Room 204 in Norris Hall at Virginia Tech, witnesses said, even as the gunman, Cho Seung-Hui, was shooting. Directing his students to escape through windows, Professor Librescu was fatally shot.

Yesterday, a funeral was held for the professor in the Borough Park section of Brooklyn. Professor Librescu’s body was taken there by Chesed Shel Emes, a Jewish organization that specializes in helping people in times of trauma, said Rabbi Edgar Gluck, a member of the group, who said that the professor had been struck by five bullets. The professor’s body was to be flown to Israel last night and he will be buried before sundown today in Raanana, near Tel Aviv, Rabbi Gluck said.

About 300 people showed up at the Shomrei Hachomos, an Orthodox chapel. They arrived to recognize a remarkable, resilient life and an act of courage that ended that life.

“This was a man who gave his ultimate for his fellow man,” Assemblyman Dov Hikind of Brooklyn told the mourners. “He gave his life for his students.”

In Blacksburg, Va., one of those students, Caroline Merrey, 22, described some of the chaos that unfolded inside Room 204.

“We had heard the gunfire coming from the classroom behind us, and we just reacted to it and headed for the windows,” Ms. Merrey said. “Professor Librescu never made an attempt to leave.”

Ms. Merrey said she and about 20 other students scrambled through the windows as Professor Librescu shouted for them to hurry. She said she felt sure his actions helped save lives.

“He’s a part of my life now and forever,” she said. “I’m changed. I’m not the person I was before Monday.”

Speaking to a reporter by telephone from Israel, Professor Librescu’s son, Yossi Librescu, 40, a computer engineer, said he took some solace in the appreciation being expressed for his father.

“He was passionate about life,” Mr. Librescu said. “He had no fear of death.”

He said that his father was born in Romania in 1930. After surviving the Holocaust, Mr. Librescu said, his father became a refusenik in Romania and lost his job as an aerospace engineer. But in 1976, Liviu Librescu secretly published a book in Norway that advanced a theory of aerospace technology that grabbed the attention of others in the field. In 1978, after lobbying by groups in Israel, he was permitted to leave Romania and settle there. He began teaching at Virginia Tech in 1985, university officials said.

Mr. Librescu said that the bucolic environs of Blacksburg provided a respite from the rigors of his father’s earlier life. His house was built on the edge of a forest and he took long walks daily, enjoying nature. He listened to classical music and settled into the calm, productive rhythms of his new existence.

“He found Virginia to be a place that allowed him to be inspired,” Mr. Librescu said.

Professor Librescu’s coffin, draped in black cloth, was wheeled into the chapel just after 2 p.m. Mr. Hikind spoke briefly and another man sang a sad lament in Hebrew. At 2:18, several men lifted the coffin to their shoulders and carried it outside.

The professor’s wife, Marlena, stood outside and spoke about her husband.

“His life was only his family and his students,” Ms. Librescu said. “Everybody told me he was like a father.”

Down the block, men dressed in black marched toward New Utrecht Avenue, carrying the coffin. As the N train screeched overhead, the words of the Kaddish were recited.

“He was always, always helping,” Ms. Librescu said. “But he was not able to help himself.”

Liviu Librescu Honored in New York

19 April 2007

A community in tears said its goodbye on Thursday from one of its members, professor Liviu Librescu, killed in the Virginia Tech massacre, helping his students flee to safety in an act of heroism.

A moving service was held for Librescu in New York, before his body left for Israel. Hours after receiving Romania's highest distinction, Librescu was also honored by president George W. Bush.

Liviu Librescu sacrificed himself blocking the door in the way of the shooter, so that students may escape through the classroom windows.

Librescu, a Holocaust survivor and a teacher for 20 years at the Virginia Tech university, remains known in the media as "the hero in room 204".

Romania Turns to UM Professor

18 April 2007
by Liz Farmer
Capital News Service

WASHINGTON - At the age of 30, Vladimir Tismaneanu fled the Communist regime in his native Romania where he said he felt ideologically suffocated and politically repressed.

"I couldn't stand the climate of duplicity and universal suspicion in a country run by a dictator intrinsically erratic and paranoid," says Tismaneanu, a professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland.

It was the start of a journey that took him to Spain and France, to Philadelphia and College Park, and now back to Romania.

Nearly 26 years after his formal exit and more than 17 years after the fall of Communism in his home country, Tismaneanu accepted an invitation by President Traian Basescu to return to Romania to head a commission given the assignment of shining a light on the darker corners of the nation's communist past.

As he describes it, the task was a heartbreakingly difficult one, which he likened to surgery without anesthesia because so many of the victims are still in Romania.

"But," he said, "better to deal with a wound when it is open - and it is still open."

He had never before been appointed to any formal post in his native country, a fact which he attributes to his political dissidence during the Communist Era. The pride he takes in this opportunity and its potential impact on Romania is evident.

"I know I'm making history," he says simply.

Tismaneanu seems an unassuming man of average build, graying hair and almost clear-blue eyes, but his no-nonsense personality commands attention.

The director of the University of Maryland's Center for the Study of Post-Communist Societies, he has written and edited scores of books and journal articles on Eastern Europe and Communist politics, often traveling back to Bucharest to do his research. In 2003, he published a culmination of much of his research, "Stalinism for All Seasons," which was hailed as the "definitive work on Romanian communism" by his peers.

He came to Maryland from the University of Pennsylvania in 1990 and currently teaches courses in comparative politics and political theory.

"He's pretty much one of the premier experts in his field," said Jim Rosapepe, who was Ambassador to Romania from 1998 to 2001 and is now a member of the Maryland Senate from Prince George's County. "Maryland is lucky to have him."

Tismaneanu is back in College Park as a full-time professor after taking a sabbatical last fall to complete the report, which resulted in Basescu officially condemning Communism in a speech to Parliament on Dec. 18.

The commission was formed in March of 2006 amid pressure from the Council of Europe to condemn Communism, and while Romania was on the brink of joining the European Union in January. Basescu named Tismaneanu the head of the Commission for the Analysis of the Communist Dictatorship and asked him to appoint about 20 other historians, psychologists and anthropologists to serve.

The task was simple on its face - produce a report reassessing Romania's communist history. Tismaneanu, 55, is viewed by many as a leading authority in Eastern European political history, and as a historian and a resident in the United States, seemed to be a non-partisan choice for not only the head of but the spokesman for the commission.

Sitting now in a cramped Connecticut Avenue coffee shop and bookstore, he puts down his espresso cup and reflects.

"I was simultaneously an outsider and an insider," he says with a half smile. "It may have been frustrating, but it was fundamentally exhilarating," he later added.

Frustrating may be an understatement in describing a process that involved trying to root out closed files that documented some of the Communist Era's darkest deeds. Nearly two decades after the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe, new governments are displacing those more closely associated with the old rule, and renewed efforts are underway to expose former secret police agents and collaborators.

Tismaneanu grew up in Bucharest and was raised by parents he refers to as "Communist old-timers" who took Marxist idealism seriously. However, he says he grew up disappointed in the "existing dictatorship" and became increasingly aware of "the gap between what Marxists had professed and the dismal realities of Communism."

While at the University of Bucharest, he wrote a Ph. D dissertation that criticized Marxism and, despite graduating first in his class in 1980, was not allowed to hold an academic post in Romania. Since his departure in 1981 he has still had a voice in Romania and other Eastern European countries through international radio broadcasts.

Given Tismaneanu's credentials, one does not doubt him when he says, only somewhat jokingly, that if the commission hadn't needed to physically retrieve the thousands of documents they based their report on, he could have written the whole history of Communism in Romania from his Washington, D.C. living room in one month.

But Tismaneanu said he and the other members were insistent that "every single word" of the report - which he at first predicted would be about 50 pages long - be taken from information in the documents provided to them.

Eight months, 663 pages, and multiple trips to Romania later, the commission published its findings. Soon after, Basescu delivered a speech to Parliament, declaring that the "Communist regime in Romania was illegitimate and criminal."

Tismaneanu, a husband and a father, lowers his voice to a solemn tone, barely heard above the din of coffee shop chatter:

"I know 40 years from now, my name may not be remembered, President Basescu's name may not be remembered, but the date of December 18 will be remembered as the day the Communist regime was condemned in Romania," he says.

The significance is not lost on anyone familiar with the country's history, and Tismaneanu compares the impact to the United States denouncing slavery. Rosapepe, who sees the condemnation as more of a symbolic statement, said it is especially impressive that Romania has come so far from a dictatorship in less than two decades.

"Literally walking down the street [last year] you would not have known if you were in Romania, or Austria, or Italy, or Germany," he said. "That would have not been true 16 years ago."

Some, however, are more suspicious of Romania's push to shed its communist ties. From day one, the commission, and Tismaneanu in particular, met wave upon wave of resistance and hostility.

From highly critical newspaper editorials, to anti-Semitism towards Tismaneanu, to opposition from former President Ion Iliescu, the Maryland professor says he saw scores of attacks against him that questioned his motives in coming back to direct the commission. He says assembling the commission itself was difficult not only for the lack of precedent, but for the parties in Romania who still "unabashedly declare their pride for the old regime."

But Tismaneanu says that Basescu gave him his absolute support, and pledged not to interfere with the process other than to help open old government files. He also received support from some newspapers, international media outlets, his close family and friends, and received hundreds of letters of encouragement from colleagues, students and citizens, who called themselves the "Silent Majority."

Tismaneanu says the eight-month ordeal was a full-time responsibility, but the end result was a victory he will not soon forget. There is more work just ahead. Textbooks based on the commission's report, an encyclopedia of Romanian Communism, presidential councils, and a museum of Communist dictatorship history all lie in the future.

But for now, back in his new nation's Capital, there is a quiet moment of reflection about the implications for his native country. The espresso long gone, the leather jacket unzipped and the black beret comfortably secured above the nest of gray-black hair, he leans back in his chair and pauses. "The genie's out of the bottle."

Go West, Young Woman (Ceausescu Ghosts Too)

17 April 2007
by Wilborn Hampton
New York Times

It’s been more than 17 years since Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife, Elena, were executed, freeing Romania from one of Communism’s most brutal dictatorships. But evil casts a long shadow, and the terror is not simply eliminated by a firing squad. “Waxing West,” Saviana Stanescu’s intriguing and entertaining new play at La MaMa E.T.C., is an attempt at exorcism, and it is perhaps a hopeful sign that the Ceausescus are ridiculed here as bloodthirsty clowns.

Romania’s search for a national identity after the overthrow of the Ceausescus is mirrored in the story of Daniela, who a decade later is trying to decide her own future. A benefactor has invited Daniela to the United States to marry her son, Charlie, a computer technician with few social skills. Although reluctant to follow the advice of her mother, Daniela finally accepts the offer. “Maybe in America,” she says with hope, “it is just a little bit like the movies.”

The rest of “Waxing West” moves back and forth between Bucharest and New York over a 17-month period, from April 11, 2000, to Sept. 11, 2001. Surprises, of course, are in store. If Charlie turns out to be rather kinky, his sister, Gloria, may be even kinkier, and Daniela ends up cooking and cleaning for Charlie, who keeps postponing the marriage.

But these disappointments are nothing compared with the nightmares that haunt Daniela. The ghosts of the Ceausescus, dressed as vampires in whiteface, keep popping up, singing and dancing and commenting on Daniela’s American odyssey while threatening her with a variety of tortures. And the date of the play’s final scene is not coincidental.

Daniela is a free spirit. Certainly she, a sort of Holly Golightly of Bucharest, has foibles of her own, including a tendency toward kleptomania. She reads every self-help book she can find at Barnes & Noble, most of which she steals, and she befriends a Muslim Bosnian war refugee named Uros who was once a college professor and now begs from a wheelchair in Times Square, trying to save enough money to follow in the footsteps of Gilgamesh.

Marnye Young is captivating as Daniela, a resilient and resourceful young woman with a twinkle in her eye and a touch of larceny in her heart that are irresistible. Grant Neale and Alexis McGuinness are delightfully malevolent as the Ceausescus. The rest of the eight-member cast, under Benjamin Mosse’s brisk direction, are all good, especially Kathryn Kates as Daniela’s mother and Dan Shaked as her brother, Elvis.

“Waxing West” continues through Sunday at La MaMa E.T.C., 74A East Fourth Street, East Village; (212) 475-7710,

In Memorium
16 April 2007

Liviu Librescu

18 August 1930 (Ploieşti, Romania) — 16 April 2007 (Blackburg, Virgina, USA)

Professor of Engineering Science and Mechanics
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

The truest of teachers, he gave his life to the future of his students.

Wikipedia 29 March 2007

Did you know…
  ...that, during the Great Depression, the Romanian politician Grigore Iunian proposed
    devaluing the leu as a means to curb peasant insolvency?

Coppola Comeback Set for Fall Release

March 23 2007

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter)Sony Pictures Classics has acquired North American distribution rights to Francis Ford Coppola's first film in a decade.

The World War Two parable "Youth Without Youth," his follow-up to 1997's "The Rainmaker," is scheduled for a late-fall release.

Coppola wrote, directed, and produced the independently financed film, adapting the screenplay from a novella by Romanian author Mircea Eliade. It was shot in Romania over 18 months.

Tim Roth stars as Dominic Matei, an elderly professor whose mysterious rejuvenation heightens his intelligence and whose apparent immortality makes him a target for the Nazis.

"It is a love story wrapped in a mystery," Coppola said. "The story revolves around the key themes that I most hope to understand better: time, consciousness and the dreamlike basis of reality."

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter

Wikipedia 19 March 2007

Did you know…
...that the citadel that once stood on the mountain of Tâmpa in Transylvania was never
    captured by an enemy force?

Wikipedia 9 March 2007

Did you know…
    ...that Caryl Churchill's play Mad Forest, developed partly in Bucharest in collaboration
    with Romanian and English drama students, was in production less than six months after
    the Romanian Revolution of 1989?

Wikipedia 1 March 2007

Did you know…
    ...that Stefan Báthory assisted Vlad Dracula to reclaim the throne of Wallachia in 1476?

On this day…
    March 1: Mărţişor in Romania and Moldova, Martenitsa in Bulgaria.

Romanian Film Enters Competition for Oscar Nominations

30 January 2007
People's Daily Online

The Romanian film "The Tube with a Hat" on Monday entered the Oscar nomination race in the category of best short film after it received the award of U.S. Sundance Film Festival, Rompres reports.

"The Tube with a Hat" won the Sundance Jury Prize for international short films on Sunday in Park City in Utah.

Ada Solomon, producer of the film, said the film would automatically enter the race for Oscar nomination after winning the award.

The 2007 Sundance Film Festival, organized by actor, director and producer Robert Redford, gathered over 70 film productions. "The Tube with a Hat" was the only Romanian movie that has qualified for the event.

"The Tube with a Hat" lasts 22 minutes and was shot last year on the basis of a script written by Florin Lazarescu, after the story "Sunday Story".

The film directed by Radu Jude received other important awards as well, which includes the Great Award of Short and Documentary Films Bilbao, DaKINO Trophy for the Best Short Film, the award for the best short film at Cottbus East—European Film festival, and the Great Award for short film at Montpelier Festival.

Romania's King Without a Throne Outlives Foes and Setbacks

27 January 2007
New York Times

KING MICHAEL I of the Romanians was sitting alone at his desk here, looking over some correspondence, when a visitor arrived. He had evidently been sitting there for some time because the sun had set and the room had dimmed to near darkness around him. His personal secretary, Oana Carbunescu, flipped on a light and he stirred.

Michael, 85, is the last living head of state from World War II. He lunched with Hitler, shook Churchill's hand and lived briefly under Stalin's thumb. He is a quiet man, an undemanding man and, inevitably perhaps, a disappointed man. But as with many quiet, undemanding, disappointed men, he is a keen observer of the louder world around him.

''Unfortunately, I had four years with the Nazis and three years with the Soviets, and you get to the point—how should I say—you have radar in your nose,'' he said, smiling faintly. He speaks in a mumble, an impediment from childhood that invites armchair analysis because his life, from the beginning, has been marked by betrayal.

His father, Carol II, known as the playboy king for his romantic misadventures, abandoned Michael's mother for another woman when Michael was 3, leaving him heir to the throne. When Michael's grandfather, King Ferdinand I, died two years later, in 1927, the boy suddenly became the youngest monarch in Europe. Then, less than three years later, Carol II returned to take back the crown.

Michael became king again in 1940, when the fascist dictator Ion Antonescu forced his father to abdicate. Michael's shining moment came four years later when he overthrew Antonescu and abruptly switched sides from the Nazis to the Allies. Many historians credit his brave act with shortening the war by weeks and saving tens of thousands of lives.

But within months, Churchill had traded Romania for Greece at a meeting in Moscow and Michael's fate was sealed, according to Churchill's memoirs, with the approving tick of Stalin's blue pencil. The Communists forced Michael to abdicate three difficult years later, and he packed up his bags and left by train with four automobiles—cars are his lifelong hobby—making a life in Switzerland largely on the generosity of others.

''It's not nice to talk about money, but you have to,'' he said, his eyebrows lifting toward each other in an expression of hapless resignation.

ROMANIA has been without a monarch since 1947, but Michael remains vaguely hopeful that his authority will be restored along the lines of Juan Carlos I of Spain. He is still revered by most Romanians. But the politicians and businessmen who now run the country have little interest in the sort of moral oversight a king might provide.

''Many of the ones who have come into the government are from the past,'' he said. ''They changed their colors, but they have the same mentality.''

He tapped his temple. ''After 40 years of going through what we have gone through, we've got a bad bug in here,'' he said of the Romanian people. ''You know, they say it is the end of Communism in Romania. Well, not quite. It is the end of the dictatorship, but certain things remain and it is very difficult to change.''

He says that while the current coalition government has tried to overcome the cronyism and corruption that have marred the country's post-Communist years, those efforts have often been thwarted at lower levels of the bureaucracy.

''It is very, very difficult for your side of the world to understand what happens in this part of the world,'' he said with a wry twist of his mouth and an infinitesimal shrug, one of the many almost whimsical microexpressions that play over the old king's otherwise placid features as he speaks. ''Byzantine habits are left over.''

He predicts trouble in bringing his country, which joined the European Union this month, firmly back into the European fold.

Michael was just 18 when he suddenly found himself head of state in an uncomfortable alliance with Hitler.

''We had already seen what happened in Poland and in France,'' he said, lifting his hands from where they lay folded on the desk in a dismissive gesture. ''It was difficult to see the extent of what he was going to do.''

Michael and his mother resisted the fascist program, intervening on behalf of Jews when the Nazi apparatus turned inexorably in that direction. He said he later learned that Adolf Eichmann ''complained violently'' to Antonescu about his mother, who was posthumously honored for her effort to save Jews as a ''righteous among the nations'' by Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem.

IN 1944, with Germany bogged down on the Russian front, Michael saw his chance to move against Antonescu. When the dictator balked, Michael had him locked away in a safe where Carol II once kept his stamp collection.

Michael formed a new government, declared a cease-fire with the Soviets and fled for the hills that night. The Germans bombed the palace hours later, forcing him to move to the white stucco, Spanish-style Elizabeth Palace for his final years as king.

''The Soviets arrived 10 days later to liberate us—from what I don't know because we had already finished with Antonescu and the Germans,'' Michael said. ''And then it started.''

Stalin sent Andrei Vyshinsky, the notorious prosecutor of Stalin's 1930s show trials, to install a puppet government in Romania that would eventually force Michael to abdicate.

''It was blackmail,'' he said. ''They said, 'If you don't sign this immediately we are obliged'—why obliged I don't know—to kill more than 1,000 students that they had in prison.'' Outside the palace he could see soldiers and artillery facing the compound, he said.

Interrupting his story, he got up and led a visitor through the sparsely furnished palace to a room upstairs where he had signed away his kingdom. An overstuffed settee, where he spends some of his idle hours watching television, now sits on the historic spot.

He worked for a couple of years in Switzerland for the aviation company Learjet and was later associated with a Wall Street brokerage firm. ''Not my cup of tea, but I had to do something,'' he said. In the meantime, he and his wife had five daughters.

''Luckily enough, I married someone I was in love with and that helped an awful lot,'' he said of his wife, Queen Anne.

THE collapse of Communism in 1989 brought a surge of euphoria to the family. But the fleeting hope of restoration was followed by more years of frustration as the first post-Communist governments tried to block the king's return to the country.

Finally, in 2001, Romania's Parliament granted Michael the same rights as other former heads of state and put Elizabeth Palace at his disposal for as long as he lives. That same year, he won back Savarsin castle in western Romania, which he bought with his mother in 1943. Michael is still wrangling over restitution of the royal domain in Sinaia, a 160-acre spread with three castles, where he was born.

Michael says he does not feel entirely at home in Romania. ''Partly yes, but then you think about what's happened,'' he said, wiggling his hand by his ear. ''You can't wipe that out.''

Consequently, he spends only a few months a year in the country, preferring his adopted home, Switzerland. Yet he is much loved in Romania, particularly by children and the elderly. That is a comfort, he said.

''Stalin, Groza, Gheorghiu-Dej, Pauker, Vyshinsky. Where are they all now?'' he asked of his erstwhile tormentors. ''I'm lucky enough to still be here.''

Dracula's Castle Is for Sale for $78M

18 Jan 2007

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) - The Habsburg family said Wednesday that it wanted to sell a Transylvanian castle famous for its connections to the 15th century medieval ruler who inspired "Dracula" for 60 million euros, or $78 million, to the local authorities, an attorney said.

The local council says it is interested in buying Bran Castle, but a government minister criticized the price tag, calling it too expensive.

Dominic Habsburg, the owner, insisted the family had honorable intentions.

"We are trying to find the best way to preserve the castle in the interest of the family and the people of Bran," Habsburg said in a statement made available exclusively to The Associated Press.

The castle was returned to Habsburg, a New York architect, on May 26, decades after it was confiscated by the communists from Habsburg's mother, Princess Ileana, in 1948, the year the royals were forced to leave the country.

After the restitution, concerns were raised that the family could sell castle to a hotel chain and that the site could end up being the centerpiece of a Dracula theme park that would blight the surrounding, pristine countryside.

The castle, perched high on a rock and surrounded by snowcapped mountains in southern Transylvania, is one of Romania's top tourist attractions and is visited by 400,000 people each year.

Faced with the enormous expense of the castle's upkeep, Habsburg said he wanted to place the property in the hands of the local council with an eye toward ensuring its historic character is preserved.

"The family has the country and the people in their heart. We are grateful for the restitution as a moral act to amend injustice," the statement from Habsburg said.

But he added, "The way of life cannot be returned and the restitution has come with financial sacrifice. ... We would like Castle Bran to remain a symbol of everything that is honorable and good in Romania."

The community of Bran, where the fortress was built in the 14th century to help stave off invasion, gave it to Ileana's mother, Queen Marie, in 1920 to thank her for her efforts in unifying the country. It was briefly associated with Prince "Vlad the Impaler," whose cruelty inspired novelist Bram Stoker's creation, the vampire Count Dracula. History says he spent one night there.

In 1938, Ileana inherited the castle, which is located some 105 miles north of Bucharest.

In recent years, the castle, complete with occasional glimpses of bats floating around its ramparts in the twilight, has attracted movie makers as a backdrop for films about Dracula and other spooky themes.

Lia Trandafir, an attorney for Habsburg, said the local authorities are interested in buying it. "They'd like to see it coming back to the community and they consider it a central pillar of tourism in Brasov county," she said.

Aristotel Cancescu, head of the local city council is due to travel to Vienna, Austria, on Monday to open discussions about a bank loan. If he manages to secure a loan, it will need to be approved by local councilors.

Culture Minister Adrian Iorgulescu has criticized the planned purchase of the castle, saying it is too expensive. "I have nothing against the castle being bought by the city council if they are stupid enough to pay this money," he said. He added he believed the castle was worth a fourth of Habsburg's asking price.

(Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

Fighting Over Gold in the Land of Dracula

On the road in Rosia Montana, Romania
Piotr Malecki for The International Herald Tribune

3 January 2007
New York Times

ROSIA MONTANA, Romania — Eugen David, a small-time farmer with a chipped tooth and muddy boots in this obscure wrinkle of Transylvania, is an unlikely man to attract the attention of movie stars and moguls. But he counts Vanessa Redgrave, George Soros and Teddy Goldsmith among his backers in a land battle with a Canadian gold mining company.

Rosia Montana

Rosia Montana was shrouded in fog and looked like a “Dracula” movie set in November. The town is in Transylvania in western Romania.

Cristian Movila for The New York Times

Eugen David in his home, which he has refused to sell to a mining company. Many others in Rosia Montana have, however, sold their homes.

Piotr Malecki for the International Herald Tribune

The company, Gabriel Resources, owns the rights to mine the hills here and wants Mr. David, 41, to leave his 50 acres of land so that the company can carve out what would be Europe’s largest open-pit gold mine. Mr. David says he isn’t budging.

“We don’t want to move,” he says, staring across at the brown-gray stain of Rosia Montana’s defunct gold mine, which would be swallowed by Gabriel Resource’s huge project.

In the old days, a pipsqueak like Mr. David wouldn’t stand a chance fighting powerful and sophisticated adversaries like Gabriel Resources and its minority partner, the Romanian government.

But this is the Internet age, when local activists like Mr. David can tap into an increasingly well-oiled global network of non-governmental organizations for financial and political support on a long list of causes and emerge with almost as much clout as any corporation.

Mr. David’s stubbornness has struck a chord with the anti-globalization movement. Gabriel Resources’ proposed open-pit, cyanide-leaching mining process has also drawn the ire of international environmentalists who are now trying to stop it.

They just might win.

Mining is one of the world’s most unpopular pursuits these days, particularly the gigantic gouging that leaves the earth pocked with moonscape-like craters a mile or more wide. Gold mining is disdained even more because of the perceived frivolity of its end: to provide lucre for the rich, status for the everyman and hidden stores of wealth for nations.

But it also has a strong allure, particularly for resource-rich countries like Romania that are struggling to develop impoverished communities that need jobs.

The $3.7 billion project would plow more than $2 billion into the Romanian economy and could earn Gabriel Resources and its shareholders profits of $1 billion or more. And the company involved here, a Toronto-based corporation with market capitalization of $1 billion, is run by savvy mining executives, many of them highly experienced from cutting their teeth building the Barrick Gold Corporation, the largest gold mining company in the world.

The allure is perhaps stronger in Romania because the country was created, in a way, by gold mining.

Early in the second century A.D., Emperor Trajan extended Roman territory to include what is now Transylvania, in the western half of Romania, to mine Europe’s most important gold deposits. The mines helped finance the expansion of the empire to its peak. When the Romans abandoned the territory almost 200 years later, they left behind colonists who are the ancestors of Romanians today.

When the Romans left, the mining did not stop. The eventual ruling dynasty, the Hapsburgs, and the Communists, who turned to open-pit mining, continued the process, though with dwindling efficiency. The mine was finally shut in early 2006.

Gabriel Resources was born in the breakup of the state-owned economy after Communism’s collapse when Romanian businessmen with little mining experience and suspected ties to the former secret police won a vast concession to exploit mineral deposits.

Mr. David and his neighbors realized six years ago that the company planned to expand the old mine and formed an association called Alburnus Maior — Rosia Montana’s Roman name — to try to stop the project. They were engaged in an ineffective letter-writing campaign when the founders of Gabriel Resources moved the company’s listing from Vancouver, British Columbia, to the more respectable Toronto Stock Exchange.

Mr. David’s opposition might have withered had it not been for an ill-advised plan to build a Dracula theme park near the picturesque Romanian town of Sighisoara, once home to Vlad Dracula, the notorious Romanian ruler and inspiration for “Dracula,” the Bram Stoker novel.

Prince Charles of Britain, fond of Romania’s old Saxon villages, was outraged. So was Teddy Goldsmith, the aging anti-globalist environmentalist and scion of a wealthy business family.

A Swiss-born environmental journalist named Stephanie Roth, who wrote for Mr. Goldsmith’s magazine, The Ecologist, moved to Romania to help defeat the project. With such powerful forces aligned against it, the theme park for Sighisoara died. While in Romania, Ms. Roth heard about the Gabriel Resources’ plan for Rosia Montana and went to meet Mr. David in April 2002. Within months, she had introduced him to some of the most powerful environmental organizations in the world.

“When I came there was no computer, no Web site,” Ms. Roth said. “I tried to empower the local organization.”

Ms. Roth started by helping Mr. David’s group obtain a grant for a few hundred dollars from an American environmental organization, Global Greengrants Fund. They organized a public hearing in Rosia Montana that drew 40 non-governmental organizations with Romanian operations, including Greenpeace, and catapulted Mr. David’s dispute onto the national stage.

Then Ms. Roth took to the road. By the time Gabriel Resources’ founders turned the company over to more professional management in 2005, the company had an international coalition of nongovernmental organizations arrayed against it.

But the mining industry doesn’t easily back down.

Hoping to extract an estimated 300 tons of gold and 1,200 tons of silver from the mine, Gabriel Resources introduced a public relations campaign with Madison Avenue-style television commercials and community sponsorships to win over 960 Rosia Montana families that it needed to relocate. It cast itself as an economic savior. It even countered a critical documentary with its own film, “Mine Your Own Business.”

Some efforts backfired. Gabriel Resources helped sponsor the Transylvanian International Film Festival in nearby Cluj-Napoca. But when its organizers invited Ms. Redgrave to receive a lifetime achievement award, Ms. Roth quickly put the actress and Mr. David together.

Ms. Redgrave’s acceptance speech became a rallying cry against Gabriel Resources’ project. The anti-Gabriel Resources’ movement had its mascot and the European press began covering the story.

Word of the movement had by then reached the Open Society Institute of George Soros, which has been working for years for more accountability from Romanian public officials.

“When guys in S.U.V.’s with bags full of cash show up in a poor locality in Romania, they can really make the law there,” said Radu Motoc, project director of the Open Society Foundation-Romania.

Nearly all members of Rosia Montana’s former and current council are either employed by Rosia Montana Gold, Gabriel’s local subsidiary, or have family members who are, according to the foundation.

The foundation, which has already given $35,000 to the cause, says it plans to spend as much as $240,000 next year fighting the project and helping Mr. David. Because of the polarizing debate surrounding open-pit gold mining, it is hard to find an unbiased commentator to assess the risks and benefits of Gabriel Resources’ proposed mine. A major focus of contention is the use of large quantities of highly toxic cyanide to separate gold and silver from the ore.

In 1999, Aurul, a joint venture of the Australian mining company, Esmeralda Exploration, and a Romanian national company, Remin, began a leaching operation to recover gold from old tailings in Baia Mare, or Great Mine, roughly 80 miles north of Rosia Montana. Like Gabriel Resources, the company promised a state-of-the-art, self-contained project that would not pose risks to the environment. But less than a year later, the dam holding back a lake of cyanide-laced water burst, sending 100,000 cubic meters of contaminated water downstream to the Danube, killing more than 1,200 tons of fish in Hungary.

Gabriel Resources says it would build in safeguards that were missing at Baia Mare. It has promised to convert most of the cyanide into a nontoxic compound before discharging it into the mine’s tailing pond. It also promises to clean up pollution left by past mining operations and spend $70 million to do as much as possible to repair the altered landscape after its project is done.

“Arsenic, cadmium, nickel, lead,” said Catalin Hosu, a public relations official for Gabriel Resources, ticking off just a few of the heavy metals that leach from ancient mines to give this valley its name; Rosia Montana means red mountain.

“We help the biodiversity; we help the environment,” said Yani Roditis, Gabriel Resources’ chief operating officer.

That’s difficult for many people here to believe. The new project will grind down several hills, leaving four deep pits in their place, and slowly fill an entire valley with wastewater and tailings that will take years to solidify.

Robert E. Moran, a mining expert hired by the opposition to evaluate the impact of Gabriel Resources’ plans, said that the mine, despite detoxification, would inevitably produce other toxic byproducts damaging to the environment, including heavy metals.

The controversy, meanwhile, has splintered the town, its buildings divided between those with signs that read, “Property of Rosia Montana Gold Corp.” and others that say, “This Property Is Not For Sale.”

“I was born here, so why should I leave?” said Gabriela Jorka, 38, who runs a small general store in Rosia Montana. “I’d rather kill myself.”

Eugen Bobar, 60, the school principal, says that the dispute is pitting parents against children, husbands against wives. But only about 40 percent of the families to be relocated remain, and Mr. Bobar predicts that most of them will leave. “Most of the people who talk about the environment are just making an excuse,” Mr. Bobar said, sitting in the school’s office late one night. “They will leave for a good price.”

Mr. David, however, insists there is a committed core of opponents who will not sell, whatever the offer. In that case, Gabriel Resources warns, it may ask the state to step in and move people out by force. But that could lead to years of legal wrangling.

The company has told its shareholders that it expects to receive final approval for the project from the Romanian government this year and will start producing gold by mid-2009.

Gabriel Resources, which is based in Toronto, is, meanwhile, trying to win over the remaining holdouts. It is sponsoring education for underprivileged children in Rosia Montana through a nongovernmental organization run by Leslie Hawke, the mother of the actor Ethan Hawke and a celebrity herself in Romania. She supports the project.

“It’s probably better that nothing happened, but the gold is there and if they don’t do it, somebody else will,” Ms. Hawke said. “And I’d rather that they do it than somebody else.”

Romania and Bulgaria Celebrate Entry Into European Union

2 January 2007
New York Times

Romania and Bulgaria joined the European Union on Monday, helping to end geographic divisions left over from the cold war and extending the borders of the now 27-member bloc eastward to the Black Sea.

In Bucharest, Romania, President Traian Basescu said Sunday night that the entry into the European Union signaled the end of a painful 17-year process. ''We arrived in Europe, welcome to Europe,'' he said to rapturous applause from a crowd in University Square. ''This is an enormous chance for new generations.''

In Sofia, the Bulgarian capital, revelers gathered in Battenberg Square. Fireworks filled the sky over the building where the Communist Party once had its headquarters. ''We are home!'' said a headline in the Bulgarian newspaper Trud.

Romania and Bulgaria, now the European Union's poorest members, hope that membership will help them raise their per capita wealth, which is one-third of the Union average. Their accession, the second wave of enlargement into formerly Communist Eastern Europe, will also give the Union a stable political and economic anchor in an unstable region.

Romania, with a population of about 22 million, becomes the European Union's seventh largest member. Bulgaria has a population of 7.7 million.

For Romania, which suffered one of Eastern Europe's most brutal Communist dictatorships under Nicolae Ceausescu before he was overthrown in 1989, being moored to the European Union is an important symbolic final break with a difficult past. For Bulgaria, whose history is marked by conflicts with the Ottoman Empire and Soviet occupation, European membership is also viewed as a source of economic and democratic stability.

The European Union has been experiencing expansion fatigue, though, after the bloc's enlargement in May 2004 to 25 countries from 15. With the latest additions, the Union has a population of nearly 489 million.

Some members, like France, are concerned that the addition of member nations with much lower per capita incomes, the European Union will become economically overburdened, institutionally unwieldy and ultimately unmanageable. They fear that expansion will diminish their power while paralyzing the European Union's decision-making process.

Wariness about the future shape of the Union was reflected in French and Dutch rejections of a proposed European constitution in referendums in 2005. Since then, there have been calls across the bloc for a slowing of the pace of enlargement.

Such ambivalence, stoked by fears of immigration and Europe's lackluster economic performance, has been most prominently expressed in opposition to admitting Turkey, which is Muslim. It has also cast a shadow over the admission of Romania and Bulgaria, which have been criticized for corruption that has lingered since Communist times.

Some countries, though, led by Britain, with the enthusiastic backing of the United States, have supported further expansion because the promise of membership has helped accelerate economic and political change in Europe, ranging from the arrest of war criminals in Croatia to the liberalization of Turkey's banking industry.

The cautious approach to further expansion was reflected in the tough conditions imposed on Romania and Bulgaria for entry.

Even now that they are in the Union, the two countries will be subject to unprecedented safeguards devised to keep them from backtracking. They include the power by the European Commission, the union's executive, to suspend some of the rights that come with membership, like generous economic aid.

The commission has also threatened to suspend recognition of arrest warrants and decisions made by Bulgarian courts if the country does not improve its judicial system.

Romania expects to receive as much as $ 2.2 billion in the first year after entry, while Bulgaria would be entitled to $873 million.

The European Union has been grappling with fears that westward migration from its poorer members in the east risks undermining the bloc's social standards.

At the time of the last enlargement, in May 2004, the European Commission estimated that the number of migrants throughout the bloc would total 70,000 to 150,000 a year. But Britain alone is estimated to have received up to 600,000 in the past three years.

Britain, Sweden and Ireland, which opened their doors to European Union newcomers in 2004, have already signaled that they are less inclined to do so now. Romanians and Bulgarians may also face obstacles in labor markets in Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, which are themselves confronting restrictions by countries further west.

At a recent meeting in Brussels, European leaders toughened their tone on enlargement but stopped short of setting new hurdles to expansion. They reaffirmed backing for the eventual membership of Turkey, Albania, Bosnia, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia.