Criticism of Lavish Funeral for Anne of Romania

New York Times
10 August 2016
by The Associated Press

BUCHAREST, Romania—The presidents of Romania and Moldova on Wednesday paid their last respects to Anne of Romania at a 19th-century royal castle amid some criticism about the grand royal funeral.

President Klaus Iohannis presented his condolences Wednesday at the Peles Castle in the mountain resort of Sinaia, where the wife of deposed king Michael is lying in state. Moldovan President Nicolae Timofti later paid his respects, shaking hands with the couple's oldest daughter, Princess Margareta.

Romanian Prime Minister Dacian Ciolos, accompanied by six Cabinet ministers and two deputy prime ministers, laid flowers at the castle later Wednesday. The heads of the Orthodox and Catholic churches are also expected at the castle, with its fairytale turrets, which was built by Romania's first king, Carol I.

Romania and Moldova have declared a day of mourning for Anne, who died Aug. 1 in Switzerland, aged 92.

Some, however, have criticized the lavish scale of the official mourning period and funeral, scheduled for Saturday at the Curtea de Arges royal cemetery in central Romania.

"This family has no connection to us," said Ramona Pit, a builder. "I heard from my grandmother that when there was a monarchy, people didn't have enough to eat, while they languished in their palaces." Her husband, Mihai Pit, also a builder, disagreed, saying: "It's a question of respect, they looked after our nation."

Commentator Stelian Tanase told The Associated Press politicians were guilty of "hypocrisy, demagoguery and duplicitous language," in their gushing praise of Anne after her death. He said they expressed grief "to win political capital."

It stands in contrast with hostility shown to Michael in the decades after his forced abdication and after communism ended in 1989.

Under communism, "authorities indoctrinated and methodically destroyed King Michael with so many lies," painter Stefan Ciltea, a friend of the royal family, told the AP.

Michael was expelled from Romania when he tried to return to visit family graves at Christmas 1990. He and Anne were refused entry at the airport in 1994, and his citizenship was only restored in 1997 after a pro-Western government came to power.

Body of Anne, Wife of Romania's Ex-King, Returns to Romania

New York Times
9 August 2016
by The Associated Press

BUCHAREST, Romania—The body of Anne of Romania, the wife of the country's ex-king, arrived in Bucharest Tuesday for the biggest royal funeral in almost 80 years.

Anne married King Michael six months after communists forced him to abdicate in December 1947. She did not visit Romania until she was almost 70, and never learned to speak the language.

Her Aug. 1 death in Switzerland aged 92, however, has provoked an outpouring of grief in the East European country where she is commonly known as Queen Anne. A day of mourning has been proclaimed in Romania and neighboring Moldova.

Anne's coffin was flown from Switzerland Tuesday afternoon on a Romanian Tarom airlines plane, arriving to great fanfare. Four of the couple's five daughters lined up on the tarmac, dressed in black, their heads covered, as soldiers placed the coffin draped with the royal flag on a catafalque. Orthodox and Catholic priests then conducted a short service.

Later Tuesday, Anne's body arrived at the 19th-century Peles Castle renowned for its fairytale turrets in the mountain resort of Sinaia. It was the royal family's former home built by Carol I.

Anne's body will be taken to Bucharest on Wednesday.

Michael, who is 94 and has cancer, will remain at the family home in Switzerland and miss the funeral on the advice of doctors. He was the last of Romania's four kings; the first, Carol I, was enthroned in 1866.

Theodor Paleologu, a former culture minister and professor, recalled that he was 17 when he met Anne in Paris, where his father was Romania's ambassador.

Paleologu, who belongs to an ancient Romanian princely family, told The Associated Press that he recalls her drinking beer with bodyguards and giving candies to children and her "total lack of affectation."

Explaining the deep feeling for Anne, Paleologu cited her 68-year marriage to Michael who he called "a symbol" for Romania: "Without this cycle (of kings) we would not exist as a nation."

The ceremonies, the grandest royal burial since Queen Marie died in 1938, contrast with the authorities' sometimes hostile attitude toward the royal family. In 1994, Michael and Anne flew to Romania but were denied entry because he had not formally applied for a visa. Michael's citizenship was not restored until 1997.

She will be buried at the Curtea de Arges cemetery of the royal family on Saturday.

Final Bow for Martha Karolyi, the Woman Who Lifted U.S. Gymnastics

Martha Karolyi watched the United States women’s gymnastics team compete on Tuesday. Doug Mills/The New York Times

New York Times
9 August 2016
by Juliet Macur

RIO DE JANEIRO—In her 11 Olympics as a coach or leader of a gymnastics team, Martha Karolyi, the often stone-faced and certainly serious coordinator of the United States women’s gymnastics national team, has cried only twice.

Once was at her first Games, in 1976, when she and her husband, Bela, led Nadia Comaneci to a gold medal in the all-around.

The second time was Tuesday, at these Rio Games.

From her seat in the Rio Olympic Arena, just above the balance beam, Karolyi’s eyes grew wet behind her glasses as she watched her squad dominate and win the team gold medal. The American team was dazzling—the best team ever, Karolyi acknowledged afterward—as it won in a landslide over Russia, finishing ahead by 8.2 points, a grand canyon of a gap in asport that calculates margins by thousandths of a point.

Just before the medal ceremony, the United States team ran over to Karolyi to celebrate and shared some news: They finally had come up with a nickname for themselves.

At the 2012 London Games, where her United States team also won gold, it called itself the Fierce Five. This time, the gymnasts told Karolyi, the team wants to be known as the Final Five.

Final Five, partly because this is the last Olympics where five women will be on each team. The next Olympics will have only four per team.

But Final Five mainly because this is Karolyi’s final Olympics. She is 73 and, after about 40 years in the sport, she is retiring when the Rio Games end.

Hearing that the team wanted to honor her, Karolyi began to weep. She gathered the gymnasts for a group hug of sparkly red, white and blue leotards and told them she loved them.

“From my nature, I’m really not a sentimental person, honestly,” Karolyi said afterward. “I’m known for being very tough. So I felt, ‘Oh, what’s happening to me? What is this?’”

She paused.

“It’s just, Final Five,” she said, before trailing off as she teared up again. “It’s crushing.”

Crushing because, within about a week’s time, a lifetime of successful elite gymnastics will come to an end. It can’t last forever, after all. Karolyi, who wears a bejeweled Team U.S.A. necklace, said it’s time for her to be “a normal person” again. Her plan, Bela said, is to visit her family back in her native Romania, maybe spend four or five months there out of the year.

Her career was so good while it lasted.

In the mid-’70s, she and Bela began coaching together in Romania and became a power couple in the sport. He was the boisterous cheerleader, the emotional one. She was the quiet technician who knew exactly how to tweak a gymnast to make her great.

And through the years, they trained so many greats.

In Romania, it was Comaneci. Then, after they moved to the United States, it was Mary Lou Retton, who won an Olympic gold medal in the all-around in 1984. Next came Kim Zmeskal, the world champion in the all-around in 1991, and Kerri Strug, the sweetheart of the 1996 Atlanta Games.

It wasn’t until 2001 that Martha Karolyi took over as national team coordinator for the women, replacing Bela, who retired after a disappointing 2000 Olympics, in which the United States team was fourth. That is when the United States team officially began its semi-centralized training system, which was the system the Karolyis had been pushing for.

In that system, gymnasts train with their personal coaches, but attend monthly, weeklong national team training camps to be evaluated by national team staff.

“I think the training camps are key,” said Aly Raisman, the team captain who on Tuesday won her third Olympic gold medal. “It’s where we are evaluated and compared to each other, in a healthy way. We wouldn’t be here without that system.”

The camp is held at the Karolyis’ 2,000-acre ranch in the middle of Sam Houston National Forest, north of Houston. It’s where the Karolyis live. It’s also where Martha Karolyi focuses her deep brown eyes on each gymnast, finding both big and minuscule ways for that gymnast to improve. Athletes start going to camp when they are 9 or 10, so the potential superstars can be identified and groomed into champions early.

At camp, gymnasts stay in cabins together, eat meals together, hang out together. Coaches also socialize, which they rarely did in the past, and share training tips.

“Once you install a system and unite the gymnasts and the coaches, you will be improving every year, and we have improved every year under this,” Karolyi said. “I think at this moment, that’s why we can say that United States dominates the world of gymnastics.”

The American women have now won the last five major competitions. They have also won the past three Olympic all-around titles. The United States is poised to win a fourth all-around gold, too, when Simone Biles takes to the floor Thursday.

This American team is anchored by Biles, a three-time world champion in the all-around who might just be the best female gymnast ever.

But even when Biles was performing her floor routine Tuesday, Karolyi couldn’t relax. It was the team’s final routine of the afternoon, and Biles—world champion on floor—was nailing it. Her landings were so solid that her soles seemed coated in super glue. Later, Karolyi said she had never seen a woman tumble so well, so “sky-high.”

Yet there she was during the routine, on the edge of her seat and gripping the railing in front of her, as if her life depended on it. The gymnasts could feel her presence. They even searched for her, and often, so they could lock eyes and get a shot of confidence from her.

“We always look for her, always,” Gabby Douglas, the 2012 Olympic champion in the all-around, said on Tuesday after winning yet another gold. “Because we couldn’t do any of this without her.”

Yet future teams will have to.

Biles said that she didn’t believe Karolyi was really retiring, and that if Karolyi heard “the team cracking,” Karolyi would be back to fix it.

Karolyi, though, says her decision is final. Her and Bela’s ranch and its training camps will live on, though.

U.S.A. Gymnastics will still use the ranch as a training center, though Bela and Martha won’t be in charge of managing it. From time to time, Martha admits, she might walk down her dirt driveway to check out the gymnasts in the gym, “just to see if they are going in the right direction.” She said that she was proud to leave such a successful system behind, so generations of future gymnasts could benefit from it.

“I will probably enjoy to take a peek here and there,” she said.

Until then, she must focus on gymnastics for a few more days. Still to come are the all-around and event finals. But for a national team, the team final is the biggest day. And to succeed on that day is what counts.

In the minutes after the medal ceremony, as the American women posed for photos and examined their gold medals, Bela gave Martha one of his signature bearhugs. He told her he was proud of her.

“Fantastic closing,” he said.

She answered, with tears, “Yes, I feel the same way.”

Moldova Joins Romania in Day of Mourning for Anne of Romania

New York Times
5 August 2016
by The Associated Press

CHISINAU, Moldova—Moldova's president has declared a day of mourning for the death of Anne of Romania, the wife of deposed King Michael.

Michael was king from 1927 to 1930 when Moldova was part of Romania. He also reigned from 1940 to 1947 before being forced to abdicate by the communists. He married Anne the following year.

Anne, 92, died Monday.

Moldova's President Nicolae Timofti Friday declared Aug. 13 a day of mourning, also a day of mourning in Romania.

Flags will be flown at half-staff, media is expected to respect the solemnity of the day and there will be no large public events.

Anne will be buried in Curtea de Arges cemetery in central Romania on Aug. 13 in the largest royal funeral since Queen Marie died in 1938.

Romania Declares Day of Mourning for Wife of Deposed King

New York Times
3 August 2016
by The Associated Press

BUCHAREST, Romania—Romania's government has declared a day of mourning for the funeral of Anne of Romania, the wife of deposed King Michael.

The government said Wednesday flags will be lowered and newsreaders will wear somber clothes on Aug. 13. Anne died Monday in Switzerland aged 92, and will be buried at the Curtea de Arges cemetery in central Romania.

It will be the biggest royal funeral since the death in 1938 of Queen Marie.

Anne's body arrives in Romania on Tuesday and will lie in state in Peles Castle and in the Royal Palace in Bucharest.

Michael, 94, who has cancer, is not expected to attend. He was forced to abdicate by the communists in 1947, before the couple's marriage. Anne first visited Romania in 1992 when she was almost 70.

Queen Anne of Romania, Wife of Deposed Monarch, Dies at 92

Queen Anne of Romania arriving at the National Opera in Bucharest for a celebration of King Michael’s 90th birthday on October 25, 2011. Daniel Mihailescu/Agence France-Presse — Getty Image

New York Times
1 August 2016
by The Associated Press

BUCHAREST, Romania—Queen Anne of Romania, the wife of Romania’s last monarch, King Michael, who spent most of his life in exile, died on Monday in a hospital in Morges, Switzerland. She was 92.

Her death was announced by her family.

Born Princess Anne of Bourbon-Parma in Paris on Sept. 18, 1923, she met Michael in November 1947, when both of them were in London for the wedding of the future Queen Elizabeth II and Philip Mountbatten.

In a 2013 documentary by the Romanian public broadcaster TVR, Anne said that she had been formally introduced to Michael, who was in uniform, at a reception at Claridge’s Hotel in London, and that she had responded by clicking her heels and standing to attention.

Michael returned to Romania and was forced to abdicate by the Communists on Dec. 30, 1947. He then went into exile.

The couple were married in an Orthodox ceremony in Athens in 1948 after Pope Pius XII refused to give Anne, who was half French and half Danish, dispensation to marry a non-Catholic. In 1966, the couple had another ceremony in a Roman Catholic church in Monaco.

“Michael lost a country but won an exceptional woman,” the commentator Stelian Tanase, an acquaintance of the royal couple, told The Associated Press.

Michael returned to Romania after the fall of communism, and Anne’s first visit was in 1992.

Besides her husband, who is 94, Anne is survived by their five daughters.

When she was younger, Anne studied painting in New York and later volunteered for the French Army during World War II.

She will have the most lavish royal funeral in Romania since the death in 1938 of Queen Marie, a granddaughter of Queen Victoria.

Anne of Romania, Wife of King Michael, Dies at 92

New York Times
1 August 2016
by The Associated Press

BUCHAREST, Romania—Anne of Romania, the loyal and modest wife of Romania's last monarch, King Michael, has died, Romania's royal house said. She was 92.

Anne died Monday afternoon at a hospital in Morges, Switzerland, surrounded by family including four of her daughters, a statement said.

Michael, 94, who is suffering from cancer, visited her every day, and she received the last rites on Sunday, the statement said.

Born Princess Anne of Bourbon-Parma, she met Michael in November 1947 when they had both come for the wedding of the future Queen Elizabeth II and Philip Mountbatten in London.

In a 2013 documentary with Romanian public broadcaster TVR, Anne said she was formally introduced to Michael, who was in uniform, at a reception at Claridge's Hotel in London and she responded by clicking her heels and standing to attention. She said he proposed to her soon afterward, while driving.

Michael returned to Romania, and was forced to abdicate by the communists on Dec. 30, 1947, and moved into exile. He returned after communism ended and Anne's first visit to Romania was in Easter 1992.

"Michael lost a country but won an exceptional woman," commentator Stelian Tanase, an acquaintance of the royal couple, told The Associated Press. President Klaus Iohannis called her one of the "most important symbols of wisdom, dignity and a beacon of moral conduit."

Anne largely avoided the spotlight but is known for her wit and devotion to Michael.

The couple got married in an Orthodox ceremony in Athens in 1948 after Pope Pius XII refused to give Anne, who was half French and half Danish, dispensation to marry a non-Catholic. In 1966, they had another ceremony in a Catholic church in Monaco.

When she was younger, Anne studied painting in New York and later volunteered for the French Army during WWII.

She will have the most lavish royal funeral in Romania since the death in 1938 of Queen Marie, a granddaughter of Queen Victoria.

Her body will be flown from Switzerland to Romania on Thursday and will lie in state for one day in Peles Castle in the mountain resort of Sinaia where Michael was born, and then in the Royal Palace in Bucharest for one day.

She will then be buried with other members of Romania's royal family at the Curtea de Arges cemetery on Aug. 13 in central Romania.

Anne is survived by Michael and their five daughters.

Bearded Vulture Flies to Romania; 1st Time Seen in Decades

New York Times
29 July 2016
by The Associated Press

BUCHAREST, Romania—Romania's Ornithological Society says a bearded vulture has flown into Romania, the first time it says the rare bone-eating bird has been spotted here in more than 80 years.

The large two-year-old male bird, named Adonis, was born in the Czech Republic as part of a European breeding program. It was then moved to France's Massif Centrale mountains, where a tracking device was attached.

Ornithological Society spokesman Ovidiu Bufnila told The Associated Press on Friday the organization was told that Adonis was in Romania, had come to a standstill and could be in trouble. Scientists located the bird on July 19, perched high, waiting for a dog's corpse to be eaten by other birds in far northwest Romania.

Bearded vultures feed on bones, which are digested in their highly acidic stomachs.

Victor Stanculescu, 88, Romanian General Who Turned Against Ceausescu, Dies

Gen. Victor Stanculescu was defense minister to the dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. Romanian Ministry of National Defence

New York Times
21 June 2016
by Sam Roberts

Victor Stanculescu, an agile former Romanian general who arranged the escape of the Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu in 1989, then joined the insurgent government and engineered Mr. Ceausescu’s trial and execution three days later, died on Sunday in Saftica, in southern Romania. He was 88.

His death was announced by his lawyer, Catalin Dancu.

General Stanculescu (pronounced stahn-kul-ESS-ko) was first deputy defense minister when he was dispatched by Mr. Ceausescu to Timisoara, in western Romania, to suppress a pro-democracy protest.

But after ordering security forces to fire on unarmed dissidents on Dec. 17, 1989, Mr. Ceausescu, the country’s last Communist leader and its brutally Stalinist head of state for two decades, lost control of his army as the revolt spread. Nearly 100 civilians were killed in Timisoara alone.

Sniffing Mr. Ceausescu’s defeat, General Stanculescu quickly returned to Bucharest, where he faked a broken leg to avoid further counterrevolutionary deployment. Promoted to defense minister after the incumbent minister killed himself, he helped Mr. Ceausescu and his wife, Elena, flee by helicopter from the roof of party headquarters.

But fearing that the copter had been spotted by radar and would be shot down, the pilot hastily landed. Mr. Ceausescu hijacked a passing car, but he and his wife were soon surrounded and arrested.

After the couple were captured, General Stanculescu organized their trial by a military court and recruited the firing squad (before the verdict, by some accounts) that executed them on Christmas Day. He then joined the new government.

General Stanculescu served as minister of defense and minister of industry until 1991.

Beginning as early as 1990, a government commission recommended several times that General Stanculescu be tried for his actions in Timisoara, but he managed to elude each attempted prosecution until 2008, when he was convicted of aggravated manslaughter. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison and paroled in 2014.

“I did not order any unit under my command in Timisoara to carry out any acts of repression,” General Stanculescu told the BBC in 2009.

He said he had helped the Ceausescus escape because “If we had left it to the people of Bucharest, they would have lynched them in the street.” Asked if the summary trial and execution was just, he replied, “It was not just, but it was necessary.”

Victor Atanasie Stanculescu was born on May 10, 1928, in Tecuci, Moldavia, in eastern Romania. His father, Constantin Stanculescu, was an aviation lieutenant; his mother, the former Aurora Martac, an accounting professor. His father died when he was 5.

After graduating from the Military School of Artillery in Sibiu in 1949 and the Special Artillery Officer Academy in Bucharest, he pursued an army career.

General Stanculescu’s wife, Elena, with whom he had a daughter, killed herself in 2003, apparently despondent over the repeated attempts to prosecute him after his allies in the government lost power.

“The violent manner of Ceausescu’s demise set Romania’s experience of political change apart from that of the other East European states,” Professor Dennis J. Deletant, of the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service, said in a lecture there in 2012.

“Whereas Ceausescu succeeded in uniting Romanians in opposition to him, his fall threw them into confusion,” Professor Deletant said. “What the Romanian revolution does demonstrate is that the heroes die, the fighters go home, and opportunists make their way to the fore.”

In an interview with the novelist Dinu Sararu, General Stanculescu concurred with the professor, but in more personal terms. “Only the dead are heroes!” he said. “I never wanted to die, and that’s why I’m not a hero!”

Holocaust Survivor, Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel Dies at 87

New York Times
3 July 2016
by Reuters

Activist and writer Elie Wiesel, the World War Two death camp survivor who won a Nobel Peace Prize for becoming the life-long voice of millions of Holocaust victims, died on Saturday. He was 87.

Wiesel was a philosopher, speaker, playwright and professor who also campaigned for the tyrannized and forgotten around the world. He died at his home in New York City, the New York Times reported.

The Romanian-born Wiesel lived by the credo expressed in "Night," his landmark story of the Holocaust—"to forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time."

In awarding the Peace Prize in 1986, the Nobel Committee praised him as a "messenger to mankind" and "one of the most important spiritual leaders and guides in an age when violence, repression and racism continue to characterize the world."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed Wiesel as a ray of light, and said his extraordinary personality and unforgettable books demonstrated the triumph of the human spirit over the most unimaginable evil.

"Out of the darkness of the Holocaust, Elie became a powerful force for light, truth and dignity," he said.

Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, said that Wiesel had taught people not to be silent where they saw injustice and that the void caused by his death could not be filled.

"We have lost the most articulate witness to history's greatest crime," he said.

Wiesel did not waver in his campaign never to let the world forget the Holocaust horror. While at the White House in 1985 to receive the Congressional Gold Medal, he even rebuked U.S. President Ronald Reagan for planning to lay a wreath at a German cemetery where some of Hitler's notorious Waffen SS troops were buried.

"Don't go to Bitburg," Wiesel said. "That place is not your place. Your place is with the victims of the SS."

Wiesel became close to U.S. President Barack Obama but the friendship did not deter him from criticizing U.S. policy on Israel. He spoke out in favor of Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem and pushed the United States and other world powers to take a harder stance against Iran over its nuclear program.

Obama remembered him as "one of the great moral voices of our time, and in many ways, the conscience of the world."

Wiesel had raised his voice, not just against anti-Semitism, but against hatred, bigotry and intolerance in all forms, Obama said in a statement.

"His life, and the power of his example, urges us to be better. In the face of evil, we must summon our capacity for good. In the face of hate, we must love," Obama said.

Wiesel attended the joint session of the U.S. Congress in 2015 when Netanyahu spoke on the dangers of Iran's program.

German President Joachim Gauck wrote to Wiesel's wife Marion saying: "Your husband knew how to use vivid and empathic words to keep the memory of the darkest years of German history that he witnessed alive and to warn young people especially of the dangers of right-wing extremism and xenophobia."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said a "voice of morality and humanity has fallen silent".

Wiesel and his foundation both were victims of the wide-ranging Ponzi scheme run by New York financier Bernie Madoff, with Wiesel and his wife losing their life's savings and the foundation losing $15.2 million. "'Psychopath'—it's too nice a word for him," he said of Madoff in 2009.

Wiesel was a hollow-eyed 16-year-old when he emerged from the newly liberated Buchenwald concentration camp in 1945. He had been orphaned by the Nazis and their identification number, A-7713, was tattooed on his arm as a physical manifestation of his broken faith and the nightmares that would haunt him throughout his life.

Wiesel and his family had first been taken by the Nazis from the village of Sighetu Marmatiei in the Transylvania region of Romania to Auschwitz, where his mother and one of his sisters died. Wiesel and his father, Shlomo, ended up in Buchenwald, where Shlomo died. In "Night" Wiesel wrote of his shame at lying silently in his bunk while his father was beaten nearby.

After the war Wiesel made his way to France, studied at the Sorbonne and by 19 had become a journalist. He pondered suicide and never wrote of or discussed his Holocaust experience until 10 years after the war as a part of a vow to himself. He was 27 years old in 1955 when "Night" was published in Yiddish, and Wiesel would later rewrite it for a world audience.

"Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed ...," Wiesel wrote. "Never shall I forget those flames that consumed my faith forever. Never shall I forget that nocturnal silence which deprived me, for all eternity, of the desire to live."

Asked by an interviewer in 2000 why he did not go insane, Wiesel said, "To this day that is a mystery to me."

By 2008, "Night" had sold an estimated 10 million copies, according to the New York Times, including 3 million after talk-show hostess Oprah Winfrey made it a spotlight selection for her book club in 2006.

In 1985 Wiesel helped break ground in Washington for the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and the following year was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. In typical fashion, he dedicated the prize to all those who survived the Nazi horror, calling them "an example to humankind how not to succumb to despair."

Wiesel, who became a U.S. citizen in 1963, was slight in stature but a compelling figure when he spoke. With a chiseled profile, burning eyes and a shock of gray hair, he could silence a crowd by merely standing up.

He was often described as somber. An old friend, Chicago professor Irving Abrahamson, once said of him: "I've never seen Elie give a belly laugh. He'll chuckle, he'll smile, there'll be a twinkle in his eye. But never a laugh from within."

A few years after winning the peace prize, he set up the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity, which, in addition to Israeli and Jewish causes, campaigned for Miskito Indians in Nicaragua, Cambodian refugees, victims of South African apartheid and of famine and genocide in Africa.

Wiesel wrote more than 50 books—novels, non-fiction, memoirs, and many with a Holocaust theme—and held a long-running professorship at Boston University. In one of his later books, "Open Heart," he used his 2011 quintuple-bypass surgery as impetus for reflection on his life.

I have already been the beneficiary of so many miracles, which I know I owe to my ancestors," he wrote. "All I have achieved has been and continues to be dedicated to their murdered dreams—and hopes."

He collected scores of awards and honors, including an honorary knighthood in Britain. Obama presented him the National Humanities Medal in 2009.

Wiesel was attacked in a San Francisco hotel in 2007 by a 22-year-old Holocaust denier, but not injured.

Wiesel and wife Marion married in 1969 and their son, Elisha, was born in 1972.

(Additional reporting by Ari Rabinovitch in Jerusalem and Michelle Martin in Berlin; Editing by Diane Craft and Dan Grebler)

A Plan to Spread Dada Worldwide, Revisited at MoMA

A portrait of Tristan Tzara by an unknown photographer, taken around 1920. Collection Chancellerie des Universités de Paris, Bibliothèque littéraire Jacques Doucet, Paris, Fonds Tzara

New York Times
by Jason Farago
16 June 2016

It’s 1920. The Great War is over; revolution has come to Russia; a new German constitution has been adopted in Weimar. Tristan Tzara, the Romanian poet and gadfly who waited out the war in Switzerland, has moved to Paris. He is just 24, but he was at the core of Dada, the previous decade’s most eruptive cultural phenomenon—and he is in the mood for publicity. He sends letters to people on both sides of the Atlantic seeking artistic contributions to a magnum opus for the anti-movement that turned the senselessness of world war into something convulsive.

Tzara receives more than four dozen replies. The artists all submit images and texts for “Dadaglobe,” an anthology he plans to distribute worldwide in a hefty edition of 10,000 copies. The publication, so he imagines, will be as disruptive as Dada was when it burst out of a cabaret in sleepy Zurich in 1916. “There needs to be throughout a whirling, dizzy, eternal, new atmosphere,” the poet insists. “It should look like a great display of new art in an open-air circus. Every page must explode.”

“Dadaglobe,” though, was never published. Francis Picabia, its main backer, broke with Tzara in 1921, and the materials were dispersed. The plans, the ambitions and the unrealized potential of that publication are the subject of “Dadaglobe Reconstructed,” a rigorous yet sparky exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, which brings together the portraits, drawings and collages Tzara commissioned for “Dadaglobe,” plus a few paintings and sculptures by some of its leading adherents and sympathizers: Marcel Duchamp, Sophie Taeuber-Arp and Constantin Brancusi.

Enjoyable as the exhibition is—the photographs, correspondence and publishing ephemera will be catnip to Dada freaks and magazine geeks—its catalog may be the more important accomplishment. Assiduously edited by the independent curator Adrian Sudhalter, it features a full reconstruction of this magazine that never was, full of puns, poems and Duchamp’s chess notations, assembled with diligence and guesswork over 160 pages. It’s a substantial contribution to the history of interwar art, although you will need a mastery of French, German and Dada gibberish to read it. The show has been organized by Ms. Sudhalter and Samantha Friedman, a MoMA assistant curator, in collaboration with the Kunsthaus Zürich, where it appeared this spring. (“Dadaglobe Reconstructed” is the smaller of two collaborations between MoMA and Kunsthaus Zürich, which has one of the world’s richest Dada holdings. A major retrospective of Picabia opened this month in Zurich—to good reviews from Swiss critics—and opens at MoMA on Nov. 20.

In his solicitation letters, written on ritzy, pseudo-corporate Dada stationery, Tzara instructed his fellow artists to provide two or three reproductions of their work, to be presented alongside drawings, a book page with text and photographs of themselves, “which you can alter freely, although it should retain clarity.” The contributors, some of whom were only tangentially Dadaist, went wild with that last instruction. Theo van Doesburg pictured himself from behind, encircled his head with the high-Dada motto “I am against everything and everyone,” in French, and signed it with a pseudonym. Taeuber-Arp appears in a cloche hat and birdcage veil, half-obscured by one of her abstracted wooden busts. Picabia’s chosen portrait (a recent MoMA acquisition) is a study in hipster prodigality: a roughly sutured photocollage in which Picabia, a wealthy French-Cuban, tears his own face and captions himself as a nouveau-riche failure.

There are also a few documentary photos mixed into the show. At one knees-up party, we see Tzara with Picabia and other fellow travelers wearing black tie, the word “Dada” scrawled across his forehead.

The focus on Tzara’s unrealized publication makes “Dadaglobe Reconstructed” quite a different show from MoMA’s 2006 Dada blowout, which divided the movement’s experiments and impostures by city: Zurich, Berlin, Cologne, Hannover, New York and Paris. This one treats Dada—specifically later Dada, from the end of the war to its evaporation in the early 1920s—as an international network, linked by the mail and photomechanical reproduction. That networked approach ends up sidelining some of Dada’s lone wolves, such as Kurt Schwitters, and revalorizing less famous figures center to Dada’s development. Georges Ribemont-Dessaignes, designated Dada’s secretary on its letterhead, contributed spare drawings of circles, crosses and curves given mock-hieratic names like “Strange Suns” and “God on a Bicycle.” The underappreciated Swiss artist Jean Crotti wrote nonsense verse on a typewriter, then overlaid it with modern-day geometric forms. They find a visual parallel in an angular gouache by Crotti’s wife, Suzanne Duchamp, which imagines the unconscious as a factory.

As for Suzanne’s brother, living in New York, he did not create new works for the publication. Marcel Duchamp’s submission instead was a photo reproduction of “To Be Looked At (From the Other Side of the Glass) With One Eye, Close to, for Almost an Hour,” his small 1918 painting on glass, as well as a mechanistic portrait of his “Bride,” a recurrent figure before he abandoned painting. This show includes both the original works and their reproductions. In the case of the work on glass, it was photographed from its rear face, blacking out the text on the front-facing side and revealing a Brancusi sculpture that happened to be in the room at the same time. The unique artwork, for Duchamp and for Tzara as well, was only one node in an infinitely propagating chain of reproductions and revisions.

That’s what makes “Dadaglobe Reconstructed” especially relevant in our own moment of political disorder and media disruption. Tzara and the Dadaists cared less about artworks as discrete objects and more about how art could be transmitted across newly developed international networks. Circulation, not value, was the aim. Thinking like Tzara did about how art can circulate beyond the museum—and mutate as it circulates—is no less important for today’s artists, who can exploit a global communication network the Dadaists could only dream of.

“Dadaglobe Reconstructed” runs through Sept. 18 at the Museum of Modern Art, 11 West 53rd Street, Manhattan; 212-708-9400;

Brancusi Statue on Display in Fundraising Bid by Romania

New York Times
15 June 2016
by The Associated Press

BUCHAREST, Romania—A nationally treasured work by Romanian sculptor Constantin Brancusi has gone on display at the National Bank of Romania as part of a bid by the state to raise funds to buy it from a private owner.

The "Wisdom of the Earth" is a small sculpture in a primitive modernist style depicting a female figure sitting with folded arms and her legs pulled up. Dating to either 1907 or 1908, it is one of just a few Brancusi works remaining in his homeland, with most abroad.

The government has pledged 5 million euros toward the 11 million euro ($12 million) price and is seeking the rest from private contributions.

Government spokesman Dan Suciu said Wednesday the campaign has raised just 212,000 euros ($237,000) since March. The campaign ends Sept. 30.

At Ceausescu’s Villa, Focus Is on Décor, Not Dictatorship

The living room at the Palatul Primaverii, or Spring Palace, where Nicolae Ceausescu lived with his wife, Elena. Visitors are asked to put on plastic shoe coverings before entering the villa. Robert Ghement/European Pressphoto Agency

New York Times
by Palko Karasz
6 June 2016

BUCHAREST, Romania—In the 24 years that Nicolae Ceausescu ruled Romania, the mansion where he lived with his wife, Elena, was shrouded in secrecy.

No ordinary citizen could get near the villa in a well-heeled neighborhood in northern Bucharest. But rumors abounded about its lavish décor—the gold-plated bathroom fixtures, the closets packed with Elena’s furs, clothing and shoes, and the mosaic-lined indoor swimming pool.

After the Ceausescus were toppled—and executed by a firing squad on Dec. 25, 1989, in the bloodiest of the revolutions that tore down the Iron Curtain in Eastern Europe—the state news agency excoriated the “extraordinary luxury” of their home. Ordinary Romanians, living on strict food and fuel rations, were enraged by the Ceausescus’ lifestyle.

Born in Romania but raised in Hungary, I was just a young child when the Ceausescus met their end. But I spent that Christmas and many summers that followed with relatives in Transylvania, listening to their stories of the privations of the Communist period. By the time I grew up, most Romanians I knew had moved on, or wanted to do so.

Yet when the Romanian government opened the Ceausescu mansion as a museum in March, I was intrigued. So I signed up for a guided tour, which costs about $11. The mansion has received about 8,000 visitors since the opening.

Known as the Palatul Primaverii, or Spring Palace, the villa is spacious—30 rooms, 53,000 square feet, with gardens designated for winter and summer—but not quite opulent by palace standards. The mansion itself is well kept, with cleaners busy wiping windows and the constant hum of a lawn mower coming from the garden.

The area, with homes originally intended for employees of Bucharest’s gas and electricity plant but which were later reserved for officials of the Communist elite, remains exclusive.

Visitors are asked to put on blue shoe coverings before stepping inside. Our guide, Andrei Stancu, a slender and bookish man in his mid 20s, told us that the Ceausescus, both born into peasant families, always took off their shoes at the door to preserve the carpets.

Mr. Stancu led us through more than a dozen rooms decorated in a mix of late Renaissance and Rococo styles. He pointed out each crystal chandelier and Flemish tapestry. In room after room, he took note of the Romanian brands—Medias crystal, Cisnadie carpets—that are now struggling or defunct.

The mood lightened when Mr. Stancu shared stories of the Ceausescus, all of them cautiously nonpolitical.

In the padded cinema, he explained that Nicolae Ceausescu enjoyed American movies. He had a soft spot for Westerns and for the television series “Kojak,” about a big-hearted New York City detective played by Telly Savalas. For Romanians back then, television was limited to sober homegrown productions, many of them propagandistic.

Next to the couple’s bed, which looked freshly made, we learned that Ms. Ceausescu, known for her luxurious wardrobe, wore only men’s pajamas.

A brochure quotes her housekeeper describing how “the comrade” would get down on her stomach, demonstrating the right way to dust under a bed.

The children on the tour were delighted by the indoor swimming pool, now drained of water and filled instead with a drab exhibition about the Ceausescus on holidays or foreign visits.

However heavily decorated, the mansion is nothing like the House of the People a few miles away. At four million square feet, that concrete fortress built by Ceausescu and often compared in size to the Pentagon, now houses the Romanian Parliament.

While the House of the People is open for public tours, “nobody tells you that a quarter of Bucharest was demolished for that thing, that people died on that building site,” said Radu Preda, executive president of the Institute for the Investigation of Communist Crimes and the Memory of Romanian Exile, a government agency charged with studying the Ceausescu regime. “While it was under construction, Romanians had to put up with cold and hunger.”

On the Spring Palace tour, far more attention was paid to upholstery and porcelain than to the brutalities of a Communist dictatorship.

Many of my fellow visitors were fine with the lack of political context. “I’m impressed,” Silvia Rosman, 61, a visitor from Tel Aviv who left Romania before Ceausescu came to power in 1965, said of our tour guide. “I loved his presentation—without bitterness or criticism.”

The government agency in charge of the mansion seemed to want to draw such reactions.

“We present the house, and it is up to everyone to draw their own conclusions,” said Alexandru Niculae, an official with the agency. “We are neither trying to demonize Ceausescu, the man or the leader—nor providing him with alibis or offering excuses for what happened.”

Mr. Niculae said most of the guides his agency hired are too young to have lived under the regime, in an effort to keep the tours neutral. Some scholars see that approach as a missed opportunity, or even a tone-deaf reflection of Romania’s troubled relationship with its history.

In this country of 20 million, the feared secret police, the Securitate, maintained a network of around 100,000 informers in the years before the Ceausescus fell, according to Florian Banu, a researcher at the secret police archives. Many who collaborated with the regime kept their jobs after Communism fell.

In one small example, two housekeepers who looked after the villa under the Ceausescus still work there today.

Romania joined the European Union in 2007, along with Bulgaria, but on the condition that it submit to regular reviews from Brussels because of the country’s long struggle with corruption. Officially, the former Communist government is condemned in the strongest terms by the current Romanian leadership.

“We can no longer allow ourselves to ignore the lessons of the past,” President Klaus Iohannis, the first president from Romania’s ethnic German minority, said as he took office in 2014.

When I lived in Bucharest in 2008 and 2009 for a journalism internship, the once-drab capital was experiencing a building boom. Colorful billboards covered much of the gray concrete, and the palace everyone was talking about was that of Gigi Becali, a real estate tycoon and soccer team owner who installed a life-size statue of Jesus in front of his home. (Mr. Becali was later imprisoned for corruption.)

On my visit in March, many Romanians told me that with endemic corruption and the political unrest that forced out the prime minister in November, this relatively young democracy had yet to absorb the lessons of its past.

“Real corruption was born in Communist times, when we thought one way and acted in another, and what existed was not what was said,” said Mr. Preda of the Institute for the Investigation of Communist Crimes and the Memory of Romanian Exile.

He has been advocating the establishment of a museum of Communism, as cities like Berlin or Budapest have done. He called both the Palatul Primaverii and the House of the People surrogates for such an institution, and said he hoped guided tours both in the Spring Palace and the House of the People would evolve to describe more of the history and less of the fixtures.

“How can you understand freedom if you don’t know, if you haven’t seen, what its absence means?” he asked.

Follow Palko Karasz on Twitter @karaszpalko.

The Ceausescu Regime

1965 Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej, the leader of Romania's Communist Party since the end of World War II, dies. His protégé, Nicolae Ceausescu, is appointed to succeed him.

1968 Ceausescu refuses to join the Moscow-led invasion of Czechoslovakia.

1969 Richard M. Nixon visits Romania, the first American president to travel to a Communist nation in almost a quarter century.

1971 The beginning of an ideological program, modeled after China’s Cultural Revolution.

1977 Ceausescu orders restoration plans for Bucharest, including the demolition of large parts of the historic center.

1982 Introduction of food rationing in Romania.

1987 Workers in the city of Brasov go on strike to protest worsening living conditions.

1989 Protests against the regime begin on Dec. 15 in the western city of Timisoara. The Ceausescus fail to contain the uprising, and flee Bucharest on Dec. 22. They are tried and executed on Dec. 25.

The Nightmarish Reality Of Ceausescu's Romania In 'The Fox'

The Fox Was Ever The Hunter by Herta Müller and Philip Boehm
Hardcover, 237 pages

National Public Radio
by Jean Zimmerman
17 May 2016

A young schoolteacher named Adina arrives at her apartment in an unnamed Romanian town. She immediately notices an odd detail: A fox-fur hearth rug she has owned for years has had its tail cut off. She next comes home to discover a hind leg severed from the pelt, and once more to find another leg removed. What in the world? In this particular world no detail is without meaning, and all meanings are potentially lethal. It is the late 1980s, in the Panopticon security state of Nicolae Ceausescu, and the mutilated rug convinces Adina that Big Brother is closing in on her.

An air of Soviet-era menace engulfs The Fox Was Ever the Hunter, Herta Müller's remarkable novel—newly released in English and given a lucid translation by Philip Boehm. When Müller received the 2009 Nobel Prize in literature, the Swedish Academy described her as a writer who "depicts the landscape of the dispossessed." The Fox, published originally in German in 1992, is one of Müller's early works, and it draws on what she suffered while clenched in the jaws of one of history's most notorious dictatorships. But she infuses characters and events with surreal elements and heightened levels of metaphor that make this much more than a roman à clef.

Where Adina lives, the children have "clusters of warts like gray berries, fingers like turkey necks." One boy tells Adina that his mother speaks of hidden drawers "in the tree trunks, in the grass, in the fence, in the walls." Each drawer has an ear inside, the mother says, and they are always listening. A paranoiac, as William S. Burroughs once said, is someone in complete possession of the facts.

In The Fox Was Ever the Hunter, characters don't live their lives, they perform them matter of factly, with the state as an ever-watchful, ever-predatory audience. Physical detail communicates psychological realities: "The street runs by, the city is a black thimble with steep sides, the housing blocks as narrow as foreheads." Müller frequently dwells on the town's poplar trees that "carve the hot air," that are "green knives." "Disaster is always unadorned and as bare as winter wood," she writes. Her images come at us with a stark brutality; outside the town sheep graze, so famished by the end of summer that they "lick the walls" of a slaughterhouse.

Hunger is everywhere, coursing through bodies like blood. When the despot Ceausescu and his horror-handmaiden wife, Elena Petrescu, were executed in 1989, the charges leveled against them included genocide by starvation, and this is reflected in the novel by the meager foodstuffs characters consume—rancid sunflower seeds, wormy apples and nuts with meats like "brains." One of Adina's crimes is to exhort her hungry students to eat the tomatoes they are dragooned into harvesting. At one point she remembers her childhood, the "dust behind the streetcar, and on the sidewalk the footsteps of tall, emaciated men earning money to buy bread."

Adina is joined in the narrative by her friends Paul, a doctor; Clara, a factory worker; and Ilie, a soldier with whom she has a long-distance romance. What are young radicals to do? Well, they could start a band, an anti-authoritarian strategy that would later work to such strong effect with Russia's Pussy Riot. Paul plays guitar, and he and his bandmates begin to perform a song that goes, as we would say nowadays, viral.

The anthem, "Face Without Face," is a far cry from the songs Romanian schoolchildren of the era were forced to learn, praising the party, the leader and the nation. Snatches of the lyrics seem to float in the air: "Face without face/Forehead of sand/Voice without voice/Nothing is left/Except for time." When the group performs its strange conceptual rallying cry onstage, agents of the Romanian secret police, the Securitate, evacuate the theater.

"Tell a dream, lose a reader," Henry James pronounces, but Müller provides exceptions to the rule. Here, dreams become extensions of life, or life itself is a dream; they are cut, at any rate, from one and the same fabric, consistently lurid and terrifying. Witchery in the form of "melon blood" is used to capture men's affections. A tiger-striped cat has eaten her annual litter of kittens for years. We see a living man with a hatchet blade stuck in his skull. This is the reality of Ceausescu's Romania, where Adina attempts to survive. No nightmare could be worse.

Jean Zimmerman's latest novel, Savage Girl, is out now in paperback. She posts daily at Blog Cabin.

Romania PM Names New Minister to Handle Bitter Opera Dispute

New York Times
3 May 2016
by The Associated Press

BUCHAREST, Romania—In a chain of incidents worthy of an opera, Romania's culture minister resigned because of dispute involving the fiancé of a star ballerina, then decided to stay — only to be fired on Tuesday.

Prime Minister Dacian Ciolos named Corina Suteu, a well-known figure in the world of theater and cinema management, plus international experience in cultural affairs, as his new minister. He said he had chosen her "in the desire to continue reforms."

She replaces Vlad Alexandrescu who resigned last week, then vowed to stay on as minister Tuesday to continue the reforms he had begun in the film industry. All too late: Ciolos finally fired him.

Last week Alexandrescu was forced to step down after three shows were canceled at the Bucharest National Opera because a conflict between interim management and Johan Kobborg, a Danish ballet dancer and fiancé of Alina Cojocaru, one of Romania's best-known cultural figures internationally.

Last week, Kobborg, Cojocaru and seven other artists were banned from entering the opera unsupervised.

Some opera employees claim Kobborg , who was artistic director of the ballet company, was overpaid and hired foreign dancers. Cojocaru, who has won international acclaim as a dancer, was criticized by some for speaking Romanian "with an accent."

Cojocaru in turn has spoken darkly about an atmosphere of "fear and intimidation" at the opera.

"I am praying that one day my country will wake up," she said after a stormy meeting last week between opera employees and a government official, where she was constantly interrupted as she spoke.

Suteu, who inherits the crisis, was a senior official in the culture ministry, and previously headed the New York office of the Romanian Cultural Institute.

U.S. Troops In Moldova For Joint Military Exercises

Moldovans welcome the U.S. troops at the Sculeni border crossing. A pro-Russian opposition party had called for demonstrators to block the route, but fewer than a dozen turned up.

Radio Free Europe
by RFE/RL's Moldovan Service
3 May 2016

U.S. and Moldovan military forces have begun joint military exercises that are scheduled to last for more than two weeks.

About 200 U.S. troops in an armored column entered Moldova from Romania at dawn on May 3, a day after Defense Ministry officials in Romania said they would cross the border.

The U.S. troops crossed into central Moldova at the Sculeni checkpoint and passed through the town of Falesti before heading southeast on the M14 highway to the town of Negresti, about 20 kilometers northwest of the capital, Chisinau.

Code-named Dragon Pioneer 2016, the joint exercises are scheduled to continue until May 20.

The Socialist Party of Moldova, a pro-Russian opposition party, had called for demonstrators to block the route.

But fewer than a dozen protesters joined that protest and the U.S. troops advanced to the site of the exercises near Negresti without hindrance.

Opposition parties have called for a protest in Chisinau during the May 9 Victory Day celebrations, when the U.S. troops were scheduled to make an appearance with their armored personnel carriers in the Moldovan capital.

The exhibition of U.S. armored personnel carriers in Chisinau is one of the events in Moldova marking the 71st anniversary of the allied victory against Nazi Germany that brought World War II to an end in Europe.

Socialist Party leader Igor Dodon called the exercises a "military occupation."

Moldovan Defense Minister Anatol Salaru responded to Dodon's criticism by saying that "Dodon's cavalry have forgotten to leave" Moldova since the arrival of Soviet forces there in 1944.

His remarks referred to the continuing presence of Russian troops in Moldova's eastern breakaway region of Transdniester.

Russia has maintained its troop presence of about 1,500 soldiers in Transdniester since a cease-fire deal brought an end to the separatist conflict there in 1992.

About 380 of those Russian soldiers are deployed under an international l peacekeeping mandate.

The remainder are soldiers from Russia's 14th Guards Army.

Moldova joined NATO's Partnership for Peace program in 1994.

With reporting by AP and

Moldova PM: Reforms Must Start With the Government

New York Times
28 April 2016
by The Associated Press

BUCHAREST, Romania—Moldova's prime minister says badly needed reforms in the impoverished country must start with the government.

Premier Pavel Filip, who became the sixth prime minister of this impoverished former Soviet republic in January, told The Associated Press that he believes "reforms should start with us who are proposing reforms."

In a telephone interview Wednesday, he said he plans to slash the number of ministries by almost half to make government more efficient, and he believes private investment will come "when they have the certainty that corruption doesn't exist, there are no bureaucratic barriers, and there are no longer abusive controls by the state."

His aim is "a prosperous and stable Moldova in the European Union," he said—a vision that currently seems remote, with Moldova forced to borrow from commercial banks to cover state pensions and salaries.

The country is so poor that it needed emergency food aid from neighbor Romania this winter.

A key aspect of his reforms is restoring Moldova's credibility. Filip vowed to find and prosecute those who stole more than $1 billion from three Moldovan banks in November 2014, sparking months of protests and political instability.

U.S. investigative company Kroll, hired to probe the loss which represented one-eighth of Moldova's gross domestic product, will present a plan for recouping the losses at the end of May.

Located between Ukraine and Romania, Moldova has traditionally been in Russia's orbit. Moscow opposed Moldova signing an association agreement with the EU in 2014, and placed an embargo on Moldovan fruit and wines.

Pavel says Russia has nothing to lose from Moldova moving closer to the European mainstream.

"What we want in our relationship with Russia is reciprocal respect and predictability," he said.

"Moldova is free to choose (its path) and Russia should see this as an opportunity."

Romania’s Culture Minister Steps Down as Ballet Dispute Continues

New York Times
27 April 2016
by Rachel Donadio and Roslyn Sulcas

PARIS—The culture minister of Romania tendered his resignation on Wednesday amid a crisis at the ballet company of the Bucharest National Opera involving its artistic director, Johan Kobborg, and the star ballerina Alina Cojocaru, which had led to the cancellation of several performances.

In a post on his Facebook page, Vlad Alexandrescu said he was stepping down after failing to resolve a dispute at the opera that had pitted its management against Mr. Kobborg, a former principal at the Royal Danish Ballet and Royal Ballet in London, and Ms. Cojocaru, a principal at the English National Ballet, who returned to her native Bucharest as a permanent guest artist.

The couple, who are engaged to be married, had raised the ballet company’s profile internationally and brought in new dancers and repertory. But on April 12, both resigned after new management demoted Mr. Kobborg from artistic director on the company’s website, placing his name among the “artists,” as members of the corps de ballet are called.

Although there was an immediate outcry from dance fans on social media, there were also reports of internal tensions and resentments in the company; one protester at a rally outside the opera denounced the couple as “foreigners.”

After Mr. Kobborg and Ms. Cojocaru resigned on April 12, Romania’s prime minister Dacian Ciolos met with Ms. Cojocaru, one of Romania’s best-known cultural figures.

Mr. Alexandrescu last week helped broker an arrangement for the couple to return to the ballet company for three months under an interim manager.

On Tuesday, however, a letter sent to the Bucharest National Opera’s security department stated that Ms. Cojocaru, Mr. Kobborg and seven others, including the former interim general manager, could enter the premises only if accompanied by security staff.

On the same day, the deputy prime minister, Vasile Dancu, met with Mr. Kobborg and Ms. Cojocaru. On his Facebook page, Mr. Kobborg wrote: “Mr. Dancu showed a real interest in finding out details about our activity, our work approach, as well as about our artistic vision.” He added: “We wish to continue our work along with our colleagues from the Bucharest National Opera for Romania’s prestige worldwide.”

In his resignation letter, Mr. Alexandrescu, a scholar of early modern Europe, said he was stepping down “in the face of resistance to structural change” that he had been trying to implement at Romanian cultural institutions, including its opera, museums and national film fund, to bring them in line with European standards.

2 Stars Rejoin Bucharest Opera’s Ballet Company After Clash

New York Times
20 April 2016
by Michael Cooper

The crisis roiling the ballet company of the Bucharest National Opera in recent weeks rippled not only through the international dance world but through Romanian politics as well. And ultimately it was a government-brokered plan that paved the way for the return on Wednesday of the company’s two biggest stars: its artistic director, Johan Kobborg, and the dancer Alina Cojocaru, who both resigned this month after clashing with management over the direction of the company.

“He’s back in the office, and I’m in the studio, finally,” Ms. Cojocaru said in a telephone interview from Bucharest.

The ballet company’s profile had risen since Mr. Kobborg, a Dane who is a former principal at the Royal Danish Ballet and the Royal Ballet in London, became its artistic director two years ago, and his fiancée, Ms. Cojocaru, a star who is a principal at the English National Ballet, returned to her native Bucharest as a permanent guest artist. Both worked to improve the company’s reputation, bringing new dancers and repertoire to Bucharest.

But they resigned on April 12 after new management took over the opera house and removed Mr. Kobborg’s title of “artistic director” from the company’s website, saying it did not technically exist in the official hierarchy. His name was placed among the ballet company’s “artists,” a low rank comparable to the corps de ballet in other companies.

The move prompted an outcry from international dance fans, and raised questions about how ambitious or international the company wanted to be, while bringing nationalist tensions to the surface after a protester denounced “foreigners” at a rally outside the opera house.

A gala for April 28 was canceled. Bitter accusations were traded, including questions raised about a gala for the company held last year in New York. (Ms. Cojocaru said that its finances had been handled correctly, and that contracts, which she posted on social media, support that.)

Romania’s prime minister, Dacian Ciolos, met with Ms. Cojocaru. And this week the country’s culture minister, Vlad Alexandrescu, brokered a deal to bring a new interim manager to the opera house for three months and for the return of Mr. Kobborg and Ms. Cojocaru.

Now the company will have to turn to the business of healing—and dancing. “We are very happy,” Ms. Cojocaru said, “to be supported in this journey ahead.”

Bitter Dispute in Romanian Ballet, Prime Minister Steps In

New York Times
14 April 2016
by The Associated Press

BUCHAREST, Romania—Romania's prime minister said Thursday he would step in to find a solution to a bitter dispute raging at the Romanian Opera after meeting international ballerina Alina Cojocaru.

The controversy became public after the opera house's artistic director Johan Kobborg, a Danish ballet dancer and choreographer, resigned, citing pressure from interim managers.

Prime Minister Dacian Ciolos met Cojocaru, a principal dancer with the English National Ballet who is Kobborg's fiancee, Thursday for talks about the situation, which heated up after some opera employees publicly shouted "out with the foreigners!" saying Kobborg was paid too much.

Ciolos said the opera needed quality artists and shows "whether they are from Romania or elsewhere." Culture Minister Vlad Alexandrescu appoints the opera's managers.

Cojocaru says she won't dance the principle role in "Manon" this weekend and claims there is an atmosphere of "fear and intimidation."

Romanian Ballet Company Loses Its Leading Lights

Alina Cojocaru and Johan Kobborg, who are engaged, performing in “Romeo and Juliet” at the Metropolitan Opera House in 2012. Andrea Mohin/The New York Times

New York Times
by Michael Cooper
12 April 2016

Administrative tumult, a prominent snub on the Bucharest National Opera’s website and questions over artistic direction have cost the Romanian national ballet company its two biggest stars: Johan Kobborg and Alina Cojocaru. Mr. Kobborg resigned Tuesday as its artistic director and his fiancée, the dancer Ms. Cojocaru, said she would not dance under the current management.

Their departures end a period in which the company’s global reputation began to rise under the leadership of Mr. Kobborg, a former principal dancer at the Royal Danish Ballet and the Royal Ballet in London who became artistic director a little over two years ago, and through the dancing of Ms. Cojocaru, an international star and principal at the English National Ballet, who was a “permanent guest artist” in her native Bucharest.

The trouble began earlier this month when a new interim general manager, Tiberiu-Ionuţ Soare, took over at the opera house, which is home to the ballet. One of his first actions was to remove Mr. Kobborg’s title on the website as artistic director of the ballet, and to place him among the company’s “artists,” a low rank comparable to the corps de ballet in other companies.

Mr. Soare’s explanation was that the company did not technically have an artistic director position in its administrative structure. But the move was seen in some circles as an attempt to undo the changes the company had made in recent years. It also raised questions about the direction of the company, which is state-run, in a time of political upheaval in Romania—and about how international it wanted to be.

The slight to Mr. Kobborg created an uproar in the dance world, where he is a respected figure, and soon threw the company into tumult, with dancers threatening not to perform and even to leave the company. There was also concern about whether the company would continue to have the legal rights to perform some of the repertory Mr. Kobborg had brought to it. Increasingly bitter accusations were traded back and forth, including on social media.

A new interim general manager, Vladimir Conta, was brought in to try to smooth things over, but on Tuesday Mr. Kobborg resigned.

“I fear for what the future might bring for the Opera Nationala Bucuresti and for the credibility of Romanian culture and the light in which Romanian culture will be viewed,” he wrote in a resignation letter that he posted on social media and then handed in on Tuesday.

Mr. Conta, the new interim general manager, lamented Mr. Kobborg’s decision to leave, saying in a telephone interview that his contributions there were “significant, and his productions have been successful.”

“It started with a really unfortunate event, all of which could have been solved easily,” he said. “But instead of that it augmented and it augmented and became a scandal.”

A final straw was how the company handled Ms. Cojocaru’s decision not to dance over the weekend in Kenneth MacMillan’s “Manon,” which the company staged for the first time this month.

Ms. Cojocaru had posted on Twitter that she would “be performing ONLY under the management that made this ballet happen for our audience to enjoy, with @KOBBORG as our leader!!” Her scheduled partner, Friedemann Vogel, later posted that “Out of respect for @KOBBORG and @DancingAlina I do not feel it is possible to perform in @OperaBucharest under these circumstances.”

But management announced that she would not appear because her partner was indisposed. Ms. Cojocaru said in an interview that she objected to that announcement, feeling that it was not honest. Mr. Conta said it had been done that way because he believed the official pronouncement should be “short and clear,” and that he should be able to elaborate elsewhere.

“I am sorry that it happened this way, because I think Alina is one of the greatest dancers in the world,” he said.

Ms. Cojocaru said she was sorry that the company had lost someone of Mr. Kobborg’s talents.

“He created a family, and it’s something rare in a theater,” she said in an interview. “He was a director that, at 12 o’clock at night, would call me wherever I was and say what a fantastic show he’d witnessed, and that he feels maybe, in half a year’s time, this company can perform that, and that, and that ballet, because they are getting there. And then he would say, with the repertoire that is growing, we would be able to show this company to the world.”

Romania Ordered to Pay $776,000 to Revolution Victims

New York Times
12 April 2016
by The Associated Press

BUCHAREST, Romania—Europe's top human rights court on Tuesday ordered Romania to pay compensation to the families of 45 people who died during the country's 1989 anti-communist revolution.

The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg awarded each of the plaintiffs 15,000 euros ($17,300).

Romania has been criticized for failing to investigate the revolution, where 1,104 mainly unarmed demonstrators were shot dead as they protested against communist leader Nicolae Ceausescu.

"This ruling is good, but I feel humiliated by the Romanian state," said a tearful Elena Sandu, 26, a plaintiff who was less than 3 weeks old when her father was shot dead.

Others berated Romania for failing to probe the deaths. "There is a cover-up, Romania buried these cases," said Elena Bancila, clutching the identity card of her late son, Bogdan Stan, a 21-year-old rugby player fatally shot at the national television station on Dec. 22, 1989.

"The court in Strasbourg did what Romanian justice system was unable to do," she said. The court will rule on her case later this year.

Many former communists retained their positions in the justice system and politics after communism ended, and there was reluctance to investigate what happened.

In October, the prosecutor general's office said the investigation into the revolution had been closed down due to secrecy orders. However last week, a caretaker prosecutor general said the investigation would be reopened.

In February, the court told the government to pay 15,000 euros to families of 17 people who had died.

The Filmmaker who Swapped Communism for Hollywood

Vlad Paunescu was a filmmaker for the Romanian communist government

BBC News
by Lorelei Mihala
11 April 2016

In the maelstrom of the Romanian revolution, filmmaker Vlad Paunescu found himself appointed as minister of culture—for a few hours.

Mr Paunescu, who today owns and runs Romania's largest film studio, Castel Film, was a 37-year old-cinematographer living in the country's capital Bucharest back in 1989.

When the revolution broke out in December of that year, he picked up his camera and rushed to film the mass protests outside the vast palace of the parliament building, where the then communist government was based.

After Romania's leader Nicolae Ceausescu fled by helicopter, Mr Paunescu joined the protesters who stormed the building.

Amidst the euphoria and sense of hope, Mr Paunescu, now 63, says he and a fellow cameraman did a "dance of happiness".

The protesters occupying the palace decided to form a new administration, and as Mr Paunescu worked in the film industry he was tasked with leading the department of culture.

Yet only a few hours later, a more formal interim government was appointed instead, and Mr Paunescu's political career was over before it had properly started. So he went back to his job at the state-run film studio, Buftea.

But with the Eastern European country opening up to both the world and private business, in 1992 Mr Paunescu registered his own business, Castel Film.

Castel Film has gone on to build a vast 11 hectare (27 acre) film studio 40km (25 miles) outside Bucharest, and remains much in demand among the big American film and TV companies.

Everyone from Paramount to Miramax, Universal and Sony Pictures, regularly uses Castel Film to help them make movies in Romania. Such films include the Oscar-winning Cold Mountain, and Borat.

Castel's studio has no less than nine soundstages and four permanent sets—an urban street, a US wild west town, a mediaeval town and village.

For Mr Paunescu, who is worth an estimated €11m ($13m; £9m), it is a far cry from his younger days under communism, when he earned so little as a filmmaker for the communist government that he had to also drive a taxi to supplement his income.

'Beautiful country'

It is often said that out of adversity comes opportunity, and in Mr Paunescu's case, it was the Yugoslavian wars of the 1990s that gave him his biggest career break.

Back in the early 1990s a US film crew was filming a movie in Yugoslavia (today's Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Slovenia, Kosovo, Montenegro, and Macedonia) which bordered Romania.

When fighting broke out in Yugoslavia, the US film crew fled to Romania, which Mr Paunescu says they found "a beautiful country, with qualified personnel in the industry, and the studios from Buftea".

Mr Paunescu was asked to provide some examples of his filming work, and the Americans were so impressed they employed him as a director of photography.

After a couple more successful films, Mr Paunescu and his costume designer wife Oana were invited to Los Angeles to discuss future plans, and it was proposed that he set up his own film-making business to help American studios make more movies in Romania.

So with some backing from Hollywood, Castel Film was up and running.

It now makes between 10 and 14 movies per year, and in 2014 had an annual turnover of €4.6m.

'No blood'

On a recent morning at Castel Film's studios, two actors from the Game of Thrones TV show are filming a mini-series about the founders of the well-known US motorbike company Harley Davidson.

To help them and other visiting overseas crews, Castel employs 114 permanent members of staff.

Mr Paunescu is happy to admit that a big reason why Romania is popular with the big US film studios is its low cost—a day's shooting is typically 70% less than in the US.

Yet he says Romania also offers a wealth of other benefits.

"Actually it is a combination of what we offer in terms of stages, skilled labour, and a beautiful, absolutely superb country," says Mr Paunescu. "We have the Carpathian Mountains, the Danube Delta, Transylvania."

In terms of the type of movies that Castel Film helps make, Mr Paunescu says he is pleased that Hollywood has moved away from the early days when it wanted films about Dracula, the fictional Romanian vampire.

He says that these releases were not greatly appreciated in the wider Romanian movie industry. "They were considered blasphemy," he says.

When it comes to his own taste in films, Mr Paunescu says: "I don't like to see blood in a movie, I can't stand seeing people who suffer.

"But at the same time, I don't like comedies too much either. I watch movies that have received important awards, or that have been [at least] nominated."

Numerous Hollywood stars have now filmed in Romania with Castel, including Nicolas Cage, Glenn Close, Sharon Stone, Kevin Costner and Steven Seagal, but out of everyone, Mr Paunescu seems most smitten with Nicole Kidman.

He says that the Oscar-winning actor initially "seemed untouchable, like a crystal statue", but after speaking to her, found that she was "more normal than I am".

As Castel Film continues to thrive—Mr Paunescu is unlikely to ever have to go back to driving taxis.

Up For Sale: A Model of Nicolae Ceausescu's Childhood Village Home

Romania sells communist luxuries of ex-ruler Ceausescu

BBC News
8 April 2016

For the fifth year running a Romanian auction house is putting up for sale diplomatic gifts and other luxuries once owned by ex-communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife Elena.

Nicolae Ceausescu held Romania in an iron grip as communist leader from 1965 to 1989. Anti-communist revolutionaries executed him and Elena in 1989.

The sale items include a pen holder made of stag antlers and a scale model of the dictator's childhood home.

There are also shoes that Elena wore.

A pair of designer bespoke shoes with matching handbag, made by Guban of Timisoara, have a starting price of €500 (£404; $571). Another set is going for €400.

A leather case used by Nicolae Ceaușescu to carry a double-barrelled shotgun on hunting trips is also up for sale.

The Artmark auction, called "Golden Age", also includes communist medals, posters and other memorabilia from the Ceausescu dictatorship. It will take place on 19 April.

An Artmark statement underlined the significance of Nicolae Ceausescu's model of his childhood home, which was in the village of Scornicesti.

The dictator sought to turn the village into an ideal town for "Socialist Man", Artmark said.

"So, in 1988, he began his plan by demolishing the traditional village houses and replacing them with apartment buildings, and changed the status of the place from 'village' to 'city'. However, the bulldozers did not destroy the leader's birth home."

Previously Artmark has sold a leopard skin, silver doves and a bronze yak that belonged to the Ceausescus.

The couple surrounded themselves with luxuries while most Romanians struggled with poverty, power cuts and constant surveillance by the secret police.

Romania to Boost Anti-Terrorism Laws as Fears Over
Islamist Militants Spread to Eastern Europe

New York Times
31 March 2016
by Reuters

BUCHAREST—Romania is planning to follow Poland and Hungary in widening its anti-terrorism laws after Islamic State attacks in Brussels, signaling growing concern among some eastern European countries over the threat of Islamist militants.

None of the three countries has ever come under attack by Islamist militants and none has a sizeable Muslim population.

But after the Brussels attacks killed more than 30 people and wounded dozens, the three countries appear to be getting nervous that they too could be targeted.

By the end of the year, Romania is looking to expand a list of crimes to include training in militant camps and spreading propaganda and recruiting online, Liviu Codirla, a member of Romania's parliamentary committee overseeing the SRI secret service, told Reuters.

Codirla's comments echoed sentiments expressed by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban who ordered the interior ministry to draw up new anti-terrorist laws shortly after the Brussels attacks.

"The target of the ... bombings was Europe, not Brussels, so Hungary has to consider itself under attack even though luckily it happened outside Hungarian territory," Orban said.

The proposed changes in Hungary would allow the government to access data servers of private phone and internet providers and to prioritize official communications in the event of a disruption of public systems.

A draft of Poland's new anti-terrorism bill presented last week allows the state security agency to conduct surveillance of foreign suspects for up to three months without prior court approval.

It allows for suspects to be held for 14 days without charges but with court approval, and for foreigners to be immediately deported if considered a threat. It also regulates the sale of pay-as-you-go SIM cards.

(Writing by Wiktor Szary; Additional reporting by Luiza Ilie in Bucharest, Wiktor Szary in Warsaw, Marton Dunai and Sandor Peto in Budapest)

Romanian Labour Camp Chief Ficior Jailed for Periprava Crimes

Ion Ficior had run a notorious labour camp in the remote east of Romania

BBC News
30 March 2016

A Romanian ex-prison commander has been jailed for 20 years for crimes against humanity at a communist-era jail where 103 political prisoners died.

The court in Bucharest heard how Ion Ficior, 87, had run an abusive regime from 1958-63, subjecting detainees to inhuman and repressive treatment.

Ficior denied the allegations and has 10 days to appeal.

Another communist-era prison commander was given 20 years last year for running "an extermination regime".

Alexandru Visinescu was convicted of crimes against humanity at the Ramnicu Sarat prison from 1956 to 1963, where inmates were tortured and starved.

Some 600,000 Romanians, including priests, teachers, doctors and peasants, were jailed between 1948 and 1964 as the communist authorities confined political prisoners in a series of labour camps and jails.

One in five inmates is thought to have died as a result of the brutal prison conditions, according to historians.

Ficior is the second prison chief to be sentenced since the death of communist leader Nicolae Ceausescu in 1989. He argued he had done nothing wrong and was following orders.

He was in charge of Periprava jail, where he was accused of beating political detainees, and subjecting them to treatment and living conditions likely to lead to death. One witness told the trial that Ficior had beaten a sick prisoner and left him to die in a field.

Ficior was charged after five skeletons were found at the camp in the Danube delta in eastern Romania.

The Romanian Institute for the Investigation of Communist Crimes (IICCMER), a government agency, said in 2013 that it had clear evidence that he had implemented "an extermination regime for political detainees".

Romania's Soccer Team Tries To Get Children Excited About Math

National Public Radio
28 March 2016
Morning Edition

During a match with Spain, Romanian players had math equations on the backs of their training jerseys. The correct answers revealed the players' numbers.


Good morning. I'm Rachel Martin. Soccer fans who took in the friendly match between Spain and Romania this weekend needed some extra brain power to spot their favorite players because the Romanian players had math equations on the backs of their training jerseys, the correct answers revealing the players numbers. It's all part of an effort to get Romanian kids excited about math. No math skills needed to keep track of the score though. That game ended in a 0-0 tie. It's MORNING EDITION.

Back Story: Dada

Marcel Duchamp’s “Fountain” became an icon of 20th-century art. Swiss National Museum

New York Times
28 March 2016

The exhibit “Dada Universal” ends today at the Swiss National Museum, but there are many others this year coinciding with the centennial of Dada, the influential artistic movement that mocked conventions.

The movement began at a cafe in Zurich in February 1916, (though birth pangs were felt in New York a year earlier).

Switzerland was an unusual home for a global rebellion, but World War I was laying waste to Western Europe and a group of artists had gathered in the neutral country. Some were exiles fleeing fighting.

They shared an opposition to the war, societal norms and hierarchies in the arts.

Nationalistic tendencies, they believed, had caused the war. In abstraction, they found a universal language to respond to warfare.

Rejecting a strict definition of “art,” they experimented with new materials and innovative techniques. Montages, collages and found objects were favored. That’s how a urinal—Marcel Duchamp’s “Fountain”—became an icon of 20th-century art.

Some believe that the word Dada originated from the Romanian for “yes, yes,” so it skewers yes-men, but it also invites anyone to join and define art as they wish. Tristan Tzara, a Dada founder, was Romanian.

The movement waned in the 1920s. But many artists say it remains a source of inspiration today, and is still very much alive.

Romania’s Bran Castle Hosts Dracula-Themed Show

City Compass
28 March 2016

Oscar-nominated composer Philip Glass together with Grammy-winning Kronos Quartet will be in Romania at the beginning of July to deliver two performances of the Dracula – Music and Film show, combining music and film. One performance will take place on July 2nd at the Bran Castle and another one on July 4th in the Herastrau Park in Bucharest.

The show brings on stage a screening of Bela Lugosi cult 1931 film Dracula and a soundtrack composed for the film in 1998 by Philip Glass, who will deliver a live performance of it, together with the Kronos Quartet. The show was previously presented in sold out representations at the Los Angeles Opera, in New York and London.

Philip Glass is known for works such as Einstein on the Beach or The Voyage and the soundtrack of films such as The Hours, staring Nicole Kidman or Notes on a Scandal, featuring Cate Blanchett and Judi Dench.

Tickets, priced RON 170 to RON 470, are available in the Eventim network and on

Thousands In Moldova Rally For Unification With Romania

Moldovans March For Unification With Romania

Radio Free Europe
27 March 2016

Watch video clip at the article website

Thousands of people calling for Moldova's reunification with Romania took to the streets of Chisinau on March 27 in a so-called "march of reunion."

The rally organizers say some 50,000 people took part in the protests while police put the number at 5,000-6,000 people.

The protesters say unification with EU-member Romania is the way forward for corruption-ridden Moldova to move forward and join the European Union.

The protest is meant to mark 98 years since the former Romanian province of Bessarabia—which covers the region of Moldova and Ukraine today—was unified with Romania on March 27, 1918.

Later on, during World War II, Bessarabia was incorporated into the former U.S.S.R., with most of its territory becoming the Soviet republic of Moldova.

With reporting by Interfax

Review: Beyond Irascible, the Art of Hedda Sterne

Hedda Sterne’s “Monument,” a painting from around 1949-51, is at Van Doren Waxter. The Hedda Sterne Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, Van Doren Waxter

New York Times
24 March 2016
by Martha Schwendener

When the new Whitney Museum of American Art opened last year, one painting in its inaugural exhibition, “America Is Hard to See,” stood out: Hedda Sterne’s “New York, N.Y., 1955.” That dark-red-and-green work, made with an airbrush-and-enamel paint technique, looked particularly contemporary—like early graffiti painting or the recent work of Keltie Ferris.

Its inclusion in the show was important for another reason, though. Ms. Sterne, who died in 2011 at 100, was best known during her lifetime—and to her dismay—for being the only woman in a photograph published in Life magazine in 1951 that depicted “The Irascibles,” a group of artists who had written a letter to the Metropolitan Museum of Art protesting “American Painting Today—1950,” an exhibition that neglected the burgeoning New York School.

But a show of Ms. Sterne’s work at Van Doren Waxter, “Machines 1947-1951,” may help refocus attention on her art. Her first show at the gallery, it features paintings and monotype prints that were made at the same moment: the decade after Ms. Sterne arrived in New York from Bucharest, Romania, having barely escaped the Nazis. These muted, mostly tan and blue canvases depict machines inspired by farm equipment in Vermont, and reveal her sometime alliance with the Surrealists (especially a fellow Romanian artist, Victor Brauner). Anthropomorphic and uncanny, the paintings in “Machines” also recall the work of Francis Picabia, Eduardo Paolozzi and Lee Lozano.

Van Doren Waxter, which has started representing the new Hedda Sterne Foundation, showed a few of her paintings at “The Art Show” at the Park Avenue Armory this month. It is wonderful to see Ms. Sterne finally coming out from behind the famous photograph and being seriously considered as a painter.

Hedda Sterne

‘Machines 1947-1951’

Van Doren Waxter

23 East 73rd Street, Manhattan

Through April 29

Romania: Holocaust Institute Opposes Journalist on TV Board

New York Times
23 March 2016
by The Associated Press

BUCHAREST, Romania—Romania's Holocaust institute on Wednesday protested the appointment of a well-known journalist to the board of the country's public television station, saying the move is disrespectful to the victims of the Holocaust.

The Elie Wiesel Institute for the Study of the Holocaust said that Oana Stanciulescu is unsuitable for the position due to her criticism of a recent law that punishes Holocaust denial or the promotion of the fascist Legionnaires' Movement with prison sentences of up to three years.

Her place on the 13-member board, approved by Parliament Tuesday, has generated strong reactions in a reflection of the difficulty Romanians have had in coming to terms with their history in the quarter-century since communism ended.

In a reflection of that turmoil, the party that represents the interests of ethnic Hungarians walked out of Parliament ahead of Tuesday's vote, and the head of the Jewish community, Aurel Vainer, also protested.

Romania only began to commemorate the Holocaust in 2004 and some Romanians still doubt the Nazi-allied government's responsibility and the extent of atrocities that happened on Romanian territory.

During World War II, about 280,000 Jews and 11,000 Roma, or Gypsies, were killed in Romania and areas it controlled as an ally of Nazi Germany. Holocaust denial refers to refuting Romania's role in exterminating Jews and Roma between 1940 and 1944.

The legislation, which came into effect in 2015, also bans fascist, racist or xenophobic organizations and symbols, and promoting people guilty of crimes against humanity.

It's only in the past couple of years that Romania has begun to prosecute the former prison commanders who ran lockups for political prisoners who had fallen foul of the communist regime, a cause that Stanciulescu champions.

Stanciulescu's supporters respect her anti-communist views and her outspokenness on political issues.

Ford to Invest 200 Million Euros to Build SUV in Romania

New York Times
22 March 2016
by Reuters

BUCHAREST—Ford Motor Co will invest up to 200 million euros ($224.28 million) to build its smaller sport utility vehicle EcoSport at its Romanian unit Automobile Craiova, Ford Europe Chief Executive Jim Farley said on Tuesday.

Ford took over the struggling Romanian carmaker Automobile Craiova in 2008 and is producing its B-Max model there, although low demand has led to regular production stoppages.

Ford will start producing the vehicle from autumn of 2017, Farley told reporters on a visit to the plant in southern Romania.

"As of that date, Craiova will become the only production source for the EcoSport model sold in Europe (except Russia)," he said.

He said that the U.S. company expects to keep its current staff levels in Romania. Farley added that he expected Ford sales to rise above 200,000 SUVs in Europe this year, a more than 30 percent rise on the year.

(Reporting by Luiza Ilie, editing by Louise Heavens)

Ailing WWII-Era Monarch, Romania's King Michael, Quietly Exits Limelight

King Michael receives applause after his anniversary speech at the parliament in Bucharest in October 2011.

Radio Free Europe
19 March 2016
by Eugen Tomiuc

He lunched with Hitler and Mussolini in wartime, but was awarded postwar medals by Truman and Stalin. He met his future wife at the wedding of his cousin, the young Queen Elizabeth, but tended chickens and vegetables as a farmer in England during lean years in exile. He survived to see his beloved Romania emerge from a half-century of Soviet domination, only to be banned by a jittery postcommunist government alarmed by the former monarch's popularity.

Ninety-four-year-old King Michael of Romania is a study in contrast.

The oldest surviving World War II-era head of state and for decades the patriarch of a waning monarchy, he has spent most of his twilight years not in any of a choice of Romanian royal palaces but in a small house overlooking Lake Leman, in the Swiss countryside.

But this month, with serious health issues mounting, Michael announced his retirement from public life, with duties to be carried out by his eldest daughter, Princess Margareta. He is said to be suffering from chronic leukemia and epidermoid carcinoma.

His departure draws the curtains on a unique window on the 20th century.

Years ago, during an interview in his Swiss home, the king's eyes lit up as he talked about confronting Romania's feared fascist dictator, Ion Antonescu, in August 1944. Momentum in World War II had shifted dramatically and the then-21-year-old ceremonial head of state ordered the arrest of Antonescu—a fierce soldier whom Nazi Germany's Adolf Hitler had come to respect—after Antonescu refused to break his alliance with the Axis powers.

Michael's action, accomplished with co-conspirators, allowed Romania to switch to the Allied side and had a notable impact on the war. "From what we know, we...shortened the war by several months," he told RFE/RL. "The whole eastern front in Greece and Yugoslavia collapsed because of us."

Antonescu, who was also responsible for the extermination of hundreds of thousands of Jews and Roma during the war, was executed in 1946.

Michael was decorated by both Soviet leader Josef Stalin and U.S. President Harry Truman.

But that wouldn't help him much after the war, when Romania came under Soviet occupation and political parties were banned and elections falsified to install a Moscow-imposed communist regime.

Michael, under guard by troops loyal to the communist coup leaders, was forced to abdicate and leave the country in December 1947. Once abroad, he renounced his abdication as forced and again took to using the title "King of Romania."

He also married Anna of Bourbon-Parma, whom he had met at the wedding of his cousin, Queen Elizabeth, and they eventually had five daughters.

'You Don't Forget'

But while his life in exile was kaleidoscopic, it was not easy. He worked for a Wall Street brokerage, then flew as a test pilot for an aircraft equipment manufacturer. He and his wife even ran a chicken farm in England for a while, before eventually settling in Switzerland.

As he told it, his endeavors sometimes attracted media attention but never any concrete political backing, as Romania had been abandoned to the Soviet sphere of influence.

It was only after the demise of both communism and Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu in December 1989 that it looked like Michael would finally return home. But Romania's postcommunist authorities kept him away, refusing to restore his citizenship, particularly after he drew an estimated 1 million people to downtown Bucharest on a short visit in 1992.

Finally, in 1997, a newly elected, pro-Western government officially recognized Michael as a Romanian citizen and former head of state.

In 1992, he refused an offer to run for president on an opposition ticket, snubbing politics, unlike his cousin, Simeon of Saxe-Coburg, who ran for office and became Bulgarian prime minister in 2001.

Michael eventually regained many of his royal family's properties, but he continued to spend most of his time in the house on the shores of Lake Leman.

In a 2009 interview with RFE/RL, King Michael said that despite the hardships he and his family had been through, he held no personal grudges.

But he warned that the suffering communism had imposed on the Romanian people should not be forgotten. "Because tens of millions of people have been destroyed practically, gone through absolute hell, and then suddenly they say, 'Well, it's all finished, let's forget it.' You don't forget it," he said.

Wikipedia 18 March 2016

On this day...

1906 – Romanian inventor Traian Vuia became the first person to fly a heavier-than-air monoplane with an unassisted takeoff.

Romania: Gov't to Buy Famous Sculpture, With Public's Help

New York Times
17 March 2016
by The Associated Press

BUCHAREST, Romania—Romania's government says it plans to buy a famous sculpture by Constantin Brancusi that is considered one of the country's finest modern art works and was confiscated in the 1950s by communist authorities.

Culture Minister Vlad Alexandrescu said Thursday the government will pay 5 million euros ($5.65 million) of the 11 million-euro price for "Wisdom of the Earth." It will ask the public to donate the rest.

Alexandrescu said the purchase "is in the interest of art and culture." The limestone statue created in 1907 or 1908 depicts a woman sitting with folded arms and her legs pulled up.

It was confiscated in 1957 and became the center of a prolonged legal dispute after communism ended. In 2008, it was returned to the family of its original owner.

Snoop Dogg Makes Romanian Village Famous With Instagram Mistake

A tourism site for Bogata, Romania, was created not long after Snoop Dogg accidentally tagged the village on Instagram. Screen Grab From

National Public Radio
17 March 2016
by Laura Wagner

A tiny village in central Romania is enjoying a huge spike in attention thanks to an unlikely person: Snoop Dogg.

The U.S. rapper was in Bogotá, Colombia, this week when he posted a selfie on Instagram. He presumably meant to tag his location in the South American city, but instead checked in at Bogata, Romania, a small village in the center of the Eastern European country.

Romanian Instagram users aware of Snoop Dogg's affinity for marijuana jumped on the mistake. One user wrote, "Good job, Snoop. You know, there is a lot of hemp there," according to the website Balkan Insider.

Not long after, an enterprising Romanian media company launched an English-language website called, to provide information for potential tourists. The homepage reads, "Snoop Dogg checked into Bogata, Mures, by mistake—but you don't have to! Find out more on why you should visit."

It goes on to boast that Bogata is the "best place for chillin' in Romania."

The site gives some background information on the newly famous village:

"With only 2000 inhabitants, the commune, situated at approx. 5.5 hour-drive from Bucharest, is the perfect location for a relaxing vacation. Close to Cluj-Napoca, Mediaş, Sighişoara and Târgu Mureş, Bogata is the perfect place to be if you want to relax in nature and take in all it has to offer."

And the site promotes it as a versatile getaway:

"Either you plan a longer vacation in the area, or a short break from the hustle and bustle of the city, Bogata awaits you. Bring your tent, sleeping bag, comfortable shoes and get ready for the chillest weekend you could imagine."

According to Balkan Insider, Silvia Marinescu from the media agency called Kinecto told, "We just wanted to show that if you check into a place in Romania, even by mistake, for sure you can find something special there. Bogata is one of the many wonderful places here."

The tourism website, which suggests locations to see, foods to eat and places to stay, also pokes fun at Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders for his comment lamenting the fact that Romanians had faster Internet speeds than some Americans.

"Internet speed," the site reads. "Maybe not as high as in the capital city of Romania (we're looking at you, Bernie Sanders), but we'd say it is pretty good. Good enough to quickly upload a selfie."

Balkan Insider reports that the village has not changed much after the high-profile mistake:

"In the meantime, life is quiet and calm in Bogata. Most of the 2,000 people in the village are not much interested in what it is being said about them on the internet. Most do not know who Snoop Dogg is, either.

"'I don't know how this singer—whoever is he—could make such a mistake. Bogotá is one thing, Bogata something different,' Ioan, a 61-year-old villager said, according to a report in magazine.

"'Let's be serious. If he [Snoop Dogg] came here, many people would get scared. They might think he belongs to ISIS. For us, the world starts here and ends just few kilometers away,' another villager called Ana, was quoted as saying, while working in her courtyard."

Romania Prepares for Ban on Smoking in Public Places

New York Times
16 March 2016
by The Associated Press

BUCHAREST, Romania—Romania's government had begun removing ashtrays from its offices as the country prepares for a ban on smoking in public places which comes into effect at midnight.

The law was introduced after a fire in a nightclub in Bucharest on Oct. 30 killed 64 people and inspired calls for stricter safety regulations in public places.

Prime Minister Dacian Ciolos, a non-smoker, said the government had prepared an online guide to explain the law.

Employees said ashtrays were taken out of government offices and "no smoking" signs went up Wednesday. About one-fourth of Romanians smoke.

Detainees in high-security prisons will be allowed to smoke, and there will be special places in airports for smokers. Authorities will have the power to close businesses which flout the ban.

Romanians Burn Tires to Mark Orthodox Lent

In this picture taken on Sunday, March. 13, 2016, a young man jumps over a fire during a celebration marking the upcoming Clean Monday, the first day of Great Lent in the Eastern Orthodox Christian church calendar, on the hills surrounding the village of Poplaca, Sibiu county, in the central Romanian Transylvania region. Romanian villagers set light to piles of used tires and lit fires in the Transylvanian hills in a ritual that marks the beginning of Orthodox Lent before Easter. AP Photo/Andreea Alexandru

New York Times
14 March 2016
by The Associated Press

POPLACA, Romania—Romanian villagers have burned used tires and lit fires in the Transylvanian hills in a ritual that marks the beginning of Orthodox Lent.

About 30 young residents gathered on a hill outside the village of Poplaca in the foothills of the Cindrel mountains, Sunday evening for the annual 'Clean Monday' ritual, which is designed to ward off evil spirits before the onset of Lent on Monday.

As night fell, teenagers spun around flaming old car tires attached to metal chains, and yelled the names of unmarried and divorced people in the community, in the hope of bringing them a partner. Children, some with faces blackened from the tires and soot, jumped over the tires.

Villagers ate bacon fat and zacusca, a bottled vegetable relish, to keep warm during the festivities in the village, about 315 kilometers (200 miles) northwest of Bucharest.

Orthodox Christians celebrate Easter on May 1 this year, five weeks later than Western Christians. Monday marks the beginning of 40 days of abstention, when Orthodox Christians cut out meat, fish, eggs, and dairy.

Clean Monday, also known as Pure Monday and Ash Monday traditionally begins on Sunday evening, and is seen as a the last opportunity for culinary excess and partying before Lent begins.

Wikipedia 13 March 2016

Did you know...

• ... that the luggage and money of Romanian Latinist N. I. Herescu burned at Stuttgart Airport while he was emigrating in 1944?

Author Kaplan Says Moldova Must Tidy Up Home Before Looking West

Author and journalist Robert Kaplan says Moldova is currently fighting for its survival as a state.

Radio Free Europe
12 March 2016
by Eugen Tomiuc

If Moldova wants to integrate with the West, the best way forward would be to modernize its infrastructure and strengthen its democratic institutions.

That's the advice given by American journalist and author Robert Kaplan, who argues in his latest book, In Europe's Shadow, that Russian President Putin's recent moves against Ukraine have pushed Romania and Moldova to the front line of the West's confrontation with Moscow.

In drawing on his travels in communist Romania in the 1970s, and charting the nation's complicated past and future following recent visits , the author could not ignore Moldova's deep historical ties to the current NATO and EU member.

He argues in one chapter that the two neighboring countries, although together on the front line of a "new Cold War" triggered by Russia's actions in Ukraine, are far apart.

He described their differences as "stark," during an interview with RFE/RL on March 7. "And they are stark because one country has been in the EU for almost a decade now and one is kind of still trapped in a kind of post-Soviet sub-development."

Existential Threat

Today, says Kaplan, Moldova finds itself in a fight for its survival as a state.

"What Moldova needs to do—first of all, the most important thing, and this is true of Romania as well—is to strengthen its institutions, make them sturdier and more transparent, less corrupt," Kaplan told RFE/RL.

Moldova has seen months of anticorruption protests prompted by the disappearance of more than $1 billion from three banks in 2014, a scandal that led to the downfall of the government.

The resulting political crisis threatens to reverse Moldova's recent efforts to integrate with the West and turn the former Soviet republic back toward Moscow's orbit.

Kaplan advises the new government—whose introduction in January rekindled antigovernment protests calling for early elections that could bring pro-Kremlin forces to power—to tread carefully if it wants to continue on a Westward course.

"Moldova should seek a stronger association membership with the European Union, and some sort of associated membership with NATO, but it cannot join formally these large institutions of the West without leading to a Russian backlash," he says.

Chisinau is pursuing EU membership, having signed an EU Association Agreement in 2014. Moldova cooperates with NATO through its membership in the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council and the Partnership for Peace program, but is constitutionally neutral and has no plans to join the alliance.

Kaplan suggests that, ultimately, Moldova should strive to preserve its historical status as a buffer state between Russia and the West.

"Moldova, for reasons of geography and history, sad to say, you know, is somewhat a neutral buffer state that cannot... that should not join either alliance for the time being," said Kaplan.

Reunification A No-Go

The notion of reunification with Romania, a longstanding idea that Kaplan writes is "never really off the table," is also a nonstarter. Pursuing reunification, he says, could be seen by Russia as cause for war, particularly under the current circumstances.

"I do not see how Moldova and Romania can unify," Kaplan explains. "That would be almost a casus belli for [President Vladimir] Putin's Russia."

While some two-thirds of Moldova's population of 3.5 million speak Romanian, most of its present-day territory was alternately part of Romania and Russia or the Soviet Union.

Moldova's eastern, mainly-Russian speaking Transdniester region separated violently from Chisinau in the early 1990s over fears that the ethnic Romanian majority would seek reunification with Romania.

Transdniester remains a Russian bulwark against the European Union and NATO, reinforced by the presence of some 1,200 Russian troops. Stationed there since the Soviet era, the forces guard arms dumps and serve as "peacekeepers" separating Moldovans and Transdniestrians.

Both Chisinau and Bucharest have floated from time to time the idea of reunification as a possible shortcut for Moldova's accession into the West, while Russian speakers have been using the Romanian "threat" as justification for maintaining close ties to Moscow.

"Were Romania to annex Moldova or to unify with ethnic Romanian-speaking Moldova, that could lead Russia to formally annex Transdniester and that would create far greater regional tensions than we see now."

Corruption Junction

Kaplan told RFE/RL that Moldova's "incredibly high levels of corruption" and the public's "complete loss of confidence" in the government is playing right into Russian President Putin's hands.

"Moldova is kind of being unwoven, it's kind of coming apart without Russia having to do all that much," Kaplan says.

"It wouldn't take much for Putin to undermine it," Kaplan adds. "He probably already is doing so, because as I write, Russia has various age-old forms of imperialist tactics—subversion, intelligence operations, buying media through third parties, and on and on that are ambiguous enough to be deniable."

Kaplan said that the West—and the United States in particular—has to do more to help Moldova back onto the right track.

Kaplan recommended increased American military power in Central and Eastern Europe coupled with more robust diplomacy.

"The secretary of state, the president, the secretary of defense—they need to be seen to be paying more attention to Europe, because it's my contention that Europe is as important to the United States now as it was during the Cold War," Kaplan concludes.

Watch the full video interview with Kaplan

Ceausescu's Mansion Opens to Visitors in Romania

Nicolae Ceausescu's Primaverii Palace in Bucharest has been virtually unused for over 25 years

BBC News
11 March 2016
by News from Elsewhere...

The opulent former residence of Romania's former leader Nicolae Ceausescu is to open its doors to visitors.

It's been a quarter of a century since deposed Romanian president Ceausescu and his wife Elena were executed by a firing squad on Christmas Day in 1989, but ordinary Romanians will soon be able to see the mansion where the couple once lived, Balkans Insight reports. The luxurious building - dubbed the Primaverii (Spring) Palace—is set to open its doors to the public for the first time this Saturday.

For as little as 15 lei ($4, £2.50), visitors will now be able to roam the 80-room residence—said to include a cinema, a swimming pool and an impressive dressing room - set in 14,000 sq m (3.5 acres) of grounds in Bucharest's desirable Primaverii neighbourhood, the Active News website says. It was designed in the mid-1960s to the exact specifications of the former dictator and his wife, who reportedly personally picked the chandeliers and mosaics.

After the 1989 Romanian revolution which deposed Ceausescu, the building was taken over by the state and only rarely used to host official delegations. It was put up for sale in 2014 but attracted no buyer.

Last month, the Palace of the Parliament—another massive building built on the orders of the former dictator—opened its doors to virtual tours. With 1,000 rooms, which were once the workplace of 100,000 people in the last days of the Communist era, it is both admired and reviled by the Romanian people.

The revival of interest in the Communist era and an apparent softening of attitudes towards the once-hated regime comes at a time when many Romanians feel that life has not improved much since Ceausescu's overthrow, Balkan Insight says.

Romania Sends Moldova 200 Tons of Sugar, Emergency Aid

New York Times
10 March 2016
by The Associated Press

CHISINAU, Moldova—Moldovan authorities say nine trucks carrying 200 tons of sugar have arrived from Romania and will be distributed to the most vulnerable people in the impoverished nation.

The trucks arrived Thursday in the Moldovan capital, the first shipment of 1,100 tons of food Romania promised Moldova in January.

Romania's ambassador to Moldova, Marius Lazurca, said Romania would send more sugar, tinned food, and other foodstuff in the following weeks. It will also send 16,000 tons of heating oil.

Sugar will be delivered to schools and social welfare assistants will distribute it to elderly people. Moldova's deputy premier, Gheorghe Brega, said food has been stolen from the food reserves of the former Soviet republic.

The World Bank said that in 2014, about 46 percent of Moldovans lived on $5 a day.

Romania: 1000s Protest at French-Owned Carmaker Dacia

New York Times
7 March 2016
by The Associated Press

BUCHAREST, Romania—Thousands of employees at the French-owned Romanian automaker Dacia have protested to demand better infrastructure and more favorable labor laws.

The Automobile Dacia trade union said 8,000 gathered Monday in the southern town of Mioveni, where Dacia, owned by Renault, has its manufacturing base. They demanded that a major highway be built through central Romania to create thousands of jobs.

Workers called for legislation to be changed to discourage the import of second-hand cars, which they say harms Romania's automobile industry. Employees are also calling for better health insurance in their contracts.

Company officials say Dacia employees earn more than double the average monthly wage of 1,900 lei ($470)

More than 90 percent of the cars are exported. Managers said Dacia sold 550,000 cars in 2015.

Life in the Land of No Selfies

The portraits show people in different places, doing what they usually do; working, celebrating, thinking and hoping

Daily Mail
6 March 2016
by Darren Boyle

Portraits from the remote Romanian villages where cameras are rareand residents fight to keep a medieval lifestyle alive

Photographer Alex Robciuc journeyed through various villages in Maramures County in the Transylvanian Alps

The remote area of Romania is home to more than 100 tiny villages where the pace of life is quite medieval

Locals have spurned modern technology and industry, preferring to make their living using more simpler means

The area is one of the last places in Europe where people live in a manner than their ancestors would recognise

See series of 19 photographs at the article website

Striking images of remote Romanian villages show the medieval conditions in which inhabitants work, celebrate and live, without the interference of modern technology in a manner their ancestors would recognise.

The insightful photographs show natives of the remote Romanian countryside driving horse and carts, tending to animals and enjoying a local traditional festival.

The pictures were taken by photographer Alex Robciuc in various villages around the Maramures County of Romania such as Bârsana, Strâmtura, and Breb.

Robciuc said: 'The portraits shows people in different places, doing what they usually do; working, celebrating, thinking and hoping—like we all do.

'What is particular with them is the fact that unlike most people they are not constantly around technology so they aren't used to having their photo taken.

'The expressions they hold in the photos are all completely natural as they do not want to appear different than they are. The face captured in the portraits shows how complex a person can be in his simplicity.'

The village of Breb is much loved by British monarchy and Prince Charles is known to have spent many holidays in the remote village.

Alex said: 'Breb is well known because Prince Charles gifted his first grandson with a land full of mountain flowers in Transylvania.'

The 100-or-so villages are scattered along the southern range of the Carpathian Mountains and otherwise known as the Transylvanian Alps.

They date from the 12th century, and are among the last vestiges of European medieval culture.

Robciuc said: 'When people look at my photos, I would like them to appreciate the individuals in the images for the fact that they are preserving the life almost exactly how it was many hundreds of years ago.

'It is not simple to live the way they do and we know that in our days it is simple to choose to be a modern person in every aspect of the life.

'I also want people to look at those faces and to understand that life can be lived in many ways and different conditions, and to believe that the happiness is found in us and not into the things that are around us.'

Romanians Make Fun of Bernie Sanders Over Internet Tweet

New York Times
3 March 2016
by The Associated Press

BUCHAREST, Romania—From across the ocean, Bernie Sanders has managed to offend a good number of Romanians.

A Romanian travel agency on Thursday offered Sanders airline tickets to visit the country as residents alternately mocked or felt hurt by the U.S. Democratic presidential candidate, who said Romania had faster Internet than the U.S.

Sanders had criticized the low Internet speed in the U.S. in a Twitter post Wednesday.

"Today, people living in Bucharest, Romania, have access to much faster Internet than most of the US. That's unacceptable and must change," he posted.

Romanians reacted strongly Thursday, with some making fun of him and others saying they were offended. One Twitter user urged the U.S. to scrap visa requirements for Romanians so the country's engineers could travel to the U.S. to fix its Internet problem.

Another created a new campaign poster for Sanders, who is trailing Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton: "Make America's Internet speed great again: Invade Romania!"

Others were merely offended at Sander's assumptions. One Twitter user wrote that it sounded like Sanders feels Americans are "entitled to being better than everyone else," calling that attitude "very disrespectful."

The travel agency offered Sanders tickets to "come over and experience our great Internet. You can tweet unlimited. Bring a friend, plane tickets are on us!"

Romanian Ex-King Michael Withdraws From Public Life Due to Illness

New York Times
2 March 2016
by Reuters

BUCHAREST—Former King Michael of Romania will withdraw from public life because of illness at age 94 and will be represented in future by his eldest daughter Margaret, the royal house said on Wednesday.

Michael, a cousin of Britain's Queen Elizabeth, was forced to abdicate in 1947 after the post-war Communist takeover of Romania and has lived in exile in the West for decades.

He recently underwent surgery for leukemia and cancer and will follow a course of treatment that will rule out further public appearances, royal council member Andrew Popper said.

"In the last weeks I have received news of a serious medical diagnosis," Michael said in a statement. "I am certain that my daughter Margaret will find the wisdom and strength to represent me and carry out all my public actions."

Romanian President Klaus Iohannis and other politicians expressed concern for Michael’s health and said they hoped his family would continue to embody hope for Romanians.

There is no popular demand for a restoration of the Balkan state's monarchy but Romanians respect Michael as a historic figurehead as they have grown increasingly disillusioned with a political class perceived as corrupt.

Born in 1921 in Peles castle in the Carpathian mountains, Michael as king played a big part in Romania's change of course during World War Two, participating in a 1944 coup against fascist leader Marshal Ion Antonescu, after which Romania broke with Nazi Germany and switched to the Allied side.

After communism collapsed, politicians fearing Michael's influence blocked his first few attempted visits after decades of exile in Switzerland, Britain and the United States.

Michael, also a descendant of Germany's old Hohenzollern dynasty, finally returned to Romania in 1992. Since 2004, he and his wife, Queen Anne, have been living in Aubonne, Switzerland.

Princess Margaret and her husband live in Romania.

(Reporting by Luiza Ilie; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Prince Charles Shows Concern About the Illegal Logging in Romania

Romania Insider
29 February 2016
by Irina Popescu

His Royal Highness Prince Charles of Wales has talked about the importance of the forests in Romania and has asked the local authorities and environmental organizations to protect this richness, in a message he recorded for,

“Very few large areas of natural forests remain in the European region, and many of these are in Romania,” Prince Charles said in the message, reports local Digi24.

According to him, the forests in Romania “are an important and vital part of the country’s economy, environmental integrity, and cultural identity, but they are also of global importance in terms of biodiversity and role in regulating the climate.”

In the message, he also refers to an estimation which shows that some 180,000 hectares of forests were degraded or lost between 2000 and 2011 in Romania, due to both legal and illegal logging.

“What is worse, nearly half of the damage occurred in protected areas,” Prince Charles added.

Another study has shown that 31,000 cases of illegal logging were registered in Romania between 2009 and 2011, followed in 2012 by some 20,000 more cases. This means 53 cases per day.

The Prince himself has walked through Romania’s forests describing them as “some of the most remarkable landscapes” he had ever seen. Thus, he believes that Romania can gain more from the long-term sustainable management of its forests than from destroying them for short-term benefits.

“Knowing Romania and Romanians as I do, I have the full confidence and trust that you will rise to this challenge,” Prince Charles said in his message.

Illegal logging causes EUR 52 mln damages in Romania

Romania’s Government sets up Forest guards to fight against illegal logging

Irina Popescu,

Holocaust Drama Featuring Romanian Actor Wins Oscar for Best Foreign Film

Romania Insider
29 February 2016
by Irina Popescu

Son of Saul, a Hungarian drama featuring Romanian actor Levente Molnár, won the 2016 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.

The other films which competed in this category were Embrace of the Serpent (Colombia), Mustang (France), Theeb (Jordan), and A War (Denmark).

Son of Saul is the debut film of Hungarian director László Nemes. It also won the 2016 Golden Globe for best foreign language film earlier this year.

The film’s action takes place in 1944. Saul Ausländer, a Hungarian-Jewish prisoner in Auschwitz works as a Sonderkommando member, burning the dead. While working in one of the crematoriums, Saul finds the body of a boy he takes for his son. While the Sonderkommando plans a rebellion, Saul tries to save the child’s body from the flames and offer the boy a proper burial. Watch the trailer.

Levente Molnár was born in Baia Mare, Romania, in 1976. He studied acting at the Babes-Bolyai University in Cluj-Napoca and is currently an actor at the Hungarian State Theater in the city. He also played in several feature films such as Chuck Norris vs Communism directed by Ilinca Calugareanu, Morgen directed by Marian Crisan, and Biliard directed by Mészáros Péter.

Irina Popescu,

Romanian Doctor Still Working at 82 as Colleagues Head to UK

BBC News
29 February 2016

Watch video clip at article website

An 82-year-old surgeon is still working in Romania because many younger doctors from the country are being recruited to work in Britain.

It comes as figures reveal more than two-thirds of trusts and health boards in the UK are actively trying to recruit from abroad as they struggle to cope with a shortage of qualified staff.

BBC Inside Out travelled to Romania and spoke to 82-year-old neurosurgeon Prof Leon Danaila, who is still operating on his patients in Bucharest and said he did not know when he would be able to retire.

Reporters also spoke to junior doctor Luisa Baca, who has been tempted to leave Romania to come to work in the NHS in England. She said not enough was done to encourage them to stay in their country.

The Department of Health said staffing was a priority. It said overseas staff were crucial to the NHS but it must also train the right number of staff in the UK.

Encyclopaedia Britannica 21 February 2016

Torso of a Young Girl, onyx on a stone base by Constantin Brancusi, 1922. Courtesy of Philadelphia Museum of Art, the A.E. Gallatin Collection

On this day...

1876: Abstract sculptor Constantin Brancusi was born in Romania.

Romanian Government Kicks Off Anti-Poverty Drive

New York Times
17 February 2016
by Reuters

BUCHAREST—Romania's government kicked off a public debate on Wednesday on a plan to lift at least 580,000 people out of poverty over the next four years, targeting education and healthcare for underprivileged communities in an initial phase.

Romania has made massive economic strides since it joined the European Union in 2007, but it remains one of the bloc's poorest states, with a tenth of its 20 million people living in poverty and more than 40 percent at risk of tipping into it.

The cabinet of technocrat Prime Minister Dacian Ciolos proposed a set of 47 measures with a price tag of around 1 billion euros ($1.11 billion).

Larger investments in local infrastructure, such as building roads and schools were not included in the preliminary cost estimates.

The measures include plans to offer medical screenings, vocational classes, affordable housing and soup kitchens, as well as to cut domestic abuse rates and guarantee small loans for local businesses.

The EU could provide the bulk of the funds through local development cash it sets aside for each member state, the government's draft proposal showed. Brussels aims to lift at least 20 million people out of poverty across the EU by 2020.

The government also hopes to provide children in vulnerable communities with school supplies, clothes, vitamins and toothpaste, as well as install solar panels for the nearly 115,000 Romanians across four counties who do not have electricity.

(Reporting by Luiza Ilie; editing by John Stonestreet)

Brutal Romanian Prison Warden, 90, Loses Appeal of 20-Year Sentence

The police escorted Alexandru Visinescu, a prison commander during the Communist era, from his home in Bucharest, to prison on Wednesday. Andreea Alexandru/Associated Press

New York Times
10 February 2016
by Kit Gillet

BUCHAREST, Romania—The highest court in Romania upheld a 20-year prison term on Wednesday for a 90-year-old former warden from the country’s repressive Communist past who had overseen brutal treatment of prisoners, including routine beatings and starvation.

The former warden, Alexandru Visinescu, convicted last July of murder and crimes against humanity for the deaths of 12 inmates in the Ramnicu Sarat prison, was unrepentant at the trial. He had appealed the sentence to the High Court of Cassation and Justice.

The case, the first brought against an official of the former Communist government in almost 25 years, was widely regarded as a test of the country’s willingness to confront that period.

From 1956 to 1963, Mr. Visinescu was the commander of Ramnicu Sarat, used to house many political prisoners and known for its harsh conditions.

Romania was under Communist rule from 1947 until a bloody revolution in 1989, when the president, Nicolae Ceausescu, was toppled and summarily executed.

The prosecution of Mr. Visinescu, as well as a handful of impending cases against other former prison officers and guards, has led to a sense that Romania might at last be willing to punish those responsible for long-simmering injustices.

“This is an important moment for post-Communist Romania,” said Cosmin Budeanca, until recently the director general of the Institute for the Investigation of Communist Crimes and the Memory of the Romanian Exile, which was founded in 2005.

“Now we need to continue it. I hope in the next few months we will see more cases sent to the courts. For many people it is too late, but for the health of the nation I think this is an important moment,” Mr. Budeanca said.

Mr. Visinescu, who has continued to receive his state pension, which has further angered many people, has been obstinate, denying the accusations and maintaining that he was simply adhering to orders. He was not present in court on Wednesday to hear the final verdict.

In 2012, Romania removed its statute of limitations for crimes against humanity, opening up the possibility of prosecuting those whose crimes dated back more than 40 years.

The charges against Mr. Visinescu were filed in September 2013, initially for the crime of genocide, with the trial beginning a year later.

It was unclear from the high court’s decision whether Mr. Visinescu, who is increasingly frail, would be eligible for early release or whether he would continue to receive pension payments during his incarceration, which was to begin immediately.

For Communist-era victims and their descendants, however, the more important news was validation of the sentence.

“It is a symbolic sentence. It is very little, and quite late, but it is still very important, and important for the new generation,” said Anca Cernea, whose father spent 17 years behind bars as a political prisoner, including time at Ramnicu Sarat and who was in the courtroom on Wednesday.

“My father and grandfather were there when Visinescu was in charge. He was one of the most brutal. I can remember his name being spoken of since my childhood,” Ms. Cernea said.

“I am not sure he will spend much time in prison, but hopefully it gives him time to think through his actions,” she said. “During his trial he has never shown any sign of repentance, not even a gesture.”

Romania Upholds Sentence for Communist-Era Prison Commander

New York Times
10 February 2016
by The Associated Press

BUCHAREST, Romania—A Romanian appeals court on Wednesday upheld a 20-year prison sentence for a 90-year-old communist-era prison guard convicted of crimes against humanity, the most high-profile case since dictator Nicolae Ceausescu was tried and executed in 1989.

Alexandru Visinescu was convicted in July for the abuse and killing of prisoners at the Ramnicu Sarat prison in eastern Romania during his command from 1956 to 1963.

Visinescu appealed to the High Court of Cassation and Justice, but was not present in court Wednesday to hear the verdict. Police were expected to go to his Bucharest apartment later Wednesday to take him to prison.

The prison that Visinescu ran housed people who had been members of the intellectual, political and military elite in Romania before World War II. His prisoners were some of an estimated 500,000 people who fell afoul of the communist regime after World War II and were locked up until a general amnesty was declared in 1964.

Prosecutors said former prisoners of Visinescu testified that they were denied access to medical treatment, heating, exercise and adequate food. They were held in solitary confinement and beatings were common. Nearly 140 inmates were incarcerated during the seven years Visinescu was in command.

During the trial he showed no remorse and insisted he was only following orders. At his final hearing last month, Visinescu wept and pleaded: "Let me die!"

He was asked six times by the judge and prosecutor why inmates died under his command. He answered just once, suggesting they died of old age.

Valentin Cristea, 85, the only surviving prisoner of Visinescu's, heard about the verdict at his home north of Bucharest. Reached by phone, he told The Associated Press: "The justice system did its duty."

Cristea said he was too ill to discuss the matter further. But he added that he was indifferent to Visinescu, saying he would pay for "his sins in a future life."

Wednesday's ruling is a watershed in Romania's attempts to bring to communist-era wrongdoers to justice, 27 years after the collapse of one of the most repressive regimes in the former Soviet Bloc. Aside from Ceausescu, almost none of the other top communist-era figures has faced trial, a failure that has been blamed on corruption that has flourished despite Romania's membership in the European Union.

The trial itself reflects a commitment by a new generation of prosecutors to stamp out corruption.

Though Visinescu was not a high-level leader, he has become a symbol of the system's brutality.

Andrei Muraru, who initiated the case in 2013 when he was head of the Institute for the Investigation of Communist Crimes, told the AP that he was deeply gratified by the ruling.

"It is a historic sentence because starting from this moment, any crimes committed in the communist era can be condemned," Muraru said.

"It is an important ruling for the rehabilitation of the victims," he added.

The institute's current head said he hopes it will pave the way for more prosecutions.

"It's a very important precedent," Radu Preda told Mediafax, a news agency. "But we should not think that a single trial, in this case Visinescu's, means that we have solved the trial of communism."


Mutler reported from Paris. Vanessa Gera in Warsaw, Poland, contributed to this report.

Culture Ministry Includes Rosia Montana on Romania’s
Tentative List for UNESCO World Heritage

Romania Insider
5 February 2016
by Irina Popescu

The Romanian Culture Ministry on Friday announced the World Heritage Centre in Paris that it has included the Rosia Montana cultural landscape on the country’s tentative list for UNESCO World Heritage.

“Rosia Montana has been the most active mining center in the Apuseni Mountains, starting with the first operations in the Bronze Age, and continuing in the ancient times and the medieval period, the Modern Era and the recent past. The traditional mining, based on the initiative of families and small miners associations, ended when the nationalization took place in 1948 and was followed by another form of mining, industrial, conducted on a large scale, which ended in 2006. Therefore, Rosia Montana has one of the oldest traditional mining sites known today,” reads the Ministry’s statement.

Some of the site’s defining attributes are the mining galleries (for exploitation, assistance, ventilation, and water evacuation) – excavated since Roman times and continued during the medieval and modern periods, the Roman landscape at the surface, the historic industrial landscape, and the Rosia Montana mining fair. The galleries dug into the mountains surrounding the village total more than 80 km, with 7 km dating from the ancient times.

According to evaluations cited by the Culture Ministry, Rosia Montana meets five of the criteria set by UNESCO for a site to be included in the World Heritage List.

Including Rosia Montana in the national tentative list is the first procedural step for its inclusion in the World Heritage list and represents the starting point of an applied research and evaluation process. At the end of this process, which can take several years, Romania can submit an application to the World Heritage Center.

Romania’s Ministry of Culture shuts down the Rosia Montana gold mining project

Large virgin beech forests in Romania to be included in the UNESCO World Heritage list

Romania’s Constantin Brancusi ensemble fails to make it on UNESCO’s World Heritage List

Irina Popescu,

The Great Schism Explained

Radio Free Europe
5 February 2016
by Tony Wesolowsky

What Happened In 1054?
That was the year that Christianity split into two branches—Orthodox and Catholic. The split was formalized when the spiritual leaders of the two competing branches excommunicated each other and their respective churches.

What Led To The Split?
The move followed centuries of worsening ties. Things went downhill in 800 when Pope Leo III crowned Charlemagne, who was king of the Franks, as holy Roman emperor. That angered the Byzantine Empire because it made their emperor redundant. Moreover, the move was a slight to the Byzantine Empire, which after Rome fell in 476 had withstood barbarian invasions and upheld the faith for centuries. The Great Schism split Christianity into two competing branches, one in the east, based in Byzantium, and the other in the west, based in Rome. For this reason it is also often referred to as the East-West Schism.

So What Are The Differences?
Many of the differences between the eastern and western branches of Christianity can be traced to their origins. Eastern theology is rooted in Greek philosophy, while much of Western theology was based on Roman law. The result was theological disputes, for example, over the use of unleavened bread for the ceremony of communion. For the east, using leavened bread symbolized the Risen Christ, but for the Latins in the west unleavened bread was used just as Jesus had at the Last Supper. There were also disputes over whether the authority of the pope, the spiritual leader in Rome, extended to the patriarchs, religious leaders in the east.

Chances Of Reconciliation
Mutual excommunications had happened before, but had never ended in permanent schisms. Early hopes to mend the rift faded as time went on. In particular, the Greeks were outraged by the Latin capture of Constantinople in 1204. Western pleas for reunion (on western terms), such as those at the Council of Lyon (1274) or the Council of Ferrara-Florence (1439), were rejected by the Byzantines. More than 900 years later, in 1965, Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras I of Constantinople removed the mutual excommunications, but the two branches of Christianity remain split today.

Where The Two Branches Stand Today
Catholicism is the single largest Christian denomination, with more than a billion followers around the world, most of them Roman Catholic. The Eastern Rite Catholics, who follow eastern rites but are under the Holy See, include the Byzantine and Ukrainian Greek Catholics. Among others there are Maronite, Coptic, or Chaldean Catholic Churches.

Eastern Orthodoxy is the second-largest Christian denomination, with more than 200 million followers, most of them under the Moscow Patriarchate. Aside from the Russian Church, other Eastern Orthodox branches include the Ruthenian, Ukrainian, Melkite, Romanian, and Italo-Albanian Byzantine Churches.

Moldovan Protest Leader Accuses U.S. Of 'Unification Plot,' Hails Soviet Past

Moldova's Socialist Party chairman Igor Dodon (file photo)

Radio Free Europe
4 February 2016
by Eugen Tomiuc and Merhat Sharipzhan

One of the pro-Moscow leaders of recent antigovernment protests in Moldova has made anti-U.S. remarks that appear to be aimed at tapping into east-west tensions to whip up support for early elections that could boost Kremlin influence in his country.

Socialist Party chairman Igor Dodon accused Washington of pressing for the "terrible scenario" of the unification of Moldova and Romania and urged a return "home" of tiny, politically fraught Moldova "back in the U.S.S.R." through membership of the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union.

Dodon and some unlikely allies are currently fighting for fresh elections that polls suggest would favor pro-Moscow forces, potentially bolstering Russia's influence in a state that borders the European Union and NATO.

Street protests peaked in late January after lawmakers approved a new pro-European government led by Prime Minister Pavel Filip but have ground mostly to a halt aside from a small tent camp in the capital, Chisinau.

The tensions, which included the storming of parliament by angry demonstrators, follow a year of political turbulence since revelations in late 2014 that more than $1 billion—or around one-eighth of Moldova's gross domestic product—disappeared from the banking system.

In an interview with Russian daily Komsomolskaya Pravda on February 3, Dodon claimed that Moldovan authorities had received "carte blanche from the West to use force" in their efforts to maintain control.

Dodon added that despite "hatred, and a passionate desire to overthrow the government," he and the leaders of the pro-Russian Our Party and the pro-European Dignity and Truth party leading public protests cannot reach a common position.

Dodon suggested the pro-Russian protest camp is advocating patience in order to avoid provocations, while its pro-European counterparts are more impatient to force change.

"Nobody wants blood, but the clock is ticking," Dodon told Komsomolskaya Pravda.

He blamed the United States and its NATO ally Romania for abetting the political crisis plaguing Moldova, one of Europe's poorest countries.

"Why invest [money] in tiny Moldova, why get involved in her problems and save her from starvation?" Dodon asked rhetorically, adding, "Now the Americans have another, much more terrifying project, called 'Unirea 2018'"—Romanian for Unification 2018—"the merger of Moldova with Romania to mark the centenary of the Grand Unification of 1918."

The U.S.S.R. incorporated the former Romanian province of Bessarabia during World War II, turning most of its territory into the Soviet republic of Moldova but also granting part to Soviet Ukraine. Both Moldova and Ukraine became independent in 1991.

The topic of unification is an emotionally charged one between the two countries, which share a common history and language.

Dodon warned that any Moldovan unification with Romania would trigger a regional conflict pitting Romanian and Ukrainian troops on one side against Russian troops—currently stationed in Moldova's separatist region of Transdniester—on the other.

"This is what the United States is hoping for," Dodon said, without offering details, adding that such a "tragedy" would spread conflict well into the European Union—with whom Moldova signed an association agreement in 2014, much to the annoyance of Moscow.

Dodon said the only way back to the "fairytale times" of Soviet prosperity is through the Eurasian Economic Union, which includes Belarus, Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan along with Russia.

"We want to go home," Dodon said. "Back in the U.S.S.R."

Wikipedia 4 February 2016

Did you know...

• ... that Yolanda Marculescu, prima donna of the Romanian National Opera of Bucharest, defected to the U.S. in 1968 and founded the International Festival of the Art Song in Milwaukee, Wisconsin?

‘In Europe’s Shadow,’ by Robert D. Kaplan

Images on a Romanian tram in 2009 marked the 20th anniversary of the fall of Nicolae Ceausescu. Daniel Mihailescu/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

New York Times
3 February 2016
by Alison Smale

Some 35 years ago, Robert D. Kaplan embarked on what this book portrays as an enduring love affair. The object of his affection and fascination is not a person, but a country: Romania. It is an obsession that has led him to plunge into the surrounding Balkans, and farther afield to contemplate Europe in all its historic complexity.

When Kaplan arrived in Bucharest in the Cold War days of 1981, it was hardly an instant romance. He felt as if he had abandoned the sun and vibrant colors of Israel, and entered “a black-and-white engraving in the shivery, November-hued Balkans.”

“The silence of the streets was devastating,” he recalls in the opening pages of this haunting yet ultimately optimistic examination of the human condition as found in Romania. “The city had been reduced to a vast echo.” People stood in glum queues for not much; heat was scarce and fuel so precious that buses would soon run with methane tanks on top.

Worse yet was the sight of massed thousands marching in a parade for their dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu, or listening to him speak for three hours. “The faces in the audience looked terrified throughout. Nobody dared stop clapping and chanting until he raised his arm.”

I remember that fear from reporting trips to Romania later in the 1980s. It was repulsive, hinting at the murderous cruelty of Ceausescu and his predecessor Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej, whom Kaplan brands “arguably two of the most ruthless men in the history of the second half of the 20th century.” But it was also, especially in contrast to the much chronicled Middle East, part of an intriguing and largely untold story. Kaplan got hooked.

Any reader going along for his 30-year ride should know that it is difficult to explore Romania in the linear, logical narrative familiar to the West. Steeped in his subject, the author delves into the ancient roots of Romania’s culture and religion. He revels in what he calls “a thrilling and atmospheric truth: Romania does, indeed, constitute a unique blend of a ­Latinate language and an Eastern Orthodox Church; the sound of Italy alongside the icons and frescoes of Greek Byzantium.” Its Orthodox hymns are “the most inspiring and evocative religious music I know,” and the country itself “a fusion of Roman Latinity and Greek Orthodox Christianity, so that ancient Rome and Greece live on, however vaguely and indirectly, inside the Romanian soul.”

Kaplan’s account of the centuries leading up to the most turbulent of all—the 20th—is both sweeping and replete with alluring detail (my favorite: that Cyrillic script was used in Romania until the 19th century, when it began to die out, partly because czarist officers arriving from Russia encouraged Romanians to imitate them and speak French, not Greek, as their second language).

While Kaplan’s meticulous care for his subject is plain, even he cannot fully penetrate or resolve the vagueness and contradiction of Romanian history. The Battle of Rovine, in May 1395, was a crucial (and rare) victory over the Turks. Yet, in setting out for the supposed site of this battle, Kaplan fails to find it with surety, and in fact has been told by a local historian that such sites are often obscure.

“In Europe’s Shadow” is loosely constructed around Kaplan’s trips to Romania in 1981 (he was barred from Romania after writing in 1984 of Ceausescu’s destruction of old central Bucharest), 1990 and 2013. A visit that also takes him to the former Soviet republic of Moldova and into Transnistria is added in 2014, after Russia under Vladimir Putin has upended post-Cold War security arrangements in Europe with his annexation of Crimea and actions in eastern Ukraine.

The dates allow Kaplan to trace the arc from brutal Communism to immediate post-revolution—“to see an entire ­population struggling to recover their self-respect as individuals”—to the near present, when Romania has joined NATO and the European Union, and even its provincial towns, like Sighisoara in Transylvania, are “teeming with tourists.” Spotting “a sumptuous interior” in Sighisoara, ­Kap­lan writes, “Few things scream money and elegance like soft yellow lighting.”

He treasures his memories of the 1981 visit to the Balkans that changed his life, “giving it a direction that would never really alter afterward,” and is ­disappointed to find that, in 2013, his observations no longer have the same powerful effect. “Bucharest was now a mishmash,” he writes, admitting that this “was its salvation and its humanity. It had not yet been overrun again by another utopian ideology or grand scheme. The city merely existed from day to day, adding dissimilar elements, while the politics of the capital were emblemized by petty, low-level ­intrigue and chaos. There was nothing archetypal about it anymore, thankfully.”

As he notes when he arrives back in Romania from far poorer, more precarious Moldova in 2014, one could practically want to kiss the ground that the last two decades or so have been among the most benign in Romanian ­history. Even the worried people he encounters after Putin has overturned the post-1989 paradigm do not talk violence or revenge. Instead, Kaplan recounts, they fret over maps and routes of ­energy ­pipelines that may or may not solidify Russia’s grip on the region and implore him to make sure the West (and specifically Americans) takes care of Romania in the 21st century—as it failed, in their view, to do for much of the 20th.

Perhaps because of his publishing deadline, Kaplan gives little space to exploring the significance of Romania’s surprising 2014 election. In a country long wedded to a rigid nationalism, Klaus Iohannis, the ethnic German mayor of the Transylvanian city of Sibiu, became the first non-ethnic-Romanian president, campaigning on a message of reform, fighting corruption and aligning with the West against Putin. Another curious omission, in this capturing of history near and distant, is discussion of the 2008 NATO summit in ­Bucharest, at which Germany opposed the American push—now seen as prescient by some, in the light of Ukraine in 2014—to hold out membership for Georgia and Ukraine.

But omissions and unevenness come with the territory, as it were, and are compensated for by the rich characters who wander through these pages, particularly the nonagenarian historians and other intellectuals, officials and churchmen who dispense wisdom from book-lined homes, cafes, or chapels old and new.

Over an espresso at the old home of Ceausescu’s wastrel son Nicu, a friend of Kaplan’s opines that Romania’s geography “is still a nightmare.” Perhaps because of his long years in the Balkans and the Middle East, Kap­lan is hyperconscious of the role of geography in history. (His many books include ­“Balkan Ghosts” and “The Revenge of Geography.”) His friend’s remark leads him to muse on how Romania joined the European Union (in 2007) just as the union fell into crisis: “a mountain of debt spiraling out of control that put the future of the welfare state—the political and moral response to centuries of war and suffering on the Continent—in doubt.” He shares the spreading view that this has led to many different Europes—the states within the eurozone and the Schengen ­borderless-travel agreement; those outside; and the ones outside the union entirely—“instead of one Europe into whose bosom Romania could escape history.”

Europe seems, indeed, to be at a crossroad, and Kaplan’s Romania offers lessons on the value of malleability, and what ­endures.

Father Dosoftei, a breathless monk at Putna on the Ukraine border, a monastery housing the tomb of the medieval ruler Stephen the Great, knows what lasts. “The Communists destroyed the landscape, but deep down they destroyed nothing,” the monk tells Kaplan. “It is only a matter of recovering the tradition. Tradition and modernity cannot exist one without the other. You can only build from the past.”

Two Cold Wars and a Thirty-Year Journey Through Romania and Beyond
By Robert D. Kaplan
Illustrated. 287 pp. Random House. $28.

Alison Smale is The Times’s Berlin bureau chief. She led the Associated Press coverage of Central Europe and the Balkans from 1986 to 1998.

Romania: Govt Suspends Law for Books Written in Prison

New York Times
3 February 2016
by The Associated Press

BUCHAREST, Romania—Romania's government has suspended a controversial law that made prisoners eligible for a reduced sentence if they had written a book.

The law had sparked controversy after anti-corruption prosecutors investigating suspicions of abuse said one 212-page book was apparently written in seven hours, leading to suspicions that works were plagiarized or ghostwritten.

Government spokesman Dan Suciu said Wednesday the government had suspended the legislation until Sept. 1. Justice Minister Raluca Pruna had called for the law to be scrapped, but was overruled by the Council of Magistrates.

Prisoners can have their sentences reduced by 30 days for every "scientific work" they publish, subject to a judge's decision on whether the book merits it.

The justice ministry says 340 books were published by prisoners last year, up from 90 in 2014.

Romanian Parliament Lifts Ex-Deputy PM's Immunity in Motorcade Probe

New York Times
3 February 2016
by Reuters

BUCHAREST—Romania's Senate voted on Wednesday to lift the immunity of former deputy premier Gabriel Oprea, opening the way for a criminal investigation into allegations that he ordered unauthorised motorcades for himself.

Romania is seen as one of the European Union's most corrupt states and its judiciary is under special EU scrutiny, though its prosecutors have won praise from the EU executive for stepped-up efforts to punish graft and abuses of power.

Anti-corruption prosecutors alleged last month that Oprea, who has also served as interior minister, ordered unauthorised motorcades for himself and for chief prosecutor Tiberiu Nitu.

The Senate, Romania's upper house of parliament, voted 102-30 to lift Oprea's immunity. Oprea and Nitu both deny wrongdoing.

Nitu resigned on Tuesday while Oprea quit in November alongside prime minister Victor Ponta after a deadly night club fire triggered massive protests. Ponta is now facing charges of forgery and money-laundering.

Oprea's case came to light in October after one of his police officer outriders died when his motorcycle crashed into a pothole in downtown Bucharest.

Under Romanian law, only the president, prime minister and two parliamentary speakers are entitled to motorcades, while ministers can use them only for emergencies.

Anti-corruption prosecutors have launched several high-profile investigations in recent years—against ministers, lawmakers, mayors, magistrates and businessmen—in a crackdown that has exposed widespread graft and angered Romanians.

(Reporting by Radu Marinas; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Romania General Prosecutor Quits Over Motorcade Allegations

New York Times
2 February 2016
by The Associated Press

BUCHAREST, Romania—Romania's general prosecutor resigned Tuesday over allegations he illegally benefited from the use of official motorcades, a topic which has provoked debate and outrage in Romania.

Tiberiu Nitu said he was stepping down after media reports alleged he had illegally and "unjustly used official motorcades." Nitu insisted he had not abused his position and said he had merely ensured himself of protection benefiting his high-ranking post. However, he said he was resigning to protect the reputation of the prosecutor's office.

President Klaus Iohannis accepted his resignation which came on the same day as a Romanian parliamentary committee approved prosecutors' request to lift the immunity of former Interior Minister Gabriel Oprea so he can be investigated on suspicion of abusing his position by allegedly overusing official motorcades.

Anti-corruption prosecutors say Oprea used a motorcade 1,607 times from Jan. 2-Oct. 21, 2015, an average of five times a day and three times more than Romania's president used the privilege. Oprea denies wrongdoing and Parliament will vote Wednesday on whether to lift his immunity.

By law, the president, the prime minister and Romania's two Parliament speakers are entitled to a police escort in traffic, while other senior officials are allowed escorts in special circumstances. Many Romanians think government ministers and senior officials abuse their positions by overusing motorcades, which often block traffic in the busy capital.

There was public outrage when a policeman escorting Oprea died when his motorbike hit a pothole. Oprea resigned on Nov. 4 when the government collapsed following street protests over a deadly nightclub fire that killed 63.

Salina Turda: A Transylvanian Salt Mine Turned Playground

The 2000-year-old Salina Turda salt mine in Transylvania has been used as a theme park and museum since 1992.

27 January 2016

See more photos at the article website

Romania Investigates Hundreds Of Publications Written By Prisoners

National Public Radio
26 January 2016

Listen to the story at the article website

NPR's Audie Cornish talks to Romanian journalist Ovidiu Vanghele about Romanian prisoners publishing scientific papers to reduce prison sentences.


For decades, Romania has given its prisoners a way to reduce their time behind bars. Publish a scientific book - get 30 days off your sentence. Now, this is a law that goes back to the communist era for prisoners who weren't suitable for manual labor. And last year, there was a sharp increase in publications by wealthy and well-connected inmates. The AP says from a handful of books in previous years to suddenly hundreds in 2015. Ovidiu Vanghele is a Romanian journalist. He joins us now from Bucharest. Welcome.

OVIDIU VANGHELE: Thanks for having me.

CORNISH: So there's an investigation into alleged abuse of this law. What prompted that investigation?

VANGHELE: As you said, there's been a huge rise in the number of books written in prison. And this is a tool that only - I don't know - the VIP inmates use basically. These last - I don't know - two or three years there's been a huge rise in the number of books they pretend to write in prison. And I say pretend because factually you cannot write so many books in that small amount of time, and you cannot write books in Romanian prisons because you don't have access to knowledge resources. You are not allowed to have access to Internet, so you cannot use any online resources.

Still, you are allowed to ask for one book or another book to be brought to you by your lawyer or by your family when they come and visit you. But, you know, if you only use written material, it would be impossible to consult and to summarize so many things in such a short amount of time and be able to still write a notable scientific work.

CORNISH: Help us understand how these prisoners, especially these VIP prisoners, are getting these books written if people don't believe that they're writing them.

VANGHELE: This is a thing that I hope the prosecutors will shed light on. We don't know how these books - if they are being brought to jail, being smuggled to those prisoners or not. The penitentiary system in Romania is quite closed.

CORNISH: Right now we've been reading that the speculation is that prisoners are using ghost writers. People are somehow smuggling in handwritten manuscripts, right, because they have to be presented as handwritten.

VANGHELE: The law is not really clear on this matter either. That's a big problem also because we don't know if they are—I don't know if they bring them, like, a Word document on a stick, on a memory stick, or if they are being presented as a manuscript.

CORNISH: We mentioned that this is a law that dates back to the communist era. Is there any talk of changing it today?

VANGHELE: Yeah, there's been a huge investigation by the newly appointed justice minister in Romania. And their intention is to abolish the law. But in my opinion, the problem is not the law itself. The problem is the way you implement the law, the conditions and the requirements for a book to be considered a scientific work. There's been, like, you know, kindergarten books. That's the intellectual level of the books that are being presented as scientific works and are being used as to get out of jail early. That's the problem.

CORNISH: This increase in book publications, it's primarily wealthy and well-connected inmates. Does this specific fight say anything to us about kind of Romania's struggle to deal with corruption?

VANGHELE: Yes. You know, we had a lot of important persons convicted throughout the last several years. And this is not a coincidence that the penitentiary literature phenomenon exploded throughout the last years also. So this is, like, more or less a consequence of the war on corruption.

CORNISH: Ovidiu Vanghele is an editor at the online newspaper EurActiv. He spoke with us from Bucharest, Romania. Thank you so much for speaking with us.

VANGHELE: Thanks for having me

Romania Offers Moldova Aid to Keep It Solvent

New York Times
26 January 2016
by The Associated Press

BUCHAREST, Romania—Romania offered Moldova emergency economic aid and a loan of 60 million euros ($65 million) on Tuesday in hopes of preventing economic collapse and keeping the impoverished ex-Soviet republic on a pro-European course.

Romanian Prime Minister Dacian Ciolos said that to get the money, Moldova will have to reform its justice system, fight corruption, sign a draft agreement for a loan from the International Monetary Fund, and appoint a new central bank governor.

"Romania is clearly by Moldova's side," added Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, who met with Moldova's Prime Minister Pavel Filip in Bucharest. "We want to support you on your European path and we are convinced that together we will find the best ways to do it."

The offer from Romania comes as Moldova stands on the edge of economic collapse following the disappearance of more than $1 billion from three Moldovan banks, one eighth of the nation's annual GDP.

The state had to step in to replace the funds that were stolen, leaving it tragically short of funds. Experts say that without outside help, the state could soon find itself unable to pay state salaries and pensions.

Anger over the fraud and other cases of corruption have fueled months of street protests in the capital, with demonstrators demanding early elections. A former prime minister, Vlad Filat, was arrested last year on suspicion that he took part in the fraud. He is awaiting trial and denies wrongdoing, saying the probe is politically motivated.

Filip, the sixth prime minister in a year, is also considered a symbol by many Moldovans of the nation's entrenched corruption because of his ties to an influential businessman. Earlier this month, protesters stormed the Parliament to protest his taking office.

It is a situation that both Western powers and Russia are watching closely.

Though Moldova is small, with only 4 million people, its location—wedged today between the EU and Ukraine—has long given it geopolitical significance that transcends its size.

Both Russia and the West seek greater influence over Moldova's political and economic direction, and Romania, a NATO member that has cool relations with Moscow, very much wants a functioning pro-Western nation on its eastern border for security reasons.

Moldova has an association agreement with the EU aimed at encouraging economic links, and which some people in Moldova hope could lead to eventual membership. Russia opposes Moldova joining the EU.

Pro-European parties came to power in 2009 and won again in 2014, but squandered their chance to improve the lives of people as the country grappled with the fallout from the bank scandal and other cases of corruption. The average monthly salary is just $240 (220 euros).

The people of Moldova, a place where both Romania and Russian are widely spoken, are divided over whether to seek closer integration with the West or Russia.

While Western observers are disappointed in the government's failure to enact reforms, they also fear that early elections sparked by the unrest could result in pro-Russian forces surging to power.

Filip vowed that he and other member of his government would meet Romania's conditions.

Radu Magdin, the head of a Bucharest-based political consulting company, Smartlink Communications, said the help from Romania "can't replace the $1 billion plus that was stolen, but it helps with basic necessities."


Corneliu Rusnac, in Chisinau, Moldova, contributed to this report.

Romania's Former Deputy PM May Face Trial Over Motorcade Scandal

New York Times
25 January 2016
by Reuters

BUCHAREST—Romania's former deputy prime minister may face trial over his use of motorcades that prosecutors say he was not entitled to, part of a crackdown on high-level graft in one of the European Union's most corrupt member states.

Romanian prosecutors asked parliament on Monday to approve a criminal inquiry into Gabriel Oprea—needed because he is still a senator—but lawmakers have a patchy record on such requests, rejecting some with no clear legal reason.

Oprea resigned in November alongside prime minister Victor Ponta after a deadly night club fire triggered massive protests. His use of motorcades came to light in October after one of his police outriders died when his bike crashed into a pothole.

Oprea has said he has not broken any laws.

"I consider myself innocent and this will be confirmed sooner or later," he told reporters on Monday.

"I will support the process of finding out the truth. I know political life comes with varied risks, including ... that of becoming a collateral victim in power battles."

Under Romanian legislation, only the president, prime minister and two parliamentary speakers are entitled to motorcades, while ministers can only use them for emergencies.

Prosecutors said Oprea, who was also interior minister, used motorcades roughly five times on average each day from January 2014 through November 2015, for official business, private visits, party meetings and traveling to restaurants.

He used motorcades three times as often as President Klaus Iohannis and twice as often as Ponta, prosecutors said.

"The misappropriation of traffic police resources who should have helped ease Bucharest traffic and using them to facilitate travel for an official not entitled to this benefit with the consequence of making it harder for other traffic participants has made it impossible for the institution to fulfill one of its vital functions," they said in a statement.

They also want to investigate Oprea for authorizing motorcades for the prosecutor general.

Anti-corruption prosecutors have launched several high-profile investigations in recent years—against ministers, lawmakers, mayors, magistrates and businessmen—in a crackdown that has exposed widespread graft and angered Romanians.

Brussels keeps the country's justice system under special monitoring, although it has praised prosecutors and magistrates for recent investigations into the political elite.

This month, the Council of Europe’s anti-corruption watchdog said Romania must update legislation to prevent graft and reinforce improvements made in its major drive against entrenched corruption.

(Reporting by Luiza Ilie; Editing by Louise Ireland)

Romania Probes Hundreds of Books Written by Prisoners

New York Times
25 January 2016
by The Associated Press

BUCHAREST, Romania—Romania's crackdown on corruption and fraud in recent years has created a sudden and unexpected literary boom, as prisoners publish hundreds of non-fiction books on subjects as varied as soccer, real estate, God and gemstones.

It's quite a feat for inmates with no access to books or the Internet, often without tables in their cells. Reports that one book, of 212 pages, was written in seven hours, has only increased suspicions that the improbable treatises are often ghost-written or plagiarized.

Under Romanian law, prisoners can have their sentences reduced by 30 days for every "scientific work" they publish, subject to a judge's decision on whether the book merits it. Prisoners pay publishing houses to print their works—though they won't be found in any bookshop.

The law dates from the communist era and was aimed at imprisoned intellectuals who were not suitable for manual labor. Skilled manual workers are able to work to reduce their sentences.

Until recently only a handful of such books were published, but in 2014 that rose to 90—and in 2015 it spiraled to 340.

Prosecutors are investigating whether rich and well-connected convicts are paying university professors—who are required to approve the subjects of the books—or others to write them for them.

A prosecutors' statement cited the case of the 212-page book written by an unidentified prisoner in under seven hours, as well as a 180-page book written in 12 hours.

Laura Stefan, an analyst at the Expert Forum think tank, which promotes transparency and good governance, says the "scientific works" coming out of Romania's jails have more to do with the wealth and influence of the inmates than their literary talent.

"What we are seeing ... is the result of high-level people ending up in jail. These very powerful people are also rich and they can afford to have high-quality counsel, lawyers who teach them how to use the legislation," she told The Associated Press.

"The quality of the work is poor, and some are bluntly copied."

Allegations of plagiarism against ministers and high-ranking figures are commonplace in Romania, yet rarely investigated. A university panel in 2012 found that former Prime Minister Victor Ponta plagiarized his 2003 doctoral thesis,

Justice Minister Raluca Pruna has called for the law to be abolished in an emergency ordinance.

"I noticed a very large growth (in publications) in a very short space of time," Pruna told the AP. "It was clear the procedure had not been applied in a strict manner."

She favors new legislation that would put writing a book on a par with activities such as painting and theater, which would together be taken into consideration when ruling on early release.

The books are generally highly specialized or full of photos and short on text and would pass unnoticed were it not for the high-profile authors—including former Prime Minister Adrian Nastase, a football club owner and a TV mogul—or the fact they were apparently penned on a prison bed.

Nastase, who published prolifically before he served two prison sentences for corruption, wrote two books while in jail. He declined to be interviewed for this article.

However, graphic artist Marina Popovici, one of those sentenced alongside Nastase in 2012 for money-laundering and complicity to abuse of the public interest, praised the law and said it gave well-educated prisoners something productive to do.

"As a person who was active, I wanted to do something so as not to waste my time," she said, clutching her book, "Precious Colored Gemstones." She said she was given supervised access to a computer and insisted she wrote the book herself. Freed in 2015, she claims she was wrongly convicted and is appealing at the European Court of Human Rights.

Journalist and former senator Sorin Rosca Stanescu served nine months of a 2½-year sentence he was handed for using privileged information and setting up an organized crime group. He wrote three books on the Romanian press and Romania's political life and now teaches classes about corruption plaguing the Romanian press. He also insists he wrote his own books.

But it's hardly surprising that in such difficult conditions—prisoners rely on family and friends to photocopy pages from reference books and don't have desks in their cells—and with most convicts first-time authors, there are suspicions some prisoners simply hired others to write for them.

Steaua football club owner Gigi Becali recently admitted that he didn't write the four books that came out under his name on subjects ranging from Mount Athos to "merciful love and redemption." The former European Parliament lawmaker was sentenced to 3½ years prison in May 2013 for a land exchange deal, kidnapping and match fixing. He did not respond to messages requesting an interview.

Lawmaker Gabriela Anghel, who's taking Stanescu's class on media corruption, thinks the law is wrong.

"It's not right to reduce someone's sentence based on a book they may not have written. They should write, but not get their sentence reduced because of it," she said.

Moldova: 3,000 Protest, Call for Early Elections

New York Times
22 January 2016
by The Associated Press

CHISINAU, Moldova—Some 3,000 people protested in the Moldovan capital Friday for a third day running calling for early elections, better governance and demanding an end to widespread corruption.

The demonstrators marched toward the national television station, Moldova 1, accusing it of pro-government-bias. Leaders from two pro-Russian parties led the march and were joined by members of civic group Dignity and Truth, which wants more transparency and public accountability. They later headed to the capital's main square.

Protesters stormed Parliament Wednesday after lawmakers approved a new pro-European government led by Pavel Filip, the former technology minister.

Protesters are angry about falling living standards in the impoverished country and say pro-European parties, which have been in power since 2009, have failed to carry out reforms. They are also calling for a full inquiry into the disappearance of up to $1.5 billion from three banks prior to parliamentary elections in 2014.

The banks were closed down in 2015 and losses were covered by state reserves.

"I want Moldova to be a free country, that doesn't depend on oligarchs," said Alexandru Balaban, 58, a worker. "We've had enough of corruption. We want people to have decent salaries and jobs so they don't have to go abroad to work."

The average monthly salary in the impoverished nation is just 220 euros ($240). Some 600,000 Moldovans work abroad in the European Union or Russia and send home remittances.

"We can't live like this anymore with high prices and tiny salaries. They stole the money and we have to deal with the consequences," said Irina Popov, an office worker who was protesting.

The U.S. Embassy in Chisinau and the EU have repeatedly urged Moldova to carry out an investigation into the missing money.

Former Prime Minister Vlad Filat was arrested in October 2015 and charged with taking bribes worth $260 million from a businessman to help him gain control of one of the banks. He is currently in jail, pending trial.

Money disappeared from the state savings bank, the Social Bank and Unibank at the end of November 2014. All three banks were put under the central bank's administration in December 2014.


Alison Mutler in Bucharest, Romania contributed to this report.

Romania Needs to Update Laws to Stop Corruption-European Watchdog

New York Times
22 January 2016
by Reuters

BUCHAREST—Romania must update legislation to prevent graft and reinforce improvements made in a major drive against entrenched corruption in state institutions, a report by the Council of Europe’s anti-corruption watchdog said on Friday.

Romania is seen as one of the European Union's most corrupt member states and Brussels keeps its justice system under special monitoring, although it has praised prosecutors and magistrates for a recent crackdown on high-level graft.

The report recommended a series of measures that will be reviewed next year including making legal process more transparent, clarifying a campaign financing bill, introducing stricter criteria for lawmakers to prevent conflict of interest, accepting gifts and unregulated relationships with lobbyists.

In the last two years, prosecutors have launched investigations against some of the most powerful and well-connected people in Romania, where corruption deters investors and tax evasion and bribery are a drain on public finances.

Last year Prime Minister Victor Ponta was indicted for forgery, money-laundering and being an accessory to tax evasion and in November he resigned in the wake of a deadly night club fire that triggered massive street protests against the widespread corruption that has infected public administration.

The report said that, despite the crackdown, about a third of Romanians were still likely to have been asked or expected to pay a bribe.

"Romania has taken important steps to investigate and prosecute corruption," Council of Europe Secretary, General Thorbjørn Jagland, said.

"It now needs to develop a more robust and effective system of prevention which would address problematic situations even before they turn into a criminal conduct."

The report also urges authorities to clarify a system of immunity from prosecution. Under Romanian law, prosecutors need parliament's approval to investigate and detain sitting lawmakers for graft offences committed while in office.

Lawmakers have a patchy record of approving such requests. The report found that during 2012-2014 prosecutors filed 15 requests, with only nine approved.

The report also recommended a review of the process of appointing chief prosecutors to avoid political interference.

(Reporting by Luiza Ilie and Maria Gerth-Niculescu; Editing by Louise Ireland)

'Aferim!' May Be Romania's 'Hateful Eight'

Cuzin Toma (Carfin), Mihai Comānoiu (Ionitā) and Teodor Corban (Costandin) of Aferim! Mihai Chitu/Big World Pictures

National Public Radio
21 January 2016
by Mark Jenkins

When Aferim! debuted at the Berlin Film Festival a year ago, some called it a Romanian 12 Years a Slave. Now that it's on U.S. screens, there's an even closer analogy: Aferim! is Romania's The Hateful Eight.

Both movies are revisionist Westerns, with verbosely profane dialogue and stories shadowed by racism and slavery. Yet there are two notable differences: Aferim! was shot in crystalline black-and-white, and is more sparing in its depiction of violence. Its brutal payoff transpires off-camera, and involves just one victim. Among the most savage events actually shown is a Punch and Judy-style puppet show, a comment on violence that demonstrates director and co-writer Radu Jude's subtlety and empathy.

The story opens with a widescreen shot of mountains—not the Rockies, but still fairly rugged. We hear voices first, as a man describes a cholera outbreak whose ravages convey the harshness of life in Wallachia, southern Romania, in 1835. Then two men on horseback ride into view, across the broad vista, and out the other side.

This is a Romanian film, so the camera doesn't move, and there are no edits or zoom-ins. Later, Jude will become a little more familiar with his characters, but close-ups are not to his taste. The audience is kept at a distance, its view sometimes blocked by trees, animals, or crowds of ragtag people.

The garrulous man on horseback is Costandin (Teodor Corban), a constable currently serving as a bounty hunter. The teenager with him, too gawky and green for his uniform and sword, turns out to be Costandin's son, Ionita (Mihai Comanoiu). The men are in pursuit of a runaway gypsy slave, Carfin (Cuzin Toma, star of another current Romanian film, The Treasure). When they find him, Carfin also has plenty to say.

Slavery was abolished in Romania just a few years before the Emancipation Proclamation, and the gypsies seen in Aferim! have roughly the same status as slaves in the antebellum American South. They're even called "crows," and their plight justified because they're supposedly descendants of Ham, cursed by God to be black. (The movie ends with a list of historical sources for its fascinating depiction of 19th-century Romanian customs, behavior, and attitudes.)

1830s Wallachia is a multicultural land, and not happy about it. It's part of the Ottoman empire—"Aferim" is the Ottoman-Turkish equivalent of "bravo"—yet increasingly dominated by Russia. When Costandin and Ionita help a priest with a broken cart, he impugns the characters of many nationalities in a series of one-liners. The constable asks if gypsies are human. Yes, the cleric replies, but Jews are not.

Although set in a different milieu than any other recent import from the Romanian cinema, Aferim! has familiar aspects. Like many films set in contemporary Bucharest, this is a story of self-styled potentates, small-time graft, and inevitable disappointment.

Incorrigibly vulgar and habitually insulting to women and gypsies, Costandin seems monstrous at first. But he's less a bully than a traveling-salesman type, with well-worn patter in continual flow. The constable has a joke or a curse for every occasion, notably as he rides away from an encounter with a Turkish aristocrat: "May he live three more days, including yesterday."

Costandin is boorish and bellicose, yet not without compassion. While he shares his compatriots' prejudices against gypsies, he still entreats the lord who hired him to show some mercy. But he's asking the wrong man, in the wrong era, in the wrong country.

Review: ‘Aferim!’ Traverses an Unforgiving Romania in the 1800s

Cuzin Toma (center left), Mihai Comanoiu (center right) and Teodor Corban (right) star in “Aferim!” Credit Mihai Chitu/Big World Pictures

New York Times
21 January 2016
by A. O. Scott

Do you need another reason to be mad about the Oscar nominations? Well here’s one, expressed as tradition demands in the form of a hashtag: #WhataboutAferim! “Aferim!”—the title translates more or less as “Attaboy!”—is Radu Jude’s sublime new feature, a funny and brutal costume drama with a potent contemporary kick. Officially submitted for consideration as Romania’s official entry in the best foreign-language film sweepstakes, it was omitted from the final list of five nominees.

A shocking slight, but maybe not all that surprising. Romania, a small country on the fringe of Europe, has a long history of being trampled, disrespected and ignored by the world’s great powers. Why should Hollywood be an exception? Marginality is part of the national identity and very much a theme in the recent flowering of Romanian cinema. Persistent unluckiness, low self-esteem and compensatory pomposity define the comic universe of “The Treasure,” Corneliu Porumboiu’s most recent film, for instance.

That movie, which opened in New York a few weeks ago, might be described as a perverse folk tale set in the present day. Its dry, wry minimalism will be familiar to devotees of the Romanian New Wave. Mr. Jude, while he shares with his contemporaries an unsentimental interest in human folly and failure, departs from the naturalism that has been their collective signature for the last decade. Shot in richly toned, wide-screen black and white, “Aferim!” looks like an elegant exercise in period playacting. But it casts a fierce, revisionist eye on the past, finding the cruelty and prejudice that lie beneath the pageantry.

It’s 1835, in the principality of Walachia, a northern region of what is not yet Romania that resembles the territory of a classic western. A lawman named Constandin (Teodor Corban) and his deputy, Ionita (Mihai Comanoiu)—who is also his son—ride through broad mountain valleys and sun-dappled forests on horseback, looking for a fugitive. They travel through what feels very much like a half-civilized stretch of frontier, encountering a motley collection of bandits, farmers, stagecoach drivers and talkative oddballs. One of these is a priest whose godly wisdom consists of a hair-raising litany of ethnic and religious hatreds. “Gypsies,” he says, are technically human, though as descendants of Ham they are cursed with servitude and backwardness. Don’t get him started on Jews.

Squeezed between the Russian and the Ottoman Empires, this part of the world is a semi-feudal patchwork of villages, monasteries and estates. Danger is everywhere, and what government exists seems to rest on the principle of might makes right. Power and wealth are concentrated in the hands of aristocratic boyars. One of them has dispatched Constandin and Ionita to capture an enslaved Gypsy who has run away after sleeping with the boyar’s wife.

Constandin is a gruff, good-humored fellow, who walks with a limp and swaggers toward trouble with the confidence of someone accustomed to winning fights. He can be menacing when his job and circumstances call for it, but he isn’t malicious, and he treats Ionita with tough paternal tenderness. He clearly regards himself as a good father and a fair-minded guardian of law and order, proud of his title (“Constable”) and aware of the responsibility it confers.

But he is also the paid enforcer of a system of racist domination and economic exploitation that is breathtaking in its brutality. Without undue didacticism—but also without euphemism or antiquarian excuse-making—Mr. Jude, drawing in part from contemporary records and writings, exposes how deeply the oppression of the Roma was woven into the 19th-century Balkan social order. Gypsies are routinely referred to as “darkies” or “crows.” (They address Constandin and his employer as “bright lord.”) They can be bought, sold, beaten, killed or mutilated according to the whims of anyone in authority. When Constandin and Ionita find Carfin (Cuzin Toma), the slave they’re looking for, they shackle his feet and throw him across the front of Constandin’s saddle.

The systematic destruction of human dignity is painful to witness, but in “Aferim!” it’s just a fact of life. Mr. Jude has no interest in preaching, or in flattering modern audiences by re-enacting the bygone horrors of the old days. Anti-Roma bigotry and extreme inequality have hardly vanished from Romania, and the political implications of the story ripple far beyond that country’s borders.

But there is nothing grim or scolding about this movie. Quite the opposite: It is raucous, funny and full of life. Nor does the collision of moral horror and profane humor seem in any way forced, as it might in, let’s say, a Quentin Tarantino movie. Constandin, an inexhaustible talker, overflowing with corny wisdom, snippets of poetry and philosophical musings, resembles one of Mr. Tarantino’s garrulous bounty hunters. He also seems entirely at home in his milieu, even as he is troubled from time to time by stirrings of compassion or remorse.

Mr. Corban, who may be familiar to fans of Romanian film from his work in Mr. Porumboiu’s “12:08 East of Bucharest” and Cristian Mungiu’s “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days,” gives an exuberantly soulful performance. He has some of Anthony Quinn’s rough charisma, and a touch of the loose, wised-up humor that John Wayne brought to his later westerns.

In another kind of film—maybe the kind more in tune with Oscar-time magical thinking—Constandin might be a hero, a man of conscience awakened by the injustice in which he’s implicated. But Mr. Jude loves humanity too much to tell comforting lies about it. His pessimism is somehow the opposite of despair, and while the ringing affirmation of his film’s title is obviously sarcastic, “Aferim!” is neither mocking nor mean. As a species, we’re pretty awful, but we can also be a lot of fun, and even sometimes decent, compassionate and wise. How can we live with ourselves? The answer, this brilliant movie suggests, is that we can’t but somehow we do.

“Aferim!” is not rated. It is in Romanian, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 46 minutes.

Unrest for 2nd Day: 7,000 Hold Anti-Govt Protest in Moldova

New York Times
21 January 2016
by The Associated Press

CHISINAU, Moldova—About 7,000 people held an anti-government protest Thursday in the Moldovan capital, a day after demonstrators stormed the legislature after it approved a new pro-European government.

Protesters gathered outside government offices and Parliament in Chisinau to protest Prime Minister Pavel Filip, the former technology minister and former candy factory manager, who presented his Cabinet of politicians and specialists to President Nicolae Timofti late Wednesday.

Scuffles broke out Wednesday between police and the protesters who stormed the Parliament and 15 people were injured, including nine police officers.

On Thursday, protesters blocked a main artery in the capital as they staged a peaceful protest. Demonstrators shouted "Down with the government! We are the people!" and "Early elections!"

The vote by Parliament on Wednesday ended a three-month standoff between Timofti and Parliament, which the president would have dissolved had it not approved a new government by Jan. 29. The previous government was dismissed in late October over corruption allegations.

Some demonstrators who support opposition political parties want closer links to Russia. Others are demanding a crackdown on corruption and a thorough investigation into the $1.5 billion went missing from three banks prior to the November 2014 parliamentary election.

Moldova has been mired in political instability since 2014. Last year, Moldova had five prime ministers and there were weeks of protests about the missing money.

Romanian President Klaus Iohannis on Thursday urged Moldova's government to undertake reforms.


Alison Mutler in Bucharest, Romania contributed to this report.

Protesters Break Into Moldova's Parliament

New York Times
20 January 2016
by The Associated Press

CHISINAU, Moldova—Hundreds of protesters broke through police lines on Wednesday to storm Moldova's Parliament after it approved a new government to end months of deadlock between the president and the legislature. Six police officers were injured in the scuffles.

Before the vote, protesters massed outside Parliament waving the Moldovan flag and yelling "early elections" as lawmakers met. Afterward, their numbers swelled to thousands who scuffled with police officers before forcing their way into Parliament. They yelled "Cancel the vote!" and "Thieves!"

Police later pushed the protesters back but they forced their way into the legislature again. Police then sent in reinforcements and protesters were later forced out.

Moldova, an impoverished former Soviet republic of about 4 million, has been locked in political turmoil since up to $1.5 billion went missing from three banks prior to the 2014 parliamentary elections. Weeks of protests in the fall of 2015 demanded a thorough inquiry into the missing money.

Some of the protesters Wednesday believe the new government is a compromise solution which will not tackle endemic corruption and undertake reforms, while others oppose a pro-European government and think Moldova should remain in Russia's orbit.

Police and demonstrators fired tear gas, radio reported, and protesters set fire to part of the fence surrounding Parliament.

Some police officers were beaten by the demonstrators, six of whom were later treated for non-life threatening injuries at the Chisinau Municipal Emergency Hospital, said Eufalia Negreata, a doctor. The head of the pro-European Liberal Party Mihai Ghimpu who voted for the new government, was punched, but did not require hospital treatment.

The European Union's foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini called for restraint and a dialogue between the sides and Romania's foreign ministry also appealed for calm. The U.S. Embassy in Chisinau called for authorities to meet with the protesters and treat the issues in a calm and transparent way.

Earlier, Parliament had approved the pro-European government of Pavel Filip, the previous technology minister and a former candy factory manager, with 57 votes. The pro-Russian opposition boycotted the vote.

As the session got underway, lawmakers from the Socialists' Party booed, blew whistles and blocked off part of the Parliament. In the end, Filip merely announced his Cabinet.

He later said he was committed to Moldova joining the European Union. Moldova signed a political and trade association agreement with the EU in 2014, something Russia opposed.

Parliament had to approve a government by Jan. 29 or face being dissolved. Lawmakers dismissed the previous government in October amid corruption allegations.


Alison Mutler in Bucharest, Romania also contributed to this report.

Hungary Ready to Erect Anti-Migrant Fence on Romanian Border

New York Times
19 January 2016
by Reuters

By Krisztina Than and Justyna Pawlak

BUDAPEST—Hungary is ready to build a fence on its border with Romania "the next day" if migrants switch to that route instead of going via Croatia, Hungary's foreign minister said on Tuesday.

Peter Szijjarto told Reuters the southern frontiers of Europe were still wide open to the continuing influx of hundreds of thousands of migrants from the Middle East and Africa, which has put in doubt the future of the Schengen system of open internal borders within the EU.

He said it would require tens of thousands of police and troops in a joint European force to stem the flow of migrants at Greece's long maritime borders.

"If it was not tragic I would laugh when I hear European officials speaking about hundreds of Frontex officers being the solution - it's not the case," Szijjarto said in an interview.

"If Greece is not willing to take part in this solution ... we need the Bulgarians and Macedonians to talk to."

The EU's border agency, Frontex, said last month it would increase its presence in Greece to better handle the influx of migrants crossing the Mediterranean into Europe.

The EU plans to nearly treble its spending on frontier defense and create a 1,500-strong rapid reaction force to replace Frontex.

Hungary's pugnacious Prime Minister Viktor Orban has gained public support with his tough stance on migration. His right-wing government has put up steel fences on the country's southern borders with Serbia and Croatia to keep out migrants fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East.

The barriers initially drew criticism from European Union partners, but other countries, such as Slovenia and Austria, have since erected fences of their own.


Szijjarto said Hungary had made preparations for a fence to be built quickly on its border with Romania if necessary.

"If we have to build a fence there, we are ready from the next day," he said.

Austria said on Friday it would deny entry to migrants intending to pass through to Germany rather than apply for asylum there, prompting Slovenia to its south to announce a similar move, to avoid becoming a refugee bottleneck.

This could turn Romania into a popular route later this year. From Romania, migrants would be likely to try to enter Hungary en route for western Europe.

"It is more likely than ever that the southern border of the Schengen zone will be equal to the northern border of Greece (with Bulgaria and Macedonia)," Szijjarto said.

Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka expressed a similar view on Tuesday, saying the EU needed a "back-up" border control system ready in case migration could not be controlled in Turkey or Greece.

The Schengen system has already been suspended on some EU frontiers. Few migrants have passed through the Czech Republic so far, but that could change if Germany, the desired destination for most, sealed its borders.

"We need to strengthen the outer Schengen border, to create a common European border patrol," Sobotka told reporters.

"And if nothing of this works, then we have to create a back-up border system on the Bulgaria-Macedonia line."

(Editing by Andrew Roche)

Romanian Orthodox Church: Marriage Only Between Man, Woman

New York Times
15 January 2016
by The Associated Press

BUCHAREST, Romania—The Romanian Orthodox Church says it supports an initiative to change Romania's constitution to specify that marriage is between a man and a woman

The statement comes amid concerns from some that the conservative East European nation will align with other EU nations and permit gay marriage. Romania currently does not recognize marriages between people of the same sex.

The church, to which more than 85 percent of Romanians belong, said Friday it supports a recent proposal made by the Family Coalition to amend one article in the constitution referring to marriage.

The MozaiQ Association, which supports gay minority rights, has accused the church of meddling in secular matters.

The constitution, last revised in 2003, says marriage is between "partners" without specifying gender. Homosexuality was decriminalized in 2001.

Romania’s Ministry of Culture Shuts Down
the Rosia Montana Gold Mining Project

Romania Insider
13 January 2016

Romania’s Ministry of Culture has decided that the town of Rosia Montana and its surroundings should be classified as category A historic monuments. This means that any intervention that may affect the area is forbidden.

The Ministry of Culture’s decision thus puts an end to the controversial Rosia Montana gold mining project held by the Canadian company Gabriel Resources, according to The mining company’s representatives haven’t made any comment on this.

The 2-kilometer perimeter around the town which was declared historic monument also includes the mining sites, some of which are almost 2,000 years old. Rosia Montana was first registered as a settlement in the year 131 AD by the Romans. Back then it was called Alburnus Maior. The Roman mining galleries around Rosia Montana have also been included in the historic site.

The Ministry of Culture made the decision on December 30, 2015, when it published the historic monuments list for 2015. The ministry modifies the list every five years.

Rosia Montana was classified as a category A historic monument in 1992 but lost this status due to other decisions the Ministry of Culture made in 2004 and 2010. In 2004, the ministry decided to split Rosia Montana into five perimeters, some of which were declassified as historic monuments, to allow private investors to start working on the mining project.

Culture Minister Vlad Alexandrescu recently said in a TV show that the ministry had also notified the National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA) about some irregularities in managing the Rosia Montana heritage by some state institutions, such as the National Heritage Institute. The institute is in charge of making the historic sites lists.

Romania Amends Law Enabling Convicts to Cut Sentences by Writing Books

BBC News
12 January 2016

Romania says it is changing a law that allowed prisoners to reduce their sentences by writing books.

Convicts could cut 30 days off their jail terms if they published a work of literature or science.

Justice Minister Raluca Pruna said abuse of the system had spiralled out of control, and the law was being changed by emergency decree.

Last year, convicts published more than 300 books—some churned out several books in record time.

"According to prison administration figures, the number of books published by detainees went from one a year between 2007 and 2010, to 90 in 2014, and 340 last year," Ms Pruna told a news conference.

"Given that the phenomenon has spiralled out of control, I have proposed that the government repeal this arrangement via emergency decree," she added.

Romania's anti-corruption prosecutors are investigating whether prisoners had ghost writers, the AP news agency reports.

A statement cited the case of a 212-page book written by an unidentified prisoner in under seven hours.

Prisoners have no access to the internet or books.

The law was originally passed in 2006.

Romanian Prosecutors Probe 'Publishing in Prison' Law

New York Times
12 January 2016
by The Associated Press

BUCHAREST, Romania—Romania's anti-corruption prosecutors are investigating whether prisoners who have benefited from a law reducing sentences for inmates who publish books had ghost writers, they said Tuesday.

The anti-corruption prosecutors' office said it was investigating whether university professors and others aided prisoners.

A statement cited the case of a 212-page book written by an unidentified prisoner in under seven hours. Prisoners have no access to the Internet or books.

Romanian news agency Hotnews reported the justice ministry confirmed that seven of the 10 books published by media mogul Dan Voiculescu since he has been in prison were written simultaneously. He was handed a 10-year prison sentence for money laundering and fraudulently privatizing an agricultural institute in August 2014.

Amid the furor, Justice Minister Raluca Pruna said Tuesday she would propose that the controversial law be scrapped via an emergency government ordinance.

The National Penitentiaries Administration says 188 detainees published 400 books from 2013-2015.

A former prime minister, a TV mogul and a football club owner are among those who have had their sentences reduced, with 30 days knocked off for each book published.

The reduction is subject to a judge's decision on whether the book merits a reward.

Holocaust Drama Featuring Romanian Actor Wins
Golden Globe for best Foreign Language Film

Romania Insider
11 January 2016
by Irina Popescu

Son of Saul, a Hungarian drama featuring Romanian actor Levente Molnár, has been awarded the 2016 Golden Globe for best foreign language film.

Son of Saul is the film debut of Hungarian director László Nemes. The movie already won several prizes so far, including the Grand Prix at Cannes last year. In December 2015, the film was also shortlisted for the 2016 Academy Award for best foreign language film.

The film’s action takes place in 1944. Saul Ausländer, a Hungarian-Jewish prisoner in Auschwitz works as a Sonderkommando member, burning the dead. While working in one of the crematoriums, Saul finds the body of a boy he takes for his son. While the Sonderkommando plans a rebellion, Saul tries to save the child’s body from the flames and offer the boy a proper burial.

Levente Molnár plays the role of Abraham Warsawski, Saul’s closest friend. Watch the movie trailer below.

Molnár was born in Baia Mare, Romania, in 1976. He studied acting at the Babes-Bolyai University in Cluj-Napoca and is currently an actor at the Hungarian State Theater in the city. He also played in several feature films such as Chuck Norris vs Communism directed by Ilinca Calugareanu, Morgen directed by Marian Crisan, and Biliard directed by Mészáros Péter.

Irina Popescu,

Romania: Brother of Ex-President Sentenced to 4 Years Prison

New York Times
8 January 2016
by The Associated Press

BUCHAREST, Romania—A court has sentenced the brother of Romania's former president to four years in prison on charges of influence-peddling, ruling that he took a bribe from a convict in return for promising to secure his early release.

The court in Constanta sentenced Mircea Basescu on Friday. Marian Capatana, a politician, was sentenced to three years in the case. The ruling can be appealed.

Basescu, the brother of Traian Basescu, who was president from 2004 to 2014, was convicted of taking a 250,000-euro ($275,000) bribe via Capatana from the son of a convict imprisoned for attempted murder, promising him he could get his sentence reduced.

Mircea Basescu denies wrongdoing, and plans to appeal.

The court ordered the sum of 265,000 euros ($290,000) be confiscated from Basescu and Capatana.

For 2 Men, A Search For 'Treasure'

Cuzin Toma and Adrian Purcarescu in a scene from "The Treasure." Adi Marineci/Courtesy of FilmArt

National Public Radio
7 January 2016
by Mark Jenkins

One day, late to pick up his 6-year-old from school, a low-level Bucharest civil servant attempts to distract the boy with a reference to their mutual hero, Robin Hood. "You're not Robin Hood," the kid (Nicodim Toma) tells his dad, Costi (Cuzin Toma).

Is that a dare? Maybe not to Costi, but certainly to writer-director Corneliu Porumboiu. He spins The Treasure into an adventure tale, albeit one that's short on adventure. This charmer is determinedly mundane and low-key, until an unexpected finale transforms it.

The bulk of the movie takes place in a country easily recognized by followers of the Romanian new wave, whose most celebrated films include Porumboiu's own Police, Adjective. It's a land of paltry dreams, and bureaucrats who exist to thwart even them. It's also a nation where everyone seems to have one foot planted in the past, and the travails of Communism feel more vivid than anything that's happened since Nicolae Ceausescu's 1989 fall.

That evening, Costi is reading to his son about Robin Hood when a neighbor arrives. Adrian (Adrian Purcarescu) is unemployed and burdened by a mortgage he can't pay. He asks to borrow money, which Costi says he doesn't have. Then Adrian makes a counteroffer: He and Costi can split his family's buried treasure 50-50, if Costi pays to rent a metal detector. The alleged riches were hidden just before the Communists took power, and Adrian has no evidence that they actually exist.

This is not the most compelling of propositions, but Costi accepts it.

It will eventually lead to a sequence of deadpan slapstick, as the two men and a metal-detector operator (Corneliu Cozmei) survey the dirt at a rural garden owned by Adrian's family. The detector whines at every scrap of metal, each bleat a potential frustration—but also a possible bonanza.

Everyone notes that the property is near Islaz, where in 1848 a sort of Romanian Magna Carta was proclaimed. Stick a shovel into the country's dirt, and it's likely to hit politics.

Except for Toma, the principal cast members are nonprofessionals who were chosen for actual connections to the story: Cozmei is a genuine metal-detector operator, and Purcarescu really did dig for an ancestor's buried loot. The movie is unsweetened by music until its final moment, which makes a brief but electric stylistic leap.

The pace is deliberate, often real-time, and the individual shots long, simulating everyday life both for its own sake and as a contrast to the final twist (or two). Like his fellow Romanian directors, Porumboiu is no hurry to get to the climax, anticlimactic as it may be.

First, Costi must negotiate a labyrinth of regulations, as well as the separate rules that govern clandestine commerce. Sometimes, he learns, it's easier to lie—even when the truth is less strange than the fiction. Romania may no longer be a dictatorship, but every boss, clerk, and police officer is a little tyrant.

One likely outcome would be that the two men will indeed unearth a fortune, only to have it confiscated by the government as part of the country's patrimony. (They've been warned about that possibility.) But then there are so many ways The Treasure could end in disappointment for Costi and Adrian.

Yet perhaps the men will experience some movie magic. And The Treasure will have as much to do with Robin Hood as with the Romanian national character.

A Surge of Interest in East-Bloc Mementos

Lithographic portraits of Lenin (1972) in a Warholian style by the Hungarian artist Tibor Zala.

New York Times
7 January 2016
by Eve M. Kahn

When Communist regimes in Europe were unraveling in 1989, collaborators and dissidents alike began destroying vital historical material, from statues of dictators to family snapshots of government informers to manuals that exaggerated the quality of East German car engines. Now relics of ordinary life and heinous acts in the Soviet bloc are resurfacing in museums, publications and auctions.

Recent books have delved into East German propaganda posters and Stalinist architecture as well as apartment life, bus-stop design, children’s books and store-window aesthetics in the Eastern bloc. Current exhibitions explore early Soviet photography and film (the Jewish Museum in New York); Soviet industrial design (the Kunsthal in Rotterdam, the Netherlands); cosmonauts (the Science Museum in London); prison camps (the Gulag History Museum in Moscow); and Cuban schoolbooks from the 1960s, based on Soviet models (HistoryMiami in Florida).

In Culver City, Calif., the Wende Museum, which focuses on Cold War artifacts from Eastern Europe, is setting up galleries, labs and storage space inside a former armory built in 1949. A vast range of products made within the Soviet bloc are to be displayed, as well as documentation of the period when many Americans lived in dread of potential nuclear attacks.

Justinian A. Jampol, the founder and executive director of the Wende Museum, said the armory still has its Cold War fallout shelters, which will remain visible to the public. “The ethos of the project is to prioritize transparency,” he said.

East German memorabilia in the Wende collection is the subject of a 904-page study, “Beyond the Wall: Art and Artifacts From the GDR” (Taschen). Among the 2,500 objects it illustrates are packaged soap, album covers, typewriters, maps, clocks, lingerie, tapestries and sports equipment, with recurring images of eager factory workers and bountiful collective farms. There are military uniforms, grenades, warning signs from border crossings, recording devices used by spies and books portraying Americans as violent racists.

Dr. Jampol describes the widespread attempts in Central and Eastern Europe to discard Communist records and objects in 1989 and thereafter as part of a typical Müllphase, or “trash phase” in German. Such bursts of iconoclasm have recurred for millenniums, from the methodical smashing of ancient sculptures and monuments by Byzantine Christians to the destruction of Roman Catholic imagery during the Protestant Reformation in Northern Europe.

For coming exhibitions in the Culver City armory, the Wende is collaborating with the Getty Research Institute in studying how Hungarian artists, photographers, designers and manufacturers adapted to Communist restrictions. The museum is also working with the Wellcome Trust in London on a show, “War of Nerves: The Psychological Landscape of the Cold War,” about how political leaders persuaded citizens to inform on one another.

The Wende’s collection has expanded partly through purchases of archival material from governments. In 2010, for example, Hungarian officials auctioned off hundreds of pieces of propaganda; a showroom wall at the sale preview was devoted to nearly identical framed portraits of Lenin.

The Wende Museum has also received gifts from Communist perpetrators of injustice and from victims who acquired mementos as a form of therapy, Dr. Jampol said, adding, “A lot of these artifacts are fraught.” He said that he wanted to encourage the preservation of all objects in the field, even those considered painful or embarrassing or that evoked the most sadistic figures or most violent upheavals.

If the evidence were lost, he said, “that would be the biggest tragedy of all.”

Last year a variety of Communist-era material came up at specialty auctions in Europe and the United States. J. James Auctioneers & Appraisers in Plymouth, Mass., offered around 100 Russian posters, and pieces of Soviet porcelain were dispersed through Lempertz auction house in Berlin. The Romanian auction house Artmark organized a sale of art and memorabilia from the era, including clothing and tableware that belonged to the family of the dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, who was toppled and killed in Romania in 1989. At a Bonhams sale in New York titled “Conflicts of the 20th Century,” the lots included two metal signs that were posted at the Berlin Wall. (The pair sold for $2,000.)

On Wednesday, hundreds of items related to the Soviet space program came up for sale at a RegencySuperior auction in St. Louis. A 1960s lamp that sold for about $200 is in the form of a silver rocket spewing red exhaust; little plaques encircling the base depict Lenin and symbols of Soviet pride (farmers, happy factory workers, electricity, ships). The catalog called the knickknack a “fantastic piece of propaganda.”

Newly unearthed material is inspiring still more shows and publications. In Berlin, an exhibition of moldering Cold War installations in Europe will open in March at the German Historical Museum, and an excavated chunk of a long-buried Lenin statue will go on view in April at the Spandau Citadel. In June Rutgers University Press will release “Drawing the Iron Curtain: Jews and the Golden Age of Soviet Animation,” by the art historian Maya Balakirsky Katz. Twin Cities Public Television in St. Paul is at work on a documentary about Stalin.

Catherine Allan, executive producer of the Stalin film, said that source materials uncovered so far include secret diaries with entries criticizing Communist leaders, footage from Stalin’s home movies, crude portraits that Politburo committee members doodled of one another and ghostly evidence of political purges.

In many of the archival photos that have surfaced, she said, “there are faces that have been completely penciled or inked over.”

Review: In ‘The Treasure,’ Digging for Something of Value in Romania

Cuzin Toma, left, and Adrian Purcarescu in “The Treasure.” Adi Marineci/Sundance Selects

New York Times
7 January 2016
by A. O. Scott

Costi, the Romanian Everyman at the center of “The Treasure,” leads a reasonably comfortable if not terribly exciting life. Played by Cuzin Toma, an actor with a melancholy, sensitive face and a gentle manner, Costi has an office job and a tidy, somewhat sterile apartment, where he lives with his wife, Raluca, and their young son, Alin (played by Mr. Toma’s real-life wife and son, Cristina and Nicodim). The boy likes to hear fairy tales at bedtime, and his father soon finds himself on an adventure that has all the markings of a modern fable.

Not that the film’s director, Corneliu Porumboiu, has much interest in showy magic or pat moral lessons. His films—“The Treasure” is his fourth feature—take place in the thoroughly disenchanted world of post-Communist Romania, and the attention he pays to that world is measured and meticulous. He favors extended takes, medium- to long-range shots and minimal camera movements. Rather than forcing anything to happen, he is content to wait until dramatic events emerge from the quirks and puzzles of human behavior.

In his debut, “12:08 East of Bucharest” (2007), a prizewinner at Cannes and one of the essential European films of the past decade, Mr. Porumboiu observed the interactions of a highly undistinguished panel on a provincial television broadcast commemorating the revolution that overthrew the dictatorship of Nicolae Ceausescu. That film is at once a brutal deadpan comedy and a devastating anatomy of the ambiguous legacy of the Eastern European revolutions of 1989. Mr. Porumboiu’s next effort, “Police, Adjective” (2009), exhibited a similar doubleness, offering both a dry satire of bureaucratic working conditions and a furious critique of the petty authoritarianism that has persisted in Romania long after the disappearance of Communism.

“The Treasure” is like the work of Samuel Beckett’s long-lost Balkan cousin—bleak, stoic and suffused with a flinty, exasperated empathy for its ridiculous characters. It’s also a subtle, almost stealthy X-ray of the European soul in a time of persistent economic trouble—a more effective and cleareyed reckoning with the present crisis on the continent than, say, Miguel Gomes’s sprawling, intellectually confused “Arabian Nights.”

Most immediately, though, “The Treasure” is an absurdist anecdote, a modest story that has the feel of an urban legend. One evening, Costi is visited by one of his neighbors, a jumpy, dour fellow named Adrian, who has a business proposition that sounds like either a plea or a threat. Adrian (played by Adrian Purcarescu, a friend and colleague of Mr. Porumboiu’s) is desperate for money and claims to have a surefire way to get hold of some. He believes there is treasure buried under a tree on a country estate that belongs to his family. If Costi can pay to rent the equipment that can locate the loot, Adrian will give him a cut. What could go wrong?

Well, for one thing, there might not be any treasure. For another, the property might not really belong to Adrian, who might turn out to be such a jerk that he alienates Cornel (Corneliu Cozmei), the guy with the high-tech sonar and imaging machines. There are plenty of other potential problems. Somehow, even the most banal possibilities—an empty hole in the ground, a trove of worthless junk, a find worth fighting over—are weighted with dread and suspense.

How can everything not go wrong? An almost palpable aura of fatalism hangs over Costi and, especially, the sullen, volatile Adrian, whose promises and equivocations are like bounced verbal checks. It’s hard to tell if he’s a con artist or a sucker who has somehow fallen for his own scam, and it may not make a difference. He’s an avatar of bad luck, a reminder of Romania’s miserable history, not least the ruinous large-scale Ponzi scheme that wiped out much of the country’s meager wealth in the 1990s.

More vulnerable to spoilers than “The Hateful Eight” or “The Force Awakens,” “The Treasure,” like “12:08 East of Bucharest” and “Police, Adjective,” rewards repeated viewing. It’s quite funny—Costi, Adrian and Cornel act out a low-key farce as they traipse through the yard looking for subterranean clues—and rich with unstated implications. Mr. Porumboiu, as usual, is playing a long game, keeping you engaged with his rigorous formal wit until he can deliver a series of narrative and visual coups at the end. The final shot, accompanied by an improbable but perfect musical cue, is an astonishing cinematic gesture, an appalling, hilarious statement about modern values, the state of the world, human nature and everything else. This is a movie that lives up to its name.

“The Treasure” is not rated. It is in Romanian, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 29 minutes.

Orthodox Christians Celebrate Epiphany

New York Times
6 January 2016
by The Associated Press

ANKARA, Turkey—Wednesday is Epiphany, a major holiday in much of Orthodox Christianity celebrating the birth and baptism of Jesus. Religious services are held as well as Blessing of Water ceremonies at lakes, rivers and seafronts.

But in Russia, Serbia, Ukraine and other Orthodox countries which observe a different religious calendar, it is Christmas Eve. Roman Catholics and Protestants, meanwhile, celebrate the story of the Wise Men who followed a star to Jesus' cradle.

Here's a look at celebrations taking place on Wednesday:


Ceremonies were held across the country, with divers jumping from piers, bridges and tug boats and including school children and members of the country's navy special forces.

The main ceremony was held at the country's largest port of Piraeus, near Athens, but left-wing Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras attended a smaller ceremony in the Greek capital following a spat with traditionalists in the Orthodox Church who vehemently opposed a recent law sanctioning same sex-civil partnerships.

Bishop Serapheim of Piraeus described the law an "insult to human identity" and "psychiatric deviation from healthy sexuality."


More than 1,000 Orthodox Christian faithful attended the annual Epiphany Day blessing of the waters in Famagusta in Cyprus' breakaway Turkish Cypriot north. It was the first time the ceremony has taken place since 1974 when Turkey invaded after a coup aiming at union with Greece divided the island.

In keeping with tradition, Archimandrite Avgoustinos Karras hurled a silver cross into the cold waters of the eastern Mediterranean as about 20 daring swimmers dashed into the sea to retrieve it. The ritual is called the Blessing of the Water and symbolizes Jesus' baptism in River Jordan.

Organizer Pavlos Lacovou told The Associated Press that several Turkish Cypriots also attended Wednesday's ceremony.

Acting as the backdrop to the ceremony was the Turkish military-controlled suburb of Varosha that has remained a virtual ghost town for 42 years, ensconced in a chain-link fence that keeps everyone out.

The ceremony was the latest in a number of recent, faith-oriented acts of rapprochement between the island's majority Orthodox Christian, Greek-speaking and the Muslim, Turkish speaking populations. They aim to underscore that religion doesn't drive a wedge between Greek and Turkish Cypriots.


Pope Francis says restless hearts these days are seeking sure answers to life's questions but don't find them.

Francis has voiced this reflection during Mass in St. Peter's Basilica Wednesday to mark Epiphany, which recalls the Gospel account of the Three Kings, or Magi, who followed a star to find baby Jesus in Bethlehem.

The pontiff said: "Like the Magi, countless people in our day have a 'restless heart' which continues to search without finding sure answers."


Members of Istanbul's tiny Greek Orthodox community, visitors from neighboring Greece and other faithful attended an Epiphany service led by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, the spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians in Istanbul, where the Patriarchate is based.

A group of faithful leaped into the frigid waters of the Golden Horn inlet to retrieve a wooden cross thrown by Bartholomew. Nicolaos Silos, a 28-year-old visitor from Greece, was the first to reach it.

A ceremony to bless the waters was also held in Izmir, Turkey's third-largest city. It was the first "official" Epiphany ceremony there since the end of a Greek-Turkey war nearly a century ago that triggered a population exchange between Greece and Turkey. Although the Greek Consulate in Izmir had organized a ceremony 2006, it was the first time the Turkish government both approved and helped to organize it.

"It's a historic day here and we're grateful to the local authorities and to the Patriarchate ... for making this happen," Tina Samoglu, secretary of the Izmir Orthodox Community told Greek state TV. "I feel very proud and I'm filled with emotion."

The patriarchate in Istanbul dates from the 1,100-year-old Orthodox Greek Byzantine Empire, which collapsed when the Muslim Ottoman Turks conquered Constantinople, today's Istanbul, in 1453.


Thousands of young men waded into icy waters in Bulgaria to retrieve crucifixes cast on the waters by priests. By tradition, the person who retrieves it will be healthy and freed from evil spirits all year. After the cross is fished out, the priest takes a bunch of dried basil to sprinkle water over believers.

In some villages, men dipped into a local river and danced the horo, a traditional dance. In the mountain village of Kalofer, in central Bulgaria, scores of men in traditional dress waded into the icy Tundzha River carrying national flags.

Led by a drummer and several men playing the bagpipes, they danced in the freezing waters, pushing away floating chunks of ice. Some sipped plum brandy and red wine as an antidote to the freezing weather.


Children across Spain woke up Wednesday to open presents left during a night-time "visit" by the Three Kings of Orient, a tradition similar to that of Santa Claus but celebrated annually on Epiphany.

Expectations were raised the previous evening as towns and cities across the country held Epiphany parades or cavalcades symbolizing the coming of the Magi to Bethlehem laden with gifts for the baby Jesus.

Thousands of children and parents thronged sidewalks in Madrid and other cities to watch as ornately decorated floats—including in some cases men dressed as kings riding camels or horses—were accompanied by clowns, jugglers and marching bands.

The tradition spread from Spain to many Latin American countries where Epiphany is the day when gifts are exchanged.


The Orthodox Patriarch of the Holy Land, Theophilos III, arrived in Bethlehem on Wednesday for Orthodox Christmas celebrations. He walked along the streets of the city in the traditional procession toward the Church of Nativity.


Rebels in the east said they were willing to release captives taken during the conflict to mark Christmas. It was unclear however, if Ukrainian authorities would be willing to do a prisoner exchange.

The rebels in Donetsk said they wouldn't engage in a release without a similar release by Kiev. But Igor Plotnitsky, leader of rebels in Luhansk, said his forces were prepared for a release without any reciprocal move by Kiev.

It was not known how many prisoners each sides are holding or how many might be eligible for the potential release.


Hundreds of Romanian villagers gathered on the fields near the southern village of Pietrosani, where a priest blessed horses in a traditional Epiphany ritual to ward off diseases and bad luck during the year.

Orthodox priests sprinkled holy water on more than a dozen horses, which were decorated with red tassels, ear caps and ankle bands for good luck. The animals are essential to village life, and are used for plowing, carrying wood and transport.

Horses, ridden bareback, later thundered across the icy fields in the annual race. Villagers drank plum brandy and mulled wine and ate grilled spicy sausages to celebrate the feast while horses dragged logs to demonstrate their strength.

Derek Gatopoulos in Athens, Menelaos Hadjicostis in Nicosia, Cyprus, Francis D'Emilio in Rome, Alison Mutler in Bucharest, Romania, Jim Heintz in Moscow, Daniel Estrin in Jerusalem and Harold Heckle in Madrid contributed.

Romania: Lawmakers Draft Law to Punish Aggressive Driving

New York Times
4 January 2016
by The Associated Press

BUCHAREST, Romania—Romanian lawmakers have proposed legislation to punish aggressive drivers, addressing public concerns about the number of horn-honking, shouting and light-flashing motorists on the roads.

Some 40 lawmakers from various parties have drafted a proposal to assess penalty points and fines against drivers for the excessive use of horns and lights to intimidate other drivers. Tailgating—following too closely behind other vehicles—would also be punished.

Driving on the sidewalk and parking too long in the slow lane or on a two-lane highway, and motorcyclists driving on one wheel also come under the proposal, published Monday in the media.

No date has been set for the draft to be debated. Questions have been raised about whether the legislation could be enforced because deliberate intimidation could be difficult to prove.

Romania: Tons of Pyrotechnics Confiscated Ahead of New Year

New York Times
30 December 2015
by The Associated Press

BUCHAREST, Romania—Romanian authorities say they have confiscated 38 tons of pyrotechnics in the weeks ahead of New Year celebrations, two months after fireworks set off a nightclub fire which killed 63 people.

The interior ministry said Wednesday it had stepped up checks in December, confiscating pyrotechnics from clubs and other venues.

The use of pyrotechnics and fireworks, both inside and outdoors is common in Romania. Safety regulations can be lax.

A fire broke out at the Colectiv nightclub in Bucharest on Oct. 30 during a heavy-metal rock concert after a spark from fireworks intended for outdoor use ignited foam decor, sending panicked revelers to a single exit door.

Since then, safety measures have been tightened up in Romania. Some clubs closed down and others shut temporarily to improve fire-safety standards.

In an exhibition to mark two months since the fire, 20 photographs went on display taken by six photographers who died in the fire and four photographers who suffered injuries in the inferno. The photo gallery, hosted at the government headquarters, is entitled "Remember Goodbye to Colectiv" and will be open to the public until Jan. 3.

Four of the five band members of the Goodbye to Gravity band which was playing when the fire broke out died, along with Romanian and foreign students, graphic designers, the club's cleaning lady, bar staff, architects and journalists.

In Romania, Santa Steps In To Help Fight Stigma Of Down Syndrome

A child laughs as he receives presents from a man dressed as Santa Claus during a Christmas party for children affected by Down Syndrome, organized by the Angels Down Friends association in Bucharest, Romania, on Friday, Dec. 18.

See more photos on the original article webpage.

National Public Radio
24 December 2015
by Camila Domonoske

Folk costumes, gifts, carol-singing and a visit from the man in red himself: a celebration in Romania last week was rich in Christmas cheer.

But it had a serious element as well. The gathering—featuring more than 50 children with Down syndrome and their families—was part of an ongoing project to reduce the stigma of Down syndrome in Romania, and encourage the parents of children with the disorder, the Associated Press reports.

There are few facilities for individuals with Down syndrome, and most women who learn their children are at risk of developing the syndrome choose to have abortions, an obstetrician tells the AP.

Angels Down Friends, founded in 2013, is working to integrate children with Down syndrome into broader Romanian society. The organization believes there are as many as 50,000 people with Down syndrome in the country, the wire service reports, instead of the government-reported 30,000.

The Christmas celebration was "one step to change mentalities, attitudes, preconceived ideas," the organization said in a statement, according to the AP.

U.F.O.-Inspired Art

Ionel Talpazan’s “Neutre Miststery UFO” (2013). Stan Schnier/American Primitive

New York Times
24 December 2015
by Robin Pogrebin

As Ionel Talpazan told it, at the age of 8 he was abducted by extraterrestrials in the Romanian countryside, after fleeing his foster home.

This vision went on to inspire Mr. Talpazan’s outsider art. He was discovered in the 1980s and died in September, at 60.

Now the Outsider Art Fair is featuring his work in its first curated booth devoted to a recently deceased artist. “Talpazan had such a critical impact on the New York-specific outsider art field that it was the right time to look back at the work and work that had never been shown to the public before,” said Becca Hoffman, the fair’s director.

The fair, which takes place Jan. 21 through 24 at the Metropolitan Pavilion in Manhattan, will also highlight two other deceased self-taught artists: Alessandra Michelangelo, part of the Atelier Blu Cammello art workshop for mental health patients in Italy, whose work will be shown by Chris Byrne, a founder of the Dallas Art Fair; and Hawkins Bolden, whose yard of scarecrows made out of refuse will be recreated by Shrine gallery.

Having sold his art on the street, Mr. Talpazan was eventually represented by Aarne Anton, who, after visiting him, gave the artist a show at his American Primitive Gallery in 1996. “His walls were covered with spaceships,” Mr. Anton said. “It was as if I walked into a space where nothing else existed.”

Event Challenges Down Syndrome Stigma in Romania

In this Friday, Dec. 18, 2015 image a man dressed as Santa Claus kisses the hand of a girl as another one reacts with joy during a Christmas party for children affected by the Down Syndrome, organized by the Angels Down Friends association in Bucharest, Romania. Angels Down Friends, founded in 2013 by the parents of a child with Down syndrome, organized the event to encourage parents of children with the condition and with the long-term goal of more fully integrating youngsters with Down into society. Vadim Ghirda/Associated Press

New York Times
24 December 2015
by The Associated Press

BUCHAREST, Romania—Dozens of children with Down syndrome dressed in Romanian folk costumes and sang carols to celebrate Christmas in an event meant to banish prejudices and change attitudes.

Angels Down Friends, founded in 2013 by the parents of a child with Down syndrome, organized the event to encourage parents and with the long-term goal of more fully integrating children with Down syndrome into society.

There is a stigma attached to Down syndrome in Romania, combined with a lack of facilities. Most women who discover that their unborn babies are at risk of developing Down, or other disabilities, choose to have abortions, said Dr. Adrian Toma, an obstetrician with 20 years of experience.

"This is one step to change mentalities, attitudes, preconceived ideas," the association said in a statement. "We hope to give these wonderful children a chance, and develop programs, advice, recuperation and integration."

Last week, more than 50 children ages 1 to 14, together with their brothers and sisters, dressed in traditional costumes, recited poems and sung carols at a Bucharest high school.

Government statistics say 30,000 people have Down syndrome in Romania, but non-governmental groups such as Angels Down Friends believe there are as many as 50,000.

Encyclopaedia Britannica 22 December 2015

On this day...

1989: Nicolae Ceausescu was ousted after 24 years of dictatorial rule in Romania.

Bloody Repression, Down-With-the-Dictator Slogans & Unknown Terrorists:
How the Romanian Revolution Unfolded 26 Years Ago

Romania Insider
21 December 2015
by Diana Mesesan

The Romanian revolution that led to the fall of communism erupted in Bucharest 26 year ago. The protests that had started in Timisoara, in western Romania, on December 15, reached the capital on December 21.

After a night of heavy shooting, Romania’s Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife Elena ran away. They were caught, briefly tried, and executed for crimes against their people on December 25, on Christmas day. Some 709 people died, and almost 2,200 were injured (1,855 of which shot) around December 22, 1989.

This year in October, prosecutors investigating the Revolution decided to close the case. They didn’t prosecute anyone arguing that some of the people responsible for some of the crimes at the Revolution have already been convicted in other cases.

Moreover, the Prosecutor’s Office within the High Court of Cassation and Justice said that many soldiers shot each other during the December 1989 events, due to “fatigue and stress.” People in military, civil or mixed groups easily opened fire towards buildings or vehicles that didn’t stop at control filters, according to the prosecutors.

The Romanian Revolution started in Timisoara on December 15. People took to the streets after the Government tried to evict the Reformed pastor Laszlo Tokes.

The authorities’ bloody repression didn’t put an end to the protests but ignited the events. Timisoara was declared a communism-free city on December 20.

One day later, Ceausescu, who had just returned from a visit to Iran, held a speech in Bucharest condemning the protests from Timisoara. People, however, didn’t cheer him as usually but started shouting slogans such as “Down with the dictator!”, “Death to the murderer!” “We are the people, down with the dictator!”

The same day, people organized a barricade in downtown Bucharest, but later that evening Ceausescu asked all military forces to mobilize and liquidate the protests. About 49 persons were killed that night, 500 were injured and over 1,000 were detained.

On December 22, the following day, tens of thousands of workers from the large industrial platforms located in the outskirts of Bucharest heard about the killings and headed towards the city center. The army’s efforts to block their access to the Universitatii Square proved useless. Soldiers gradually changed sides and allied with the protesters.

Later that day protesters tried to occupy the Central Committee building where Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu were hiding. They ran away with a helicopter.

However, on the evening on December 22, the apparent victory turned into chaos. Unknown people started shooting at public institutions, and they were called “terrorists”. The army was summoned to defend the revolution. People who had taken again to the streets were being shot at.

The street war with the “terrorists”, whose identity is still unknown, continued until December 25, when Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu, who had been betrayed by their own, were caught in Targoviste, briefly tried, and shot to death.

Ion Iliescu, a former leader of the Communist Party, who had been marginalized by Ceausescu because of his increasing influence, took a leading role in the Romanian Revolution. He formed and led the National Salvation Front (FSN), which governed Romania after Ceausescu’s fall. In May 1990, he became Romania’s first freely elected President.

Iliescu was prosecuted in October for the violent repression of the protests against his new regime, which took place in Bucharest in June 1990. According to the prosecutors, he and other high officials called the miners to Bucharest and instigated them to beat the protesters in Universitatii Square, who were unhappy with how the National Salvation Front had confiscated the Revolution in December 1989 by setting up what was in fact a continuation of the old regime.

However, despite the political controversies, the Romanian Revolution that started in Bucharest in December 1989, marked the end of an oppressive regime and opened the country towards the western countries. In the past 26 years, Romania has become a part of NATO and the European Union.

Moldovan Communists' Defection Seen Opening Way to New Pro-EU Govt

New York Times
21 December 2015
by Reuters

CHISINAU—A new pro-European coalition looks likely to take power in Moldova, putting an end to months of political turmoil, after the surprise defection of 14 lawmakers from the opposition Communist Party.

Moldova, a tiny ex-Soviet republic sandwiched between Romania and Ukraine, has been effectively rudderless since a no-confidence motion toppled the previous government in October following the fraudulent disappearance of $1 billion from the banking system of Europe's poorest country.

In a televised news conference on Monday the Communist Party members said they had decided to leave their faction, which favors closer economic ties with Russia rather than with the European Union, in order to end the political impasse.

"We want to create a solid majority in parliament to solve Moldova's urgent problems," lawmaker Violeta Ivanov said, adding that lawmakers would form a new group called the Social-Democratic Parliamentary Platform for Moldova.

Commentators said the group would form a coalition with the pro-European Democratic Party, which has already petitioned President Nicolae Timofti to nominate Vladimir Plahotniuc, one of the country's richest—and most unpopular—men, for the post of prime minister.

Moldova embarked on a pro-Europe course in 2009 despite its reliance on Russian energy supplies and the presence of a pro-Russian, self-proclaimed statelet called Transdniestria within its borders.

Plahotniuc, a former lawmaker, and former prime minister Vlad Filat have been the target of mass public protests over the banking fraud, which saw the equivalent of one eighth of Moldova's gross domestic product disappear overseas.

Insiders say the $1 billion fraud, which weakened the national leu currency and hit living standards, reflects deep-seated corruption in Moldova and involved some degree of complicity from many of those in power.


Plahotniuc, who has not officially been implicated in the crime, said late on Sunday he would return to politics and hoped to be part of a new pro-European coalition.

"If we aren't able to form a parliamentary majority now, then the only other option is snap elections," he said in a Facebook post in which he did not mention any ambitions for the top job in government.

His expected return is unlikely to please most Moldovans. A recent public opinion poll showed that 92 percent of the population did not trust him.

Moldovans, sometimes in their thousands, have camped out in central Chisinau since early September, protesting against government corruption and demanding that those in power be held accountable for the bank fraud.

(Writing by Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Gareth Jones)

Romania: Government Removes Sheepdog Restrictions

New York Times
16 December 2015
by The Associated Press

BUCHAREST, Romania—A day after thousands of shepherds protested in the capital, Romania's government has lifted a ban on sheep grazing in the winter months and regulations limiting the number of sheepdogs.

Government spokesman Dan Suciu said the government temporarily removed two articles from a law designed to protect hunters in an emergency ordinance Wednesday, and would find a permanent solution by April. Shepherds say the law is an attack on their rights and centuries of traditions.

The law limited shepherds to three dogs for flocks of sheep in the mountains, and a single dog on the plain. It also banned sheep grazing from December to April. Hunters say the dogs attack deer and wild boar that they hunt.

There are 10 million sheep in Romania.

Romanian Parliament Bans Smoking in Bars and Playgrounds

New York Times
15 December 2015
by Reuters

BUCHAREST—Romania extended a smoking ban on Tuesday to include bars and playgrounds, becoming the latest European Union state to strengthen anti-smoking controls.

Prior to the bill, which has been under consideration since 2011, smoking had been banned in state institutions, schools and hospitals, but bars did not have to be smoke-free.

The country, where roughly a third of the population smokes, joins another 17 EU states that have enforced wide-ranging smoke-free legislation, including neighbours Bulgaria and Hungary.

Marking the final stage of the process, parliament's lower house approved the ban on smoking in playgrounds as well as all indoor public spaces, including bars, restaurants and workplaces. The legislation also said the public should be educated about the dangers of smoking.

Some critics of the bill have said it will put an end to the country's vibrant night life, especially in the capital Bucharest where late closing hours and the freedom to smoke indoors fill venues to the brim.

The ban could also lead to a drop in cigarette sales, a large source of revenue for Romania, which raised 8.3 billion lei ($2 billion) from excise duties on tobacco and cigarettes in 2014, finance ministry data showed.

Prior smoking bans have been loosely enforced. In parliament, a public institution where smoking has been banned for years, it is common to see lawmakers, staff and reporters lighting up.

(Reporting by Luiza Ilie; Editing by Lisa Barrington)

Romanian Riot Police Fire Tear Gas at Protesting Shepherds

New York Times
15 December 2015
by The Associated Press

BUCHAREST, Romania—More than 1,000 angry shepherds broke through police lines onto the grounds of Romania's Parliament on Tuesday to protest a law that regulates the number of sheepdogs they can use and bans them from grazing sheep during the winter.

Riot police fired tear gas at the shepherds, some of whom were dressed in floor-length sheepskins and blowing horns, to keep them from charging at the Parliament building. There was a tense standoff between hundreds of riot police, some mounted on horses, and the shepherds. They didn't bring their dogs to the demonstration.

Farmers are angry about a recent law that will limit the number of dogs that can guard their sheep and also at a ban on grazing from December to April. They say it is an attack on their rights and centuries of sheep-rearing traditions in rural Romania. The law says that shepherds can use a single sheepdog for sheep grazing on the plain and a maximum of three for mountain flocks. If shepherds flout the law, extra dogs can be shot.

"This law is an aberration. It is unconstitutional," Ionica Nechifor, general secretary of the Romovis sheep farming federation, told The Associated Press. "They are trying to take away our sheep farms."

Sheep farming forms the backbone of rural Romania, home to some 10 million sheep and 1.5 million goats. Supporters of the law say it will protect animals targeted by hunters, such as wild boar and deer, from the Carpathian shepherd dog, a large indigenous canine. They also say that keeping the sheep off the pastures will protect the environment. Hunting is a popular pastime among Romania's elite.

About 4,000 shepherds traveled from rural parts of Romania for the protest, some taking buses about 500 kilometers (300 miles) from western Romania.

"We can't live without sheepdogs, which scare off the wild animals," said Traian Nica, a 49-year-old shepherd. "We want our rights back."

Grigore Popa, 68, waved a big stick and shouted: "I was born among the sheep and we will cut lawmakers' heads off."

Government spokesman Dan Suciu said Prime Minister Dacian Ciolos had been called Tuesday by the chairman of the Senate and asked to modify the law. Ciolos is trying to find a legal solution to satisfy the demands, Suciu said.

Agriculture Minister Achim Irimescu said Tuesday he supported the shepherds' demands, in an interview with Digi24 television station.

"We have to change the law. It is urgent," he said.

Wikipedia 15 December 2015

On this day...

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

Encyclopaedia Britannica 15 December 2015

On this day...

1989: Antigovernment demonstrations erupted in Timisoara, Romania, beginning the revolution that toppled the communist leader Nicolae Ceausescu from power a few days afterward.

Romanian Prince Put Under House Arrest in Real Estate Fraud

New York Times
12 December 2015
by The Associated Press

BUCHAREST, Romania—A Romanian court has ruled that Romania's Prince Paul be placed under home arrest pending a probe into a massive real estate fraud.

Paul was charged Saturday with money laundering and influence-buying in a case involving the restitution of real estate that prosecutors say cost the state 136 million euros ($150 million). The 67-year-old prince again denied any wrongdoing Saturday.

Prosecutors say starting in 2006, a politically-connected businessman and four others used their influence to get the state to restitute land to Paul, which he in turn gave them a share of the value of that land.

The land had been confiscated from the royal family by Romania's communist regime. Paul is estranged from his uncle, King Michael, who was forced to abdicate by the communists in 1947.

Romania: Prince Detained in Fraud Case

New York Times
11 December 2015
by The Associated Press

Prince Paul of Romania was detained Friday in a case of real estate fraud also involving a top aide to a former prime minister and a newspaper editor. Prosecutors said in a statement that Paul Philippe was being investigated for money laundering, illicitly obtaining assets and buying influence. He denies wrongdoing. The 67-year-old prince, the grandson of King Carol II, was questioned Friday afternoon and detained in the central city of Brasov, where the investigation is being conducted. Romania’s monarchy ended when the Communists came to power. Prosecutors said that starting from 2006, a politically connected businessman, Remus Truica, and four others used their leverage and influence to get the state to restitute land and properties to Paul while he gave them a share of the value of the real estate.

Romania's Population the Lowest It's Been in 50 Years

New York Times
10 December 2015
by The Associated Press

BUCHAREST, Romania—Romania's statistics' chief says the Eastern European country's population is the lowest it has been in 50 years and the decline will continue.

The chairman of the National Statistics Institute, Tudorel Andrei, said Thursday that the current population of about 19 million is what it stood at in 1966, because of decreasing birthrates and migration.

Former Communist leader Nicolae Ceausescu banned contraceptives, limited abortion and gave incentives to families with numerous children. At the time of his overthrow in December 1989, the population was 23 million.

Andrei said the population fell by 120,000 in 2014 and predicted that with the current trend, the equivalent of two small towns will disappear every year.

The average woman now has 1.3 children compared to 2.1 two decades ago.

Newspaper Boss, Aide to Ex-PM Detained for Alleged Fraud

New York Times
10 December 2015
by The Associated Press

BUCHAREST—Romanian anti-corruption prosecutors have detained an aide to a former prime minister and a newspaper director on charges of taking part in a massive real-estate fraud involving a Romanian prince.

Prosecutors detained businessman Remus Truica, the former head of Cabinet of ex-Premier Adrian Nastase, Thursday on charges of setting up a criminal group in 2006 that fraudulently acquired 170,000 square meters (1.8 million square feet) of state-owned land for Prince Paul, causing damages of 136 million euros ($150 million).

Prosecutors said Paul then sold part of the land to Truica. Truica denies wrongdoing.

Prosecutors detained Dan Andronic, managing director of daily Evenimentul Zilei, on charges of belonging to the group. Three other people were also detained.

Paul, 67, who is to be questioned, denies wrongdoing.

Alina Cojocaru and the Romanian Ballet

Alina Cojocaru and Johan Kobborg performing with American Ballet Theatre in “Romeo and Juliet” at the Metropolitan Opera House. Andrea Mohin/The New York Times

New York Times
8 December 2015
by Alastair Macaulay

Is there a ballerina today held in more widespread affection than Alina Cojocaru? This Romanian-born dancer was trained in Kiev but spent most of her professional career in London. She embodies the frailness and lightness of Giselle and the heart-catching radiance of Aurora (“The Sleeping Beauty”) with technique and style that have illumined many other roles. As an occasional guest of American Ballet Theater, she has often shown qualities that even the more dazzling Natalia Osipova and the more gorgeous Diana Vishneva have not equaled.

For 15 years she was a luminary of the Royal Ballet; since 2013 she has danced with English National Ballet. Her longtime fiancé, Johan Kobborg—a star of the Royal Danish Ballet whose career was also in London with the Royal, often partnering Ms. Cojocaru—is now artistic director of the Romanian Ballet. The single performance on Wednesday night at the Rose Theater stars both of them and members of the Romanian company, with Tamara Rojo (another former principal, who is now English National’s artistic director) and Ulyana Lopatkina (a senior principal of the Mariinsky Ballet) are guest stars. Though it’s billed as “Alina and Friends,” it seems chiefly intended to make New Yorkers aware of the Romanian Ballet. It’s to be hoped that this gala-style evening contains choreography that showcases both the dancers we know and those we don’t.

Romania’s Dancing, Drinking Bears

Toloaca’s troupe of bears dancing from home to home where they performed.

New York Times
2 December 2015
by James Estrin

See 20 slide show at article website

What is your perfect childhood Christmastime memory? For New Yorkers, it might be seeing the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall, staying up for midnight Mass, large family gatherings or, for those who were good, a visit from the big guy himself.

Diana Alhindawi fondly remembers loud, drunk bears singing and dancing in her grandparents’ living room.

Actually, they were men wearing full bearskins, but to a little child the effect was the same: thrilling, enchanting and more than a little bit scary. You see, Ms. Alhindawi, 36, spent the first eight years of her childhood in the Trotus Valley of Romania’s Moldova region, where the bears descended on homes every holiday season to chase away any bad spirits from the previous year. Given the few diversions available during the era of Communist rule, the dancing bears were easily the highlight of the year.

“It was a beautiful thing to wake up on a snowy December morning and hear the drumbeats and chanting echoing through the valley,” she said. “The bear troupes would come door to door and everyone would let them in. They’re really rambunctious and they’d swing their heads around and cause a mess as the snow on them melted.”

Ms. Alhindawi lived with her grandparents in Moinesti while her Iraqi father and Romanian mother studied in Bucharest. She never forgot the raucous packs of bears playing music for tips, liquor and cubes of pig fat. Last year, she returned to her childhood home to spend time with her ailing Romanian grandmother—and to see the dancing bears again.

The tradition originated among the Roma who migrated from India centuries ago. Ms. Alhindawi’s grandmother has childhood memories of Roma who went door to door with bear cubs who walked on the backs of villagers to alleviate back pain. When the bears aged, their owners had them dance in exchange for tips.

It’s not clear when the bears were replaced by people wearing skins or when ethnic Romanians adapted the ritual, Ms. Alhindawi said. But traditional Roma costumes are still worn during the holiday celebrations, and the songs reflect their influence.

Gaining access to photograph the bears was relatively simple because Ms. Alhindawi’s family was well known in the small town—they were the ones who made it to America. Her mother called childhood friends, and soon Ms. Alhindawi was spending a few frigid days with Dumitru Toloaca and his troupe of men, women and children clad in bearskins. She also spent some time with similar groups in nearby villages.

She photographed them performing and competing in the village square, where they were judged on the quality of their skins, costumes, dancing and overall presentation. She also followed them as they wandered at night visiting restaurants and a few homes to which they were invited.

“You can’t see much because it’s so dark,” Ms. Alhindawi said. “You can hear the crunch of the bear-claw boots on the snow and then, all of a sudden, the drumbeats break out and the sound of the flutes echoes through the alleyways. Then they pass under a streetlamp, and you see bears walking through a snowstorm!”

Some things had changed over the years. Stores have more food and goods since the fall of Communism, she said, but few people can afford much. Rural areas like Moinesti have grown poorer while the cities have become wealthier, and most people have gone to Bucharest or nearby countries to work, leaving the village with mostly older people and children.

These changes have affected the bear traditions, too. Fewer people have the money to welcome, feed and tip the bears, while younger people, distracted by video games, television and the Internet, are less interested in the folk traditions. There are fewer bear troupes, and they perform for just a handful of days.

Ms. Alhindawi left Romania when she was 8, became a refugee in Yugoslavia and was resettled in Canada. When she was 16 her father, a doctor, and her mother, a mechanical engineer, moved the family, including her younger brother Austin, to Long Island. After studying neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University, Ms. Alhindawi worked in research labs and became an international aid and human rights worker in East Timor, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. A little over two years ago she became a full-time photojournalist working in many of the same locations. Documenting the bears was a welcome respite from photographing in conflict zones.

“I’m so happy to have done this,” she said. “There were so many times I wanted to put my camera down, put on a bearskin and join them. It’s really magical, like going into a fairy tale.”

You can follow Diana Alhindawi on Instagram and Twitter.

Follow @JamesEstrin and @nytimesphoto on Twitter. You can also find us on Facebook and Instagram.

Wikipedia 1 December 2015

On this day...

December 1: Great Union Day in Romania (1918)

Romanian Prosecutors Arrest Suspect for Attempted Blast

New York Times
1 December 2015
by Reuters

BUCHAREST—Romanian prosecutors have detained a member of Hungarian ultra-nationalist group HVIM suspected of intending to detonate an explosive device in the Transylvanian town of Targu Secuiesc during Tuesday's national day celebrations.

More than 1 million ethnic Hungarians live in Romania, mostly in three counties in central Transylvania, a territory at the foot of the Carpathian mountains that was run by Budapest until 1918 but is now far from the Hungarian border.

HVIM is an ultra-nationalist group that seeks a "Greater Hungary" and it has a Romanian unit. Targu Secuiesc is a small town in Covasna county full of pastel-shaded houses known as Kezdivasarhely in Hungarian.

Prosecutors from the DIICOT anti-organized crime and terrorism unit said on Tuesday they had taken a suspect into custody, but did not give his name.

"There is the reasonable suspicion that ... the accused, an important member of the Romanian HVIM unit, has procured the means and instruments needed to build an improvised explosive device that he aimed to detonate in Targu Secuiesc during the Dec. 1 holiday celebration," DIICOT said in a statement.

It was unclear whether any attempted attack had got further than the planning stage, but prosecutors said they had seized "materials and devices" that could have harmed citizens during their raids. They did not specify when the raids took place.

National day celebrations were under way across Romania on Tuesday.

(Reporting by Luiza Ilie; Editing by Alison Williams)

Portraits Of Ellis Island Immigrants 1902-1913

Radio Free Europe
23 November 2015

For millions of immigrants, Ellis Island was the gateway to the United States—the country's busiest reception and processing center from 1892 to 1954. These historical photographs capture the variety of cultures among those immigrants—they were taken by Augustus Frederick Sherman, who worked there as a clerk. They were not taken for official purposes. Sherman was simply fascinated by the people he was meeting on a daily basis.

More photographs may be seen at article website

Romanian shepherds (circa 1910)

Wallachian woman with her three young children. Wallachia or Walachia, is a historical and geographical region of Romania north of the Danube and south of the Southern Carpathians. The handwritten note says Austria—some of these areas were part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire prior to World War I.

A Romanian piper

What Can Moldova's Crisis Teach The EU?

Moldovan socialists demand the government's resignation in Chisinau on October 29

Radio Free Europe
22 November 2015
by Charles Recknagel

The European Union faces tough challenges fostering its values farther east, where oligarchs who rule or wield enormous policy influence might not share Brussels' views on corruption and rule of law.

Moldova, a former standout among the six members of the EU's Eastern Partnership program, provides a telling example. The country has been rocked by a billion-dollar bank heist that emerged a year ago and charges of corruption that recently toppled the former ruling coalition that was leading the drive for European integration.

The turmoil in Chisinau raises fears that ordinary Moldovans are losing confidence in the reform process that backers argue can bring Moldovan institutions into line with European standards and deliver a better future.

It also risks fueling efforts by pro-Russian parties to discredit the EU and urge the former Soviet republic closer to Moscow.

Here are four lessons the crisis in Moldova offers on the challenges of EU eastern expansion:

Oligarchs Make Difficult Partners

Oligarchs dominate the political systems of the three Eastern Partnership countries actively working with Brussels: Moldova, Georgia, and Ukraine. Many of those magnates made their fortunes under opaque conditions and fund some of their countries' biggest political parties.

Some of these same parties are now leading their countries' respective drives toward Europe. But as Moldova shows, even when parties are formally committed to European values, old habits can die hard.

Moldova's governing coalition, the Alliance for European Integration III coalition, collapsed on October 29 in a no-confidence vote after months of street protests over the disappearance last year of some $1 billion from the state banking system.

At the same time, infighting within the pro-Europe camp is undermining efforts to put together a new pro-Europe alliance. The former ruling coalition splintered over the arrest last month of Prime Minister Vlad Filat, a businessman behind the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), on charges of state theft by the Prosecutor-General's Office, which is controlled by a rival oligarch, Vladimir Plahotniuc, who controls the Democratic Party (DP). The turmoil has left an open playing field for pro-Moscow parties if there are early elections.

Stefan Fuele, the EU's former enlargement commissioner, says the political crisis in Moldova illustrates three factors that can hamper reform efforts. "The issue of concern is [firstly] the lack of sustainability of the reform process and, secondly, the polarization of society, and third, a kind of 'privatization' by oligarchs and political parties of the democratic institutions," he says.

After the formation of each new ruling coalition in Chisinau, for instance, it has been common for the parties to divide control of state institutions between them, including the nominally independent judiciary.

But Fuele says fixing these problems does not depend upon Brussels but upon Moldovans themselves. "We want to ensure in our dealings with our partners that they have all the capacity, all the conditions to make their own choice about their future," Fuele says. "We are not imposing a pro-European or any kind of future on our partners."

He says that civil society has a hugely important role to play in applying pressure upon ruling parties to do better. The street demonstrations taking place daily in Chisinau to express anger over the bank thefts and perceived government mismanagement may be part of that corrective process.

The three other countries in the six-member Eastern Partnership program—Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Belarus—have taken little interest in reforms or are closely linked to Moscow.

Eastern Europe Is A Tough Neighborhood

The Moldova crisis equally illustrates the difficulty of spreading European standards into former states of the Soviet Union where Moscow opposes the effort.

As many Moldovans' confidence in reforms is shaken by the corruption scandal, pro-Moscow parties have been quick to urge turning to the Russian-dominated Eurasian Economic Union instead. That union groups Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Armenia.

The pro-Moscow argument is made easier by the facts that Russia remains Moldova's main export market and one-half of Moldovans working abroad are in Russia.

The presence of a pro-Russian, self-proclaimed statelet called Transdniester within Moldova's borders, guarded by Russian peacekeepers, adds pressure to come to terms with Moscow.

"We should be more active in addressing [pro-Russian] propaganda about what the Eurasian Economic Union offers versus what the EU offers a country like Moldova," Fuele says. "It is a competitive neighborhood."

Judicial Reforms Must Come First

For some observers, what has happened in Moldova is no surprise.

"In most of the former communist countries the transition from dictatorship to democracy and the free market cannot be done without having corruption at the political level, there are too many opportunities," says Monica Macovei, a Romanian member of the European Parliament and a former justice minister.

She says the problem is compounded when the judiciary and other law enforcement bodies are weak or dominated by political powers—the case in Moldova.

"A lesson learned by the EU from previous accessions is that the fight against corruption and the reform of the judiciary are the issues to start with, because if politicians don't start to be punished for corrupt behavior then you can't go forward with any reforms," Macovei says.

A Light At The End Of The Tunnel

Perhaps the toughest issue raised by the Moldova crisis is whether Association Agreements, without a clear promise of eventual EU membership, are enough to encourage the Eastern Partnership states to stay the course.

"These countries suffer from oligarchic, corrupt systems which have held back their development over the last 20 years, and one question is whether the kind of relationship the EU is offering them gives some kind of leverage to those who like to see cleaner government," says Ian Bond, director of foreign policy at the London-based Center for European Reform.

Brussels has offered Moldova considerable access to European markets, visa-free travel, and help with adopting standards that make its products to the EU and other global markets

Both Armenia and Ukraine faced intense pressure from Moscow ahead of the possible signing of such agreements, leading in the latter case to the so-called Euromaidan unrest that unseated President Viktor Yanukovych.

But what Brussels has not offered Moldova—or Ukraine or Georgia—is the certainty that if they do so they will be admitted to the EU.

The closest Brussels has come is its reassurance to a post-Yanukovych Kyiv that the Association Agreement Ukraine signed on March 21, 2014, in Brussels, "does not constitute the final goal in EU-Ukraine cooperation."

Fuele calls that affirmation a "light at the end of the tunnel that shows the way forward." He adds, "We must show a light at the end of the tunnel for the country which is seriously engaged in trying to become a member state."

But Brussels seems loathe to offer such encouragement when member states are divided over the question of bringing in Moldova, Ukraine, and Georgia. "There is a question of enlargement fatigue and loss of confidence in the EU and that has to do with the prolonged economic crisis in the eurozone and now the refugee crisis," Bond says.

That suggests that EU may have to decide for itself whether it really wants new members before it can judge its eastern partners too harshly for stop-and-go progress toward European integration.

It also suggests that Moldova, Georgia, and Ukraine might best focus on reforming their systems for the sake of improving their own states as much as for the goal of joining the EU.

RFE/RL's Moldovan Service contributed to this report

After Fire, Romania Finds Thousands of Safety Violations

New York Times
19 November 2015
by The Associated Press

BUCHAREST, Romania—Romanian firefighting authorities have uncovered thousands of fire safety violations following a nightclub blaze last month in which at least 56 people died.

In a statement Thursday, the Inspectorate for Emergency Situations said it had checked 1,000 bars, nightclubs, discotheques, cinemas and malls from Nov. 9 to Nov. 16.

It said many public places lacked firefighting equipment, fire permits or did not hold fire drills. It also saw widespread violations of bans on using open flames, pyrotechnics and smoking in public places.

The inspectorate said it found 3,200 violations, of which 430 were fixed during checks. It said 37 "grave violations" had led to the closure or temporary shutdown of public places and it has handed out fines of 8.6 million lei ($2.07 million).

Stories of Those Who Died in the Paris Attacks

New York Times
17 November 2015
by The Associated Press

French President Francois Hollande said the attacks in Paris targeted "youth in all its diversity," killing at least 129. Here are some of their stories:

—Ciprian Calciu, 32, and Lacramioara Pop, 29, were among the millions of Romanians who have migrated West in recent years in search of better-paid jobs. The dream of a better life took them separately to Paris, where they met, became a couple and had a son, Kevin, now 18 months old.

They died at the Belle Equipe restaurant where they were celebrating a friend's birthday, said Calciu's cousin, Ancuta Iuliana Calciu.

"They weren't even sure what restaurant to go to. There was another one about 250 meters (yards) away they wanted to go to," she added.

Calciu repaired elevators and Pop, who had an 11-year-old daughter from a previous relationship, worked in a bar.

"I'm so glad they didn't take their son that night," Calciu's cousin said Tuesday.

Flowers and candles appeared at the gate of Pop's family home in the small village of Coas in far northwestern Romania, while in Tulcea, an eastern port at the end of the 2,860-kilometer (1,780-mile) River Danube, there was a memorial service on Monday at the church where Kevin had been baptized.

Romanian Parliament Approves Govt of Technocrats

New York Times
17 November 2015
by The Associated Press

BUCHAREST, Romania—The Romanian parliament has approved a government of technocrats headed by an ex-European Union agriculture commissioner, after the previous government collapsed amid mass protests in the wake of a nightclub fire in which at least 56 died.

The nomination of Dacian Ciolos is a direct criticism of Romania's politicians who are perceived as being corrupt, arrogant and removed from the problems of ordinary people.

"This government has no political objective more important than supporting and strengthening democracy," said Ciolos Tuesday before Parliament approved his Cabinet by a vote of 389-115.

Ciolos named his Cabinet Sunday, but then withdrew the proposed health minister, a 28-year-old surgeon, after photos appeared of him modelling underwear. He also withdrew his proposed justice minister, a respected democracy activist, because she had not studied law.

Wikipedia 16 November 2015

Bucharest Metro train

On this day...

1979 – The first line of Bucharest Metro (train pictured), the M1 Line, opened from Timpuri Noi to Semănătoarea in Bucharest, Romania.

Encyclopaedia Britannica Biography of the Day
12 November 2015

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.

In Bucharest, the Old Town Sees New Life

Cristian Movila for The New York Times

New York Times
11 November 2015
by Kit Gillet

On a recent warm evening, the cobbled lanes around Strada Lipscani in the historical heart of Bucharest were bustling as young Romanians and tourists filled the many bars and restaurants in this once-dilapidated part of the city.

Music blared from packed venues where crowds spilled out onto terraces, while buskers sang on the pedestrian streets in front of the National Bank of Romania, an ornate, 125-year-old building in the center of the capital city.

Like Romania itself, which joined the European Union in 2007, Bucharest has slowly been emerging from the shadows of its Communist past. And nowhere is this more visible than on the streets where the youthful population and a strong artist and music scene blend with 19th-century French-inspired architecture and monolithic relics of the Communist period.

Until a few years ago, visitors to Bucharest’s Old Town would have found themselves in an area of potholes and badly lit alleys with crumbling 19th- and early 20th-century buildings, many inhabited by squatters. Yet after years of stop-start refurbishment by the local authorities, the Old Town has come back to life.

Jerry van Schaik, a Dutch entrepreneur who has lived in the city since 2001, recalled the height of the Old Town’s redevelopment, from 2010 to 2012, when teams from big companies like Heineken scoured the streets to negotiate contracts with all the new bars popping up. “There was this craziness,” Mr. van Schaik said over coffee in Grand Cafe Van Gogh, a laid-back cafe in the Old Town that he owned until recently. Next door is the Rembrandt Hotel, the boutique hotel he opened in 2005. Mr. van Schaik began his first venture in the area, Amsterdam Cafe, in 2002, when the Old Town was not a hot destination for most locals. “At that time it was more of a village feel,” he said. “But it was lively, with a lot of cars and a lot of business going on.”

The Old Town, less than a square mile of neo-Classical and neo-Baroque buildings, was traditionally one of the city’s main areas of commerce, occupied by merchants, beautiful churches and traditional inns. But the area fell into disrepair during the Communist era that ended in 1989, with many businesses moving out and poorer families moving in.

“This area was totally derelict, and nobody particularly wanted to go there,” said Corvin Cristian, a young Romanian architect and designer who created the interiors of some of the trendiest establishments today in the Old Town, including Divan, a Turkish restaurant, and Lacrimi si Sfinti, a restaurant that specializes in modern takes on traditional Romanian dishes.

The Old Town barely survived the Communist period, as Nicolae Ceausescu, the Communist-era dictator who ruled Romania from the late 1960s to 1989, embarked on his mass project to redesign the city, tearing down old neighborhoods to construct a new civic center and his grandiose Palace of the People, one of the world’s largest administration buildings, which still dominates the area southwest of the Old Town.

About a decade ago, in an effort to restore the historic Old Town to its former prominence, local authorities embarked on a project that essentially turned the area into a construction site. Many businesses did not survive the infrastructure overhaul, including Mr. van Schaik’s Amsterdam Cafe. Slowly, however, the now pedestrian-only streets were repaved, and bars and restaurants began moving back in.

Traditional spots like Caru’ cu Bere, a 19th-century beer house with stained-glass windows, have been joined by upscale restaurants like the Artist, a high-end concept restaurant opened in 2012 by the Dutch chef Paul Oppenkamp, and Lacrimi si Sfinti, which opened four years ago.

Late last year, Gabroveni Inn, an early 19th-century inn on Strada Lipscani, was reopened following a six-year, multimillion-dollar renovation as a cultural center hosting art exhibitions, concerts and talks, while Carturesti Carusel, a cavernous six-story bookstore in a former 19th-century bank, was opened with great fanfare in February.

Crowds have flocked to the rejuvenated neighborhood, though many of its oldest buildings remain in a precarious state after decades without significant repairs. Meanwhile, a recent deadly nightclub fire about a half-mile from the Old Town is likely to lead to tougher fire safety and building inspections for the city’s clubs and bars.

Some residents worry that rising rents are driving out the few remaining traditional businesses, including independent antiques shops that survived years of neglect only to be priced out by a proliferation of often-similar bars and restaurants.

For all the optimism, even some of the area’s biggest champions say Bucharest’s new Old Town is still finding its feet.

“We are still in this growing-up phase, still reshuffling,” Mr. van Schaik said. “Now we need more originality and authentic businesses to come in.”

Wikipedia 10 November 2015

On this day...

1940 – A magnitude 7.7 ML earthquake struck the Vrancea region of Romania, the country's strongest earthquake in the 20th century.

Romania’s President Picks Dacian Ciolos as New Prime Minister

Dacian Ciolos arrives for the first statement shortly after being designated by President Klaus Iohannis of Romania as the country's new prime minister. Vadim Ghirda/Associated Press

New York Times
10 November 2015
by Kit Gillet

BUCHAREST, Romania—Romania’s president on Tuesday nominated an expert on agriculture to replace Prime Minister Victor Ponta, who was ousted last week after major demonstrations by protesters angered by graft and lethargy in the government.

The president’s nominee, Dacian Ciolos, is considered to be a capable manager whose appointment could help calm the political unrest that has roiled the country. A nightclub fire on Oct. 30 in Bucharest, the capital, killed at least 48 people and touched off huge street protests over corruption and incompetence by government officials.

After two rounds of consultations with the major political parties and a meeting with advocates, entrepreneurs and other citizens, President Klaus Iohannis put forward Mr. Ciolos, saying that “an independent prime minister, a clean person with integrity,” was needed.

Mr. Ciolos, 46, has served as his country’s agriculture minister and, more recently, as the agriculture commissioner on the European Commission, the executive body of the European Union.

“With very few exceptions, the political parties have agreed with this idea, and I am convinced that it is the correct path for the next year until the parliamentary elections when we will have a new Parliament, a new government,” Mr. Iohannis said at a news conference.

Romania’s ruling Social Democratic Party had proposed Liviu Voinea, the deputy governor of the central bank, for the position, while the opposition National Liberal Party had called for a snap election. But the Liberals backed down on Monday after failing to receive the necessary backing from other parties.

It is unlikely that Mr. Ciolos’s nomination will hit any roadblocks in Parliament. The resignation of Mr. Ponta—who is under a criminal investigation for financial misconduct—has tarnished Romania’s political elite, which is trying to appear united and clean up its image.

“Ciolos is not a polarizing figure, but his image is not yet defined in the eyes of the Romanian public,” said Radu Magdin, chief executive of Smartlink, a political consulting group. “He is not well known, but he has good credentials for leading a technocrat government and his experience in Brussels helps.”

Mr. Ciolos has 10 days to name ministers, draft a legislative program and ask Parliament for a vote of confidence. If he gets it, he is likely to hold office until parliamentary elections scheduled for December 2016.

Protests have continued in Bucharest in recent days, though with fewer demonstrators than the estimated 35,000 who took to the streets Wednesday, the day Mr. Ponta resigned.

Romania Nightclub Building Had History of Fires

New York Times
10 November 2015
by The Associated Press

BUCHAREST, Romania—The Romanian nightclub fire that killed at least 48 people and toppled the country's government was preceded by three blazes in the same building, according to records obtained by The Associated Press. The findings raise new questions about whether authorities could have stepped in earlier to prevent the tragedy.

The records, obtained under Romania's freedom of information law, show that there were three small fires at the old shoe factory that housed the Colectiv nightclub—one in 2012 and two in 2014. Fire safety experts say that should have been a warning.

"Once is bad, two is ridiculous, but once you get to three you know it's going to end in tears," said Chris Fitzgerald, who spent 33 years with the London Fire Brigade, some of them inspecting the British capital's best known music venues. Colin Todd, who manages a British fire safety consultancy, echoed those concerns.

"To have three fires in three years in the same building—it's quite a lot," he said.

The deadly fire at Colectiv broke out after pyrotechnics from a heavy metal concert ignited some foam decor, sending a crush of panicked revelers toward the club's single exit. The toll from the Oct. 30 blaze—which rose to 48 on Tuesday after a victim succumbed to his injuries—has horrified Romanians, underscoring for many how corruption has sapped the nation's safety standards. Romania's President Klaus Iohannis has said nobody would have died if fire regulations had been respected; government ministers resigned last week amid an explosion of public anger.

Arrests and resignations have followed almost daily. Colectiv's three owners have been detained, prosecutors have raided the district town hall and officials have questioned the local police chief over how the venue was allowed to operate with only one exit. On Tuesday, prosecutors announced the arrest of two employees of the Inspectorate for Emergency Situations, which manages Romania's fire and rescue services, accusing them of having turned a blind eye to safety violations at Colectiv.

The records obtained by AP suggest that officials should have known there was a problem.

In a one-page response to a freedom of information request, the Inspectorate for Emergency Situations said that while it had not been called to any blazes at the club itself, the old shoe factory where it operated had caught fire three times between 2012 and 2014.

The first incident happened on July 30, 2012 when an expansion joint caught fire, the inspectorate said. The second blaze happened at a security officer's booth in Sept. 15, 2014. The third fire erupted in a storage area on Nov. 28, 2014.

Emergency Situations official Raed Arafat told AP that the fires were small and occurred on the other side of the building from the club. Still, he acknowledged there were safety concerns and other club owners said having fires erupt around a venue like that was unusual.

"I have never had a fire in the past 10 years in any of the clubs that I've run, or anything like that," said Ionut Budi, who has owned the Luv nightclub in the Black Sea port of Constanta, and has managed nightclubs in the city for the past decade.

Fitzgerald, the Fire Brigade veteran, said things would probably have turned out differently had Colectiv been in London.

Firefighters "would have immediately referred it to the fire safety department, and then someone like me would have gone and done an inspection and if it was immediate risk to life would have issued them with a prohibition notice," he said.

 "That's what would happen here."

Satter reported from London. Vadim Ghirda in Bucharest also contributed to this report.

Online: The Inspectorate for Emergency Situations' fire records

Romania's President Stops Planned $161M Loan to Moldova

New York Times
9 November 2015
by The Associated Press

BUCHAREST, Romania—Romania's president has refused to sign off on a 150-million euro ($161-million) loan to Moldova that was approved by Parliament last month.

President Klaus Iohannis on Monday sent back the bill for the five-year loan to Parliament, saying the financial aid was not "opportune" without a guarantee that Moldova would continue pro-European reforms.

The loan agreement was signed in Moldova on Oct. 7, initiated by Victor Ponta, who resigned as Romania's prime minster last week after mass protests over a nightclub fire.

Moldova's Parliament dismissed its government on Oct. 29 after a former prime minister was arrested over bank fraud.

The country has been mired in political instability since up to $1.5 billion went missing from three banks ahead of November 2014 parliamentary elections.

Mood for Change: Demonstrators Demand Clean Romania

New York Times
8 November 2015
by The Associated Press

BUCHAREST, Romania—A nightclub fire in Bucharest that killed at least 45 people became the tipping point for many Romanians who have long been frustrated with corruption among leaders. But as the government resigned amid street protests this week, many remained skeptical that the leaderless street movement will succeed in doing away with the old order.

The large protests followed the Oct. 30 nightclub fire, which many Romanians blame on a weak enforcement of regulations and corruption. They continued even after Prime Minister Victor Ponta resigned on Wednesday, underlining deep social dissatisfaction with an often corrupt political order that has ruled the country since the transition from communist dictatorship to democracy a quarter century ago.

Political analyst Cristian Parvulescu said the nightclub fire proved to be "the last straw" because of a widespread feeling "that any of us could have been there."

"People feel the need for change, for new faces. We have had the same faces for 25 years and this has led to this revolt as there is a real lack of competition," said Parvulescu, who is the dean of the National School of Political Studies and Public Administration in Bucharest.

Hard-charging anti-corruption prosecutors led by Laura Codruta Kovesi have stepped up an anti-corruption drive in the past couple of years securing a record 1,051 convictions in 2014, up from 743 the year before with even more are expected this year. Among those convicted since January 2014 are a former prime minister, seven former ministers, a former deputy prime minister, four lawmakers, one European Parliament lawmaker, 39 mayors, 25 magistrates and two business tycoons.

All the major parties in Romania's Parliament have been touched by the corruption probes and convictions—from the ruling Social Democratic Party and its junior partner, the National Union for the Progress of Romania to the opposition Liberal Party—leading to a belief that politicians enter politics to enrich themselves. But with many lawmakers critical of the anti-corruption drive, solutions are not clear-cut and the old guard is unlikely to easily surrender its power and way of doing politics.

"It is so fluid at the moment, the old guard is so entrenched and the protesters are not a single group who know what they want the future to look like other than that they want the current system gone," Daniel Brett, a Romania expert and associated professor at the Open University said in an interview with The Associated Press. "At the moment everyone wants rid of the old system, but no one knows what to replace it with, or how to replace it."

In addition to the corruption, the protesters—who have taken to the streets of the capital and other cities for the past five days—have also condemned the nation's politicians for being arrogant and isolated from the problems of ordinary people.

On Saturday evening, a couple of thousand people jammed University square, a traditional site for anti-government protest in Romania.

"We want change from the people who lead us, for them to respect us, for there to be less corruption," said Octavian Rachita, a 30-year-old graphic designer who has been protesting for the past five days. He held a banner saying: "We have to be the change we want to see."

Architect Aniela Ban, also 30, said she wanted to "feel safer."

"What happened was due to corruption. We need a better medical and education system and a press that does not distort events," she said.

The protests seem to have taken leaders off guard.

It was "a shock for politicians. They didn't expect it," Parvulescu said. "These protests are about the democratization of Romania. People want more democracy. Our democracy is a facade, it is window dressing."

Protesters have also directed their anger at the rich and powerful Romanian Orthodox Church, accusing it of failing to respond to the outpouring of national grief after the fire. Pressure had already been mounting for the state to curb the financial privileges of the church.

"We want hospitals, not cathedrals!" was one of the chants that protesters shouted this past week.

Protests have been cyclical in Romania, starting with the 1989 anti-communist revolt in which former dictator Nicolae Ceausescu was ousted and executed and more than 1,300 died.

Ponta came to power in May 2012 a couple of months after major street protests, promising change, but has since angered Romanians by reneging on promises for reform. He refused to step down when he was accused in June 2012 of plagiarizing his 2003 doctoral thesis, and again refused calls to resign when prosecutors announced in June 2015 they were probing him for tax evasion, money laundering and conflict of interest connected to work he did as a lawyer between 2007 and 2008. He denies wrongdoing.

Prosecutors have also been investigating Ponta's former finance minister, Darius Valcov, who is charged with taking 2 million euros ($2.1 million) in bribes when he was a mayor. Prosecutors say Valcov, who resigned in March 2015, had hidden works by Picasso and Renoir, and 3 kilograms (6.6 pounds) of gold, in a friend's safe.

President Klaus Iohannis, a local mayor and ethnic German who surprisingly defeated Ponta in November 2014 presidential elections, also came to power on the back of a spontaneous revolt. That protest movement was sparked after expatriate Romanians rallied in European capitals and farther afield to protest rules making it hard for them to vote in national elections.

He has been a key player this week, announcing an interim prime minister and meeting with civic groups on Friday for consultations on the social changes there are seeking.

"Romanians want a new approach and a new way of doing politics," Iohannis said Friday.

Drummer Dies to Bring Romanian Club Fire Death Toll to 45

New York Times
8 November 2015
by The Associated Press

BUCHAREST, Romania—The drummer of a heavy metal band playing when a fire broke out at a nightclub has died, bringing the death toll from last week's tragedy to 45.

Bogdan Enache, drummer in the Goodbye to Gravity band that was playing in Colectiv on Oct. 30, died on Sunday evening, said the medical director of the state burns hospital, Cristian Nitescu.

Enache was being transported on a military plane to Zurich, Switzerland, on Sunday afternoon for treatment for his burns, when he went into cardiorespiratory failure, the Interior Ministry said. The plane headed back to Bucharest, while medics tried to resuscitate him for 70 minutes. He died after he landed in Romania.

Dozens of people injured in the blaze remain hospitalized with serious burns as authorities warn that the death toll could continue to rise.

Romania continued to send the injured to other countries for treatment. A plane from NATO arrived in Bucharest late Sunday and will take a number of the injured for treatment overnight to Britain and Norway, emergency situations official Raed Arafat said.

In recent days, a total of 21 injured people have been transported to hospitals in Belgium, the Netherlands, Austria, Israel and Germany, the health ministry said.

A fire broke out at the Colectiv nightclub during a concert by the heavy metal group, after a spark from a pyrotechnics show ignited foam decor. The band's two guitarists died last week from their injuries.

In another development Sunday, President Klaus Iohannis appeared at protest staged by a few hundred people in University Square, now in its sixth consecutive day. Iohannis, who was surrounded by security staff, was booed by demonstrators who shouted "Resign!" He spoke to a few protesters and left after less than half an hour. Iohannis has called on Romania's civil society to take part in consultations for a new government.

"I saw revolt (in the square), but also hope that things can change," Iohannis said. "I told people to stay involved, that only together we can all make Romania the country we want it to be," the president said in a posting on his Facebook page.

Prime Minister Victor Ponta and his Cabinet resigned Wednesday after mass protests, which have continued this week.

Enache's death was the fourth reported on Sunday. Nitescu earlier reported that a man had succumbed to his injuries at the state burns hospital late Saturday.

Mediafax news agency reported two other patients died early Sunday at the Floreasca Emergency Hospital, including a Turkish man studying in Romania, and a woman who worked at the club's bar.

Nine deaths were announced Saturday, the highest number for a single day.

In Impossible Times Come Impossible Decisions

An honor guard soldier stands next to a monument in Bucharest, Romania, in Feb. 2012, that bears the names of Jews killed when the SS Struma—the ship they were on as refugees on their way to what was then Palestine—was sunk by a Soviet torpedo in the Black Sea. All but one of the 779 people on board died. Vadim Ghirda/AP

National Public Radio
6 November 2015
by Alva Noë

The Struma was sunk by a Soviet torpedo in February 1942 as it sought to carry its cargo of Romanian Jews to safe harbor in what was then called Palestine by way of the Black Sea.

This terrible event isn't very well remembered today, but it marked the lives of my family. My father Hans Noë, who is now 86, shared this chapter of his story with me and my mother recently.

It's hard not to think of these events without recalling that similar struggles and traumas are confronted on a daily basis by the displaced people of Syria as well as other lands.

My father was a young boy living in the prison-ghetto of Czernowitz (Chernivtsi) around this time. Czernowitz is in Ukraine today but it was part of Romania back then (as a consequence of the break-up of Austria-Hungary after WWI). He and all the Jews of Czernowitz had been driven from their homes and confined to a single area of the city. As he recalls, there were about 20 people to a room in the apartment where he and his family were staying. The small house belonged to the Brettschneiders.

I asked my father about the Brettschneiders. Who were they? Did they have any choice about whether to let so many people into their home? Did they charge rent? My father only remarked that when there are thousands of people outside your door, you don't have a lot choice.

Some mornings, my father remembers, the mattresses were pushed to one side and an Italian man named D'Andrea, together with his assistant, an appraiser, would arrive and set up a little table, with a little scale and a magnifying glass. They would sell tickets for the Struma. The Struma was a ship that, it was advertised, would take Jews abroad to safety.

During those times, my father says, there was always a question: Should the family stay together, or should it break apart? The family that stays together runs the real risk of dying together. Separately, at least some of them might have a chance.

But, then, how do you break up a family? Do you send the kids to safety? By buying them passage on a boat such as the Struma? What if you can't afford to send them all? How do you decide which child to send?

My dad, it turns out, had a ring-side seat to impossible deliberations of this kind. He sat there—it was his bedroom after all—while families lined up and begged and bartered for tickets. How many tickets could be bought for this watch, or this ring? D'Andrea's appraiser was quick to explain that the goods on offer were of little or no value. Fathers and mothers made hard choices. Is it worth giving up their only disposable wealth for a single ticket?

Periodically, D'Andrea would lean over to the kid who happened to have a box of matches. That was my father. He would put a match to the Italian's cigar. The bartering and begging and sweating would carry on.

My grandfather, I am told, never seriously considered booking passage on the Struma for his own family. It was too risky. You had to travel by land to the port, after all, and no Jew could travel legally. He was also unwilling to break up his family. In any case, my dad sat there while the Italian extorted his neighbors, a witness to a quiet little atrocity.

This all happened more than 70 years ago. But there's a question that, to this day, keeps my father awake at night. It brought him to the point where he shared it with me: What if you had sent your only child, or one of your two kids, on a ship that promised to bring him to safety—and he didn't make it?

What if you had chosen for survival the one you thought had better chances. Maybe you thought he was old enough, or smarter maybe, or simply more capable of dealing with being on his own, than his brother or sister. For whatever reason you chose him. And then he didn't make it; the boat meant to carry him to safety carried him and everyone else on board to their doom instead.

Suppose you had done that, that that was your son, your choice. How do you live with that?

You assume that you face certain death, my father says. So, you pick one so that he will survive. This is an act of reason. It is an act of sick reason. But this act of reason gets undone, reversed, made ridiculous by a simple fact: The boat sinks, the chosen survivor dies and those who had been condemned to death, we live. Or do we?

My father asks: "Is it possible to survive at all from these kinds of events? I try to understand who or what survived in my own life."

My mom and I talked with him and tried to understand his words, to appreciate what keeps him up at night.

"It's like an equation, he says, and there's no solution. Maybe I'm telling you so that it will keep you up at night. And I can get some sleep."

And, so, I'm sharing it with you. Impossible choices, insoluble equations of this kind, confront mothers and fathers, and affect children, in Syria and around the world right now.

For someone who has known what my father has known, nothing has changed.

What does it mean to survive events of this kind?

Alva Noë is a philosopher at the University of California, Berkeley, where he writes and teaches about perception, consciousness and art. He is the author of several books, including his latest, Strange Tools: Art and Human Nature (Farrar Straus and Giroux, 2015). You can keep up with more of what Alva is thinking on Facebook and on Twitter: @alvanoe

Günter Schabowski, the Man Who Opened the Wall

Gerard Malie/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

New York Times
6 November 2015
by Michael Meyer

We often think of history as somehow inevitable, the culmination of great, grinding geotectonic forces. What to make, then, of Günter Schabowski, who died this week at age 86. Few people will mark the passing of this improbable man of destiny, who made Cold War history with a shrug.

It was the evening of Nov. 9, 1989. A few weeks earlier a band of Communist Party reformers ousted the hard-line boss of the German Democratic Republic, as the eastern part of Germany behind the Iron Curtain was then known. Faced with mass protests in Dresden, Leipzig and Berlin, they sought to project a new face of change. And that night, Mr. Schabowski, an obscure functionary, became that face—and changed the world in a most unlikely manner.

The dramatic fall of the infamous Berlin Wall, the symbol of five decades of Cold War, played out almost as farce. It began in the early evening when Mr. Schabowski, newly appointed as Communist Party spokesman, dropped in on his boss en route to his daily press conference, itself an innovation for the secretive, all-controlling Communists.

“Anything to announce?” he asked casually. The party chief, Egon Krenz, thought for a moment, then handed Mr. Schabowski a two-page memo. “Take this,” he said with a grin. “It will do us a power of good.”

Mr. Schabowski scanned it in his limo. It seemed straightforward: a brief on legislation his boss forced through a reluctant Parliament that very afternoon that would give East Germans the right to travel to the West—and in doing so make the new regime the heroes of the people. At the press conference, he read it out as item four or five on a list of sundry announcements. It had to do with passports. Every East German would now, for the first time, have a right to one. They could go where they wanted, including to the West.

For a people locked for so long behind the Iron Curtain, this was momentous news. There was a sudden hush, then a ripple of excited murmuring. Mr. Schabowski droned on. From the back of the room, as the cameras rolled broadcasting live to the nation, a reporter shouted out the fateful question. “When does it take effect?”

Mr. Schabowski paused, looked up, suddenly confused. “What?”

The chorus of questions rang out again. Mr. Schabowski scratched his head, mumbled to aides on either side, perched his glasses on the end of his nose, shuffled through his papers, looked up—and shrugged. “Ab sofort.” Immediately. Without delay.

With that, the room (and the world) erupted. We now know that Mr. Schabowski was largely oblivious to the earthquake his words had caused. In fact, he had returned from a short vacation that very day. He didn’t know that the new rules were supposed to take effect the next day, Nov. 10—subject to all sorts of fine print, including the requirement to obtain visas. East Germans didn’t, either. All they knew was what they had just heard on radio and TV. Thanks to Mr. Schabowski, they thought they were free to go. Now. Ab sofort.

By the tens of thousands, in a human tide not unlike that descending on Europe today, they converged on Checkpoint Charlie and other crossing points to West Berlin. Surprised and overwhelmed, receiving no instructions and not knowing what else to do, East German border police acted on their own. Like Mr. Schabowski, they shrugged—and threw open the gates to freedom. And so the Berlin Wall came down.

What to make, then, of Mr. Schabowski’s improbable action? A “botch,” his boss would later scornfully call it, that within a few months would bring down not only Communist East Germany but the entire Soviet empire.

There are important lessons here. One is never to underestimate the power of accident. What if Mr. Schabowski had not messed up, and the next day his citizens began lining up in orderly queues to visit the West? The dramatic images of East Berliners standing triumphantly atop the Wall, victors over a hated regime, would not exist. Without them, would the Velvet Revolution have come to Prague a week later? Would Romanians have arisen against the evil dictator Nicolae Ceausescu?

Another lesson: Amid great social upheaval, it is possible at any point, at any time, for events to take a different course. Why this, not that? The answer seems to be those countless individual choices at key moments—accidents of human messiness, such as Mr. Schabowski’s, but also the courageous or inspired decisions of many others during the events of 1989, from solitary dissidents to masses of ordinary people who stood up and spoke out.

Former Secretary of State James A. Baker III knew this well, considering it an antidote to national hubris. “Ask any American who brought down the Berlin Wall, and nine of 10 will say Ronald Reagan,” he told me a few years ago. The truth, he went on to say, is that “we had hardly anything to do with it.” The great events of 1989 were ultimately a triumph of ordinary people, individually and collectively.

It is enormously heartening, this view of history. It gives people agency. It underscores how much the individual matters. It proves the power of one: Günter Schabowski and his seven minutes that shook the world.

Later in his life, when he was living in a small town in a united Germany, I spoke with Mr. Schabowski about that fateful evening. Yes, it was a mistake, he readily agreed. “What was I to do?” he asked. “I couldn’t exactly say, ‘Oh, never mind.”’

Did he regret it? Not in the least. Liberated from power and position, and after a stint in jail, he had cheerfully frank and unvarnished views. He and his ilk were creatures of an oppressive and corrupt system that could never be made to work, he told me. They deserved the dustbin of history. In the end, he was happy to see it happen. With his bungle, he helped put a very human face on one of the greatest events of the 20th century.

Michael Meyer, dean of the graduate school of media and communications at Aga Khan University in Nairobi, was Newsweek’s bureau chief for Germany and Eastern Europe during the final years of the Cold War. He is author of “1989: The Year That Changed the World.”

Outrage Ripples Through Romania After Government’s Collapse

Tens of thousands gathered Thursday in Bucharest, the capital, as a wave of nationwide protests spread throughout Romania. Daniel Mihailescu/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

New York Times
5 November 2015
by Kit Gillet

BUCHAREST, Romania—On Tuesday night, an estimated 20,000 Romanians took to the streets of Bucharest, the capital, demanding political change. The next morning, Prime Minister Victor Ponta resigned, saying he acknowledged a “legitimate anger in society.”

The collapse of the government did not stop the protests, however. As smaller rallies, attracting many thousands, took place in cities across the country on Wednesday evening, the crowd swelled to 35,000 in University Square, and many marched on the Parliament building to vent their frustration with a government they see as corrupt and inept, and likely to be replaced with more of the same.

The catalyst for Romania’s unusual wave of popular outrage is a nightclub fire that killed 32 last week. Grief was quickly channeled into anger over lax enforcement of regulations at the nightclub, and protesters demanded that high-level officials be held accountable and that a new government, run by technocrats, be established.

Along with Mr. Ponta, Cristian Popescu Piedone, the mayor of the Bucharest district where the nightclub is, resigned on Wednesday. That, too, did little to stem the broad public discontent.

“You can’t buy us with two resignations,” the protesters chanted.

Other protest movements have erupted in Romania in the last few years, notably in 2012, when protesters blamed the government for failing to adequately respond to the country’s financial crisis, and during last November’s presidential election, when thousands of Romanians rallied to protest voting difficulties for Romanians living abroad. However, some analysts see the current protests, among the largest since the overthrow of the Communist regime in 1989, as a potential turning point.

“People have learned that if they go out on the streets in significant numbers, it can actually lead to politicians’ stepping down,” said Adrian Moraru, deputy director of the Institute for Public Policy in Bucharest.

On Thursday, President Klaus Iohannis seemed to be willing to listen.

“I have a message for the protesters: I saw you, I heard you, I will take into account your demands,” said Mr. Iohannis, announcing that the education minister, Sorin Cimpeanu, a technocrat, would be interim prime minister until a permanent successor was named.

Mr. Iohannis said he would include parties other than the political elite in consultations over whom to appoint in discussions set for the next two days.

“I decided that, further to the consultations with the parties scheduled for today and tomorrow, to consult for the first time a new actor: the civil society,” he said. It is not yet clear who will represent the civil society.

Whether this will be enough remains to be seen.

“People died, and their deaths were mainly caused by corruption,” said Madalina Enache, a 28-year-old project manager who was protesting on the streets of Bucharest on Wednesday evening.

“The only ones arrested so far are the owners of the club, not the politicians who are most responsible,” she said. “This government will just be replaced by others from the same parties. We want change. All the system is corrupt. We want to change it all.”

Many of those out on the streets on Tuesday and Wednesday were young men and women who said they wanted to live in a country where they could see real progress.

“We are out because there is a corruption of the whole political class and we desire a better future,” said Iustinian Balanescu, 20, a political science student. “We needed to come out in these numbers to get rid of the whole political class. We are tired by them, disgusted by them.”

On Wednesday evening, as the streets filled with people, some in the crowd held up banners displaying lyrics from a song by Goodbye to Gravity, the band performing at the nightclub when the deadly fire broke out. The lyrics read, “ ’Cause the day we give in is the day we die.”

Romanian Queen Marie’s Heart Returns to Her Castle

Romania Insider
5 November 2015
by Irina Popescu

The heart of Queen Marie of Romania has finally found its rest at the Pelisor Castle in Sinaia mountain resort, in the room where it beat for the last time.

On Tuesday, November 3, the box containing the Queen’s heart was moved from the National History Museum in Bucharest to the small castle in the Carpathian mountains. The ceremony included a military procession with public organized at the museum and a religious procession at Pelisor Castle.

The first part of the ceremony started at 11:00 in front of the National History Museum. Princess Margareta, Prince Radu and Princess Maria attended the event, as well as members of Princess Ileana’s family.

There were also representatives of Romanian and Moldavian authorities, together with diplomats, soldiers from the Mihai Viteazul Guards Regiment, the Representative Band of the Army, and representatives of the Romanian Gendarmerie.

The second part of the ceremony, which took place at Pelisor Castle, started at 13:30. This is when the Queen’s heart was placed in the castle’s Golden Room, the room where she drew her final breath in 1938. As of November 3, His Majesty the King declared this room a Royal Chapel, reports

Queen Marie was the wife of King Ferdinand I, who ruled Romania from October 1914 until 1927, a period which included the First World War and Romania’s Unification at December 1, 1918. Born into the British royal family, she was titled Princess Marie of Edinburgh at birth. She was one of the greatest personalities in Romania’s history. She died on July 18, 1938, at Pelisor Castle.

She was the grandmother of King Michael of Romania and the grand-grandmother of Princess Margareta, the heir to Romania’s throne.

Sorin Cimpeanu Is Appointed Interim Prime Minister of Romania

Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Bucharest, Romania, on Wednesday night, continuing protests and calling for significant changes in government. Vadim Ghirda/Associated Press

New York Times
5 November 2015
by Kit Gillet

BUCHAREST, Romania—Sorin Cimpeanu was appointed interim prime minister of Romania on Thursday, replacing Victor Ponta, who resigned a day earlier after huge protests over a nightclub fire in Bucharest where 32 people died.

President Klaus Iohannis’s appointment of Mr. Cimpeanu, who was elevated from education minister, is a stopgap measure until a new candidate for the post is selected.

Mr. Iohannis has said that he will hold meetings with the main political parties about the formation of a new government over the next two days.

Despite the resignation of Mr. Ponta, tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Bucharest, the capital, and other Romanian cities on Wednesday night, continuing the protests and calling for significant changes in government.

Mr. Iohannis appeared to have received the message, saying he would also consult with people outside the political elite about a new prime minister.

“I decided that, further to the consultations with the parties scheduled for today and tomorrow, to consult for the first time a new actor: the civil society,” he said. “I will convene for Friday afternoon a group representing both the civil society and what we call ‘the street.’ ”

It was not yet clear who would be part of that group.

Romania's Orthodox Church Is Target of Protests

New York Times
5 November 2015
by The Associated Press

BUCHAREST, Romania—Protesters calling for an end to widespread corruption and better governance this week have turned their anger to the powerful and rich Romanian Orthodox Church in the wake of a nightclub fire which left more than 30 dead.

Public discontent with the church is at an all-time high after it failed to address an outpouring of national grief. Pressure is mounting for its financial privileges to be reviewed.

"We want hospitals, not cathedrals!" chanted tens of thousands of protesters this week.

Protesters want an end to hefty state subsidies to the nation's biggest church, to which 85 percent of Romanians belong, and for the church to pay tax. Other officially registered churches are also given subsidies.

The Humanist-Secular Association says Romania has 18,300 churches, compared with 4,700 schools and 425 hospitals. Many were built after communism ended and religious restrictions were lifted.

In 2014, an election year, the government allocated 12 million euros ($13 million) for the "Cathedral of the Salvation of the People" a giant church under construction in Bucharest, and 30 million euros ($32.4 million) for building and repairing other churches.

Governments have been wary of challenging the influential church, which some politicians rely on for political support.

Hundreds of thousands of believers attend the church's five major annual pilgrimages, and the church has a monopoly on the production of beeswax candles.

Believers pay fees for funerals, weddings and baptisms.

See photographs on the AP webpage.

Wikipedia 4 November 2015

In the news...

• Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta (pictured) resigns over the fatal Colectiv nightclub fire.

Romania’s Prime Minister Resigns After Protests Over Deadly Nightclub Fire

Thousands in Bucharest, Romania, demonstrated against the government on Tuesday evening, accusing it of lax oversight that led to a deadly nightclub fire. Daniel Mihailescu/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

New York Times
4 November 2015
by Kit Gillet

BUCHAREST, Romania—Prime Minister Victor Ponta of Romania, already under pressure from a corruption inquiry, said on Wednesday that he was resigning after huge protests in response to a nightclub fire over the weekend that killed at least 32 people.

More than 20,000 people took to the streets of Bucharest, the capital, on Tuesday night to demand the resignations of Mr. Ponta; of Gabriel Oprea, the deputy prime minister; and of Cristian Popescu Piedone, the mayor of the Bucharest district where the nightclub is.

“I have the obligation to acknowledge that there is legitimate anger in society,” Mr. Ponta said in a statement. “People feel the need for more, and it would be wrong of me to ignore this.”

Protesters blame the government for the lax granting of permits and for inadequate inspections of public venues. Some in the crowd carried signs that read “Corruption Kills.”

“I do not want, nor do I think it is fair, to leave this responsibility on those who have been in the field or on the mayors, secretaries of state, ministers,” Mr. Ponta said in his statement. “I am ready to be the one to make this gesture that parts of society are waiting for, and starting today, I am resigning my mandate as prime minister. I do this because in my years as a politician I put up a fight in any battle with political opponents. However, I won’t put up a fight against the people.”

The scale and urgency of the protests had shaken Romania’s political establishment.

On Tuesday night, President Klaus Iohannis wrote on his Facebook page: “I am impressed by the events this evening. It is a street movement that comes from the desire of people to have their condition and dignity respected. I understood that they ask and expect, rightly so, for someone to assume political responsibility.”

After Mr. Ponta’s resignation, a government meeting was scheduled for 4 p.m. Wednesday, when the cabinet is to decide on next steps.

Mr. Ponta, who had been in office for three and a half years, was already the subject of controversy. He was indicted in July on charges including forgery, money laundering and being an accessory to tax evasion while he was working as a lawyer in 2007 and 2008.

He had strenuously denied the charges and, until Wednesday, resisted calls to step down, although he did surrender his position as the leader of the Social Democratic Party.

In 2012, the European Commission, the European Union’s executive arm, announced that it would increase monitoring of Romania because of alarm about the country’s insufficient commitment to democratic values. Romania and Bulgaria joined the bloc in 2007 on the condition that they submit to regular reviews because of concerns about corruption and organized crime.

At that time, Romania was told that “urgent” action was needed to show its commitment to the rule of law, after a clash between its newly elected government and Traian Basescu, then the president, provoked a crisis.

Michael Wolgelenter and Palko Karasz contributed reporting from London.

The Strange, Dark Nights of Romania's Bear Dancers

Annual bear parade—Each winter in the rural Moldova region of Romania, locals dressed in bearskins gather in troupes to perform dances to drive away evil spirits. In 2014, New York-based photographer Diana Zeyneb Alhindawi captured the annual festivities.

2 November 2015
by Barry Neild

To outsiders, the sight of a troupe of dancing bears, decked out in blood-red tassels, stomping through the snowy streets of a small Romanian town might be a strange, almost sinister sight.

But for those who live in Romania's eastern Moldova region, the arrival of the bears—actually locals wearing real bearskins—is a time of celebration.

The event takes place annually between Christmas and New Year's.

It's a tradition that, until recently, few beyond the tight-knit rural communities of the Trotus Valley have witnessed.

But a series of images by New York-based photographer Diana Zeyneb Alhindawi has captured this mysterious ceremony and brought it to a wider audience.

Alhindawi, a former humanitarian aid worker now pursuing photo projects mainly across Africa, is half-Romanian and lived there until she was 8, when her family left as refugees, first to Canada and then New York.

"The bear dances were always one of my favorite memories," she tells CNN. "It's a joyous event, although the dancers don't look that way in the pictures—they're trying to look fierce."

Bear Tamer

Alhindawi's beautiful images show men and women in full bear costume, parading through the streets in and around her old hometown, Moinesti.

They're accompanied by drummers and a singing "bear tamer."

Candid shots also show the bear dancers enjoying downtime—smoking cigarettes, sharing drinks, relaxing and even kissing.

The bear dancing is meant to drive away evil spirits.

It owes its origins to the time when local Gypsies, also known as Roma, would descend into towns from the forests in which they lived, bringing with them real bears.

Townsfolk would pay the Gypsies in exchange for letting the bear cubs walk up and down their backs—seen as a cure for backache.

Older bears would be made to "dance" by being placed on hot metal plates that would make them hop up and down.

Alhindawi says this took place as recently as the 1930s.

Her grandmother, now in her 80s, recalls seeing Roma leading bears on leashes down from the forest when she was five or six years old.

"The tradition is very undefined because Roma don't write their history down," says Alhindawi. "I've done research but no one can figure out how they went from live bears walking on people's backs to people dressed as bears."

The costumes involved in the dance are actual bearskins.

Economic Hard Times

While bear dancing was once an exclusively Roma activity, Alhindawi says they've been priced out because a ban on bear hunting has escalated the price of the skins up to €2,000 ($2,200).

Most Roma, she says, have sold theirs and can't afford new ones.

Hard economic times following the collapse of communism meant an end to the days when crowds of bear troupes were welcomed in every house with food, drink and money.

Now fewer groups make prearranged stops at the homes of community figures or restaurants, where they can pick up tips of up to $100.

Recently, some have been able to make more money traveling to bigger cities like Bucharest to perform for wealthy clients.

Even though the tradition is still cherished by locals, Alhindawi says it's in danger of dying out as local cultures are diluted by Western influences and many people leave home.

Welcome Contrast

"Romania has a problem with out-migration because there are no jobs for people of working age," says Alhindawi. "They're all away in Italy or Spain or other places.

"In rural areas it's mostly older people and very young kids, everyone else is gone."

She says she hopes her photos will help pique international interest in the tradition and perhaps bring visitors to an area that sees few tourists despite spectacular scenery.

For Alhindawi—still coming to grips with working as a photographer in troubled regions, despite considerable acclaim for her work so far—shooting the bear troupes brought a welcome contrast.

"As a new photographer, I'd like to be able to concentrate more on taking a good photo, but in east Africa, I have to watch my back a lot," she adds.

"It was so great to go to Romania and focus 100% on the photos instead of worrying about the guy with the big gun that might sneak up on me."

See more photos on the original article webpage.

Diana Zeyneb Alhindawi is a photographer based in Brooklyn. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

These Famous Monsters Might Not Be As Terrible As You Think

National Public Radio
31 October 2015

Trivia expert A.J. Jacobs tells NPR's Scott Simon that Frankenstein may not have been such a brute after all. And Dracula was just misunderstood.


It's Halloween. What could be more terrifying than talking to A.J. Jacobs, our resident scholar on the nonessential? A.J.'s done some, as usual, minimum resource to discover that many monsters apparently aren't so terrible, merely misunderstood. A.J. joins us from New York. Thanks very much for being with us, A.J.

A.J. JACOBS, BYLINE: Thank you for having me.

SIMON: So Frankenstein—or (imitating foreign accent) Frankenstein—wasn't such a bad guy, right?

JACOBS: No. I think...

SIMON: Misunderstood, misunderstood.

JACOBS: Misunderstood—that's what I'm here to do is trying to salvage the reputation of some of these Halloween monsters. So yes, Frankenstein I think gets a really raw deal in the reputation department. We all think of Frankenstein's monster as this monosyllabic idiot from the movies. But actually, in Mary Shelley's original novel from 1818, Frankenstein's monster was more of a sensitive intellectual type. He read Plutarch and Goethe. He was more Brooklyn hipster and less unfrozen caveman.

SIMON: (Laughter) I hear—I sense a sequel coming on.

JACOBS: (Laughter) That's interesting, I like that option.

SIMON: I like that—you know, Frankenstein in Brooklyn. Dracula—there's now a Dracula 2.0 in some minds.

JACOBS: Right. Well, Bram Stoker named Count Dracula after Vlad Dracula, who was a notoriously bloodthirsty ruler from the 14th century in what is now Romania. His nickname is Vlad the Impaler because he did like to impale his enemies on wooden sticks. But that said, some Romanians are on a mission to show he had his good side. There's a recent museum exhibit in Romania that argued Vlad the Impaler was a victim of a Western European smear campaign. So yes, he was cruel, but so was every other ruler at the time. Plus, this I liked—Vlad was sort of, like, a medieval Bernie Sanders. He wanted to reclaim the country from the corrupt aristocracy. He was fighting the 1 percent.

SIMON: By impaling them one by one, you mean?

JACOBS: (Laughter).

SIMON: And black cats, we shouldn't be fearful, right?

JACOBS: No. They have a terrible rap, but they have not always been considered bad luck. In Japan, in ancient Egypt, they were considered good luck. And in England, in 1800s, sailors' wives believed that owning a black cat would protect their husbands when they were at sea, so everyone wanted a black cat. And there was a black cat shortage, and there was a literal black market in black cats.

SIMON: I'm going to go through the motions of being interested when I ask this next question.


JACOBS: Thanks, Scott.

SIMON: Have you discovered the origins of the jack-o'-lantern? (Laughter).

JACOBS: I have. I was, yes, one of the scholars who figured it out by searching on Google. And it turns out that Jack of jack-o'-lantern fame was not such a terrible guy. In fact, he's quite clever and entrepreneurial. And he almost outwitted the devil, so that's the Irish folktale. Jack tricked the devil into climbing a tree to get him an apple. And then Jack carved a cross on the tree trunks so the devil couldn't get down. So Jack says I'll take away the cross if you promise never to send me to hell. So they made a deal, but, of course, the devil being the devil, he found a loophole. So he didn't send Jack to hell, but Jack was consigned to walk the earth forever, holding a lantern to light his way. And by the way—this is important—the lantern was made of a turnip, not a pumpkin. So somewhere along the line, the turnip industry got really screwed.

SIMON: Have you ever opened the door and seen a trick of trick-or-treater dressed as B.J. Leiderman, who writes our theme music?

JACOBS: (Laughter) No. But that's a great idea for my kids today.

SIMON: (Laughter).

JACOBS: I was going to go as Robert Siegel, so that'll be perfect.

SIMON: Esquire magazine's editor at large A.J. Jacobs. Happy Halloween, A.J.

JACOBS: Thank you. Happy Halloween, Scott.

Deadly Fire Roars Through Romanian Nightclub

Emergency workers outside a nightclub in Bucharest, where a fire killed at least 26 people. Inquam Photos/Reuters

New York Times
30 October 2015
by Liam Stack

Fire tore through a nightclub in Romania on Friday night during a rock concert that promised a dazzling pyrotechnic show, killing at least 27 people and spreading confusion and panic throughout a central neighborhood of Bucharest, the capital, The Associated Press reported.

At least 180 people were injured in the fire at the Colectiv nightclub, according to The Associated Press.

The club had advertised a concert by a local band, Goodbye to Gravity, on its Facebook page. The band was playing from a new album, “Mantras of War,” the club said, and the show was to include “a customized light show and pyrotechnic effects.”

It was not clear whether the promised pyrotechnics had caused the fire. Reuters reported that a witness said there were fireworks inside the club and that a pillar and the club’s ceiling had caught fire, followed by an explosion and heavy smoke. Video posted to Facebook by Titi Dinca, a journalist working for Romanian state television, showed ambulances and fire trucks racing through the city streets and people being treated on the sidewalk. His post described the scene with one word: “Explosion.”

Klaus Iohannis, the president of Romania, wrote on Facebook that he was “shocked and deeply saddened” by the fire. He offered no information on what had caused the blaze. “It is a very sad moment for all of us, for our nation and for me personally,” he wrote. “At this painful time, I express my full compassion and solidarity with the families of those affected by this tragedy.”

Original Sketch of Brancusi's Endless Column Goes on Display

New York Times
26 October 2015
by The Associated Press

BUCHAREST, Romania—An original sketch of sculptor Constantin Brancusi's iconic Endless Column has gone on show for the first time in his native Romania.

Organizers said Monday that the 9 x 6-centimeter (2.4 x 3.5-inch) ink sketch was drawn over a photograph of the park in the central Romanian city Targu Jiu where the sculpture was erected in 1938. The sketch is the central piece in an exhibition dedicated to Brancusi in the city of Timisoara.

The brass-clad sculpture was built to honor Romanian heroes of World War I. It survived communist attempts to pull it down in the 1950s.

The 1937 sketch was loaned by the daughter of the engineer who helped Brancusi with the technical aspects of the 30-meter sculpture.

Romania's Ex-President Prosecuted for Crime Against Humanity

New York Times
21 October 2015
by The Associated Press

BUCHAREST, Romania—A former Romanian president appeared Wednesday before the nation's top court, which is prosecuting him for crimes against humanity during a bloody anti-government protest 25 years ago in which six people died and hundreds were wounded.

Ion Iliescu, 85, went to the High Court of Cassation and Justice to hear the charges connected to the government's violent repression of the June 1990 protest. He denies wrongdoing, but made no statements during Wednesday's session.

A court statement said Iliescu is being prosecuted for the deaths of four people, the shooting of three others and depriving 1,000 people of their freedom. Prosecutors haven't explained why Iliescu is being charged with four deaths rather than six.

The head of the Romanian Intelligence Service at the time, Virgil Magureanu, a close ally of Iliescu, also appeared before the court. Asked whether he was guilty of crimes against humanity, he said: "That's a stupid question."

The defense minister at the time, Victor Stanculescu, also appeared, telling reporters that prosecutors had cited him as a suspect in the case.

Club-wielding coal miners and police broke up a weekslong pro-democracy protest in Bucharest in 1990, arresting and beating thousands of people. Iliescu later thanked the miners, drawing criticism at home and abroad.

Romanian television stations on Wednesday replayed the footage of Iliescu thanking the miners.

The European Court of Human Rights has ordered Romania to pay compensation to victims.

The case was never properly investigated because of the continued presence of former communists in government. But in March, military prosecutors reopened the case.

Thousands of Romanians emigrated after the 1990 riots amid doubts about Romania's commitment to democracy six months after the ouster and execution of Communist leader Nicolae Ceausescu.

Iliescu was elected president of Romania three times, serving from 1990 to 1996 and from 2000 to 2004.

US Ambassador Says Romania Still Needs a Lot of Reforms

New York Times
13 October 2015
by The Associated Press

BUCHAREST, Romania—The U.S. ambassador to Romania on Tuesday urged politicians to continue reforms, stop political meddling in the management of state-owned companies and create a regulatory system which fosters investment.

"Stop meddling in the management of state-owned enterprises for political gain and allow these enterprises to operate according to good business practices, so that all Romanians reap the benefits," Ambassador Hans G. Klemm said at a conference organized by the American Chamber of Commerce.

Klemm praised Romania for taking steps to reduce nepotism, and for the anti-corruption drive which has seen the prosecution of senior politicians, including Prime Minister Victor Ponta whose trial began in September.

The ambassador did not cite any cases of meddling "for political gain." But among hundreds of corruption prosecutions there have been examples of politicians who extorted or embezzled money to enrich themselves and bestow favors to advance their political careers.

In one high-profile case, Finance Minister Darius Valcov resigned in March after prosecutors charged him with taking 2 million euros ($2.14 million) in bribes, including a Renoir painting and gold bars, in exchange for awarding contracts to a local businessman when he was the mayor of a small town.

The mayor of Bucharest, Sorin Oprescu, was suspended after he was arrested last month on charges of being part of a bribery scheme in which where city officials allegedly demanded a percentage from companies in exchange for awarding contracts.

Klemm said Romania's regulatory climate "still lacks cohesion and long-term vision," and called for rules that are transparent, predictable and stable.

The ambassador said Romania had the advantage of a well-educated workforce and resources such natural gas, forests and farmland.

"Romania's potential is great....but so too are the reforms that it must undertake to realize it," Klemm said.

The career diplomat took up his post in September, filling a position that had been left vacant since December 2012.

Boyhood Encounter With UFO Inspired Art That Soared Around The World

Ionel Talpazan's "Fundamental UFO" Courtesy of Henry Boxer Gallery

National Public Radio
3 October 2015
by Scott Simon

Ionel Talpazan thought he saw a UFO when he was a boy, and never stopped seeing them. Of course, he created them.

Ionel Talpazan was 60 years old when he died this week, of diabetes and stroke. He was a boy in a small village in Romania, given up by his parents and raised by a succession of foster parents. He told interviewers he escaped into the woods one night because he thought he would be beaten.

He saw a blue, beating light in the sky above, and was sure it was a spacecraft.

Ionel began to draw spacecraft; I'm not sure you can call them UFOs when an artist gives them such a vivid, colorful identify.

It is hard not to think that a lost, frightened little boy in the woods would dream and draw pictures of amazing machines to swoop down from the heavens and take him away.

But Ionel Talpazan had to make his own escape. As a young adult, he swam across the Danube River and into Yugoslavia, where he lived in a refugee camp before he could get to New York in the 1980s.

He had rough times in his new world, too. But Ionel continued to draw pictures of spacecraft he imagined, often thrown open to reveal innards as elaborate as schematics; but rarely people. He slept in a cardboard box near Columbus Circle and sold drawings, paintings, and small flying saucers that he made out of plaster and scavenged parts.

I don't know where life would have led Ionel Talpazan if he'd slept in a cardboard box on a corner of, say, Akron or Peoria. But in New York, a famous art figure named Henry Tobler saw an artist in his drawings, and wrote about him in scholarly journals. His pictures were included in Manhattan art galleries, and from the 1990s on, Ionel made his way in the world by his art.

By the time he died, his works had hung at the American Visionary Art Museum, and museums in San Franciso, London, Berlin, Madrid, and France. Talpazans were sold in fancy galleries from Soho to Chelsea. The man who had slept in a box moved to a New York apartment.

"My art shows spiritual technology, something beautiful and beyond human imagination, that comes from another galaxy," he once told the Western Folklore journal. "So, in relative way, this is like the God."

Ionel Talpazan imagined incredible things, and made them alive in the eyes of others. In a way, he did escape on his UFO.

Museum Prepares to Send Heart of Last Queen of Romania Home

A museum employee poses for photographs with a silver casket used to transport the heart of Queen Marie, the last queen of Romania. Andreea Alexandru

New York Times
2 October 2015
by The Associated Press

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP)—A museum in Bucharest is preparing to send the preserved heart of the last queen of Romania to its final resting place—the castle where she died.

Deputy curator of the National History Museum, Cornel Constantin Ilie, told the AP Friday the museum would transfer the heart of Queen Marie in its silver casket to Pelisor castle on Nov. 3.

Marie died in 1938. She asked for her heart to be publicly displayed after her death and it was exhibited by two castles before it was sent to the museum in 1970.

Marie's son, King Carol also ruled Romania while her grandson, King Michael, was forced to abdicate by the communists in 1947.

Michael, now 93, will decide later if the heart should go on display again.

Ionel Talpazan, Whose U.F.O. Art Had Sightings All Over, Dies at 60

Ionel Talpazan, pictured in 1999 with his painting “Father and Son in Space.” Daniel Wojcik

New York Times
29 September 2015
by William Grimes

Ionel Talpazan, an outsider artist from Romania who sold his visionary works of U.F.O.s and life in outer space on the sidewalks of Manhattan before being discovered in the late 1980s, died on Sept. 21 in Manhattan. He was 60.

The cause was complications of a stroke and advanced diabetes, Aarne Anton, his dealer at the American Primitive Gallery in SoHo, said.

Mr. Talpazan claimed that one night in the Romanian countryside, when he was 8, a strange, hovering shape slowly descended from the sky, enveloping him in a celestial blue light, and then disappeared. The experience haunted him and became the source of his art.

His paintings, drawings and sculptures dealt, obsessively, with U.F.O.s and their inner workings, often shown in cross section and heavily annotated in Romanian.

He insisted that his work had value not only for art lovers but also for NASA scientists, since it articulated the magnetic forces and antimatter at work in the propulsion systems of his spaceships.

“My art is about the big mystery in life,” he told the journal Western Folklore in 2008. “How did we get here on planet Earth? Why are we here? Is there life on other planets?”

Ionel Talpazan (pronounced yah-NEL TAL-puh-zan) was born on Aug. 16, 1955, in the commune of Petrachioaia, Romania. After being given up by his parents, he was raised by foster parents in Maineasca, one of the commune’s four villages.

His close encounter with a U.F.O. occurred when, fearing a beating for misbehavior, he slipped out of his bedroom window in the middle of the night and walked out into the surrounding countryside, where he stood transfixed by what he called “a blue energy” radiating from a mysterious source overhead.

The incident left him confused, but also deeply interested in the idea of space travel, and he set about rendering his interplanetary visions, especially U.F.O.s, on paper. “I felt that by drawing them, I might penetrate their mystery,” he told The Independent of London in 1996.

He escaped from Romania, where he had worked in the construction trade, by swimming across the Danube to Yugoslavia in 1987. After several months living in a United Nations camp in Belgrade, he was granted political asylum by the United States and emigrated to New York.

A television documentary on U.F.O.s rekindled his interest in space, and he began drawing hypothetical interplanetary spacecraft. “He was interested not so much in aliens as in otherworldly technology,” said Daniel Wojcik, whose book “Outsider Art, Trauma and Visionary Worlds” will be published by the University Press of Mississippi next year. “He thought flying saucers would help bring about a better world by introducing a benevolent technology.”

In New York, Mr. Talpazan lived hand-to-mouth, at times sleeping in a cardboard box near Columbus Circle. He sold his work on the sidewalk, becoming a familiar sight at the entrance to the annual Outsider Art Fair, then held in the Puck Building in SoHo.

He was discovered by the art dealer Henry Tobler, known as Jay, who saw him selling work outside the Museum of Modern Art and wrote about him in 1990 in Folk Art Messenger, the journal of the Folk Art Society of America.

In the 1996 exhibition “Visions of Space & UFOs in Art,” at the American Primitive Gallery in Manhattan, more than a dozen of Mr. Talpazan’s works covered one wall, some of them bought by the artists Brice Marden and Terry Winters. The following year, at the same gallery, he was the subject of a solo show, “Ionel Talpazan: U.F.O.: Art & Science,” and at the Musée d’Art Brut in Neuilly-sur-Marne, France.

Mr. Talpazan rendered his U.F.O.s in various guises. Some adhered to an illustrational realism; others were abstract and heavily patterned like mandalas. Some works showed a single U.F.O. lifting off from an unidentified planet. Others showed multiple saucers engaged in battle or disappearing into a wormhole.

His titles were matter-of-fact yet otherworldly: “Red UFOs and the Statue of Liberty,” “Father and Son in Space,” “UFOs Over NYC.”

His U.F.O. sculptures, a little wider than a Frisbee, were made of plaster and painted silver or blue, then outfitted with brightly colored portholes and exhaust pipes and set on pedestals made from scavenged parts.

In the New Jersey newspaper The Star-Ledger in 1997, the critic Dan Bischoff wrote that they resembled “those old metal tops that you sent spinning by pushing a spiral rod down into the center, big and rounded and Art Deco-looking, like two hubcaps from a Studebaker stuck together.”

Mr. Talpazan’s work was exhibited at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco and the Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin.

In 2013, work by Mr. Talpazan was included in “The Alternative Guide to the Universe” at the Hayward Gallery in London and “Farfetched: Mad Science, Fringe Architecture and Visionary Engineering” at the Gregg Museum of Art and Design in Raleigh, N.C. This year he was part of the exhibition “Arstronomy” at La Casa Encendida in Madrid.

Mr. Talpazan, who lived in Harlem, is survived by two brothers and two sisters. About a year ago, on taking American citizenship, he legally changed his name to Adrian DaVinci.

“My art shows spiritual technology, something beautiful and beyond human imagination, that comes from another galaxy,” he told Western Folklore. “Something superior in intelligence and technology. So, in relative way, this is like the God. It is perfect.”

Romanian Music Festival Thrives Despite Local Turbulence

New York Times
22 September 2015
by Reuters

BUCHAREST—One of Eastern Europe's biggest classical music festivals draws bigger and bigger stars every year though its main hall is an acoustic disaster from communist times and the local government of host city Bucharest is in turmoil.

The 22nd edition of the George Enescu Festival, which ended this past weekend, boasted appearances by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, Dresden Staatskapelle, the San Francisco Symphony, the London Symphony Orchestra and, after 15 years of negotiations, the Berlin Philharmonic under Simon Rattle.

The 2017 edition will see Milan's La Scala, conductors Valery Gergiev and Antonio Pappano, as well as the superstar Chinese pianist Lang Lang, among others.

"You have the most beautiful festival and the greatest public in the world," Indian-born maestro Zubin Mehta told reporters a day after he conducted the Israel Philharmonic.

"Every musician on stage is happy to see the smiling faces of the Romanian public, so we can't wait to come back."

A notable triumph of the Enescu festival, which is named for Romania's most famous composer, George Enescu, and was founded in 1958, is not only that it survived during the repressive communist rule of Nicolae Ceausescu, but that it seems to float above the corruption scandals of modern-day Romania.

Halfway through the three-week-long festival, anti-corruption prosecutors arrested Bucharest Mayor Sorin Oprescu, pending a criminal investigation on suspicion he awarded public contracts in exchange for bribes.

There was no immediate impact on the festival, but the city is among its biggest patrons. The bulk of the festival's budget of 8 million euros ($8.93 million) comes from the Romanian central government through the culture ministry, which has a high turnover of ministers.

"I am the 13th culture minister since 2003," Culture Minister Ionut Vulpescu told a conference. "I am absolutely convinced the festival will carry on at the standard of the latest editions."

Romania's ever-changing political landscape means, though, that the festival organisers must fight hard to obtain funds for operational costs, and must make do with outdated facilities.

Successive governments have never made good on vague promises to replace the main 4,000-seat Sala Palatului hall, which was built in 1960 for communist party meetings and has poor acoustics.

"I am sorry to say goodbye to you in this hall of party congresses," Ioan Holender, the festival's outgoing honorary chairman and artistic director for the past 14 years, told the audience before the Berlin Philharmonic performed there.

Mehta is to replace Holender as honorary chairman while the London Philharmonic Orchestra's lead conductor Vladimir Jurowski is rumoured to become the new artistic director, although the ministry has yet to announce it.

None of the turmoil seemed to faze Rattle, and the Berlin Philharmonic is set to return to the festival in 2019.

"The Enescu Festival has an incredible record in supporting and encouraging music, whatever is going on in the world outside," he said.

(Reporting by Luiza Ilie; Editing by Michael Roddy/Mark Heinrich)

Prosecutors Indict Romania PM on Corruption Charges

New York Times
17 September 2015
by The Associated Press

BUCHAREST, Romania—Romanian prosecutors on Thursday formally indicted Prime Minister Victor Ponta on corruption charges, including tax evasion and money-laundering, and said he will be tried by the country's top court.

Ponta will not be arrested, Livia Sapalcan, the spokeswoman for the anti-corruption prosecutors' office told The Associated Press.

The 42-year-old Ponta is the first sitting Romania prime minister to be indicted and have his assets seized. He denies wrongdoing and has refused to resign, saying he wants to remain prime minister until the December 2016 parliamentary election.

Four other people have also been indicted in the case and will stand trial.

There was no immediate comment Thursday from Ponta, who was attending a meeting of the country's top defense body to discuss Hungary's plan to build a fence along part of its border with Romania to deter migrants. Romania opposes the idea.

Romania's President Klaus Iohannis said the development was "more and more problematic" for Ponta and the government, and was harming Romania's international image.

Prosecutors first named Ponta a suspect on June 5 and he was indicted in July on charges including tax evasion, money-laundering, conflict of interest and making false statements while he was working as a lawyer in 2007 and 2008. At the time, Ponta was a lawmaker.

Prosecutors say Ponta forged expense claims worth at least 181,000 lei ($45,000) from the law firm of political ally Dan Sova, who was also indicted Thursday. They say he pretended to work as a lawyer to justify getting money from the law firm. The funds were used to pay for two luxury apartments and the use of an SUV.

Prosecutors say after Ponta became prime minister in May 2012, he appointed Sova as a minister three times, which constituted a conflict of interest.

Ponta stepped down as head of the ruling Social Democratic Party on July 12.

‘Aferim!,’ an Oscar Contender, Explores the Enslavement of the Roma

A scene from Radu Jude’s “Aferim!,” a film about the search for an escaped Roma slave in 19th-century Wallachia, part of modern-day Romania. Silviu Ghetie

New York Times
8 September 2015
by Kit Gillet

BUCHAREST, Romania—The slow black-and-white scenes in which two horsemen ride through vast, bleak landscapes in Radu Jude’s latest movie, “Aferim!,” could have come straight out of a classic American western, as could the central theme of injustice. Yet the movie is set in 19th-century Wallachia, part of modern-day Romania, where for almost 500 years ending in 1856, the Roma (or Gypsies, as they have been more commonly known) were viewed as property to be bought and sold.

The film, which won the Silver Bear for best director at the Berlin Film Festival in February and is now Romania’s entry for best foreign-language picture at the Oscars, has been described as the country’s “12 Years a Slave.” The comparison underscores the effect “Aferim!” has had here: The film has set off widespread discussion about enslavement of the Roma, a subject that until recently had rarely been aired in public.

“Among Roma activists, the movie really had an impact, and many are thinking how to use it to raise awareness,” said Margareta Matache, who from 2005 to 2012 was the executive director of Romani Criss, a leading Roma rights organization here, and is now an instructor at Harvard.

“In the U.S., there’s a sense of embarrassment about slavery—in history books, memorials, continual reminders,” she said. “In Romania, slavery existed for almost 500 years, but there is nothing—nothing in the history books, in museums, no reference and no memorials.”

In 2011 Romania designated a holiday to commemorate the abolishment of the slavery of the Roma in 1856. But Mr. Jude, the film’s director, said that even then, the subject was “only really discussed by close circles of historians and Roma activists.”

His first two films, also widely praised features, were far more contemporary tales of family struggles. He said that “Aferim!,” with its historical emphasis, was born not only out of the lack of general knowledge about the slavery period but the second-class treatment of Roma today.

“I wanted to look at how the repercussions of the past come into the present,” said Mr. Jude, who at 38 is a leading filmmaker in Romania.

He discussed his film on a terrace in central Bucharest. At a nearby antiques market, people buy and sell items from the country’s period of Communist rule, which ended in a revolution in 1989. But “Communism didn’t create all of the problems we need to deal with,” he said.

“Aferim!” is only the second Romanian film to address slavery, Mr. Jude said. (The first, the 1923 silent “Gypsy Girl in the Bedroom,” has apparently been lost, with only a few stills surviving.) In the new movie, a constable and his teenage son track a runaway slave, meeting a cast of characters along the way who underscore the xenophobia of the ruling class, peasantry and Orthodox Christian priests of the day. With dark humor, the movie (for which an American release is planned next year) touches on the long history of anti-Roma prejudice in many parts of Europe, including Romania.

The story is fictional, but Mr. Jude said he drew on the historical record. Before shooting began, he held a script reading with 20 historians and made adjustments in response to their input.

Wallachia was heavily influenced by the Ottoman Empire, and the word “aferim” is Turkish for “bravo.” Mr. Jude said that the word appears often in historical documents and therefore came to be part of the story, adding a touch of irony.

“The characters in the film say ‘Aferim!’ to each other as they feel they are doing the right thing,” he said. “It is very symbolic, this aspect.”

While “Aferim!” has largely been greeted positively by audiences and critics, there has been some backlash since its commercial release here in March. “After the movie came out there were hundreds of anonymous comments posted online saying these Gypsies should be killed and that we are destroying the image of our country” by making the film, Mr. Jude said.

He said his reaction was simply, “Instead of concentrating on changing the image of Romania, why don’t they focus on changing Romania?”

Since the film won the Silver Bear, Mr. Jude and others in the country’s film circles have been looking ahead to the 2016 Academy Awards with anticipation. Romanian directors have fared well at international festivals in recent years, with Cristian Mungiu (“4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” and “Beyond the Hills”) and Calin Peter Netzer (“Child’s Pose”) taking top awards, although no Romanian movie has won an Oscar.

“Aferim!” is a striking departure from those movies, which were often dark social commentaries on contemporary or Communist-era Romania.

Irina Trocan, a Romanian critic, said of “Aferim!”: “Based on artistic merit, it is worth the Oscar, but I’m not sure it is going to get it. I hope it wins—it would be great for Jude, and for Romanian cinema.”

Mr. Jude is more relaxed about the movie’s Oscar prospects.

“It is more important that the film is discussed and used as a tool for further thinking and research,” he said. “That’s more important than someone saying, ‘That’s a nice film.’”

Where Dracula Was Born, and It’s Not Transylvania

The remains of 13th-century Whitby Abbey, “a most noble ruin,” as Bram Stoker described it, above the town of Whitby in Yorkshire, England. Credit Andy Haslam for The New York Times

New York Times
8 September 2015
by Ann Mah

From its quay in early summer, Whitby was a sun-scrubbed idyll, fluttering with the trimmings of a typical English seaside holiday. Souvenir shops hawked postcards and sand toys, pub bartenders poured midday pints of beer, and the smell of fish and chips hung on the breeze. Along the shore, a row of rainbow-hued beach huts sheltered swimmers brave enough to take a dip in the North Sea. A group of sunburned schoolchildren raced through cobblestone streets, past antiques shops and tearooms, toward the 199 steps ascending to a cliff. I followed them, listening as their excited chatter gave way to dead silence. “Please, Miss,” a little girl appealed to her teacher in an unnerved tone, “I can’t go up there.”

It wasn’t difficult to see why. At the top loomed the stuff of nightmares: the skeletal ruins of the 13th-century Whitby Abbey. Surrounded by gravestones, it offered the only obvious hint that this picturesque town on England’s Yorkshire coast is the birthplace of one of Gothic horror’s most famous villains: Dracula.

Bram Stoker spent just a month in Whitby, but those four weeks in July and August 1890 were pivotal for his most famous book and creation. (Whitby celebrated the 125th anniversary of Stoker’s visit this year.) Though large portions of “Dracula” unfold in Transylvania (now Romania)—which he describes as “one of the wildest and least known portions of Europe”—Stoker himself never ventured east of Vienna. Instead, it was this fishing-village-turned-Victorian-resort where he began work on the supernatural tale, and he honored his muse by setting key portions of the narrative within its charming streets. During my visit, I discovered that Whitby still captivates, largely because of the “beautiful and romantic bits” that inspired the Irish novelist—but it also still nurtures a dark undercurrent.

Bram Stoker. The author began work on his classic horror story ‘Dracula’ in Whitby in 1890, and set parts of the narrative there. Credit Hulton Archive/Getty Images

“A lot has been written about Bram Stoker,” said David Pybus, the honorary manager of the Whitby Museum. “Most of it is rubbish.” Take, for example, a bench perched on a bluff, dedicated with a plaque that reads: “The view from this spot inspired Bram Stoker to use Whitby as the setting of part of his world-famous novel Dracula.”

Not actually possible, Mr. Pybus said: “That area was inaccessible to the public at the time of Stoker’s visit.” But at the museum, his diligent examination of Stoker’s letters and other documents offers an unusually accurate account of the author’s Whitby sojourn. “ ‘Dracula’ is a remarkable narrative of a Victorian upper-middle-class holiday in Whitby,” he said.

On vacation from his London day job as business manager to Henry Irving, the most famous actor of the Victorian stage, Stoker spent his first week in Whitby alone, relishing the break from his demanding boss. The two men had a complex relationship rooted in admiration, sycophancy and chats that persisted until dawn so that the actor could decompress after performances. And so, though Stoker was familiar with vampire imagery from the folklore of his Irish childhood, as well as his studies at Trinity College Dublin, some scholars have theorized that the mercurial Irving actually inspired the blood-sucking, megalomaniacal Count Dracula.

Stoker lodged at 6 Royal Crescent on the West Cliff, a stately, residential neighborhood that is today awash in bed-and-breakfasts. His wife and young son eventually joined him, plunging into a whirl of concerts, teas and amateur theater at the Spa, the seaside pavilion at the town’s social center. But Stoker preferred walking along the cliffs while howling at the wind, and researching his nascent tale—the fifth of 12 novels—at the Whitby Library (today, the building houses a popular restaurant, the Quayside). There, in a book called “An Account of the Principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia” by William Wilkinson, he discovered the name Dracula, which means “devil” in the Wallachian dialect. “The book is still in our catalog,” Mr. Pybus said. “But we can’t find it.”

Like the character Mina Murray Harker—the levelheaded, tender-necked young lady who narrates the book’s Whitby section—Stoker spent hours at St. Mary’s graveyard, which overlooks the town. He relaxed among the tombstones, admired the “myriad clouds of every sunset-colour-flame,” and absorbed local lore from the retired seafarers who gathered there. Some of the lighter moments in “Dracula” are drawn from these conversations, which Stoker rendered in thick Yorkshire dialect. (“These bans an’ wafts an’ boh-ghosts an’ bar-guests an’ bogles an’ all anent them is only fit to set bairns an’ dizzy women a-belderin’. They be nowt but air-blebs!”)

Though the bands of crusty mariners disappeared with Whitby’s fishing industry around the turn of the 20th century, the churchyard remains a popular spot for tourists and locals—a resting place both temporary and eternal. After huffing up those 199 steps that lead to it from the town’s high street, I paused to admire the view of the harbor mouth sweeping open to the North Sea. In 1885, a Russian schooner crashed on the beach directly below, a dramatic shipwreck that captured Stoker’s imagination. He seized the details for his book, adding a spectacular storm, a crew of corpses and a shape-shifting Dracula bounding triumphantly to shore in the form of a black dog.

Whitby’s harbor. It opens to the North Sea, where a dramatic shipwreck in 1885 was the inspiration for a scene in the book. Credit Andy Haslam for The New York Time

A short walk away, I gazed at a photograph of the wreckage that inspired the scene. “Stoker would have seen it in the gallery window,” said Mike Shaw, the owner of the Sutcliffe Gallery, which is devoted to the work of Frank Meadow Sutcliffe, a noted 19th-century photographer who “captured working-class Victorian life in Whitby before industrialization.” In Sutcliffe’s sepia-toned prints, Whitby appears misty, moody and—if you replace the somberly dressed fishwives with tourists—almost identical to today. “It hasn’t changed much,” Mr. Shaw said, “except the fishing industry is almost nonexistent. Now we’re dependent on the tourist industry.”

Indeed, Whitby burnishes its tourist appeal with a sense of timelessness: old-fashioned pubs, quirky boutiques and fish-and-chip shops, which, in quintessential Yorkshire fashion, use beef drippings for frying. But the town also harbors a shadowy side as black as the masses of jet mourning jewelry it produced during Queen Victoria’s reign. Twice a year, in April and October, it hosts the Whitby Goth Weekend, a music festival founded in 1994. Mr. Shaw likened the autumn event to “a global Goth gathering—thousands of Goths come.” Even during my visit in the off-Goth season, I spotted Goth clothing shops dotting the side streets, and jet boutiques displaying pendants of skulls, spiders and bats.

As the sun descended, the real bats emerged, swooping over the remains of Whitby Abbey—“a most noble ruin,” as Stoker described it—and disappearing over the rooftops. I walked through empty streets, peering down narrow alleys and secret staircases that ended in pools of darkness. In one of the book’s most gripping scenes, Mina runs through these same streets after dark, hurrying to save her sleepwalking friend, Lucy, as she’s attacked in the churchyard by “a man or beast” with “white face and red, gleaming eyes.” I headed in the other direction, away from the churchyard and any shadowy figures. When I turned to look behind me, I saw the setting sun had stained the abbey and its surrounding gravestones as red as blood.

That night I slept with my window closed.


Getting There

Trains run hourly between York and Scarborough. The journey takes 50 minutes and a one-way ticket is £7.10, $10.60 at $1.50 to the pound. From Scarborough, buses run hourly to Whitby; the trip takes about an hour and costs £6.90 one way.

What to See

Stoker took brisk daily walks, often to Sandsend or Robin Hood’s Bay. Information and trail maps are available at the Whitby Tourist Information Center (Langborne Road;

Where to Stay

The West Cliff neighborhood is crammed with bed-and-breakfasts, all similar. Make your choice based on proximity to the town center.

Where to Eat

Whitby abounds in award-winning fish-and-chips shops, notably Magpie Café (14 Pier Road; 44-1-947-602-058) and Trenchers (New Quay Road; 44-1-947-603-212). Both fry only in beef drippings, and both offer takeout (complete with newspaper wrapping), as well as table service, with a larger menu of simple, cozy dishes like fish pie.

The Tea Stall (Pier Road) opens year-round at 7 a.m. to serve Whitby’s now tiny fishing fleet bacon or sausage sarnies (sandwiches), and mugs of delectable Yorkshire tea.

Sherlocks Coffee Shop (10 Flowergate; 44-1-947-603-399) serves sandwiches, cake, ice cream and delicious currant scones heaped with double cream, for lunch or tea.

After a brisk tramp to Sandsend, tuck into local fare at Bridge Cottage Bistro(Bridge at Sandsend; 44-1-947-893-438), like North Sea potted shrimps with brown bread, or grilled mackerel with rhubarb from the cottage garden.

Protesters Set Up Tent City, Vow 'Non-Stop'
Action in Moldova Over Banking Fraud

New York Times
7 September 2015
by Reuters

CHISINAU—Protesters who camped overnight in the Moldovan capital Chisinau vowed on Monday to press round-the-clock action against what they see as widespread corruption and force the resignation of senior officials including the president.

Angered by a fraud in which $1 billion—roughly the equivalent of one eighth of gross domestic product - has disappeared from the banking system, tens of thousands of protesters streamed into the capital of the poor, largely rural, ex-Soviet republic on Sunday. They massed near the government building in the biggest protests the country has seen.

The fraud has caused a sharp depreciation in the national currency, the leu, fuelling inflation and driving down living standards in what is already one of Europe's poorest countries where many struggle by on a family income of about $300 a month or rely on money sent back by relatives working abroad.

It has seriously damaged the image of pro-Europe leaders who have ruled since 2009 but have done little to halt gross economic mismanagement or shake off accusations of high-level graft.

About 150 protesters set up about 80 tents and demanded the resignation of President Nicolae Timofti and other officials including the governor of the national bank and early parliamentary elections.

"Our protest action will go on non-stop. People will go from here only when our demands are met," Valentin Dolganiuc, a leader of the civic platform Dignity and Justice (DA) which organized the protest, told Reuters.

Slogans in Sunday's huge protest targeted Moldova's super-wealthy oligarchs, particularly condemning two of the country's major power-brokers, former prime minister Vlad Filat and Vladimir Plahotniuc, Moldova's wealthiest oligarch.


The action united people from across the spectrum in a country heavily dependent on Russia for energy supplies and where strong pro-Russian feeling exists especially in rural areas.

A display board in the "tent city" naming those who should be held to account included leaders from the pro-Russian socialists and communists as well as virtually all the pro-EU leadership.

Many protesters on Sunday held EU banners aloft while some speakers backed union with Romania of which Moldova was a part before 1940.

"We have a duty to take back our country which the oligarchs and bandits have seized from us," said Elena Cebanu, a 26-year-old nurse who spent the night in the tent city.

The scandal around the missing $1 billion has led to the EU and other economic partners withholding assistance to Moldova until it is back on an International monetary Fund program.

(Writing By Richard Balmforth; editing by Ralph Boulton)

A Train Journey From Communism to
Freedom, Almost Ended in Hungary

New York Times
6 September 2015
by Rukmini Callimachi

More than three decades ago, my mother, grandmother and I boarded a train in communist Romania, armed with the papers my mother had painstakingly gathered in an effort to give me a better life. I was 5 years old, and I had been told we were going on a holiday to Paris. I realized something was wrong when my surrogate grandfather Tata Geo (Father Geo) broke into sobs as we left the house.

It was March 7, 1979, and you needed special permission to leave the totalitarian country; passports were issued only to those who could prove they were returning. That meant that anyone who tried to leave for good was forced to break the law, and the consequences for getting caught made the decision to leave as final and harrowing then as it is today for the thousands of migrants arriving on Europe’s shores.

For weeks leading up to our departure, my mother talked loudly about the plans she had for expanding the balcony of our Bucharest apartment. She also cashed in her savings to buy a color TV, the first our family had owned, in the hopes that the Securitate agents assigned to track our family would be fooled into thinking we planned to return. My father agreed to stay back, sacrificing himself in an effort to make it appear as if the family were still rooted in Romania.

The night of our departure, I lined up my stuffed animals and “interviewed” them to find out which ones wanted to come with me to Paris. I decided they all wanted to come, and so I shoved them into a suitcase and struggled to zip it shut, only to be scolded by my mother, who said I could take two at most. I chose a doll and my stuffed rabbit, and then when she wasn’t looking, I slipped in a miniature elephant and several coloring pencils.

Our destination initially was Germany, which then—as now—was the first safe haven for political refugees.

The train left Bucharest, and hours later we crossed into Hungary. My grandmother opened her prayer book to the picture of the Virgin Mary. The page was stained the color of her lipstick from all the times she had kissed the image.

The train stopped, and I remember the conductor inspecting our papers, my mother sitting like stone.

He left, and just as the train was about to depart, a woman came running up to our compartment, banging violently on the window, screaming in Hungarian. I will never forget the look of terror in my mother’s face. The woman on the platform knew we weren’t supposed to be there, and she gestured and yelled and poked her finger accusingly in our direction, but the train was already moving. It was gaining speed, and the woman ran alongside us, until she fell back as we pulled out of the station.

Then, as now, Hungary was a place of treachery for migrants. It was a place where my family’s journey—like those of thousands of Syrians today, facing much greater risks after four years of civil war—almost came to an end. Had we been turned back, it would have meant certain imprisonment for my mother, and possibly for my elderly grandmother.

We reached Germany, where the authorities provided us temporary housing. A week later, we took the train to Switzerland, where we were awarded political refugee status.

Back in Bucharest, my father, considered one of Romania’s top pediatric surgeons, was told he was being relocated to a clinic in the remote countryside. And roughly a year after our departure, the man who would one day become my stepfather, after my parents’ divorce, was placed under house arrest for criticizing the catastrophic economic policies of Romania’s dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu.

It took years for me to understand that we were not on a holiday. As a child, I clung to the hope that we would return to Apartment No. 49, on Vasile Conta Street in Bucharest, to the two-bedroom home where I had left all my dolls and where Tata Geo now lived alone.

I am deeply grateful to the officials in Germany and Switzerland who gave us safe passage. I am even more grateful to the man at the immigration counter in the United States who years later looked over my high school transcript and nodded, then stamped the form awarding me American citizenship.

Yet that day 36 years ago also marked a fissure in my life: There was a “Before,” a time when I felt secure and deeply loved, and where I knew my place in the world; and there was an “After,” when nothing could ever be taken for granted again. Despite the fact that I speak fluent English, own a home in America and attended elementary school, high school and college here, the nice lady at Chase whom I called yesterday to ask about a charge on my account still begins the conversation with: “What an unusual name; where are you from, honey?”

The only objects I have from Romania are the stuffed rabbit and the stuffed elephant which I was allowed to take. Both are now missing their heads.

When my grandmother died, she left me her prayer book.

The picture of the Mother of God still bears the color of her lipstick. She kissed it that day in Hungary in thanks for the fact that the train kept going, and then for every miracle along our journey since.

Bucharest Mayor Detained on Suspicion of Taking Bribes

New York Times
6 September 2015
by The Associated Press

BUCHAREST, Romania—Anti-corruption prosecutors in Romania detained the influential mayor of Bucharest early Sunday on suspicion that he took bribes of 25,000 euros ($28,000) from firms working for city hall.

The anti-corruption prosecutors' office said in a statement that from 2013-2015, firms which had contracts with Bucharest city hall were obliged to pay up to 70 percent of their profits from work they did for the city hall to high-ranking officials. Of that, 10 percent allegedly went directly to Mayor Sorin Oprescu.

His lawyer, Alexandru Chiciu, denied that Oprescu had ever solicited bribes, either directly or through a third party.

Prosecutors detained Oprescu just after midnight after he was reportedly filmed taking the bribe, Agerpres news agency reported.

He was later taken handcuffed by prosecutors from his home north of Bucharest. Agerpres reported that that prosecutors earlier found some of the 25,000 euros on him and the rest was found at his home. Prosecutors searched city hall, Oprescu's home, and the homes of other city hall employees on Sunday. A court will decide whether to formally arrest him later Sunday.

The 63-year-old Oprescu has been Bucharest mayor since 2008. He ran for president in 2009 and was formerly a senator of the ruling Social Democratic Party.

Wikipedia 5 September 2015

Did you know...

• ... that when Romanian headmaster Alexandru Lambrior was fired for political reasons, all but two of the teachers at his school resigned in protest within two days?

Time-Worn Village in Moldova Springs Back to Life, Thanks to Port

The Giurgiulesti International Free Port in Moldova sits along a small stretch of the Danube River. Until recently, Moldova relied on Romania and Ukraine for access to foreign goods and trade. Credit Dmitry Kostyukov for The New York Times

New York Times
2 September 2015
by Kit Gillet

GIURGIULESTI, Moldova—Like many rural villages throughout Europe, Giurgiulesti was shrinking. The young had left, seeking work and better futures, and they never came back. The old had stayed behind, tilling the fields and nurturing the grapes on backyard vines that they used to make wine.

But these days, cars and trucks rumble through this traditional village of about 3,000 on their way toward the Danube River and an unlikely thriving port. Sitting in her office in the center of the village, Tatiana Galateanu, 53, the mayor of Giurgiulesti, said that all the commotion had created a bit of a problem.

“The houses here are very old,” Ms. Galateanu said, “so they are affected by the heavy traffic and big trucks using the road.”

Yet it is a problem she is happy for the village to have. With half of the port’s 460 employees, including Ms. Galateanu’s son, coming from the village, it has rejuvenated a place that time had forgotten. “It has a big importance here,” she said.

It does for the rest of Moldova, as well. The landlocked country, with a population of 3.5 million, is poor, agriculture-dependent and on the far edges of Europe. Once part of the Soviet Union, it was until recently reliant on its larger neighbors, Romania and Ukraine, for access to foreign goods and trade.

But in 1999, partly in exchange for ceding a stretch of contested road in the east of the country to Ukraine, Moldova was given a 1,476-foot strip along the Danube that had been in Ukrainian hands since the fall of the Soviet Union. From the strip, the borders with both Romania and Ukraine can be seen.

In 2007, after years of faltering progress, the oil terminal at Giurgiulesti’s port became active, and in 2009, the first shipments left its grain terminal. A small container terminal opened in 2012.

What is now called the Giurgiulesti International Free Port can receive seagoing vessels, and since Russia banned imports of most Moldovan food products last year, the port has played an increasingly important role as a way to access new markets for Moldova.

Last year, the port increased its shipping volume by more than 65 percent, said Thomas Moser, a German businessman and the general director of Danube Logistics, the company that operates the port.

“There is absolutely no history or tradition of ports or maritime transportation in Moldova,” he said. “So it’s been quite difficult, but we’ve managed to get this place off the ground.”

Certainly, the port has been a lifeline for the farming village of Giurgiulesti, less than half a mile away. The village is a three-hour drive south of the capital, Chisinau, and much of that journey is along pocked roads. Until the port came along, there were few reasons to visit.

“The port is good for the village, it creates jobs,” said Victor Arabagi, 32, who grew up in Giurgiulesti and now oversees vessel arrivals and departures. “Otherwise, everyone would have to leave. Too many have already left, especially young people. But some people have stayed as the port offers an alternative to leaving.”

Mr. Arabagi is among them. He said he had left Giurgiulesti to study and was “half happy” to be back.

“Some of my relatives who moved to Germany say Moldova is 200 years behind,” he said.

Giurgiulesti’s port is a blink-and-you-miss-it kind of place, with just a few hundred yards of river access.

“This is barely a port, it’s so small,” said Tariq el-Nemer, a 62-year-old Lebanese ship captain, as he stood on the bridge of his cargo vessel, waiting for it to be loaded with containers.

The port has been a lifeline for the farming village of Giurgiulesti. The town is three hours from the capital, Chisinau, and before the port there were few reasons to visit. Credit Dmitry Kostyukov for The New York Times

A gentle slope leads from a small collection of administration buildings down to the dark waters of the Danube and to a flat, uncluttered riverbank. A single road weaves past storage silos, across the mixed-gauge train tracks that link the port to Romania and Ukraine, and down to wide berths, cranes and stacks of cargo containers. Grass grows wild on unused land, and despite its activity, the whole area can be surprisingly quiet.

Part of the port is still a construction site, with work to begin soon on a second grain berth. After that, there will be room for one more cargo terminal. “Then we’ve more or less run out of space,” said Mr. Moser, a former banker who has been involved in the project since 2005.

So far, around $60 million has been invested in the port, which is being developed by the Dutch company Danube Logistics with support from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

For Giurgiulesti, the port has had little visible impact, other than the traffic. A bypass is planned, but for the moment all of the cars and trucks to and from the port go through the village.

Farmers still work the land on the outskirts of the town, creating patches of green among the dusty landscape. Some shepherds relax in the fields, surrounded by their scattered flocks.

Many of the houses, mostly one-story brick structures, look like they have seen better days. A church next to the main road between the port and the village remains half-built and gives the impression that it has been in that state for many years.

In the center of Giurgiulesti, a Moldovan flag hangs over the village hall. A local museum is next door, and the village school is across the road.

Ms. Galateanu, the mayor, said that her grandparents and parents had grown up here and that she had, too, although she went to Chisinau to attend university. She later returned to Giurgiulesti and spent 17 years as the school’s librarian before being elected mayor in 2011.

“There are records of the village being here since 1486,” she said. “I love this village. In my eyes, it’s the most beautiful village.”

Giurgiulesti still lacks the accommodation, bars and other offerings that those who come ashore at the port would look for. But perhaps that will soon change. This year, more money will flow into the town’s coffers, as more local taxes from the port shift to the village from the region.

“Starting this year, 75 percent will come to the village,” Ms. Galateanu said.

“We have a lot of plans for the money,” she said, citing repairs for the school.

“People have already gone,” she said, “but perhaps some will come back now.”

Romania Gives Moldova 110 Million Euros on Independence Day

New York Times
27 August 2015
by The Associated Press

CHISINAU, Moldova—Romania's prime minister has given Moldova 100 million euros ($117 million) in financial aid in a gesture of support for the former Soviet republic's EU membership bid.

Prime Minister Victor Ponta called for a Romanian gas pipeline to be extended to Chisinau, the Moldovan capital. Moldova relies on Russia for most of its gas.

Ponta was in Chisinau Thursday to mark Moldova's 24th anniversary of independence from the Soviet Union. Since independence, Moldova has been torn between Russia and the West.

U.S. President Barack Obama sent a congratulatory message to Moldova, saying its best security guarantee was closer ties to Europe. Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke of developing relations "in the spirit of friendship." Moldova signed an association agreement with the EU last year, which Russia opposed.

PM Hikes Romanian Doctors' Wages by 25 Percent

New York Times
26 August 2015
by The Associated Press

BUCHAREST, Romania—Romania's prime minister has hiked doctors' and nurses' wages, among the lowest in Europe, by 25 percent after medics threatened to strike following a court ruling that they could no longer accept informal payments and gifts.

Victor Ponta approved the raise Wednesday, urging more reforms in the health system. "If it were possible, I would have raised (salaries) by 100, 200, 300 percent, with all my heart because it is correct," he said. The health system is one of the last areas to be reformed in Romania. The increase is effective Oct. 1.

For years, doctors and nurses have depended on "the envelope"—bribes and informal payments slipped into the pockets of their white jackets. Gifts ranging from chickens and fresh fish in rural areas to a bottle of whisky or expensive wine were also customary.

Some 7,000 doctors have emigrated in the past four years due to low pay, low morale and a lack of investment in the system.

Cristian Parvulescu, dean of the National School of Political Studies and Public Administration, said the raise was "a reaction to the threat of a strike, not an attempt to correct the system."

"We will not see an end to informal gifts, not with a 25 percent raise," he told The Associated Press.

Salaries for doctors now start at 1,600 lei ($413) a month, less than the average national wage of 1,860 lei ($480). Union leaders estimate that with the 25 percent raise, a senior doctor would earn 7,000 lei ($1,810).

Officials ignored the system which flourished after communism ended in 1989, there was a lack of solidarity among doctors demanding reforms and decent salaries.

However, a court recently ruled that medics were public clerks and it was illegal to receive compensation, prompting the protests by the College of Medics.

Wikipedia 24 August 2015

Did you know...

• ... that Romanian writer Lucia Mantu kept her real identity a close secret, with even her editor Mihail Sadoveanu only finding out by accident?

Wikipedia 23 August 2015

On this day...

Day of Remembrance for Victims of Stalinism and Nazism/Black Ribbon Day in Canada, the European Union and the United States.

1939 – Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union agreed to the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, a 10-year, mutual non-aggression treaty, which also included a secret protocol dividing Northern and Eastern Europe into German and Soviet spheres of influence.

Wikipedia 11 August 2015

On this day...

106 – The region of Dacia, comprising regions of modern Romania, became a province of the Roman Empire.

Bring Moldova Back From the Brink

New York Times
10 August 2015
by Thorbjorn Jagland

STRASBOURG, France—The Republic of Moldova—a tiny country of just 3.5 million people—is at risk of becoming Europe’s next security crisis, with potential consequences far beyond its borders.

A former Soviet Republic sandwiched between Romania and Ukraine, Moldova sits at the crossroads between Europe’s East and West. Since it declared independence in 1991, power has alternated between the Communist Party, which has traditionally sought stronger ties with Russia, and pro-European parties that have staunchly advocated membership in the European Union.

In 2009, the pro-Europeans came to power and made progress toward their goal. They signed an association agreement to deepen political ties with Brussels and gradually integrate Moldova into the European common market. Exports increased, the economy grew and, in return for a series of reforms, including improving human rights, Moldovan citizens were granted visa-free travel into E.U. territory.

Yet today the picture is far less optimistic. Over the last six years little has been done to open up the country’s economy and its institutions. Corruption remains endemic and the state is still in the hands of oligarchs, while punishingly low incomes have propelled hundreds of thousands of Moldovans to go abroad in search of a better life.

Many still look to Brussels for the answer, while others instead believe that prosperity lies with the Eurasian Economic Union, led by Russia. What unites both camps is their palpable resentment toward venal elites. Ask an average Moldovan how life varies under the different parties and you’ll frequently hear that it makes no difference.

This widespread public frustration now has a lightning rod. At the end of last year, $1 billion disappeared from three of the country’s banks. The scandal has come to epitomize the state’s failure to protect citizens’ interests. Few believe that the individuals responsible will be held accountable or that the money will be returned. The taxpayer bailout that was required to stabilize the banks has bludgeoned public finances. The value of the Moldovan currency, the leu, has dropped, interest rates have rocketed and a recession looms.

All outside financing has been suspended, pending concrete action to address corruption and get the financial sector in order. If the authorities fail to do what is needed to restore external support—and quickly—the country will face serious economic turmoil. Social programs for the poor and vulnerable will be cut just before the harsh winter months.

The regional picture is also bleak. In recent months, there has been a serious deterioration in relations with Transnistria—the breakaway, Russian-speaking province along Moldova’s eastern side. Two decades ago, encouraged by Moscow, Transnistria declared itself independent and hundreds died in the ensuing fighting. The conflict has since been frozen. The crisis in Ukraine, however, has sparked fears of a thaw.

Many in Moldova worry that Transnistria could become the next Crimea, an anxiety that has been further fueled by appeals for Russian protection from some of the province’s civic groups. Transnistria’s leaders complain that Moldova is conspiring with Ukraine to keep them under economic blockade and have now ordered Transnistrian army reservists between 18 and 27 to mobilize. At this stage, a full-blown military conflict is unlikely but, in such a tense environment, even skirmishes could spiral out of control.

Moldova’s newly formed government must act quickly. The country’s three main pro-European parties recently entered into a coalition and the Parliament narrowly approved Valeriu Strelet as its prime minister, who also supports E.U. membership.

The clear lesson from Ukraine has been that, in today’s Europe, a state’s strength and stability depends on its commitment to democracy and the rule of law. Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea was deeply destabilizing, but we must never forget that the crisis in Ukraine began with the people’s profound disillusionment with their political institutions.

Moldova, too, must now think of its democratic security. Alongside the urgent measures needed to fix the banks, the government must immediately begin purging corrupt officials from public bodies. As a start, the dozens of judges—some very high-profile—who have been accused of egregiously abusing their power should be investigated. Law enforcement agencies must also do everything they can to arrest the individuals responsible for the massive bank fraud.

In order to give people confidence that justice will be served in these cases, murky political interference must be eliminated from the judicial system. Legislation currently before Parliament that would guarantee the impartiality of state prosecutors should be implemented without delay. And to prove that no one is above the law, the current blanket immunity from prosecution enjoyed by members of Parliament should be reduced.

More fundamentally, Moldova will need to implement the basic checks on power that should exist in any democracy. The key anti-corruption agencies—the Anti-Corruption Center, the National Integrity Commission and the General Prosecutor’s Office—must be set on an independent footing, with clear powers and genuine muscle. Robust restrictions on party funding will be necessary to weaken the grip of big money on politics. New rules will also be required to break up media monopolies and provide critical journalists with better protections.

As the guardians of the European Convention on Human Rights, which sets out where state authority should end and citizen power should begin, and which nations across Europe are obliged to uphold, the Council of Europe will seek to help Moldova carry out reforms that meet international standards and are deemed legitimate at home and abroad. Whatever their differing hopes for the country’s future, both the European Union and the Russian Federation have an interest in the success of these efforts. Neither will benefit from a weak neighbor that brings with it financial black holes, organized crime, trafficking and uncontrolled migration.

Despite years of disappointment, many Moldovans still hold great ambition for their country. They maintain that, freed from corruption, it can be transformed. But first, this captured state must be returned to its citizens.

Thorbjorn Jagland, a former prime minister of Norway, is the secretary- general of the Council of Europe.

Prince Charles: 'More should be done to help small farms'

BBC News
8 August 2015

The Prince of Wales has called for more to be done to help small farms stay in business.

Prince Charles was speaking in Romania, where he has launched new projects to help rural communities.

Charlotte Smith travelled with the Prince and spoke to him about his concerns for the future.

You can hear the full interview in a special edition of On Your Farm on Radio 4 at 06:30BST on Sunday 9 August and on the Radio 4 Website afterwards.

Drought Affects Shipping on River Danube, but No Disruptions

New York Times
7 August 2015
by The Associated Press

BUCHAREST, Romania—Romanian authorities say a severe drought is affecting shipping on the River Danube but ships are still managing to navigate along Europe's second longest waterway.

Florin Boboc, a port captain in the southern city of Giurgiu told The Associated Press Friday that vessels are loading less because the water is shallower. The river fell to 90 centimeters (35 inches) Friday in Galati, the largest Danube port, almost 5 meters (16.4 feet) below warning levels.

"There are some areas where you can't sail," Boboc said. "Water levels have fallen, but ships are sailing; they're being careful."

He said the most affected areas are about halfway along the 1,075 kilometer (670-mile) Romanian stretch of the river.

Ships transport goods including liquid gas, metal ores and unrefined sugar, as well as passengers.

Romanian Tax Authorities Probe Celebrities, Moneylenders

New York Times
6 August 2015
by The Associated Press

BUCHAREST, Romania—Romania's tax authorities say they will investigate the country's big earners, including celebrities, moneylenders and pop stars, to verify the sources of their incomes.

The head of Romania's tax authority, Stefan Diaconu, said Thursday authorities were intensifying the fight against tax evasion, having identified 7,800 people to investigate, and were actively pursuing more than 300 cases.

"Whether they are public figures, turbo folk stars or moneylenders ... they will also have to prove the origins of their incomes," said Diaconu in a statement. Turbo folk is a Balkan genre of music that mixes folk, oriental and electronic influences.

The authority said the probe, coordinated from eight cities, would focus on people who had bought property or a single item worth more than 70,000 euros ($77,000) and cars more than 25,000 euros ($27,500). The statement said that 132,000 people had been identified who had discrepancies of more than 10 percent between estimated and declared income. There are 14.3 million tax payers in Romania, a country of 19 million.

According to global management consulting company A.T. Kearney, Romania's underground economy was worth an estimated $45 billion in 2013.

Tax authorities this year launched a series of checks on small businesses, many of which do not issue receipts. It is common not to receive the exact change when paying in cash, a preferred method of payment. Romania has few laws regulating the terms of individual loans.

Romania has stepped up its anti-corruption drive in recent months.

When Architecture Meets Pop Culture (Kanye West Included)

Oana Stanescu, with an architectural model, likes to push boundaries. She has designed a 50-foot-high volcano and a viewing pavilion for Kanye West. Credit Brigitte Lacombe

New York Times
5 August 2015
by Stacy Anderson

For a serious architect who has designed public housing in Dallas and a bridge in Slovenia, it may come as a surprise that Oana Stanescu’s best-known work is a 50-foot-high volcano that Kanye West ascended onstage during his grandiose Yeezus tour.

But then again, Ms. Stanescu, 32, is not your typical bespectacled architect, reaching for trophy buildings or lucrative commissions.

Along with Dong-Ping Wong, her partner in the West Village architectural firm Family, Ms. Stanescu is making a name for herself in design circles for her ability to merge pop culture with utilitarian design.

Her firm recently completed the Hong Kong flagship store of Off-White, a high-end streetwear brand started by Virgil Abloh, Mr. West’s creative director. Ms. Stanescu is one of the designers behind the +Pool project, which is seeking to install a floating swimming pool in the East River. Other clients have included Marina Abramovic and the New Museum in New York.

“Oana is a creative ticking time bomb; she never stops,” said Carl Jackson, 41, a filmmaker who recently hired Family to design two projects in San Diego: a film studio and a sustainable housing community.

Ms. Stanescu’s penchant for pop culture began in Resita, an industrial town in western Romania, where she grew up watching British MTV and listening to Guns N’ Roses’ “Appetite for Destruction.” They offered an escape from Romania, which was in the violent throes of a revolution and the ouster of Nicolae Ceausescu.

“I have memories of hiding in the basement, sleeping on floors where there were no windows,” she said.

Ms. Stanescu studied architecture at Polytechnic University of Timisoara in western Romania. Midway through the six-year program, she landed an internship at REX in New York, formerly a branch of Rem Koolhaas’s prestigious Office of Metropolitan Architecture.

From there, she worked at other top architecture firms, including Sanaa in Japan, Herzog & de Meuron in Switzerland and Architecture for Humanity in South Africa, before joining Family in 2013.

“At one point, my mom said, ‘There aren’t enough continents for you,’ ” Ms. Stanescu said.

She now lives in a sunny townhouse in Harlem, which she shares with friends and a dog named Perry, and teaches a graduate-level design course at Columbia University, a short walk away.

Her most famous client remains Mr. West, for whom she is working on several projects, the details of which she cannot disclose. The two met when he hired the Office of Metropolitan Architecture to design a viewing pavilion for his short film “Cruel Summer” during the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. The association has given her a taste of tabloid scrutiny, with several media outlets, including Glamour magazine UK and Metro, inaccurately crediting her with baby-proofing Mr. West’s homes.

“How strange,” she said of her brush with the gossip mill. “Design is at its best when it’s collaborative. I’m interested in pushing the boundaries of what architecture can do.”

Romanian Landscape, Among the Winners of This Year’s
National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

Romania, Land of Fairy Tales. White frost over Pestera village. Location: Bran, Brasov, Romania. Photo by Eduard Gutescu

Romania Insider
4 August 2015

An autumn landscape shot in Romania was one of the winning photos of the National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest 2015.

Romanian photographer Eduard Gutescu took this picture near Bran, a mountain region in the center of Romania. He named his photo Romania, Land of Fairy Tales.

Gutescu’s photo was one of the top 10 best pictures out of a total of 17,000 entries in this year’s competition.

An underwater photograph of divers swimming near a humpback whale taken by Anuar Patjane Floriuk of Tehuacán, Puebla, Mexico, has won the 2015 National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest grand prize. See all the winning pictures here.

Lukoil Managers Charged for Money $1.95 Bln Laundering

New York Times
3 August 2015
by The Associated Press

BUCHAREST, Romania—Romanian authorities have charged Russian oil producer Lukoil with complicity in money laundering worth 1.77 billion euros ($1.95 billion).

Prosecutors at the Court of Appeal in Ploiesti, where Lukoil's refinery is based, on Monday charged Romanian and Russian company managers for allegedly misusing the company's credit and capital.

The statement said from 2011 to 2014 "the suspects knowingly used company goods and credit granted to the company to benefit other companies in which they had a direct or indirect interest."

There was no immediate reaction from Lukoil in Romania.

Last month, prosecutors froze Lukoil's assets and bank accounts worth about 2 billion euros ($2.22 billion).

Romania has stepped up its anti-corruption drive in recent months.

Roche Drug Maker Probed in Romanian Graft Case

New York Times
31 July 2015
by The Associated Press

BUCHAREST, Romania—Swiss pharmaceuticals company Roche confirmed Friday it is being investigated by anti-corruption prosecutors looking for evidence that drug companies offered doctors vacations and other incentives in exchange for prescribing cancer drugs.

Roche Romania told The Associated Press it was "fully cooperating" with anti-graft prosecutors and would provide the requested information.

Authorities have refused to say which companies are being probed, but Romania Curata, a site that reports on corruption, said 11 companies have been targeted, including Roche Romania, GlaxoSmithKline Romania and Pfizer Romania.

Pfizer, which was not immediately available for comment, told daily Evenimentul Zilei that it respected the "highest international standards and compliance procedures," and was unaware of any investigation.

Some 61 homes and offices were searched in Bucharest and in the northwest of the country on Tuesday in a probe centered on a number of medical institutes and the way certain cancer medicines were purchased and prescribed, according to anti-corruption chief prosecutor Laura Codruta Kovesi.

A prosecutor, speaking only on condition of anonymity because an investigation is underway, said that vacations and other material perks offered from 2012 to 2015 were worth tens of millions of lei (millions of dollars).

The anti-fraud tax department said Friday a number of tourism agencies issued bills to pharma companies from 2013 to 2014 purportedly for medics traveling abroad. Some of the bills, to destinations including Las Vegas and Paris, were fictitious, enabling the companies to claim back the 24-percent sales tax, a statement said.

"Same Language, Same Country, We Are All Romanians"

Radio Free Europe
29 July 2015

Young Moldovans protested in front of the parliament building to demand that the country's constitution be changed to identify the state language as Romanian, rather than Moldovan. The question of whether Moldovan and Romanian are distinct languages is a divisive issue in the country. Watch video clip here.

Romania Court Gives Stalinist-Era Prison Chief 20 Years

New York Times
24 July 2015
by Reuters

BUCHAREST—A Romanian court sentenced a Stalinist-era political prison commander to 20 years in jail for murder on Friday, the first such ruling against a prison head since the collapse of the dictatorship of Nicolae Ceausescu in 1989.

Dozens of political inmates died in the jail on the outskirts of the small town of Ramnicu Sarat, 150 km (94 miles) east of Bucharest, which between 1956 and 1963 was commanded by Alexandru Visinescu.

Prosecutors gave the court evidence of Visinescu's direct involvement in 12 deaths at his prison and accused him of subjecting inmates to beatings and starvation, and denying them medical treatment and heating.

According to the Institute for Investigation of Communist Crimes (IICCMER) up to 2 million people are estimated to have been victims of communist repression in Romania between 1945 and 1989, including killed, imprisoned, deported or relocated.

Visinescu, who turns 90 in September, has repeatedly said he only followed orders and blamed the country's Stalinist leadership of the then dictator Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej.

Visinescu, who can appeal the ruling, did not attend the trial on Friday. He has been living in central Bucharest, very near IICCMER's offices, local media found, and has been receiving a special military pension.

Investigations are under way into several other former prison commanders, and IICCMER has said it has a list of 35 prison officials aged 81 to 99 who it says committed crimes.

Historians say about half a million Romanians including politicians, priests, doctors, officers, land owners and merchants were sentenced and jailed in the 1950s and early 1960s and a fifth of them perished in prisons such as Ramnicu Sarat.

Many communist-era officials still have public roles and continue to wield political and business influence in Romania.

(Editing by Hugh Lawson)

Romania Bans Holocaust Denial, Fascist Symbols

New York Times
22 July 2015
by The Associated Press

BUCHAREST, Romania—Romania's president has signed into law legislation that punishes Holocaust denial and the promotion of the fascist Legionnaires' Movement with prison sentences of up to three years.

President Klaus Iohannis signed the amendments to existing legislation, approved by Parliament last month, on Wednesday.

The legislation also bans fascist, racist or xenophobic organizations and symbols, and promoting people guilty of crimes against humanity by up to three years in prison.

Holocaust denial refers to refuting Romania's role in exterminating Jews and Roma between 1940 and 1944. About 280,000 Jews and 11,000 Roma, or Gypsies, were killed during the pro-fascist regime of dictator Marshal Ion Antonescu.

Romania has a few right-wing fringe groups such as Noua Dreapta, or New Right, which could be affected by the new law. Noua Dreapta's followers are anti-gay, closely adhere to the Romanian Orthodox Church and support Corneliu Zelea Codreanu, the leader of the 1930s ultra-nationalist Iron Guard movement, which was active in Romania from 1927 to 1941.

Romanian Queen Marie’s Heart to be Placed at the
Pelisor Castle in Sinaia Mountain Resort


Romania Insider
17 July 2015
by Irina Popescu

Queen Marie’s heart will be returned to the Romanian Royal Family after it was kept in the National Museum of History’s deposit for more than 40 years. The heart will be placed inside her residence at the Pelisor Castle in Sinaia mountain resort.

His Royal Highness King Michael had this initiative and the Romanian Royal house already reached an agreement with the Ministry of Culture, reports local

Queen Marie was the wife of King Ferdinand I. She was one of the greatest personalities in Romania’s history. She died on July 18, 1938, at Pelisor Castle.

According to her last wish, her body was buried at Curtea de Arges Monastery in Romania, and her heart was placed in a small golden casket and interred in her Stella Maris chapel in Balchik. After that area has been ceded to Bulgaria, in 1940, her heart was transferred to Bran Castle. Princess Ileana built a chapel there for the Queen’s heart, according to Romanian historian Diana Mandache.

The communist regime moved the heart once again and put it in storage at the National Museum of History in Bucharest, where it was kept until today.

The heart should be moved to Pelisor Castle this fall.

Pelisor is part of the Peles Castle complex and was built in 1899–1903 by order of King Carol I as a residence for his nephew and heir King Ferdinand.

Romania Parliament Speaker Calls for Reforms of Ruling Party

New York Times
16 July 2015
by The Associated Press

BUCHAREST, Romania—The speaker of Romania's Parliament on Thursday called for a profound overhaul of the ruling party after Prime Minister Victor Ponta was indicted on corruption charges and had his assets seized, a first in Romania.

"We are in a crisis situation... with the leader indicted and deputy leader condemned" for corruption, said Valeriu Zgonea, a long-standing member of the Social Democratic Party.

Ponta, who earlier resigned as party leader, was indicted Monday on charges including tax evasion, money laundering, conflict of interest and making false statements while he was working as a lawyer in 2007 and 2008, and his assets were temporarily frozen. He is Romania's first sitting prime minister to be indicted. He denies the charges.

He said Wednesday he would consider resigning if his political rival, President Klaus Iohannis, guaranteed that the next premier was chosen from the ruling center-left coalition. But Ponta also said he would prefer to remain prime minister.

The deputy leader of the Social Democratic Party, Liviu Dragnea, was convicted in May of fraud in a referendum to impeach Romania's former president. He was given a one-year suspended prison sentence. Nonetheless, he indicated Thursday he is considering running for party chairman.

"In Romania, the system is reminiscent of the 'communistoid' mentality which affects our credibility," Zgonea said in an interview with The Associated Press. "We need a change of mentality... that is what the young generation is saying to us."

"Unfortunately, the opposition parties are even less reformed," he added.

However, he said that the anti-corruption fight which has been stepped up in recent months, has brought more investor confidence.

"Since the end of 2014 we have seen an 11 percent growth in foreign investment," he said.

He said the ruling party needs "profound reforms," and to quickly hold a congress to choose a new chairman. Romanian media have touted Zgonea as a possible candidate for that post.

Romanian Prime Minister, Accused of Graft, Is Indicted

Prime Minister Victor Ponta of Romania in Bucharest on Monday, a day after he stepped down as head of the Social Democratic Party. Credit Daniel Mihailescu/Agence France-Presse—Getty Images

New York Times
13 July 2015
by Kit Gillet

BUCHAREST, Romania—Prosecutors in Romania temporarily seized the assets of Prime Minister Victor Ponta on Monday after indicting him in a corruption investigation, accusing him of forgery, money laundering and tax evasion before his ascension to power.

The announcement came a day after Mr. Ponta said he was stepping down as head of the Social Democratic Party, saying he would not hold any party leadership positions until he had proved his innocence over the accusations dating from his time as a lawyer.

On his Facebook page on Sunday, Mr. Ponta posted a letter addressed to senior party leaders in which he said that he had made his decision in “a bid not to let this situation harm the party.”

Mr. Ponta, who attended a meeting with prosecutors from the country’s anticorruption unit on Monday and will remain prime minister, returned to Romania on July 8 after a three-week stay in Turkey, where he underwent knee surgery. The timing of his absence was a source of widespread speculation, coming during a time of increased political pressure.

The Romanian president, Klaus Iohannis, had called for Mr. Ponta’s resignation as prime minister after criminal investigations were opened by the National Anticorruption Directorate on June 5.

“In my view, a prime minister facing criminal charges is an impossible situation for Romania,” Mr. Iohannis said at a news conference at the time.

Mr. Ponta, who in June survived a no-confidence vote as well as attempts to have his parliamentary immunity lifted so that prosecutors could investigate acts while he had been in office, has maintained his innocence.

Moldovans, Romanians Call for Reunification, Scatter Flowers

New York Times
11 July 2015
by The Associated Press

CHISINAU, Moldova—About 2,000 Moldovans and Romanians have called for their countries to be reunited, throwing flowers onto a river separating the two countries.

Moldovans gathered in the southern village of Ungheni on Saturday and shouted "Unification!" Romanians rallied on the other bank of the Prut river.

Some people crossed the border from both sides to demonstrate friendship.

Moldova, an ex-Soviet republic, was part of Romania between 1918 and 1940. They both speak Romanian.

Thousands have rallied in the Moldovan capital in recent months calling for reunification. Moldova signed an association agreement with the European Union last year, angering Russia.

Romania, already an EU member, is a strong supporter of Moldova's ambition to join the bloc.

The ceremony at the Prut river has been taking place annually for 20 years.

Change Comes From the Margins

Detail from "Dada Conquers," by Raoul Hausmann.Credit Raoul Hausmann/Bridgeman Images, via Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, via ADAGP, Paris, 2015

New York Times
30 June 2015
by Costica Bradatan

In 1916, Hugo Ball, the German writer who would soon become a founding member of the Dadaist movement, wrote the following account of his first meeting with the men who would be his artistic and philosophical compatriots: “An Oriental-looking deputation of four little men arrived, with portfolios and pictures under their arms: repeatedly they bowed politely. They introduced themselves: Marcel Janco the painter, Tristan Tzara, Georges Janco, and a fourth gentleman whose name I did not quite catch.”

Ball was also the creator of the “Cabaret Voltaire” in Zurich, a city where the Romanian Tzara had come to shelter from the war. But almost as soon as he arrived, Tzara started a war of his own, an artistic revolution of grand proportions. Dadaism may well have started on the first evening at “Cabaret Voltaire” in February 1916, with Janco’s paintings and Tzara’s poetic performance. All these men, in one sense or another, began their transformative work from the margins.

Ball’s somewhat inelegant account suggests that Tzara and the others showed up carrying their marginality around quite visibly. Looking “Oriental” (at that point in time, a label that most certainly implied “otherness”), appearing slightly lost and bowing more than they should have—as recent immigrants often tend to. Tzara was indeed doubly marginal: as a Jew and as a Romanian. At the time Jews in Romania were so marginal that they could not even become citizens; and in Europe Romania suffered—as it still does—from that kind of marginal condition for which those living in better places use the condescending euphemism “exotic.”

Tristan Tzara

Credit Henri Martinie/Roger Viollet, via Getty Images

And yet it must have been Tzara’s marginality that enabled him to do what he did: founding an artistic movement meant to deride systematically a civilization whose blind trust in instrumental rationality and fetishization of technology had pushed it into one of the most destructive wars the world had ever seen. For Dadaism the center—be it artistic, philosophical, intellectual, economic or political—was not worthy of anything but mockery. Tzara could afford the gesture; coming from the furthest margins, he didn’t have any qualms about crying out loud against and smashing the conventions of the center, exposing its damaging lies, and turning the dismantling of its pious proclamations into a prolific career.

Tzara’s case is not isolated. Indeed, there is a strong sense that not only Dada but also avant-garde in general is very much about a rebellion of the margins against the center. A remarkable number of avant-garde artists of the 19th and 20th centuries came—in person or vicariously, through their work—from the margins: Munch, Malevich, Brancusi, Picasso, Chagall, Kafka, Borges, Joyce, Frida Kahlo, Paul Celan and Fernando Pessoa, to name just a few.

Of course this process has never been restricted to art movements. And geography has no special claim on marginality; the center can have its own marginals—racial, ethnic, social, political, intellectual and epistemic, as we have forcefully been reminded of late. Historically, figures like Walter Benjamin, Hans Jonas and Simone Weil effected their own influence by operating from outside the standards of their accepted academic disciplines.

While it may seem like a mere staple of historical progress, the almost electric force of change from the margins is felt by us anew each time a damaging or oppressive convention is smashed or overturned. In the United States, we are immersed in such a moment, after an almost dizzying chain of events—the most immediate and profound being the Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage; the increased cultural awareness and tolerance of gays, lesbian and transgender people, brought to the attention of many in the mainstream by the public transformation of Bruce Jenner into Caitlyn Jenner; and the gradual changes in policing being put into effect in cities across the United States. Despite the possible impression that each shibboleth was toppled overnight, each was the result of years of agitation, strategic fighting and pressure on the center from those outside it.

It would be a simplification of the full nature of the center to identify it as merely the site of social change or of victories in the march toward what we might like to believe is greater social justice. The center has a character of its own, which does not care one way or the other about our moral imperatives.

By definition, any center is a site of concentration and intensity—after all, it’s the place toward which everybody is attracted in some way or another. That’s also what makes it so formidable. The center possesses a wealth of prospects, opportunities and resources, but also anxieties—it is the place where the possibility of collapse, disintegration or descent into chaos figure prominently. To keep such dangers at bay, life at the center has to be regulated in every detail, its energy well managed, impulses properly channeled and spontaneity standardized. Sophisticated and expensive bureaucracies are developed to make sure that the pursuit of happiness does not turn into a stampede.

There is, then, a certain way of conducting your life at the center, of making a living, getting an education, writing an academic paper, of greeting your neighbor, dressing yourself or just sitting at the table. You signal your determination to belong to the center by unreserved conformation to its standards. For all these elaborate protocols are also meant to ensure that not everybody gets in and that enough are left out; this way the center makes itself perpetually desirable.

Power and standardization, though, make for an intriguing combination: to gain full access to the former you have to excel at dealing with the latter. The better one is at following the standards established by the center the more one advances towards the place of power. And that can be intoxicating. Among the many privileges of the center, for example, is the power to name things, one of the greatest powers of all. From there you can say what others are doing, and who they are, without them having any say in the process.

As long as one does not follow the standards set up by the mainstream (the center’s other name), one’s work is in vain, no matter how brilliant or original it is. Indeed, the more original, the more problematic. In 1925, one of the finest institutions of higher learning in Europe, Goethe University Frankfurt, rejected Walter Benjamin’s habilitation thesis, “The Origin of German Tragic Drama.” The work did not meet the standards of the German academia, which disqualified Benjamin from teaching at a German university. The center’s punishment for disobedience can be crushing.

What usually happens as a result is that an inordinate amount of talent, energy and time is spent on figuring out the best ways to elbow one’s way to the core of the mainstream. Then, once there, one has to behave in a way that will never jeopardize one’s position. Since most do what they can to keep their place within the status quo, far-reaching innovation is usually discouraged, and conformism rules. In the sphere of humanistic scholarship, for example, that’s conspicuous in the scholasticism that often comes to dominate one discipline or another. Desperate that they not be left out, the aspirants (Ph.D candidates!) blindly imitate the establishment’s preferred style—using and abusing the same formulaic language, the same safe patterns of thinking, the same old tricks.

“Creativity,” then, often boils down to recipes for the reproduction of the same with a minimum of variations; only a select few would risk their position by engaging in something too bold. Yet if this conformity remains unchallenged over time, a general sense of atrophy threatens to set in. That’s when the center, as a matter of life and death, needs significant challenges from the outside.

And that’s what marginals are for: to stick out their tongues at the center’s elaborate protocols, at everything “established” and “respectable.” They use the center’s standards—if they ever do—only to undermine them. Marginals, uninvolved in the ceremonies of the center, often end up not taking anything too seriously. In the arts, they often make the greatest ironists because, for them, irony is much more than a mode of expression, it is a way of life.

The biggest irony, however, is that all these attempts at derision and subversion, all the marginals’ mockery, usually end up making the center stronger; they are needed in the same vital way an organism needs antibodies. If the center manages to recruit the marginals to work for its own purposes, then it is saved. Indeed, the center often thrives on marginals. Take the academy: When the mainstream is just about to collapse under the weight of its own scholasticism, marginals can save it through a healthy dose of unorthodox ideas, wild theories and other shocking novelties. Not only did Benjamin eventually become part of the canon after his death, but he has revitalized significantly the same field in which his habilitation thesis was found substandard. The savage novelty of his thinking, the unusual cast of his mind and his profoundly unclassifiable genius—all markers of his marginality—have ended up not only strengthening the center but also expanding its epistemic horizons. That may also be the legacy of the American marginal, who have enacted their own form of change on the center.

But even in their moment of victory, those very same outsiders face a challenge. Marginals know only too well that, by subverting the center, they risk becoming part of it; those who challenge the canons or ideological foundations of the mainstream most vehemently can turn one day into canonic figures themselves—think Picasso, Martin Luther King Jr., Bob Dylan.

But perhaps there is something further to learn from the Dadaists. Since they led profoundly ironical lives they don’t mind: One more irony doesn’t really matter, the whole thing is a farce anyway. “Everybody knows that Dada is nothing,” says Tzara. “Like everything in life, Dada is useless.”

Among the center’s chief virtues may be that of knowing how to absorb the healthy dose of nihilism that marginals often smuggle in with them from the periphery.

Costica Bradatan is an associate professor in the Honors College at Texas Tech University and the religion/comparative studies editor for The Los Angeles Review of Books. His most recent book is “Dying for Ideas. The Dangerous Lives of the Philosophers.

‘Destruction Was My Beatrice: Dada and the Unmaking of the Twentieth Century’

Francis Picabia, (1879-1953); “Tableau Rastadada,” 1920; cut-and-pasted printed paper on paper with ink. Credit The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA, via Art Resource, NY, via 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, via ADAGP, Paris

New York Times
25 June 2015
by Andrei Codrescu

Jed Rasula’s history of Dada, “Destruction Was My Beatrice,” dispenses with a few old chestnuts of art history, chief among them the chronological fixation on Dada as a precursor to Surrealism, or a younger sibling of Futurism. The ordering by art critics of 20th-century avant-garde movements has required that they be both recognizable and dead. This has made them convenient and marketable, while draining away their revolutionary content. The art market embraced the products of every “ism” as soon as it recognized its distinct style. The only avant-garde that escaped the zombie line is Dada.

What is Dada? “The true dadas are against DADA,” Tristan Tzara wrote in the “Dada Manifesto.” “In principle I am against manifestoes, as I am against principles.” Dada was a big no, a radical negation of art and reason, the partisan of a resolute Nothing. “Da” means “yes” in Tzara’s native Romanian. Its reiteration, the skeptical “da-da,” intended to end the dialectical march of war-bound European thought and recover the human scale from the grand syntheses of philosophy and propaganda. Maintaining the clarity of this paradox meant that anyone could join in with his own definition of Dada and, most important, with novel forms of art.

Historians, including Rasula, agree that the putative source of Dada was a soiree of mayhem at Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich, in February 1916, a month or two before the magical word “Dada”—which is also French for “hobbyhorse” and “nursemaid”—was found. The performers included Hugo Ball, a German mystic, philosopher and cabaret producer, along with the diminutive Tzara, who recited Romanian verses printed on scraps of paper he fished from his pockets. The hubbub of Cabaret Voltaire lasted only a few months, but it was sufficient for incubating a variety of novel artistic forms that were, at first, indistinguishable from earlier modern art rebellions like Cubism and Futurism. From this modest beginning came Dada.

A professor of English at the University of Georgia, Rasula uncovers why Dada didn’t expire along with the isms it either spawned or incorporated. The fertility of Dada found rich ground in America, where its spirit was active before it had a name. The French artists Marcel Duchamp and Francis Picabia, restless and tired of Europe, made New York their playground. They found the New World de facto Dadaist, and New York the perfect place to deploy their subversive imaginations. The Armory Show of 1913 brought the excitement of new ways of painting, sculpturing and making art to an American public that acted like crowds at a circus: Outraged and shocked grown-ups booed and hissed, while thrilled and rowdy children cheered. (Duchamp’s “Nude Descending a Staircase” drew “more than its share of lampoons” at the Armory Show, Rasula writes, but it would be “The Fountain,” a urinal Duchamp purchased in 1917 and signed “R. Mutt,” that would persist as “Dada’s most recognizable product.”) Rasula notes that “the visual assault” of the Armory Show “was what the genteel public—with its belief that art was a hothouse flower far removed from the rough and tumble of the street—held most objectionable. A setting more ripe for the assault of Dada could not be imagined.” From its birth Dada did not stand apart from cinema, vaudeville or popular culture: Dadaists were at home with Charlie Chaplin and the Marx Brothers, the comic-book pleasures of the masses and American-style publicity.

One of Rasula’s insights is to reveal Dada’s kinship to jazz, and thus to the specifically American “modernist” outlook that blossomed throughout the century but was more acceptable in Europe than in its birthplace: “For a while, many took jazz and Dada to be two faces of the same thing.... The early course of jazz was dominated by novelty and humor, and if the musicians heard about Dada, they probably would’ve agreed with Hoagy Carmichael that jazz was Dada’s twin.”

Rasula makes visible and obvious (though oddly obscured in previous accounts) the threads connecting Dada with the New World, and overthrows with nearly imperceptible flair the misconceptions separating the European avant-­garde from modernism. Rasula, himself a scholar of modernism, shows it to be both an umbrella term for the use of academic services to the art market, and a worldwide continuum of the necessarily contradictory human spirit in art. At today’s crossroads between “reality” and “virtuality,” this reassessment is of great use: It provides both a sense of the necessity for “the unmaking of the 20th century,” as the subtitle has it, and a reason for younger artists to go on, using the technologies of the 21st. This may be a magnificent moment of treason in conventional scholarship, which rarely departs from a careful reading of primary sources. The academic decorum is breached only occasionally by Rasula, as in the passages of obvious delight in one of his characters, the fabled and sexually adventurous Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, who may be the original body artist, a creator of weird and elaborate costumes that included decorations of her hair and skin.

Still, a missed opportunity of “Destruction Was My Beatrice” is Beatrice herself. The Dadaists, Rasula writes, “acknowledged female emancipation but did not welcome women artists in their ranks,” and he makes mostly brief mention of the extraordinary women artists and collaborators who received little attention until recently: Hannah Höch, a first-rate photomontagist; the great poet Mina Loy; Jane Heap, a co-editor of The Little Review; her companion and co-editor Margaret Anderson. Both male and female Dantes were led through the heaven, purgatory and hell of the 20th century, only to emerge in this retelling (and the continuing practice of many contemporary artists) uncompromised, ready for the 21st, when Dada can claim both fidelity to its original defiance and serve as a still-living collection of usable techniques.

The two most closely observed characters in Rasula’s study are Picabia and Kurt Schwitters, a Frenchman and a German. These are not arbitrary choices: Dada was emphatically internationalist, yet German and French Dada seemed, at times, two different creatures. German Dada was more aggressive, more receptive to radical politics, readier to brawl and to take to the streets, while French Dada was more self-mocking, theatrical and humorous. Both Picabia and Schwitters are exceptions: They are entirely Dadaist avant la lettre and providers of the essential rebellious spirit, partly American in Picabia’s case, and close to self-taught folk art in the case of Schwitters.

Some of Dada’s splinter artistic movements hardened in architecture—Marcel Janco’s buildings in Bucharest, for instance—while near kin like Futurism and Constructivism ended up either embraced or annihilated by Fascism and Communism. These became instantly historical, compromised moments, in contrast with Dada, which remains a movement, too quick to stand still long enough to be captured by its products or by histories, including those of some of its founders. In its effort not to acquire a signature style of its own, Dada pioneered nonetheless a specific typography. Jed Rasula ends his meticulous investigation of his subject on an ambiguous, nostalgic note—not quite nostalgia for his protagonists, but a touching regret that he has to leave them behind.

“Destruction Was My Beatrice” pursues its subjects narrowly, abstracting them from the (mostly hostile) history and politics in which they made art. It’s uncanny that Rasula has succeeded, on such a small canvas, in writing a history of the 20th century that picks up where Peter Gay’s 19th century ends in “The Bourgeois Experience: Victoria to Freud.” Oddly enough, in a ghostly and Dadaist manner, Rasula’s gaze also resembles Barbara Tuchman’s in “A Distant Mirror,” an eerie look into the “calamitous 14th century.” Maybe Time itself is Dada.

Dada and the Unmaking of the Twentieth Century

By Jed Rasula
Illustrated. 365 pp. Basic Books. $29.99.

Andrei Codrescu is the author of “The Posthuman Dada Guide: Tzara and Lenin Play Chess.”

Romanian Parliament Blocks Investigation Into PM Ponta

New York Times
9 June 2015
by Reuters

BUCHAREST—Romania's parliament blocked a criminal investigation against Prime Minister Victor Ponta on Tuesday, prompting renewed criticism of the European Union member state's commitment to fighting high-level corruption.

Ponta has rejected calls by Romanian President Klaus Iohannis to resign after prosecutors named him last Friday in an inquiry into forgery, money-laundering, tax evasion and conflict of interest.

Lawmakers voted 231 to 120 to preserve Ponta's immunity.

Romania is seen as one of the EU's most corrupt states and its justice system is under special monitoring, though its prosecutors have won praise from the EU executive, while parliament has a patchy record of approving such requests.

"I regret to see that parliament has turned into a shield for Victor Ponta suspected of penal deeds ... His resignation is the only way to end the current situation," Iohannis said.

Ponta said earlier on Tuesday his leftist government would survive a vote of no-confidence called by the centrist opposition for June 12 and this would end a week-long political crisis and prepare the country for talks with the International Monetary Fund.

"Any allegations of wrongdoing by government officials should be fully investigated without interference, and the law should be applied equally to everyone," the U.S. Embassy said in a statement.

Ponta has denied wrongdoing and his office said the accusations had previously been put forward by political enemies and "meticulously dismantled" through clear proof and documents.

"I will present all evidence, because I haven't had any possibility up to now to do it, and I am absolutely sure that I am innocent," Ponta said.

Ponta said talks with the IMF and the European Commission to review Romania's 4-billion-euro precautionary aid deal would go ahead on schedule late this month or in early July.

His government's planned tax cuts will be at the center of the talks. Ponta said the tax cut plan was expected to clear parliament by the end of June.

Negotiations have become increasingly strained, and both the IMF and European Commission have warned that Romania's tax plans could endanger its fiscal targets.

(Editing by Janet Lawrence)

Wikipedia 7 June 2015

Did you know...

...that the burial shroud of Moldavian Princess consort Maria of Mangup (pictured) is both the oldest found in a Romanian monastery and "the most beautiful one"?

Romanian President Calls for Premier to Resign Amid Graft Inquiry

New York Times
5 June 2015
by Kit Gillet

BUCHAREST, Romania—Romania’s president called for the resignation of the country’s prime minister, Victor Ponta, after the country’s anticorruption agency opened criminal investigations into whether he was involved in forgery, money-laundering and other crimes when he was still a practicing lawyer.

“In my view, a prime minister facing criminal charges is an impossible situation for Romania,” the president, Klaus Iohannis, said at a news conference on Friday. “On the other hand, the worst thing that can happen to Romania is a political crisis. Considering all these, I ask for Prime Minister Victor Ponta’s resignation.”

But Mr. Ponta, who has been prime minister since 2012, posted a message on Facebook, saying he would not step down. “I respect President Iohannis’ public stand,” the message said, “but I was appointed by the Romanian Parliament and only the Parliament can dismiss me.”

Mr. Ponta was called into the offices of the National Anticorruption Directorate on Friday to answer questions related to events that took place before he became a government minister.

He has been named as a suspect in 17 counts of forgery, as well as money-laundering, conflict of interest and tax evasion. Prosecutors say that Mr. Ponta falsified documents to cover payments of about 40,000 euros, or $45,000, for work that was never done.

According to investigators, Mr. Ponta colluded with Dan Sova, a Romanian politician and former transport minister, who was also a lawyer at the time. Mr. Sova is under investigation for complicity in the abuse of office.

On June 2, Parliament voted 72 to 66 to deny a request by the anticorruption office for Mr. Sova’s detention.

“Now it is much clearer why the party and Ponta invested so much effort in protecting Mr. Sova,” said Adrian Moraru, deputy director of the Institute for Public Policy in Bucharest. “They knew the case could lead much higher.”

Romania has been on a drive to clean up its politics in recent years. In 2014, 1,138 people were convicted of corruption, including politicians, judges and prosecutors.

Laura Stefan, an anticorruption expert and a former director in the Romanian Ministry of Justice, said she did not think Mr. Ponta, a former presidential candidate, would have been called in if the anticorruption office was not planning to indict him.

Nevertheless, she said, “I don’t think this will necessarily end Ponta’s political career as it would in other European countries. In Romania, you don’t die politically from something like this. Even being convicted is not a political death. We have lots of convicted politicians.”

Mr. Ponta was already under attack politically, with the opposition National Liberal Party announcing that it planned to file a no-confidence vote against the prime minister on Friday, the day he was named as a criminal suspect.

Romanian PM Under Criminal Investigation, Rebuffs Resignation Calls

New York Times
5 June 2015
by Reuters

BUCHAREST—Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta rejected calls for his resignation on Friday after prosecutors named him in a criminal investigation into forgery, money-laundering, conflict of interest and tax evasion.

Ponta denied wrongdoing and his office said in a statement that the accusations brought against him had previously been put forward by his political enemies and "meticulously dismantled ... through clear proof and certified documents".

Romanian prosecutors have made a series of high-profile arrests this year in what remains one of the poorest and most graft-addled countries in the 28-member European Union.

A former prosecutor who took office in 2012, Ponta faces a general election next year. His government is now pushing a series of disputed tax cuts through parliament and is in fraught talks with international creditors over an aid deal.

The shock investigation of Ponta could increase instability in a country with a history of it in the quarter-century since the overthrow of Romania's Communist dictatorship, although he has survived several previous scandals. Ponta was bruised after a surprise defeat at the presidential election in November.

The opposition filed a no-confidence vote against Ponta's left-leaning government on Friday, a move which had been in the works for some time. However, although he lost allies in the wake of his presidential defeat, Ponta still commands an overall majority in the Balkan state's parliament.

The inquiry into Ponta mainly concerns his time as a lawyer and accuses him of colluding with Dan Sova, a former transport minister in Ponta's cabinet who was previously subject to a corruption investigation.

A separate inquiry announced on Friday targets suspected conflict of interest on the part of Ponta during his tenure as prime minister.

President Klaus Iohannis, who defeated Ponta at the ballot box on an anti-corruption platform, called on Ponta to resign over the investigation, saying his position was untenable.

"I respect his public position but I was appointed in the job by Romania's parliament and only parliament can dismiss me," Ponta wrote in a Facebook post after a discussion with Iohannis.


Prosecutors have lodged a request with parliament to hold a vote on lifting Ponta's immunity from arrest. Under a much criticized Romanian law, prosecutors need approval to detain sitting lawmakers for graft offences while they were in office.

Lawmakers have a patchy record of approving such requests and in March blocked an investigation into Sova, sparking low-level street protests.

Romania has emerged from steep recession and its economy grew 4.3 percent in the first quarter of this year. But it has been prone to instability for years. Ponta himself came to power after bringing a no-confidence vote against his predecessor.

The International Monetary Fund and the European Commission have shored up Romania with a series of aid deals since 2009, the latest of which expires in September.

Negotiations have become increasingly strained, and both the IMF and European Commission have warned that Romania's ambitious tax-cutting plans could endanger its fiscal targets.

"The political scandal will probably weaken the government's position in negotiations with the European Commission and the IMF," said Dan Bucsa, a CEE economist at UniCredit Bank AG London. "As a result, the government could postpone controversial decisions—such as the VAT cut scheduled for January 2016—in order to comply with EC/IMF requirements."

Romania's currency, the leu, was down 0.60 percent at 1242 GMT after word of the investigation emerged.

"The Romanian leu and RON (leu-denominated) debt are expected to underperform on political uncertainty as investors are likely to require higher risk premium," said Ciprian Dascalu, chief economist at ING Bank in Bucharest.

Romania's poor graft record means the European Commission in Brussels has kept the Black Sea nation out of the EU's passport-free Schengen zone, and its judiciary under special monitoring.

But prosecutors have won EU and investor praise for an energetic crackdown on graft that has reached Ponta's inner circle, including his ex-finance minister, in recent months.

(Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Romanian St. George Mural Painted Over After Criticism

New York Times
2 June 2015
by The Associated Press

BUCHAREST, Romania—When a gigantic mural of St. George appeared next to a historic church dedicated to the revered figure, many hailed it as a brilliant piece of street art. But the influential Romanian Orthodox Church was not amused.

The surreal interpretation, replete with a faceless saint and a masked unicorn with a pink tail, went up just yards from the 18th century church—triggering outrage from priests and pious residents. Days later it was painted over.

Officially, the church denies having a hand in erasing the mural and insists it is opposed to censorship. But supporters of the mural, which measured some 300 sq. meters (3,200 sq. feet), point to the church's behind-the-scenes social and political influence. The perpetrator of the whitewashing remains a mystery.

More than 80 percent of Romanians belong to the Orthodox Church, and some people in the neighborhood said the mural was disrespectful of traditional Orthodox artwork. By European standards, Romanians are fervently religious, many honoring saint's days, carrying icons in their wallets and crossing themselves when they pass a church. Support for the church surged after communism ended in 1989.

Father Emil Caramizaru, the church's head priest, told local radio that the mural was "like a caricature. ... It can be offensive to our consciousness as Christians." His comments led to accusations that the church wanted to censor art that did not fit Christian Orthodox dogma.

Artist Iustin Moldovan, the leader of the group that painted the mural, said he had been told by city officials that the mural would be painted over following church complaints. "This is censorship," he said. "We are going back to 1989"—referring to the last year of Romania's communist dictatorship.

City Hall denied that either it or the church had ordered the mural wiped off. It referred questions to the owner of the building on which the mural was painted. The owner has not commented on the artwork.

After the row broke out, people flocked to the site and snapped photographs of the mural, which was on the side of a building in a rundown square next to the church built by Constantin Brancoveanu, a Romanian prince canonized in 1992 as a martyr.

The mural still has fans, especially among young people.

"It's a shame it's been wiped off," said 29-year-old Nicusor Cristea. "It was clearly St. George, and lots of people came to see it."

Prince Charles Launches Foundation to Support Rural Life

New York Times
2 June 2015
by The Associated Press

BUCHAREST, Romania—Britain's Prince Charles has long been enamored of Romania's rural traditions and now he's set up a foundation to protect and promote them.

On Tuesday, the prince launched the Prince Charles Romania Foundation to sustain the East European nation's heritage and rural life and support sustainable development.

Charles owns two properties in the northwestern Transylvania region, which he visits regularly.

Charles said he launched the charitable foundation because, "I love Romania."

"It is for training and education purposes and skills development," he said at the launch in the ethnic German village of Viscri.

Charles arrived in Romania on Sunday and has been staying in his country retreat in the remote village of Valea Zalanului.

He first visited Romania in 1998.

Prince Charles Visits Transylvania Where He Owns Property

New York Times
1 June 2015
by The Associated Press

BUCHAREST, Romania—Britain's Prince Charles is visiting Transylvania, the wooded region in northwest Romania where he owns several properties.

Charles met President Klaus Iohannis in Bucharest in Bucharest on Sunday before traveling to the remote village of Valea Zalanului where he owns a country retreat.

Iohannis and Charles discussed the situation in neighboring Ukraine and rural traditions that have been preserved in some parts of Romania, the presidential press office said.

Charles, who was seen Monday in Valea Zalanului, usually stays several days in Transylvania. The British embassy does not comment about his visits, due to their private nature.

Charles is enamored of the countryside and wildlife in Romania, which he has been visiting since 1998.

Iohannis was mayor of the Transylvanian city of Sibiu until he became president in December.

Moldova Eyes Russia’s Embrace as Flirtation With Europe Fades

A parliamentary election sign in Chisinau, Moldova, in November for the anti-European Socialist Party showing some of its representatives with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia. Credit Gleb Garanich/Reuters

New York Times
21 May 2015
by Andrew Higgins

CHISINAU, Moldova—Daniela Morari, a Foreign Ministry official who has been traveling her country trying to nudge Moldovans toward the European Union, has heard it all. People are worried that “if you join the E.U., everyone becomes gay” and that Brussels bureaucrats “won’t let you keep animals around your houses,” an alarming prospect in a largely rural country.

It does not help that such views are encouraged on Russian television by growing pro-Russian political parties in Moldova and a deeply conservative Orthodox Church obedient to Moscow’s ecclesiastical hierarchy. “We go to a place for an hour or so, and then we leave and they all go back to watching Russian television,” Ms. Morari said.

Russian propaganda aside, however, Moldovans say they have more than enough reasons—not least widespread corruption here, the shadowy power of business moguls, and the war next door in Ukraine—to look askance at the European Union, which Ms. Morari fears is losing out to Russia in the struggle for hearts and minds in this former Soviet land.

Six years after the 28-nation bloc first targeted this country and five other former Soviet republics for an outreach program, that disenchantment, which is mutual, will be on display Thursday as European Union leaders join those from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine for a two-day summit meeting in Riga, the capital of Latvia.

Instead of enjoying a new European dawn, the prospective partners are deeply mired in their own troubles. Or they are veering closer toward Moscow, swayed by a contrasting combination of a Brussels bureaucracy focused on technical minutiae and President Vladimir V. Putin’s far more clear and assertive effort to return former Soviet satraps to Moscow’s fold.

When European leaders last held their Eastern Partnership meeting in 2013, they were hoping to prod Ukraine’s president at the time, Viktor F. Yanukovych, to sign a so-called Association Agreement. In coded bureaucratic language about “European aspirations,” they stirred hopes that former Soviet lands might one day, at least in theory, be allowed to apply to join the European Union.

Alarmed by what he saw as a Western plot to encircle Russia, Mr. Putin began his effort to annex Ukraine’s southern peninsula of Crimea, and subsequently backed rebel forces trying to tear eastern Ukraine away from Kiev. Chastened by the turmoil in Ukraine and the souring of relations with Russia, European leaders are now scaling back their eastward push.

Diplomats have spent months arguing over the text of a joint declaration to be issued at the Riga meeting, with some countries like Germany resistant to any wording that would raise unrealistic expectations in Moldova, Ukraine and elsewhere of admission to the European Union. A near final text circulating on Thursday acknowledges the “European aspirations and European choice of the partners concerned,” but leaders still needed to sign off on that timid endorsement of a possible road toward Europe.

It is the kind of waffling that has left many former Soviet subjects less than enchanted by European entreaties. “Russia doesn’t have to do anything,” said Yan Feldman, a member of a Moldovan government council set up to combat discrimination. “It just has to wait. The idea of Europe has discredited itself.”

Indeed, there is little to show from the six years of courtship of the former Soviet republics. Ukraine aside, Georgia is stuck in limbo amid fierce political infighting, and three other partnership countries—Armenia, Azerbaijan and Belarus—have rebuffed Brussels’s inducements and moved closer to Moscow.

But nowhere is the gap between expectation and reality bigger than in Moldova, which last year secured visa-free travel to Europe for its citizens after being trumpeted by Brussels as the Eastern Partnership’s “top reformer.”

Today, Moldova’s feuding pro-European politicians, like their counterparts in Ukraine, are so tainted by their failure to combat corruption and create a functioning state that, to many here, Russia looks appealing.

“They called us the best pupils in the class,” said Iurie Leanca, a leading pro-European politician. “But we have lost the support of society.”

Mr. Leanca would know. He was prime minister, until elections late last year that brought a surge in support for the anti-European Socialist Party, now the biggest single party in Parliament. Its campaign slogan: “Together With Russia!”

Pro-European forces still managed to form a coalition government, but only with support from the Communist Party.

While insisting that Russian propaganda had played a big role in shaping opinions, Mr. Leanca acknowledged that his government was also to blame. “They saw good will but did not see any results on corruption or poverty,” he said of the voters.

A recent opinion poll carried out by the Institute for Public Policy, a Moldova research group, found that only 32 percent of those surveyed would support joining the European Union—an option that Brussels has no intention of offering—while 50 percent said they would prefer to join a customs union promoted by Mr. Putin. Over all, support for the European Union in Moldova has plummeted to 40 percent this year from 78 percent in 2007, according to the group’s figures, which were based on what it called a representative sample of Moldovans.

Chiril Gaburici, a former telecommunications executive recently installed as Moldova’s new prime minister after last November’s inconclusive elections, said he was “not happy” about Europe’s terminological retreat in the draft statement for the Riga summit meeting.

But, he added, Moldova’s pro-European politicians have themselves dashed many hopes, noting that ordinary people are disappointed after years of hearing leaders “talking about reforms and a better life but not seeing that much real change.”

A long series of scandals, including the theft of hundreds of millions of dollars from a leading bank, have provided powerful ammunition to pro-Russian forces.

One of those is Renato Usatii, a businessman turned populist political maverick who rails against corruption, spends much of his time in Moscow and drives a $350,000 Rolls-Royce. He was barred from competing in the November poll on what many viewed as a trumped-up pretext of registration irregularities.

“Even pro-European people who like the idea of Europe now hate the reality of what it has created,” Mr. Usatii said. Europe, he added, “is losing Moldova.”

A senior European diplomat, who asked not to be named so he could speak freely, complained that Moldova’s pro-European politicians were “very good at singing the European song” to impress Brussels.

But in reality, he added, “they have really mucked up,” discrediting both their own pro-European parties and the European Union. As a result, the diplomat added, many ordinary people now believe that “Russia cannot be any worse.”

That is certainly the conclusion of Alexandres Botnari, the mayor of Hincesti, a small town in central Moldova that the European Union has promoted as an example of the benefits to be had from drawing closer to Europe. Those were supposed to include funding to guarantee that all Hincesti residents have clean water and modern sanitation.

Unfortunately, Mr. Botnari said, shaking his head at a slick brochure about Moldova’s successes in partnership with Brussels, “reality is totally different.”

Only a third of homes in Hincesti have sewage pipes, many do not have drinkable water, and nearly all the roads outside the center of town are still pitted dirt tracks.

The mayor, despite being a member of the nominally pro-European Democratic Party, said Moldova would be better off, at least economically, joining Mr. Putin’s customs union.

While the European market is much bigger and richer than Russia’s, Mr. Putin imposed tight trade restrictions in 2013 on Moldova in retaliation for its flirtation with the West. For now, exports to Europe have not yet risen enough to make up for what was lost in Russia.

“We cannot live without the Russian market,” said Igor Dodon, the Socialist Party leader, as he sat in an office bedecked with photographs of himself meeting Mr. Putin in Moscow. Mr. Putin, he said, told him that Russia wants to revive trade and political ties with Moldova, but only if the country avoids moving toward NATO.

The European Union, Mr. Dodon said, “needed a success story and chose us. But now everyone sees this was all an illusion.”

Nonetheless, when measured by the highly technocratic criteria Brussels uses to assess success, Moldova is still the Eastern Partnership’s top reformer, having adopted 10,500 European standards for food, electrical goods and a vast range of other items.

But, conceded Ms. Morari, the Foreign Ministry official, success in changing sanitary norms and other arcane rules, while perhaps crucial to the creation of a modern country, “is difficult to communicate in a sexy way.”

Review: ‘The Japanese Dog,’ a Family Reunion in Romania

Photo by Romanian Film Initiative

New York Times
20 May 2015
by Ben Kenigsberg

On the surface, the brooding, cynical dramas that have come to represent the standard of Romanian cinema—“The Death of Mr. Lazarescu,” “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days”—have little in common with the humane family portraits of the great Japanese filmmaker Yasujiro Ozu (“Tokyo Story”). But both types of movies are uncommonly attentive to the passage of time and show an interest in the ways people are obligated to act toward one another.

The Japanese Dog,” the first feature from Tudor Cristian Jurgiu, is an hommage to Ozu, down to the way Mr. Jurgiu often isolates different generations within the frame. The protagonist, Costache (Victor Rebengiuc), is a curmudgeon reeling from his wife’s death and his house’s destruction in a flood. When the movie opens, he is reluctant to accept help from others and is under pressure to sell his land.

His son, Ticu (Serban Pavlu), an engineer living in Japan, returns home, bringing his wife and their son. The visit gives Costache a chance to act as a grandparent and to discuss unresolved matters, like the romance Ticu left behind and what Ticu sees as his father’s chronic failure to communicate.

While it lacks the richness of some of Ozu’s masterworks, “The Japanese Dog” steers clear of sentimentality—an impressive feat, given that the title somewhat preciously refers to a toy dog. The movie depicts a hopeful side of Romania, peeking through even Costache’s lonely world.

The Japanese Dog

Opens on Thursday

Directed by Tudor Cristian Jurgiu; written by Iona Antoci, Gabriel Gheorghe and Mr. Jurgiu; director of photography, Andrei Butica; edited by Dragos Apetri; produced by Tudor Giurgiu and Bogdan Craciun; released by m-appeal. In Romanian, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 25 minutes. This film is not rated.

WITH: Victor Rebengiuc (Costache), Serban Pavlu (Ticu), Kana Hashimoto (Hirouku), Toma Hashimoto (Koji), Iona Abur (Gabi) and Alexandrina Halic (Leanca).

Romania President Raises Alarm Over Illegal Logging

New York Times
18 May 2015
by The Associated Press

BUCHAREST, Romania—Romania's president says a new law allowing the logging of small woods could lead to "uncontrolled deforestation" in the country, posing a national security threat.

President Klaus Iohannis said Monday that the proposed legislation could lead to the logging of as much as a million hectares. Romania has 6.6 million hectares (16.3 million acres) of forest, home to brown bears and wolves.

Thousands of Romanians have recently staged protests against illegal deforestation, accusing political parties of allowing the logging of swathes of woodland by failing to impose sufficient controls.

Reacting to the protests, the government said Saturday it would temporarily ban the export of wood.

Iohannis said deforestation would be on the agenda of the country's next national security meeting. He said illegal deforestation was "a threat to national security."

Moldova Rally Urges Reunification With Neighboring Romania

New York Times
16 May 2015
by The Associated Press

CHISINAU, Moldova—Shouting anti-Russian slogans, 3,000 people have rallied in Moldova urging the reunification of the former Soviet republic with neighboring Romania.

Moldovans marched Saturday from a central square in Chisinau past parliament shouting "Good bye, Russia! Don't forget Bessarabia is not yours!" using the historical name for Moldova.

Russia first annexed Moldova in May 1812. It was part of Romania from 1918 until 1940, when it was annexed to the Soviet Union under a Nazi-Soviet Pact. Moldova declared independence in 1991 as the Soviet Union disintegrated.

George Simion, a Romanian who heads Action 2012 that organized Saturday's rally, was expelled from Moldova this week for five years after Moldova's security agency said he posed a threat to national security.

Some 10 to 20 percent of Moldovans support reunification, polls show.

Romanian Minister Found Guilty of Vote-Rigging in Referendum

New York Times
15 May 2015
by Reuters

BUCHAREST—A senior Romanian minister was convicted on Friday of electoral fraud over a 2012 attempt to impeach a president and political rival, a judgment that dealt a blow to Prime Minister Victor Ponta's efforts to demonstrate to the EU a hard line on graft.

Regional development minister Liviu Dragnea was convicted of masterminding a campaign to use bribes and forged ballot papers to swing an impeachment vote against then president Traian Basescu, arch rival of Ponta's ruling Social Democrats.

The court gave Dragnea, a powerful figure in Romanian politics, a one year suspended jail sentence, which spares him prison. He will, however, be banned from holding public office. The decision can be appealed.

Dragnea, 52, is the second member of Ponta's cabinet felled by graft charges in the European Union state, after the finance minister was put under investigation in March and resigned.

Ponta suggested the ruling was politically motivated, "a symbolic decision to convict a political action".

His trial has put renewed scrutiny on Romania's performance in tackling corruption on a political and judicial level. Brussels keeps the country's justice system under special monitoring.

While giving prosecutors high praise for their work, it has criticized Dragnea being allowed to remain in office while under investigation.


In July 2012, Ponta's ruling Social Democrats and their allies tried to oust arch rival Basescu, from the presidency.

A referendum plunged Romania into a constitutional crisis and drew fire from Brussels and Washington who saw the rule of law undermined. The attempt ultimately failed as the turnout did not meet the threshold of 50 percent of all registered voters.

Dragnea's conviction risks being an embarrassment for Ponta, who suffered a surprise defeat at a presidential election in November and who faces a general election at the end of 2016.

"A dangerous precedent has been set for organizing elections ... which can impact democracy and parties' freedom to call people to the polls," Dragnea, who denies any wrongdoing, told reporters after the verdict.

He said he had resigned his post as minister as well as that of executive president of the Social Democrat Party

In indicting him and 74 other people in 2013, prosecutors said he had told local party members and mayors to use any means, including bribes, to swell turnout. He had suggested county prefects set up polling stations in tourist resorts that were not registered constituencies.

When all else failed, prosecutors said, they forged voting papers.

"Dragnea tasked some of his close allies ... to do everything in their power, including by breaking the law, to get people to vote."

They said Dragnea, as party secretary general, organized an illegal system by which local party members sent back real-time information about the turnout and results before polls closed.

A continuing anti-corruption crackdown has pointed to further graft in his party, with both his father-in-law and brother-in-law also under criminal investigation.

Finance Minister Darius Valcov resigned in March, accused of taking kickbacks in exchange for favoring a company for a public works contract.

"I don't think there will be major political consequences for the party after the conviction, as they and Dragnea will play the 'it was a political decision' card," said Mircea Marian, a political analyst.

Romania Turns Hacking Crisis Into Advantage, Helping Ukraine

New York Times
13 May 2015
by The Associated Press

BUCHAREST, Romania—Ukraine is turning to an unlikely partner in its struggle to defend itself against Russian cyber warfare: Romania.

The eastern European country known more for economic disarray than technological prowess has become one of the leading nations in Europe in the fight against hacking. The reason: the country's own battle against Internet renegades and a legacy of computing excellence stemming from Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu's regime.

Both historic twists have ironically turned Romanian cyber sleuths into some of Europe's best. So much so that NATO tapped Bucharest to defend Ukraine from Russian digital espionage by sending experts to monitor Kiev government institutes and train Ukrainian IT specialists.

Ukraine says Russia's Federal Security Service is coordinating attacks on government offices as part of a proxy war against Ukraine's government, amid real fighting between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian rebels in the east. Ukrainian security operatives say that, with Romania's help, they have foiled attempts to spread malicious software intended to disable the government's computer network or steal intelligence.

At NATO's summit last year in Wales, President Barack Obama and other leaders decided to create five "trust funds"—or narrowly focused programs funded by NATO member counties that are meant to help Ukraine reform and modernize its defense capabilities—including one for cyber defense to help Ukraine's military modernize.

Romania, a member of NATO's cyber coalition exercises, volunteered to lead the Ukraine Cyber Defense Trust Fund—and tapped the state-owned Rasirom company. The alliance notes the Rasirom, the cyber-security provider for Romania's top state institutions, has "a rich experience in cyber defense."

"We are trying to be a regional leader," Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta said in a meeting with foreign media outlets. "That is why Romania ... has been appointed by NATO to be in charge of (Ukraine's) cyber security and preventing cyber warfare."

At the opening of a regional conference on cyber security, U.S deputy Secretary for Commerce Bruce Andrews on Monday praised Romanian company Bitdefender which created "Bitdefender Box." one of the first security products made specifically for home networks. It protects devices by scanning network traffic to detect and block potential security threats and noted that Romanian was the second language spoken at Microsoft in offices around the world, after English.

Ukraine itself had no say on which country NATO tapped to provide its cyber security. But since 2013 it has cooperated with Romania on fighting hacking, phishing, child porn and DDoS attacks, which attempt to disable a website by swamping it with traffic.

Europol is also tapping into Romania's cyber savvy. The European police agency's chief, Ron Wainright, said 20 percent of Europol's cyber defense experts are Romanian police officers. "The expertise that Romanian specialists bring in their daily fight against this threat is extraordinary," he said on a recent visit to Bucharest.

If Romania is a leader in cyber policing today, it can perhaps thank a string of high-profile cases of Romanian hackers attacking the United States in 2011. That year, Romanian cyber criminals stole $1 billion from victims in the U.S., and an unemployed Romanian taxi driver calling himself "Guccifer" hacked the emails of former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and former President George W. Bush. Marcel Lehel Lazar accessed and published private Bush family photos, including selfies of Bush who appeared to be shaving in the shower and soaking his feet in a bathtub.

The security breaches so alarmed Washington that the FBI launched a program to train 600 Romanian law enforcement officers on fighting cybercrime.

Last month, Romanian police broke up an alleged cybercrime ring and arrested 25 Romanians. The Directorate for Investigating Organized Crime and Terrorism said that between February and December 2013, a group of 52 Romanians and foreign citizens carried out more than 34,000 fraudulent cash withdrawals in 24 countries, netting more than euros 15 million ($17 million).

The gang targeted banks in Puerto Rico and Oman. Romanian police said the group broke IT firewalls to obtain the details of corporate clients which were used to clone credit cards.

Romania's tradition of computer skills dates back to the communist era when Ceausescu decided to make engineering and math education priorities at top universities.

Microsoft, Google and Oracle all have businesses in Romania and there are 93,000 employed in the industry with 6,500 graduating in IT every year, according to Anis, the Romanian software industry association.

Romanians also have computer success abroad. Gabriel Marcu has worked at Apple since 1996 and is a senior scientist there, responsible for color calibration on all Apple products.In 2008, Razvan Olosu , the former CEO of Nokia Germany, founded Novero, a company making Telematics products for automotive clients which he ran until 2013.

One industry expert said Romania's success relies on teaching IT from a young age.

"Faculties are turning out very good specialists who are highly sought after by big companies," said Rasirom general manager Aurelian Tolescu.

Peter Leonard in Kiev, Ukraine, Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow and John-Thor Dahlburg in Brussels contributed to this report.

Wikipedia 10 May 2015

On this day...

May 10: Independence Day in Romania (1877)

Romanian Gov't Declassifies Communist-Era Prison Documents

New York Times
29 April 2015
by The Associated Press

BUCHAREST, Romania — Romania's government has declassified secret documents relating to prisons where hundreds of thousands of opponents of the former communist regime were incarcerated.

The government said Wednesday it was declassifying documents from 1957 to 1962 which were "necessary for solving ongoing trials," and in the interest of "free access to information of public interest."

Alexandru Visinescu is on trial accused of crimes against humanity for the deaths of 12 prisoners at Ramnicu Sarat, where he was commander from 1956 to 1963.

Ion Ficior faces the same charges for the deaths of 103 people at Periprava labor camp, which he ran from 1958 to 1963. Both have denied wrongdoing.

Octav Bjoza, head the Association of Former Detainees said opening the records would help the younger generation understand the country's past.

However, he said he regretted it had not been done earlier when more of the former communist officials were alive.

"These criminals died peacefully in their beds, while prisoners died in humiliation without getting justice," Bjoza told The Associated Press.

About 500,000 Romanians were held as political prisoners in the 1950s and early '60s as the government sought to crush dissent.

Historians say one-fifth of those prison inmates died due to insufficient food and medicine, beatings and lack of heat in their cells. The Communist regime led by Nicolae Ceausescu collapsed in 1989.

EU President Promises Moldova Closer Cooperation

New York Times
28 April 2015
by The Associated Press

CHISINAU, Moldova — The EU president has promised Moldova closer cooperation with the European Union, while urging it to reform its justice system and banking sector and fight corruption.

Donald Tusk called Moldova, which neighbors Ukraine and Romania, "a key ... partner of the European Union."

He later said it was the most promising of the EU's eastern partnership countries which also include former Soviet republics Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia and Ukraine.

Moldova signed an association agreement with the EU in June. Russia responded by placing an embargo on fruit and some vegetables.

"Right now Moldova is facing hardship both for domestic reasons and for reasons of regional instability and uncertainty," Tusk said Tuesday in Chisinau.

Moldova, a country of 4 million, hopes to join the EU in 2019. Tusk said these EU aspirations would have "a happy end."

Moldovan officials have recently investigated the disappearance of $1.5 billion from state-owned and private banks before November's elections. Moldova's currency has lost 20 percent value this year.

The current government is backed by communists, who favor a slower approach to reforms.

Review: ‘Closer to the Moon’ Recounts a Bizarre Bit of Romanian History

Five men and one woman, all with important connections in the Communist Party and members of the Jewish community of Bucharest, rob the Romanian National Bank, in what will become one of Europe’s most notorious bank robberies. By Sundance Selects on Publish Date April 12, 2015. Photo by Internet Video Archive.

New York Times
16 April 2015
by Manohla Dargis

Closer to the Moon,” a fictionalized tale about a weird chapter in Romanian history, tries hard to slap a smiley face on a calamity. In 1959, a group of formerly true-believing Romanian Communists, all Jewish, did the unthinkable when they robbed a branch of the state (and only) bank. They were soon caught, but the story went from curious to crackpot when officials decided that the robbers would portray themselves in a state-produced film titled “Reconstruction,” recreating their gangsta roles with secret meetings, gats and getaway cars. Apparently believing that the state might go easier on them if they cooperated, the robbers played along, all the way through the show-trial end.

This history has inspired a couple of documentaries, including one also called “Reconstruction” (2001), by Irene Lusztig, whose grandmother, Monica Alfandary Sevianu, and grandmother’s husband, Igor Sevianu, were part of the bank-robbing gang. It isn’t widely available, but “The Great Communist Bank Robbery” (2004), by Alexandru Solomon, a smart, bitingly sardonic chronicle of the same incident, can be rented online. It’s worth a look because the robbers offer a fascinating entree into crazy Communist Romania and because Mr. Solomon doesn’t pretend he knows why they did what they did. Rather, he shuffles through the possible motivations—Zionism, despair, nihilism—deconstructing an event that from mysterious start to grim finish looked a lot like a suicide mission.

Written and directed by Nae Caranfil, “Closer to the Moon” draws on many of the same facts that appear in “The Great Communist Bank Robbery,” but in the service of a less adventurous movie with familiar Western actors, English-language dialogue and badly strained uplift. In a narrative move that further obscures the interesting if clouded truth, Mr. Caranfil also frames his version with a needless contrivance. In “Closer,” the robbers pull off the heist using a diversionary tactic: They pretend that they’re shooting a film. With overblown gestures, they fire up a movie camera and overplay to the audience of ordinary looky-loos, creating a pantomime that will be echoed when, after their arrest, they must recreate the crime in the official propaganda picture.

Like Mr. Solomon, Mr. Caranfil divides “Closer” into chapters, each meant to throw new light on the tale. Vera Farmiga stars as Alice, who not long after the story opens, returns to Bucharest. She soon takes up with her old comrades, including her unhappily married ex-lover, Max (Mark Strong). (Max seems to be a conflation of Mr. Sevianu and another conspirator, Alexandru Ioanid; the crew was nicknamed theIoanid Gang.) Mr. Strong and Ms. Farmiga can be predictably, cartoonishly fun, like a Romanian Boris and Natasha, but even they can’t always make clunky dialogue sing or navigate slippery tone shifts without showing the strain, and neither is especially convincing here, whether playing it heavy or light. (Some warring accents and Mr. Strong’s two-bit rug do some scene-stealing.)

Mr. Caranfil never manages to negotiate the thickets of ambiguity, tragedy and bleak comedy, although the problem may be that someone behind the scenes just didn’t see the profit in a no-exit narrative. Mostly, though, by stressing personal tears and woes over the larger political picture, “Closer to the Moon”—the title comes from a savagely comic suggested punishment—downplays how apparatchiks hijacked reality for a carefully staged, serial fiction called the Socialist Republic of Romania that starred Nicolae Ceausescu as the benevolent leader of a cast of smiling, happy millions. In this putative paradise “there was no crime and no opposition,” as “The Great Communist Bank Robbery” puts it with memorable, ferocious cool. “Only the terror imposed by the government on the people.”

Closer to the Moon

Opens on Friday

Written and directed by Nae Caranfil; director of photography, Marius Panduru; edited by Roberto Silvi; music by Laurent Couson; production design by Cristian Niculescu; costumes by Doina Levintza; produced by Michael Fitzgerald, Renata Rainieri, Bobby Paunescu, Alessandro Leone and Denis Friedman; released by Sundance Selects. In English and Romanian, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 47 minutes. This film is not rated.

WITH: Vera Farmiga (Alice), Mark Strong (Max), Tim Plester (Dumi), Christian McKay (Iorgu), Joe Armstrong (Razvan), Harry Lloyd (Virgil), Marcin Walewski (Mirel), Anton Lesser (Holban), Allan Corduner (Flaviu) and David de Kayser (Moritz).

Closer To The Moon

New York Times
12 April 2015
by Sundance Selects

Five men and one woman, all with important connections in the Communist Party and members of the Jewish community of Bucharest, rob the Romanian National Bank, in what will become one of Europe's most notorious bank robberies. They subsequently find themselves the subjects of a nationwide manhunt, and after two months of investigations, they are arrested, forced to star in a propaganda film about their crime, and then executed. Only Alice, the female member of the group, finds her life spared by the authorities.

Wikipedia: Closer to the Moon

Romania’s Anti-Corruption Mania

New York Times
4 March 2015
by Patrick Basham

BUCHAREST, Romania—With its wide, tree-lined boulevards and Belle Époque buildings, this city was once known as Little Paris. Today, Romania’s capital feels more reminiscent of the French Revolution as it is roiled by a legal reign of terror.

In November, the leader of the center-right National Liberal Party, Klaus Iohannis, was elected president on a populist, anti-corruption platform, succeeding Traian Basescu of the more conservative Democratic Liberal Party.

Only lately had Mr. Basescu thrown his weight behind a long-running anti-corruption drive that had seemed relatively toothless. For Mr. Basescu, it was a useful political tool to attack opponents, as well as a way to appease American and European critics of Romania’s governance. But his move was belated.

With Mr. Iohannis’s victory, the anti-corruption effort went into overdrive. While executive authority rests with the prime minister, Victor Ponta, who heads the Social Democratic Party, the presidency can be a powerful bully pulpit.

Denied justice for decades, first by dictators, then by ineffectual democrats, Romanians enthusiastically backed the anti-corruption cause. After a judicial sweep that started under Mr. Basescu netted more than a thousand convictions of politicians and businessmen last year, the campaign proved a key electoral issue.

Crude populism now carries the day. The television networks relentlessly cover every perp walk. With the courts convicting at a rate of more than 90 percent, scores of politicians from all the main parties have been disgraced.

The nation is running out of prison space. Condemned by the European Court of Human Rights, Bucharest’s jails are desperately overcrowded; the justice minister recently announced that he was seeking European funding for several new prisons. Little else looks as if it’s being built these days. Businesspeople I’ve spoken to have become wary of public-private partnerships since they view such arrangements as too easy to construe as graft.

Bribery is, in fact, endemic in Romanian life: Politics merely mirrors social norms. Everyone in politics and business is presumed guilty of something. Most Romanians admit that they care little about shortcomings of due process, whether it’s laughably thin evidence or prosecutors’ tutoring of judges in verdicts.

The rise of the prosecutorial state threatens even its own. In November, a former top prosecutor, Alina Bica, who was appointed by Mr. Ponta to head the government’s unit investigating organized crime, was herself arrested on a charge of receiving kickbacks while in office. She had previously participated in developing Romania’s criminal code on government standards. In Mr. Basescu’s words, “Nobody is above the law.”

It’s commonplace for suspects to be pressured to name names in exchange for possible leniency. It’s also routine for family members to be arrested as additional leverage for the prosecutors. One particularly Orwellian measure is the use of “preventive arrests” to imprison certain high-level suspects accused of white-collar crimes on grounds of stopping them from committing similar alleged offenses in future.

Despite official denials, everyone knows the courts are not as politically independent as they should be. A number of those arrested, I was told, have ties to Russian financial interests—which makes them easy to portray as serving the interests of a foreign power that many Romanians regard as a threat.

Before his election in 2012, Mr. Ponta had characterized the National Anti-corruption Directorate as a modern-day version of the Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu’s feared secret police. But as public opinion turned in the directorate’s favor, the prime minister changed his tune.

A pro-market politician, Mr. Ponta now acts as cheerleader for the anti-corruption drive—finding it a handy tool for targeting his enemies in the media, particularly the owners of critical newspapers. Soon after Mr. Ponta clashed with Adrian Sarbu, the owner of the Mediafax Group, which publishes Romania’s leading business paper, Mr. Sarbu was arrested on charges of tax evasion, money laundering and embezzlement. He has denied the allegations.

The prosecution of Dan Adamescu, owner of the independent newspaper Romania Libera, is also troubling. Mr. Ponta accused Mr. Adamescu of embezzling from his own insurance company to help finance Mr. Basescu’s re-election campaign. Mr. Adamescu was found guilty and received a more than four-year prison sentence.

The apparent political motivation behind the Sarbu and Adamescu cases demonstrates how an effort to reduce the relationship between money and politics has served instead to ramp up score-settling and judicial overreach.

Another unintended consequence of the anti-corruption campaign is that it has fueled anti-American sentiment. Because the State Department had expressed the fear that a corrupt Romania could become the next Ukraine, with popular anger at a corrupt oligarchy leading to disorder, some Romanians now view the legion of hasty convictions as a misguided attempt to impress America.

The European Union has monitored corruption levels since Romania’s 2007 entry into the Union. While Brussels has never threatened to withhold funding, there was anxiety in Bucharest that a failure to push reform could lead to Romania’s voting rights’ being suspended.

As arbiters of good governance, neither the United States nor the European Union should remain silent over the Romanian government’s abuse of prosecutorial powers. Certainly, a less corrupt Romania would be a better European Union member and a more reliable NATO ally, but it would be a mistake to accept the sheer volume of justice, rather than its quality, as a reliable metric of success.

Romania’s anti-corruption campaign has rapidly metastasized into an illiberal crusade. The public’s insatiable appetite for justice only exacerbates the threat to the country’s democratic future.

American and European governments should congratulate Romanians on their newfound determination to eradicate graft, but now encourage a change in the government’s approach. Romania’s democratic development would be better served by a public process whereby past misdeeds were acknowledged, documented and then forgiven.

Only a comprehensive process that rewards disclosure with amnesty will allow Romanians to stop looking over their shoulders, figuratively and literally. With international media scrutiny, a truth commission would make a powerful statement that democratic Romania will vigorously punish future transgressions—but in a transparent, nonpartisan and judicious manner.

Patrick Basham is the director of the Democracy Institute, a public policy research organization based in Washington and London.

Merkel Hopes Moldova Isn't in Russia's Sights After Ukraine

New York Times
26 February 2015
by Reuters

BERLIN—Germany's Angela Merkel said on Thursday she hoped Russia's Vladimir Putin would not try the same strategy in Moldova as he had in Ukraine, and expressed support for the country's efforts to forge stronger ties with Europe, to Moscow's chagrin.

The chancellor, asked at a news conference with visiting Romanian President Klaus Iohannis whether she thought there was a risk that Romania's eastern neighbor could be in Moscow's sights, replied: "Well, we hope not."

Germany and European Union member Romania feel "politically very closely linked to Moldova" and will support the new pro-EU government of Chiril Gaburici, she said.

Moldova, one of Europe's poorest countries, wedged between Ukraine and Romania, has ratified a political and trade agreement with the EU, turning its back on a future in a Russian-led customs bloc.

"There are many small steps that show Moldova is our close partner," said Merkel, citing the EU's attempts to offset the impact on the Moldovan economy of Russia's ban on imports of wine and food from Moldova in retribution for its overtures to the EU.

Iohannis said there were "no indications at the moment" that Moscow would interfere in Moldova.

Merkel and Iohannis both said the crisis in Ukraine had put the spotlight on the situation of Transdniestria, a breakaway sliver of Moldova with strong ties to Russia, which Moscow has warned Moldova it could lose if it moves closer to Europe.

Ukraine's war against pro-Russian separatists was partly triggered by Kiev pursuing similar pro-EU policies to those now being adopted by Moldova, in the face of opposition from Moscow.

British Prime Minister David Cameron warned this week that Russia could try to destabilize other countries in eastern Europe if it was left unchallenged over its actions in Ukraine. "Next it'll be Moldova or one of the Baltic states," he said.

The center-right Romanian president said there was no need for Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban to take the part of ethnic Hungarians living in other countries in the region including Romania, Ukraine, Slovakia and Serbia.

Iohannis said he was in close contact with political parties representing Romania's Hungarian minority, adding: "There is no Hungarian problem in Romania."

(Additional reporting by Andreas Rinke)

Russia: Rehab Plan for Alcoholic Bears

One of the bears has gone blind and both need treatment for alcohol addiction

BBC News
25 February 2015

Two alcoholic Russian bears who were kept in appalling conditions for more than 20 years could soon be enjoying a new life in Romania.

In February, a court ruled that the male bears must be confiscated from their owner, who kept them in a small, rubbish-strewn cage at a restaurant in the Black Sea city of Sochi. The animals—one of which is blind—became addicted to alcohol after visitors continually gave them drinks, the Tass news agency reports. While the removal order comes into effect in March, they're currently still living with the owner, and need travel paperwork to be issued by the Sochi authorities. "The court order is there to take them away but there is nowhere to put them in Sochi," says Anna Kogan, head of the Big Hearts Foundation, which is coordinating the move with support from other animal charities. A bear sanctuary in Romania has now offered to re-home the bears and provide them with treatment for their alcohol problems.

"It's a very expensive process to move them abroad," Ms Kogan tells the BBC, adding that the foundation is still looking for logistical help to transport the bears by boat across the Black Sea. But if they make it to their new home, their chances of recovery are good. "The people there have worked with dancing bears who had similar problems... it can be done," Ms Kogan says. The restaurant owner previously defended keeping the bears, arguing that beer was good for them because of the climate.

Romania Sends Ambulances to Moldova in Tug-Of-War With Russia

New York Times
15 February 2015
by Reuters

BALTI, Moldova—A stone's throw from the mounted T-34 Soviet tank in the center of this Moldovan city is an emergency ambulance service set up by Romania, one of several soft power moves to steer its eastern neighbor away from Moscow's orbit.

Wary of Russian intentions after Ukraine lost control of Crimea and much of its east to Russian-backed forces last year, Romania is trying to bring Moldova toward the European Union.

Its sweeteners, the ambulances, as well as offers of cheaper gas supplies and closer trade ties, have been warmly welcomed by impoverished Moldova's two-month-old pro-European government.

Some locals are wary of Romania's intentions, but many are grateful in this corner of Moldova, where villagers trudge along muddy, unpaved roads and western cars like the red, Volkswagen ambulances are novel enough to win salutes from their children.

"People calling 903 for an ambulance ask us to send them the red cars with the red men," said 35-year-old Ion Picalau, a rescue captain with the newly-created ambulance service in Balti, about 60 km east of the Prut river border, who trained for the job for six months in Romania.

Moscow has warned Moldova that its drive for closer ties to Europe could cause it to lose control of Transnistria for good, just as Ukraine lost Crimea, and lead to more costly gas from Russia, its main supplier.

The Romanian government is unapologetic, saying even though it sees Russia as a serious security threat, it will step up a battle that is, for now, economic rather than military.

"(Russia's) main weapon is neither warplanes, nor its tanks or its frigates. It is energy," Prime Minister Victor Ponta said in a televised interview with local media in November. He has vowed to press ahead with a gas pipeline to Moldova.

Among the people of Moldova, divided into several ethnic groups with varying allegiances, Romania's actions have met a mixed reaction, with some seeing them as a bulwark against Russia and others worried Romania may try to swallow Moldova up.

Part of Tsarist Russia for a century, Moldova joined what was known as Greater Romania after the First World War but was annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940.

It is now split between a Romanian-speaking majority and the breakaway region Transdniestria, propped up by Russia in one of a series of "frozen conflicts" that have kept separatist regions in several former Soviet republics under Moscow's wing.

NATO's supreme allied commander in Europe, US Air Force Gen Philip Breedlove has said Russian forces could easily annex Transdniestria. Moscow has denied any such plans.


EU and NATO member Romania championed Moldova signing a trade agreement with the EU in June and, as Russia moved to restrict imports of Moldovan wine, fruit, vegetables and meat, Romania overtook Russia as Moldova's largest trade partner.

Moldovans can now travel visa-free to Europe's Schengen zone and to wean them from Russian gas, Romania has built a 43 km (27 mile) pipeline across the border, inaugurated last year on the 23rd anniversary of Moldovan independence from the Soviet Union.

The project will initially cover about five percent of Moldova's energy needs, and Romania plans to extend the pipeline to the Moldovan capital Chisinau, offering gas for 1,010 lei ($263) per 1,000 cubic meters, excluding transport fees which are still under negotiation.

That compares to the Russian price of more than $300.

Moldova's acting Economy Minister Andrian Candu told Reuters it was a "key project ... creating a basis for our country's future integration in the European Union's internal market".

Romania funded about three-quarters of the initial pipeline's 26 million euro cost and is expected to fund the extension while Chisinau is seeking international financing for the pipeline. Critics note that gas has yet to flow and question whether the line to Chisinau will ever be built.

Candu estimated the extension's overall joint costs at 200 million euros, with 120 million to be invested by Romania.


Romania's emergency ambulance and rescue service, developed in the early 1990s by Raed Arafat, a Syrian-born doctor of Palestinian origin, will soon straddle the border.

As well as training up Balti's medical workers, Romania donated five ambulances to the city and rescue helicopters, based in Romania, will soon fly across the border, taking victims to Chisinau, or, if they have dual Romanian-Moldovan citizenship, possibly to Iasi.

"There has been strong political will from the two prime ministers to achieve this," Arafat, who is also Romania's deputy interior minister, told Reuters.

Romania has also donated buses and books to Moldovan schools. It has given passports to 500,000 Moldovans since the country's independence in 1991 and sponsored Moldovans, including Economy Minister Candu, to study in Romania.

Such help plays well with Romanians, three-quarters of whom support reunification with Moldova, a country of 3.5 million sometimes referred to by its historical name Bessarabia.

Graffiti and stickers advocating reunification adorn walls, lamp-posts and trains across Romania, and February saw the creation of a cross-party group in parliament to lobby for it.

In Moldova, however, only a fraction of MPs openly support reunification and the country's large number of left-leaning voters also oppose closer ties with the EU.

"The people on the other side of the Prut river in Romania are our blood brothers, so I think their help is sincere," said Vasile Braghis, a 45-year-old Moldovan businessman.

"But ... the overwhelming majority of the population support the continuing statehood of Moldova."

Joining the EU could be a long drawn out process. The new European Commission team says it does not envisage new members within the next five years. For Moldova to reach candidate status it would need to meet criteria on human rights, the rule of law and be seen as a functioning market economy.

Petr Neikovcchen, 51, town hall official in the Gagauz region in southern Moldova, says minorities such as Bulgarians, Gagauz, Ukrainians, Russians and Bulgarians felt threatened by growing ties with Romania and were lukewarm about the EU.

"We Bulgarians and Gagauz consider integration with the EU a complicated process that will take decades, whereas cooperation with Russia is a reality, achievable tomorrow," he said.

(Additional reporting by Alexander Tanas in Chisinau and Philip Blenkinsop in Brussels; Editing by Matthias Williams and Philippa Fletcher)

The Romanian Entrepreneurs Making Money from Communism

Tourists taking part in one of Stefan Munteanu's guided tours stand in front of the parliament building

BBC News
11 February 2015
by Calin Cosmaciuc

Bucharest, Romania—It may be more than 25 years since communism came to an end in Romania, following the violent overthrow of former dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, but feelings still remain raw in the country.

Such was the level of repression and grinding poverty under the communist regime that ruled the country from the end of World War Two until December 1989, that most Romanians still don't like to discuss this turbulent part of their history.

It was a time of severe food and fuel shortages, and the feared secret police, the Securitate, which by 1985 had 11,000 agents and 500,000 informers. Thousands of people were arrested and killed.

Yet while the wounds haven't healed for many Romanians, the growing number of tourists that today visit Romania, and in particular its capital Bucharest, are keen to find out more about life in the former Socialist Republic of Romania.

As a result, over the past two years, Romanian entrepreneurs - most who were only children at the time of the 1989 revolution - are starting to organise "communism tours" for foreign visitors. The tourists typically come from across Europe, the US, Japan, China and Israel.

The guided walks take in key buildings and locations in Bucharest linked to the former communist regime.

Lack of Food

Stefan Munteanu, 31, has been organising such tours since 2013, after he invested 2,000 euros ($2,263; £1,480) of savings to set up his business Open Doors.

He now organises 10 tours a week, which each attract an average of 15 participants, and cost from 13 euros per person.

He says that tourists find out about his business via three main sources - his own website, Tripadvisor, and recommendations from hostels and hotels in Bucharest.

"I was only six in 1989 when the communist regime fell, but I do remember the lack of food, the queues at the grocery stores, and the power cuts," he says.

"Now it is over, but we have to accept that communism was part of our recent history... let's see how we can profit from it."

Mr Munteanu says that "the biggest wow" for tourists is inevitably the giant parliament building.

The grandiose structure and its 1,100 rooms was Ceausescu's most notorious vanity project.

Originally called the People's House, it was designed to be both his personal palace, and home to all parts of the communist administration.

To make way for the vast building, which is 270m (889ft) long and 240m (787ft) wide, Ceausescu ordered that one fifth of the historic centre of Bucharest be bulldozed.

Work on the 3bn euros project started in 1984, and it had not been completed when Ceausescu was executed by firing squad in December 1989.

The building was finally finished in 1997, and while now home to both houses of the Romanian parliament, such is its vast size that only a third of the structure is occupied.

Continuing Taboo

Fellow tour guide Marius Zaharia, 33, has a number of communist props to show the tourists who join him on his three-hour walking tours around central Bucharest.

He has photos and old newspapers from the era, one of the former regime's coat of arms, and even a pack of communist-made cigarettes.

Mr Zaharia ends his tour by the former Romanian Communist Party office building where Ceausescu and his wife Elena fled from by helicopter during the 1989 uprising.

He says that while most Romanians wouldn't want to go on such a tour, he hopes that this will eventually change.

"Many Romanians do not cope with the past, and this is why the tours of communism haven't been done until recent years," says Mr Zacharia.

"We still have this taboo, many don't like to talk about it."

However, he adds that if tourists can now go on organised walking tours in Berlin and Munich looking at locations key to the history of Nazi Germany, then he hopes that more Romanians will be able to accept communism tours in their country.

The Romanian government certainly hopes this is the case, with the Ministry of Tourism saying that the country's communist past should be more extensively used to attract foreign visitors.

As a result, plans are now afoot to create a museum focused on the country's more than four decades of communism.

Maria Stoe, 33, another tour guide, says she hopes such developments will help Romanian's better cope with the country's past, "because the society is not totally recovered after so many years of communism".

The Executioner

While other Romanian entrepreneurs are now starting to make and sell communist-themed souvenirs, such as porcelain piggy banks shaped like Ceausescu's head, it is the walking tours which remain at the centre of the industry looking back at the Socialist Republic of Romania.

The Ceausescu piggy bank costs 80 euros

One of the tour guides who is older than most is called Dorin Marian Carlan.

Now in his 50s, he was a member of the army firing squad that executed Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu after they had been caught near the city of Targoviste.

While no fan of communism, Mr Carkab says he is still uneasy that the couple were shot after a military trial that lasted just one minute and 44 seconds.

He tells the BBC: "I just hope that history won't repeat itself, I mean the communism, but also the faked trial and execution of the Ceausescu's."

Christine Valmy, Builder of U.S. Skin-Care Business, Dies at 88

Christine Valmy, right, watches as a beautician applies a facial mask to a client during a beauty show in New York in 1980. Associated Press

New York Times
7 February 2015
by Catherine Saint Louis

Christine Valmy, an immigrant from Communist Romania who helped build the professional skin-care industry in the United States from the ground up in the 1960s, founding the country’s first licensed skin-care school and becoming a sought-after authority in the field, died on Jan. 18 in Bucharest. She was 88.

Her daughter, Marina Valmy de Haydu, the director of the Christine Valmy international schools, confirmed the death, which was announced only recently. Ms. Valmy had homes in New York, Paris and Bucharest, where she was involved in charity work, her daughter said.

Skin care was not Ms. Valmy’s original choice of careers. By 21, soon after World War II, she had graduated from law school at the University of Bucharest. But the Communist authorities forbade her to practice law because her family owned land and properties, her daughter said; Ms. Valmy’s father was Romania’s customs director before the Communist takeover and had since been relegated to unloading ships as a stevedore.

Her disappointment, her daughter said, led to prolonged depression and a life-changing suggestion by one of her doctors: to take dermatology and cosmetology courses at the university’s medical school. She did, and after graduating in 1948, she opened a salon in Bucharest offering face treatments using botanical remedies she made herself.

But the business barely provided a living—“We were living hand-to-mouth,” her daughter said—so Ms. Valmy moved to Greece and ultimately to the United States looking for better opportunities. She arrived in New York in 1961 with just $25 to her name and her daughter and parents in tow. They settled in an apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

Ms. Valmy was quickly surprised to discover that there were no skin-care specialists offering facials and individualized skin advice in New York—services common in Europe.

At the time, cosmetologists were so focused on the booming hairdressing trade that skin care was not even taught in cosmetology schools, said William Strunk, the president of the Aesthetics International Association, a trade group for skin-care specialists founded in 1972.

Most American women were not making a habit of thoroughly cleaning their skin, exfoliating and unclogging pores. Skin was viewed largely as a canvas for powder and blush.

“Women were just putting makeup on top of problems,” Ms. Valmy de Haydu said, but her mother “harped on the fact that people have to take care of the living organ that is their skin.”

In 1966, Ms. Valmy, a woman of regal bearing, opened a professional school on 57th Street, where she began teaching the latest techniques in skin care and how skin functioned.

“Christine was able to inspire the first wave of professional skin-care experts,” Mr. Strunk said.

She is widely credited with coining the word esthetician, which she cribbed from the French word for beautician: esthéticienne.

Magazines and newspapers solicited her advice, and she marketed a line of creams, masks and exfoliants under her name. But Ms. Valmy was quick to acknowledge that there were no miracle potions that could give someone a flawless complexion.

“It’s like caring for your teeth by brushing them three times a day,” she said. “Caring for the skin is something you have to do all the time.”

She also founded a trade group, the American Association of Estheticians, and by 1968 she had set up an American chapter of an international association of beauty therapists called Cidesco, from Comité International d’Esthétique et de Cosmétologie.

Josephine Wackett, the vice president of Cidesco International, credited Ms. Valmy with distinguishing the “scientific skin-care treatments” offered by estheticians from cosmetology, which in the United States mostly meant hairdressing and manicures. “She was a true pioneer,” Ms. Wackett said.

In 1971, Representative Lawrence J. Hogan, a Maryland Republican, entered into the Congressional Record a tribute calling Ms. Valmy a forward-thinking leader who had established her field “as an honored profession” and a source of hundreds of jobs.

To date, more than 85,000 estheticians have graduated from her 15 schools in 8 countries, including Japan and India.

She was born Christine Xantopol on Oct. 25, 1926, in Bucharest, the daughter of Christofor and Florica Xantopol. She changed her name to Valmy after arriving in the United States, taking it from the 1792 battle in which the French defeated the Prussians.

Two of her marriages ended in divorce. Her third husband, Henry Sterian, a fellow Romanian, died in 2010. In addition to her daughter, she is survived by two grandsons. Her son-in-law, Peter de Haydu, is president of Christine Valmy Inc.

Ms. Valmy wrote three books, which she sometimes autographed with the inscription “Your face is my business!” “Esthetics,” a seminal textbook in the field, published in 1979, called for more rigorous standards for her profession.

In the late 1970s, Ms. Valmy and others successfully lobbied for the licensing of estheticians as a distinct profession. Before then, only a hairdressing license was legally required to treat skin.

“If you’re going to be a shoemaker,” Ms. Valmy said, “you don’t go to a tailor school.”

Staying Put and Bearing Witness to the Holocaust

Daniel Owen

New York Times
27 January 2015
by Rena Silverman

See slide show at article website

While recent terror attacks and anti-Semitism have led a growing number of French Jews to flee to Israel, another European Jewish community is determined to stay put, and has been for a long time.

Seventy years ago today, Soviet troops liberated Auschwitz, where one million Jews died during the Holocaust. Nearly all of the 30,000 Jews from Oradea, in modern-day Romania, had been sent to the concentration camp complex. After the war, some 2,700 survivors chose to return to Oradea. Daniel Owen spent almost two years photographing that community, where he found that despite all odds—from a dwindling population to few synagogues—this group maintains strong hope for remaining in Oradea.

He saw it not just as a story about survivors, but also survival itself.

“There have been a million stories done on the Holocaust and not to take away from that, these are brilliant stories,” said Mr. Owen, 28. “But this to me was a little more significant. Seventy years ago, this happened, it was horrible. But what about the next 20 years? That’s really the question I’m asking.”

Mr. Owen became interested in photographing the Oradea community in February 2013, while working on a project nearby called “The Romani: A Forgotten Generation.” He was walking down a road when he stumbled across a massive structure.

“I saw this synagogue sitting half-abandoned, unused,” he recalled. “And I said, there’s a Jewish community here?”

That building was the Zion Neologic Synagogue, one of Romania’s largest, which Jewish residents are now hoping to convert into a museum if they can find the money.

“At the beginning of the Second World War, there were over 20 synagogues in Oradea, a very big population,” Mr. Owen said. Now, besides a solitary functioning synagogue, there are a “handful of other ones that are just sitting in disrepair” after being destroyed by the Hungarians, the Nazis or, mostly, neglect.

Mr. Owen’s introduction to the town came through Emilia Teszler of Asociatia Tikvah, a local Holocaust remembrance and human-rights organization. She led him through a small-gated complex to find a Jewish community center and the area’s only functioning synagogue.

He said community leaders “guarded the survivors at first, as they should, in order to protect them from anyone who might want to use their stories for personal gain.” Instead, he began with families of survivors, photographing and interviewing them about their lives.

“I never saw it as survivors and nonsurvivors,” he said. “Everyone was affected by the Holocaust in this community in one way or another, and everyone had a story to tell.”

That was definitely true. He learned from his interviews why some families returned to Oradea after the Holocaust instead of seeking a new start in the United States or Israel.

“One gentleman that I spoke with was a son of a survivor,” Mr. Owen said. “His father waited for his wife for 10 years before remarrying, in hopes that his wife would somehow have survived and make her way back. She never did.”

After gaining the trust of the community leader, Mr. Owen was allowed to interview survivors in their homes. He was told to proceed with caution and not bring up the Holocaust. But he found many of the survivors opened up, although with a caveat.

“As one of the survivors explained to me, it’s one thing for you to hear this and for you to share it, but it’s a whole different thing to live it,” he said. “He told me, ‘I saw the capability of human beings to murder without regard.’

Among the survivors was Zoltan Böhm, an 87-year-old from northern Transylvania who was deported to Auschwitz at 15 before he and his brother were transferred to Mauthausen-Gusen in Austria. There, the brothers worked in rock mines carving out bunkers where German arms were produced and stored.

His brother did not survive.

“After hearing the sobering account from Mr. Böhm, I really felt the gravity of the story and my responsibility to tell it as best I can,” Mr. Owen said. “This is real. It really happened. It is not like a movie.”

Most of Mr. Owen’s photographs are not straight portraits. One of the Auschwitz survivor Iudith Varadi, 87, shows the back of her hat as she enjoys the music of a klezmer musician playing his clarinet against the glow of a synagogue window. (She has since died.)

Mr. Owen photographed the last functioning synagogue, Sas Chevra, during Shabbat services. Normally, men and women are supposed to sit separately, but the synagogue’s balcony is in such bad shape that the women had to join the men downstairs.

“I never really wanted to focus on the temples as a primary subject, per se, but rather as a metaphor that depicted a shell of the former community,” he said.

Mr. Owen plans to continue his work in Oradea, perhaps even expanding it to other cities throughout Romania. But he said he gained perspective since beginning the project.

“Do I see the world differently now?” he asked. “That would be an understatement.”

Recalling Romania’s Revolution

Joseph Rodriguez

New York Times
22 January 2015
by Andrew Boryga

See slide show at article website

Joseph Rodriguez grew up in Brooklyn when it was devoid of hipsters and even the city itself had a bit of a drug habit. You can hear it in his voice: a gravelly, nonstop commentary. That much has been documented, woven into the tale of a photographer known for depicting American subcultures.

“People think of me as a gang photographer; an urban photographer,” he said, nodding to work in Los Angeles, East Harlem and the Mexico-United States border. But that’s not accurate. “I’m a photographer of the world.”

That is evident in “Romania”—a just-released e-book from FotoEvidence—which he photographed between 1990 and 1996 as the country stumbled to free itself from the grips of a Communist despot. Mr. Rodriguez was living in Sweden in 1989, when reports spilled across the Baltic: A revolution had erupted in Romania, seeking to overthrow one of the most brutal Communist regimes in history. Mr. Rodriguez was intrigued.

“I come from that Lewis Hine documentary tradition,” he said. “Where’s the problem? Let me document, and expose it.”

Under the rule of Nicolae Ceausescu, it was difficult to enter Romania. That changed when Ceausescu and his wife were executed by firing squad on Christmas in 1989. (It was televised.) In the following months, Mr. Rodriguez partnered with nongovernmental organizations like Doctors Without Borders and the Swedish Red Cross to depict the sickening conditions facing countless Romanian orphans.

“The way we have day care centers here, they had orphanages there,” said Mr. Rodriguez, recalling his first trip to Romania in 1990. Ceausescu’s reign placed utmost importance on the factory and the worker, encouraging families to reproduce, then reproduce some more. There was not enough food, resources or parents to go around. Mr. Rodriguez’s photographs from this period show orphanages as prisons.

“Children were tied to beds, living in the dark,” he said. The black-and-white images have a despondent feel: Orphans cling to fences, their heads shaven, staring out windows, searching.

The work was intended to raise money for NGOs, and did, but the conditions Mr. Rodriguez witnessed in Romania called for more. “You have to understand, I came at a time that was virgin,” he said. Legendary photographers like Inge Morath, Paul Strand and Henri-Cartier Bresson had all worked there, but not since 1975. With access no one else had, Mr. Rodriguez embarked on his quest with no guarantee of publication or financing. “Each time I just saved my little pennies in a box,” he said. “Eventually I had enough and said, ‘O.K., I can afford to go now.’

After exploring orphanages and psychiatric institutions, Mr. Rodriguez turned to the industrial landscape. He found men and women earning pennies working with cadmium and mercury, nuts and bolts—without a thread of protective clothing. The water they drank was dirty, the materials they used outdated, their expressions tired. “Ceausescu was all about work, work, work,” Mr. Rodriguez said. “At one point, those factories were open 365 days a year.”

Around then Mr. Rodriguez was also working on a project documenting the Los Angeles Police Department’s efforts to combat gang violence. It was a tough time, he admitted. He needed a break, and found it in Romania.

“I went out to the countryside and tapped into those pastoral flows,” he said. “I wanted to get a sense of what humanity can be, or at least look like.” Those photographs show a lighter side of Romania, capturing pastures and farmers, smiling, though their postures hint at hesitancy.

“Romanians, in general, are warm people,” Mr. Rodriguez said. “They invite you to stay at their house. Share food. But you must understand, there was a lot of fear in them, too.” At one point in the Ceausescu regime, one in three citizens was a member of the secret police. “They kept a lot of stories in their heart.”

He recalled one photo of two children posing in front of Casa Poporului, the People’s Palace, known today as the Palace of the Parliament. At the time of Ceausescu’s execution it was a nearly completed shrine to the leader and the Communist regime. “That’s years and years of the Romanians’ salary,” Mr. Rodriguez said. “Instead of food and fruits and vegetables, the people got that.”

After his final trip to Romania in 1996, Mr. Rodriguez returned home, proud. “My photographic vision grew stronger with this project,” he said. “It was important for me to open myself up to this other world which wasn’t easy to get to.”

Unfortunately, editors did not share his enthusiasm. While a selection of work was published in an in-flight travel magazine (whose editor was later fired), the majority of the project failed to garner interest and was shelved. Until now.

“My images are sad, but they are important,” said Mr. Rodriguez, content this work will finally be seen. “They are a reminder of what has been; a journey we don’t want to go down again.”

Romanian Who Claimed He Invented World's 1st Jetpack Dies

New York Times
20 January 2015
by The Associated Press

BUCHAREST, Romania—A Romanian inventor who claimed he beat the Americans to make the world's first jetpack and went on to design and build dozens of vehicles, calling the modern-day car "a disgrace," has died aged 81.

The hospital in the southern city of Ploiesti said Justin Capra died Monday evening. The cause of death was not given but Capra had diabetes.

Propelled by poverty and curiosity, Capra began inventing gadgets in childhood, and graduated as an engineer. He crafted unconventional flying machines and dozens of prototypes of fuel-efficient vehicles in his lifetime, including in 2011 a single-seater car that did 470 miles to the gallon (about 200 kilometers to the liter), running on a mixture of gasoline and water. He blamed "social, political, and economic reasons" for his belief that it would never be built on a mass scale.

Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta called him "a great Romanian and inventor known throughout the world for his inventions."

In 1956, under communism, Capra invented the "flying rucksack," a personal flying machine. In 1962, one was produced in the U.S. by Bell Aircraft Corp. "All that was different was the color," Capra insisted in an interview.

There were reports that Capra created the jetpack to escape communist Romania, but he said he had a less ambitious aim, in his time as a conscript in the Romanian army. "I wanted to run away from barracks without the colonel seeing me."

A parachutist tried his invention but crashed. Capra was advised by aviation pioneer Henri Coanda to change the fuel, which he did and came up with an improved version. The same parachutist tried this in 1958 and this time it worked better.

However, under communism, citizens were not allowed to own a flying machine and Capra was unable to patent his invention.

Of automobiles, he said: "They are a disgrace. They weigh 1,000 kilograms (half a ton) and carry people who weigh 60 kilograms (130 pounds).... Of 1 liter of fuel, 980 milliliters shifts the car and 20 milliliters is for us."

He warned with apparent foresight: "Instead of becoming a means of transporting people, (cars) will become a reason for blocking the traffic," because the number of cars exceeds roads being built.

There was no immediate word about funeral plans or survivors.

Romania Reopens Case of Dissident 30 Years After His Death

New York Times
19 January 2015
by The Associated Press

BUCHAREST, Romania—Romanian prosecutors say they will reopen an investigation into the death of a well-known dissident who was killed in prison in 1985 on the orders of the former Securitate secret police.

The prosecutors' office said Monday it would be probing the circumstances of the death of Gheorghe Ursu, who was killed in prison for keeping a diary in which he criticized the regime of former communist leader Nicolae Ceausescu.

His son, Andrei Ursu, went on a hunger strike in October to protest the lack of investigation into his father's death. He ended it after 17 days when he received assurances the case would be reopened.

Critics say Romania has been slow to prosecute those who allegedly committed abuses under Ceausescu because many officials retained their jobs after 1990.

Famous Romanian Castle Welcomes Half a Million Visitors in a Year

Bran Castle

Romania Insider
14 January 2015

Over half a million people visited last year a famous castle in Romania which has been often linked to the myth of Dracula, making it one of the most visited touristic spots in the country.

The Bran Castle in Brasov county, Central Romania, welcomed 540,000 visitors in 2014, more than half of whom were foreigners. The castle saw the number of visitors going up by 9% throughout the year compared to 2013, said Alexandru Prişcu, management representative with the castle.

Events organized in the castle, such as music events, exhibitions or themed events helped it attract more tourists, so the management plans to continue organizing them in 2015.

Bran Castle, now under private ownership, used to be a Romanian patrimony building until 2009, when it was recovered by archduke Dominic de Habsburg and his sisters Maria Magdalena Holzhausen and Elisabeth Sandhofer. They decided to keep it open to the public.

Bran Castle is often associated with the legend of Count Dracula, although the castle has little connection with the historical figure Vlad Tepeş, who is one of the inspirations for the vampire legends. The impressive Medieval castle was built towards the end of the 14th Century by the Brasov Saxons in the same area as an earlier, wooden fortress, which was destroyed in the mid-13th Century by invading Mongols. Bran Castle is at the old frontier between Wallachia and Transylvania and guards a vital route through the mountains. Bran played an important role in the battles between the Ottoman Turks and European kingdoms and principalities throughout the Middle Ages.

Wikipedia 10 January 2015

On this day...

1475 Moldavian–Ottoman Wars: Moldavian forces under Stephen the Great defeated an Ottoman attack led by Hadân Suleiman Pasha, the Beylerbeyi of Rumelia, near Vaslui in present-day Romania.

1940: A Warning to the Soviets

King Carol II of Romania Credit Library of Congress

New York Times
6 January 2015
by International Herald Tribune

BUCHAREST—Speaking today [Jan. 6, 1940] in Chisinau, the main town in Bessarabia at a distance of twenty miles from the Soviet frontier, King Carol virtually defied the Soviet Union to try to attack his kingdom.

“Bessarabia is, was and forever shall be a Roumanian province,” he said. “The unity of the country is the best guaranty that our frontiers will never be invaded.” He was met at Chisinau, a town built by the Russians during their hundred years of domination of Bessarabia, by military and civil authorities and by delegates of Russian, German and Ukrainian minorities living in Bessarabia. All these assured the King they would shed their blood ‘‘to the last drop’’ to guard the Bessarabian frontiers.

New York Herald Tribune, European Edition, Jan. 7, 1940