Tuesday, October 31, 2006

East Valley Tribune: They vant to suck your wallet

They vant to suck your wallet
October 31, 2006

In Transylvania, Dracula is big business. asap looks at the tourism the fictional bloodsucker inspires.

Tour companies call it Dracula's castle, this sentinel built on a mountain pass connecting the flatlands of southern Romania with the hills and forests of Transylvania.But this isn't the bloodsucking vampire that roams at night and sleeps in his coffin by day. There was a real-life Dracula who was in many ways more horrifying.The 15th century ruler Vlad Dracula used mass murder as an instrument of terror to psyche out his enemies, earning the nickname "Vlad the Impaler." His enemies spread a lot of rumors, but not much about him drinking blood. Vampires are the stuff of other Balkan legends.Still, with Halloween approaching, it's high season for lovers of Gothic novels and bloodsucking lust. Romania tourism officials are seizing that fear and fascination and offering visitors who might come looking for Bela Lugosi the 500-year-old historical Dracula instead."We are certain that the legend is a draw, a major motivation to travel to Romania, for an important number of foreign visitors," said Simion Alb, the director of the Romanian Tourist Office in New York. "Halloween is huge in the USA. I believe that as long as there will be Halloween, Dracula, Transylvania and Romania will live in the people's minds."


Dracula tourism has been going on for about 30 years, when a few U.S. tour operators started visiting Romania around Halloween "because their customers wanted to see where Dracula lived and if the legend is still alive," Alb said.The best guess is that the interest in Dracula brings about $50 million a year in tourist spending to Romania, said Alb, whose office is part of the national government.Bran Castle, about 15 miles southwest of the city of Brasov, is nearly 60 rooms of dark timber beams and white plaster. A secret staircase built into the rock wall had an entrance that used to be at the back of a fireplace, said tour guide Matei Simion, 29.So, since it's known as Dracula's castle, Vlad must have lived her, right?Not quite. Vlad was held prisoner here for a couple of months under orders of a more powerful king from neighboring Hungary, according to the castle museum's Web site.But if the castle has so little to do with Vlad, why is it promoted to tourists as "Dracula's castle?""That is the tourist firms' problem. They propose the Dracula tour without involving (us)," Bran Castle's museum director Narcis Dorin Ion said.The thing is, the castles that Vlad built or lived in are ruins. Bran Castle stands as something of a majestic tourist trap for Dracula lovers. It pulls up to 400,000 people a year, making it Romania's second most-visited historic castle, Ion said.The Dracula tourism circuit also includes the house in the Transylvanian city of Sighisoara where Vlad Dracula probably was born (there's a plaque on the house), and a monastery in Snagov, near Bucharest, where Vlad was said to have been buried after he was killed. There is another palace in Bucharest, started while he was ruling the neighboring lowland province of Wallachia.Some tours also hit places mentioned in Bram Stoker's original 1897 novel. Tourists dine at The Golden Crown in Bistrita as the book's hero said he did. Castle Dracula Hotel was built at the mountain pass described as the site of the fictional Count Dracula's castle. Tour operators offer seven days of checking out the real Dracula over Halloween for around $1,000.


Vlad is a hero to Romanians. They said he managed to keep marauding Turks and Hungarians at bay, and his cruel justice brought law and order to a wild land. Some art students still are taught to sculpt his face.He was born in 1431 to a father, also named Vlad, who was admitted into the knightly Order of the Dragon. Wealthy Germans living in Transylvania at the time didn't get along with the father or the son, and they made a play on words by substituting the word for "dragon" with the Romanian word for "devil," or "Dracul." The boy was named "son of the Devil," or "Dracula."Depending on your point of view, Vlad pretty much grew into the name. He adopted the practice of spearing criminals or captured Turks from the enemy Ottoman Empire with long, wooden stakes and then hoisting the wriggling victims into the air. The dead were left that way as an example to others. Stories say Vlad killed thousands by the gruesome method, earning his nickname "The Impaler."Torturing confessions out of suspects and burning people at the stake was also considered normal for those times.So replacing a fictional ghoul with a former ruler who might be seen as a real monster is part of the trick of promoting Dracula tourism, Alb said."We may still be afraid that marketing will change the focus from hero to a simple but famous vampire. We may be afraid of how some will judge us," he said.There may be a limit to Dracula tourism.

Romanian tourism officials announced in 2001 that private investors planned to build an amusement park called Dracula Land outside Sighisoara. The project is still on hold.




October 31, 2006 -- I ARRIVE in Sighisoara, Romania in the middle of the night.
What better time to enter the medieval city where the real Dracula, Vlad the Impaler, was born? A huge white moon hangs over the cobblestone streets and the silent, winding alleyways seem bare without a crowd of peasants carrying torches and clamoring for the death of some monstrous presence was haunting the night.
After checking into my 200-year-old hotel, I find a traditional Romanian wine cellar that's still serving dinner at that late hour. A goblet of blood-red Romanian wine and a plate of rare beef seems an appropriate order, given the setting.
Founded by German craftsmen and merchants known as the Saxons of Transylvania, Sighisoara is one of the most amazingly intact medieval cities in Europe. It was until recently the projected site of a Dracula theme park - which was squelched before it could get on the drawing boards in part by pressure put on the Romanian government by Prince Charles, a patron of the Mihai Eminescu Trust, which renovates medieval houses and churches in the area.
Sighisoara feels like Venice, reshaped by the Transylvanian mountains. As in Venice, there is nothing to distract the traveler from the beauties of the medieval architecture - like the famous 14th century Clock Tower.
Starting from 1899, the Clock Tower has housed the Museum of History, as well as a medieval pharmacy from 1670, artifacts of ethnography, a section of fine arts and, appropriately enough, a collection of clocks.
Walking up the creaking, winding staircase gets you to the top and a fine view of the whole city. As you lean over the parapet and watch Sighisoara's own town crier walk the streets below and call out the time as his ancestors did centuries ago (a conceit for tourists, but it works), you feel that New York is very far away, indeed.
Downstairs, in the dungeon, Sighisoara's centuries of prisoners have etched Count of Monte Cristo-like messages in the stone. "God will give me justice," says one. "I have been here for four months," says another.
And then of course there is the infamous Casa Dracula, the ancient house where Vlad Tepes, the sadistic Transylvanian prince and inspiration for Bram Stoker's "Dracula," was born. The house is now a café and restaurant.
Hokey souvenirs T-shirts, plastic teeth, ale tankards bearing images of a toothy, but benign looking Vlad are for sale just outside.
Somehow the small concessions to Sighisoara's biggest tourist draw don't dissuade you from pulling your collar up over your neck as you walk through its doors.
INFO: romaniatourism.com


Salt Lake Tribune: Transylvania demystified

Transylvania demystified
Fabled region of Romania greets visitors with the cultural and architectural charm of a bygone era
By Julia Lyon The Salt Lake Tribune
Article Last Updated:10/30/2006 11:46:34 AM MST

TRANSYLVANIA, Romania - Blood-sucking men with fangs could be what you expect to pop out of a castle window in Transylvania, but if that's your impression, you haven't been there. A region that most Americans associate with Dracula, Romania's Translyvania is so much more than the big bad guy. Fabulously cosmopolitan cities, ancient ruins and an ethnic mosaic await the intrepid traveler in Transylvania, Romania's most infamous and misunderstood region. "I kind of wanted some fake coffins, but I was disappointed," said a Canadian student after visiting what's reputed to be Dracula's castle. She's not alone. Even I was hoping for some oversized fangs. But Romania hasn't mastered the art of the kitschy souvenir - maybe we should all be grateful. What it has done exceedingly well, particularly in the Transylvania region, is escape major destruction in World War II, droves of tourists and the bulldozer of development. In contrast to western Europe, it seems somewhat preserved in time. Minutes outside a city, men and women in traditional Gypsy dress walk along the road in the late afternoon light, scythes in hand after a long day working the fields. Horses and wagons are clearly the most common form of transportation in the villages, so much so that my brother and I saw a horse pulling a wagon with a car on top of it. Apparently the mechanic wasn't local.

In many regions of Transylvania, almost every village seems to be home to a fortified Saxon church, houses of worship attended by German immigrants who have all but disappeared. Germans originally came to Romania as settlers, stayed and thrived. At their peak, the Germans of Transylvania were wealthier than anybody else in the region, as reflected by their architecture and urban planning. Many of them returned to Germany in the 20th century, and today very little of a German ethnic presence remains. Their churches and decaying hymnals are some of the many reminders of their former prevalence. Many of those buildings are under restoration, and a visit during daytime hours is often welcomed by the villagers along with a small contribution. Some of my most memorable moments from the trip involve wandering down a village road knocking on doors looking for someone to provide the key to a church that was founded as long as 800 years ago. Often my brother and I had no common language with the villager who opened the door to a building where knights may have prayed for salvation.

One day busloads of tourists will wind their way through Transylvania to visit these churches. For now, you scout them out yourself and push open a door to the country's Germanic past. I'm not one who is big on frescos and painted altars - I saw enough of them in Italy to last a lifetime - but there was something different about this kind of discovery. We were more like pioneers. You could also call us mud lovers. In one of the dirtiest, gooiest hikes I've ever done, my brother and I climbed for several hours in the Piatra Craiului mountains literally following a herd of cows (and the flies hovering behind them). Our trek led us to the Cabana Curmatura, a small shelter with food, beer and beds for the weary traveler. What a marvelous European invention. Though just finding the trail involved extensive driving around beat-up roads, the scenery (and, once again, the lack of other tourists) was spectacular. Of all the cities we visited in Transylvania, Sighisoara was by far my favorite. Its old city is exquisitely preserved with nine towers along the city walls, and a climb to visit a 1648 clock provides views that look more Disney than real. Travelers who fell in love with Prague will be awestruck by this place, its Transylvanian cousin. Our stay at the elegant Hotel Sighisoara with views of the clock tower was perhaps our favorite rest stop. And - for all you Dracula lovers - his historical inspiration was born here. While I can't comment on the train system - my brother and I traveled exclusively by car - I have one question for the Romanian government: When's the last time you took a good look at the roads? Pocked with cracks and craters that can slow a driver to a crawl, the highways, particularly those between the less major cities, almost seem like tourist deterrents. That and the fact that pedestrians like to launch themselves out into the middle of the roads makes me shudder even now. Had my brother not spent the past few years perfecting his Eastern European driving skills, I seriously think someone might have gotten hurt.

Infrastructure will inevitably be an issue as Romania prepares to join the European Union in 2007. But the one road that is worth a visit, as long as you have a fearless driver, is a testimony to the hell-bent determination of Nicolae Ceausescu. Called the highest paved road in the country, it's what a dictator builds if he wants to blast a two-lane road with barely any shoulder straight up a mountain past a glacial lake. Drive the Transfagarasan road and you'll see skiers in June. Romania is a country on the verge of American tourism. A guidebook I had for Croatia once told travelers to come and "beat the crowds." The same is true for Romania. Prague is old news. Transylvania should be your next stop.
--- * JULIA LYON can be contacted at jlyon@sltrib.com or 801-257-8748. Send comments about this story to livingeditor@sltrib.com.
Romania: Rich in contrasts
* WHY GO? The country is refreshingly undiscovered by Americans. Expect little English and lots of shock by locals that you've come so far. A thriving rural, Gypsy culture contrasted by cosmopolitan twentysomethings in J-Lo sunglasses shows it is a country rich in contrasts and on the verge of change. You can explore medieval citadels, meet sheepherders and buy cheese by the road all in one day.
* HOW TO GET THERE: A flight this summer cost nearly $1,500 from Salt Lake City but winter tickets are less expensive. A search online found most tickets in late January ranging from $800 to $1,000.
* WHAT IT WILL COST: Many three-star hotels were in the $80 range for two people. In contrast, food was on the cheaper side. We rented a car for about eight days at an online rate of nearly $500, not including the price of gas.
* NOT TO MISS: Sighisoara (Prague's Transylvanian cousin), crumbling German churches in Transylvanian villages and a Ciuc beer at a cabana in the Piatra Craiului mountains.
* WHERE TO EAT: Food rarely stood out during my week of traveling in Transylvania. One exception was fare at the more traditional restaurants. My favorite was sarmale, cabbage leaves surrounding a mix of meat, rice and spices. Delicious.
* WEATHER: June in Transylvania was typically in the 70s and fairly humid.
* MORE INFORMATION: Check out http://www.romaniatourism.com/


Monday, October 30, 2006

The Daily Journal: Student returns from Transylvania changed

Student returns from Transylvania changed

Impale Dracula's heart. That's how you kill him. Everybody knows that.
But when Bram Stoker made Transylvania the setting for history's most creative literary execution, he didn't know 24-year-old literature student Bethany Benoche would have her own heart pricked on a pilgrimage to that land.
She returned last month to Bourbonnais from a nine-month Study Abroad program in the epicenter of the Transylvanic region: Sighisoara (sig-e-shwar-ah), Romania. Language and history courses may have been the primary plan, but it was social service -- showing gypsy women how to read, assisting children in an after-school day care -- that wrought unexpected change.
"I went there thinking America sucks because we're so closed off from the world," Benoche said. "But I realized I like the mindset of America. Our optimism. A confidence."
Modern Romania isn't so self-assured. About 400 years of suppression and surveillance by the Greeks, Turks and Soviets will do that to you. And 50 years under Stalin's Romanian front man, Ceasesca, still leaves a dark shadow on the people, a national inferiority complex, even though he was executed without trial in the 1989 "December Revolution" against communist rule.
"It's like they have a communism hangover," she said. "They never had confidence to be independent, to rule themselves."

Infant democracies are always haunted for a while. One of three were informants under Communism, so "it's a national paranoia, with all sorts of white collar corruption. They're a democracy without morality. Everyone expects bribes. Tutors. Doctors. Nobody studies for college exams because they can give bribes to get in."
In fact, records from the European Economic Union (EEU) reveal rampant corruption barred Romania from membership since the original application in 1995. And while the EEU finally opened its doors on Oct. 17, a monitoring report threatens sanctions like bans on food exports if corruption is not controlled.
Benoche saw goods smuggled into the country from Istanbul, bus riders and drivers alike. And while she felt the streets were safe, the imprint of post-communist Romania marked even her.
"I found I'm not as independent and secure as I thought."
But her courage is necessary, so far as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is concerned. The same month Benoche departed for Romania, Rice stood in the Benjamin Franklin Room of the White House to tell a summit of U.S. university presidents that international education is tantamount to diplomacy in a global village.
"Today, every American studying abroad is an ambassador for our nation, an individual who represents the true nature of our people." As countries "struggle to embrace democratic reform, American students must be at the forefront of our engagement, ... preparing to understand the peoples who will help define the 21st century."
Rice illustrated through an encounter with a Romanian woman from Timishoara who suffered under Ceasesca.
"I told her about my experience in losing a little classmate in the church that was bombed at 16th Street (in Birmingham, Ala.) in September of 1963, and I suddenly realized that across this vast divide there was a common experience that brought us together."
Little wonder Congress passed Resolution 308 to designate 2006 as the "Year of Study Abroad." The measure affirms that Study Abroad can "create goodwill" for U.S. interests around the world. And President Bush launched the National Security Language Intiative in support of international communion.
Meanwhile, Transylvania locals are unsure whether they want Western ways. For example, citizens fought plans by aspiring capitalists to exploit Drac's legend, pandering to tourists, with a Vampire University theme park, outfitted with blood colored cotton candy and spooky forests.
"They didn't want (the theme park)," Benoche said, "but you still see blue jeans and cell phones in the younger generation, even while their parents are peasants. ... They're trying to find their own identity."
And so is Benoche. Travel does that to a person. But you don't have to ask her to find out. Just look in her closet. A gypsy outfit and carpet purse tell the story.
Dr. Gregg Chenoweth is a communications professor at Olivet Nazarene University. He can be reached at One University Avenue, Bourbonnais, IL 60914.


TIME Europe: Want to Build a Team? Try Building a House

Want to Build a Team? Try Building a House
Businesses and charity find common ground on a Romanian construction site
By JESSICA CARSEN / CLUJ-NAPOCATuesday, Sep. 26, 2006

Along a rundown track on the outskirts of Cluj-Napoca, a small city in rural Transylvania, a construction site teems with laborers sawing wood, hammering nails and measuring angles. The tools are basic and the building plans simple, but the workers are not what you might expect; it's a band of executives hailing from corporate heavies Whirlpool and Ikea, who've traveled to Romania from Italy and Sweden.

The well-heeled workforce comes courtesy of Habitat for Humanity, a 30-year-old American-based charity that recruits volunteers to address the problem of poor housing in close to 100 countries. Initially, Habitat assigned volunteers to build simple housing in hard-up places. It issued inhabitants no-profit loans and mortgages and didn't try to build up cash reserves. But lately, it has teamed up with multinationals seeking Corporate Social Responsibility credentials, who send their employees and also pay for the privilege — which has allowed Habitat to expand its programs significantly. Between 25-40% of Habitat volunteers now come this way. In Cluj, the companies insist they're not in it for p.r. points alone: they view it as a tough bonding session with concrete business returns. "This is team building with meaning," says Ian Railton, Italy-based head of Whirlpool's Ikea account team.

The 14 people sweating it out in the Romanian sun certainly share an incentive to work well together. Normally, these designers, project managers, salesmen and marketers manage a multimillion-dollar relationship between Ikea and Whirlpool, the retail chain's exclusive supplier of kitchen appliances. Such strategic partnerships require cohesion, but there is a limit to how much colleagues can bond by e-mail or phone. So now, for three days, they are donning hard hats and tool belts, and building wooden wall frames for some of the 26 houses Habitat is constructing in Cluj. One will go to the Parauan family: five people who now live in one tiny room of a dank, Ceausescu-era tower block, which the executives visit for a stark reality check. Whoops of delight rise up when the first frames are hauled into place and a house starts to take shape. "Sometimes I feel like I've sold my soul, working for a multinational," says Katerina Pette, 30, who moved from Greece to manage the Ikea inventory for Whirlpool. "But when the company gives you opportunities like this, it's like you make penitence in the end ... it helps me realize that what I do can have an impact."

Hubert Kaltenegger, 31, an energetic German product manager, agrees. "If you've been working for five years you think, is this it? You've got your car, your apartment, you can buy nice T shirts, but there's a need to create some value." The "virtual" dimension of work in an IT-dominated society also leaves him wanting more. "You transform data into a really good Excel spreadsheet for the next chain in the process, but what do you actually make? There's nothing like the satisfaction of doing something practical, with a physical result."

If it sounds like the corporate world has a spiritual yearning, it's also true that the nonprofit world feels the need to increase its marketing savvy. Earlier this year, Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO), another charity that focuses on professional volunteers, broke with its 48-year history by offering short-term placements — from two weeks to six months — rather than the standard two-year commitment. These moves are necessary to attract managers with big hearts but significant time constraints. "It's not a question of whether we wanted to professionalize or not," says Willo Brock, director of Habitat's Europe and Central Asia office and a former management consultant, "but like any sector with a lot of competition, if we didn't give these people a good experience then next year they'd sign up with VSO."

Back home in the luxury of Western Europe, volunteers have been encouraged to post their thoughts on the company intranet. According to Aart Roos, the response has been overwhelming. "Corporate Social Responsibility will never be successful unless there's an emotional commitment from the bottom up," says Roos, the most senior Whirlpool manager on the build. "And who doesn't get touched by this?"


Sunday, October 29, 2006

Nine O'Clock: President of National Szeklars’ Council resigned

President of National Szeklars’ Council resigned

Csapo Joszef did not motivate his decision. CNS affirms that they would continue the fight for autonomy and they ask for local referendums to be initiated.
published in issue 3798 page 5 at 2006-10-30

Sfantu Gheorghe – The president of National Szeklars’ Council, Csapo Joszef (photo), resigned from the office of Council leader, without motivating his gesture. CNS vice president, Ferencz Csaba, declared that the participants in CNS Standing Commission, convened in session on Saturday in Sfantu Gheorghe, learned about this decision and Josezf will exert his prerogatives as leader until the Standing Delegation is convened. The group vice president, Ferencz Csaba, affirmed that the meeting of the Szeklars was scheduled for November 4 and the initiation of the referendum for autonomy would be postponed. National Szeklars’ Council was set up in September 2003 in Sfantu Gheorghe municipal with one purpose, to gain the territorial autonomy of the Szeklars’ Land.The Standing Commission of National Szeklars’ Council has decided that his resignation would not impact on the fight for gaining the territorial autonomy of the Szeklars Land. CNS will continue the steps in keeping with the decision from October 7, to conduct negotiations with the boards of UDMR, National Council of Hungarians from Transylvania (CNMT) and Hungarian Civic Union (UCM), and with the representatives of the Hungarian civic and historic churches organisations in relation to the autonomy and referendum. On the other side, CNS has asked all local and county authorities from the Szeklars Land to initiate the organisation of local referendums for autonomy.“We have clear signals at local level about the cooperation between CNS and UDMR in this respect, we hope that these will materialise”, according to CNS vice president Tulit Attila. We remind that UDMR leader, Marko Bela, made several statements in favour of autonomy but not in support of organising referendums. but newspaper “Ziua” published an article this Saturday showing that the leader of Covasna County Council has been mandated by UDMR to undertake all legal steps for establishing the “Union for the Szeklar Land”. The newspaper believes that UDMR intends to set up a so-called autonomy, based on ethnical criteria in Szeklars’ Land, as well as to have Hungarian language declared as an official language in the area. In order to accomplish this, UDMR concluded an agreement with its past political enemies, National Szeklars’ Council and Hungarian Civic Union. In spite of affirming that the action to set up the Union for the Szeklars’ Land is something that has a legal foundation, the project is meant to produce changes in the Romanian legislation, in the Constitution and in some European norms.
by Adriana Vaida


The New Era Journal: “Was The Army Really With Us?” What can we learn from the Romanian revolution

“Was The Army Really With Us?”What can we learn from the Romanian revolution

What's in the name?
Giving a name to something or somebody reflects the idea of the name-giver. This is certainly the case vis-à-vis a political party, civil groups, and also NGOs. Particularly interesting cases can be found in a temporary established group that is formed to overthrow an authority that is in power – such groups often change their name or title several times as they gain more power. This is done to gain acceptance of the masses, or to manipulate them, or sometimes to hide a secret or two about themselves. The Burmese junta changed their name from the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) t o the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), with the help of an American advertising agency in 1997, to “clean up” the bloody image associated with the events of 1988 and their poor human-rights record that followed. Their attitude, however, did not change.

In this article, I take an example of “National Salvation Front (FSN --- Frontul Salvarii Nationale) ” of Romania . This interim government was created (or so they claim) during the Romanian revolution in December 1989, in order to “save the country from dictatorship” and to create a “democratic state”. After the revolution they changed the name to the Provisional National Unity Council (CPUN --- Consiliul Provizoriu de Uniune Naţională). Later i t split into two groups, one group, who left FSN, created Democratic National Salvation Front (FDSN) that then changed to Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR), and then to Social Democratic Party (PSD). Those who remained in FSN changed its name to Democratic Party - National Salvation Front (PD-FSN), before shortening its name to Democratic Party (PD)1.

The Romanian revolution was initially a people's uprising against the dictator Nikolai Ceausescu. The popular scenario then was that citizens convinced the army to be on their side, and together they succeeded and fought against Ceausescu loyalists and the Securitate (most feared state secret police that had a vast network to monitor every move of the citizens) force for days until Ceausescu was caught and executed. During the revolution people from different sectors who considered themselves the “right people to govern”, got together and set up an interim governing body and named themselves National Salvation Front. Its main figure was Ion Iliescu, who became the leader of FSN and the first President of Romania after the fall of Ceausescu.
In one of the numerous video cameras that were filming the chaotic revolutionary scenes, the following conversation among different FSN members during their meeting was caught on video. The meetings were held to discuss the official setting up of FSN and the interim government.
One member: Mr. Iliescu, “salvation” is no good. It sounds like a coup d'etat. “National Democracy” is better.
Iliescu: “Democracy” was used before.
Other member: How about “People's Unified Front…?”
Army general: But “National Salvation Front” has existed for 6 months now.
This scene captures one of the characteristics of this revolution, that is, the revolution was in fact a planned coup d'etat by people inside the communist party and the army, and not the people's victory of overthrowing the dictatorship and stepping towards democracy.
The same camera went on to capture more scenes of more meetings. One meeting was led by Iliescu and involved Petre Roman, who became Prime Minister, the army generals and others. Says Iliescu, telling them what is necessary for FSN to run the country and earn the trust of the citizens, “We need to maintain basic supplies. Energy supplies. Food supplies, and public transportation.”
In another place, a camera was filming another FSN founder, Dumitru Mazilu, who was leading a group of excited citizens who were eager to participate in the new democratic- country-making process:
Mazilu: First, one party system must be abolished and a pluralistic structure must be introduced.
Mazilu: …And election must take place as soon as possible.
Citizens: February? March? April?
Mazilu: No, not March, that is the month the tyrant was always using for his election.
Mazilu: …..And separation of powers, that is also important!
Mazilu: And, oh yes, today, we must proclaim our name “ Romania ”, not “ Socialist Republic of…” Just “ Romania ”! The factories must be ready for a new flag within 5 days!”
Citizens: Waoooo! Yeahh!
A new “democratic” country was formed in this instant way, in chaos and with incredible speed.
The Romanian Revolution – the first version
Now let's take a look at the revolution from the beginning.
Romania , at that time, was an extremely impoverished country governed by the dictator Ceausescu who was pilfering the wealth of this Balkan country and its people for his own personal benefit and for his family and cronies. People were rationed tiny portions of food and other necessities, while women were forced to give birth to many children to build his state. This resulted in a large population of orphans that were abandoned because the families could not afford to feed them. Ceausescu destroyed one third of the capital Bucharest , in order to build his palace (“People's Palace”, which is the second largest building in the world after the Pentagon), the boulevard, and luxurious mansions for his associates. He also destroyed and forced villagers to relocate to high-rise apartments under the name of modernization. He built up his personal cult status via various propaganda means, one of which was to monopolize media only for propaganda reasons. As a result TV broadcasting in Romania was restricted to 2 hours a day and almost every program was to praise him, his wife Elena and their achievements. Romanian people not only suffered a shortage of basic food and other daily necessities but also of information. (There is a tale of Romanians in Transylvania who were so hungry for information that they built self-made parabola antennas to catch neighboring Hungarian TV. Another legendary tale states that when Caucescu was later captured, the first question that was directed towards him by his captors was not about the shortage of food but about why he allowed TV broadcasting only for 2 hours per day.)
The revolution broke out in the Transylvanian city of Timisoara on December 16, 1989. Many citizens got angry when they heard that the securitate abducted Laszlo Toekes, a Hungarian pastor who was critical of the government. The protest became a much bigger demonstration but on that day it was brutally suppressed by the securitate forces and the army.
Sensing the unusual closure of the Romanian border with Hungary , the news agencies started to gather news and related stories. The report of the massacre in Timisoara were spread by Radio Free Europe and other free media and the world began to realize that something unusual was happening in the Stalinist state. Ceausescu went to Iran for a state visit for a few days and after he returned he learnt that the situation had become worse for him. So he decided to stage a mass assembly in Bucharest to address the citizens to “unite” the country. Ceausescu regularly held a mass assembly to which workers from various offices were compelled to attend. Usually 3000 or so were placed in the front rows to cheer Ceausescu and applaud his speeches. On Dec.21, the assembly looked the same as usual in the beginning. While he was self-praising the success of his socialist state and promising the workers to raise their salary by 200 Lei (then about US$ 8) from the balcony of the Central Committee building, his speech was disrupted by somebody in the crowd who started shouting against him. This soon became unruly with more joining in and he and his wife Elena tried to calm them down, but to no avail. This led them to retreat indoors to hide in building. His speech was being broadcast live for propaganda reasons and at this moment the broadcast was abruptly cut, people who were watching TV only saw the color red on their screens. The citizens immediately knew that something unusual was happening. The crowd on that day, however, was shot at and bulldozed by tanks.
Next morning, on Dec.22, Ceausescu declared martial law and gatherings of more than 5 people were banned. And in the next hours TV news announced the death of the Minister of Defense, Vasile Milea, calling him a traitor. During Ceausescu's time, the securitate and USLA (Unite Speciala pentru Lupta Antiterorista – anti-terrorist special squad) were much more privileged and the army was rather sidelined. The rift between the army and Ceausescu had been rumored for some time and as a result, Milea was relatively popular among people. The mysterious death of Milea captured the imagination of people who thought that he had died refusing the order of Ceausescu to fire upon people (it had been said that the army had already changed sides and was with the people during the Timisoara uprising). Ignoring the martial law people went out into the streets, this time with much anger. In front of the Central Committee Building more than 100,000 people shouted for the downfall of Ceausescu, the dictator. Ceausescu tried to address them again, screaming that “Unity is the most important now”, only to realize that he couldn't control the crowd anymore. Shortly afterwards the crowd in the square saw a helicopter carrying Ceausescu and Elena flying away from the top of the Central Committee building. The crowd jeered at the helicopter but were in a victorious mood, singing and shouting “Oh re oh re oh re, Ceausescu, no more!” They then stormed into the building to tear up papers and books, destroy paintings and murals of the Ceausescu couple, and the luxurious furniture. People held and waved Romanian flags with the socialist symbol in the center cut out. At that time people had already known that the army had switched to their side, and that the army support was crucial to their victory. Their motto, “Army is With Us!” “Army is On Our Side!” became the most popular phrases during the revolution.
When one group of people headed towards the Central Committee Building , another, including the prominent dissident poet Mircea Dinescu who was just freed from house arrest, headed towards the TV station. They negotiated with the TV director and occupied the TV studio, and started to broadcast the revolution live. This made this revolution the first televised revolution in history.
Revolution on TV
The TV studio had an incredible atmosphere. Nobody, no citizen had ever had access to TV broadcasting so everybody in the studio was nervous. They said to each other, millions of people would watch them. Ion Caramitru, a dissident actor, and Dinescu made the first announcement. “We are all exhausted, excited, nervous…. Today, finally we won freedom. God is with us. Army is with us. Securitate, please surrender. We won… we won!!!!”
After the first announcement every citizen in every sector of the society, from pastors to farmers, rushed to the studio to say something. Everybody wanted to be on TV, wanted to play a part, wanted to take part, and wanted to address the people. Some, including the TV newscaster that served Ceausescu, apologized for lying to people for so long. The army general called upon all the army to go back to their barracks and not to shoot at citizens under any circumstances. The army and the police came into the studio time to time to assure the safety of the TV studio that was still under attack. The National Salvation Front declared their government from the studio. Live broadcast was also used to relay various warnings and announcement: “Don't drink water from the taps as it is rumored that the securitate put poison into the reservoir” “The dictator ran away with a red Dacia car bearing the license number….. please watch carefully and find this car”. Also, one of the highlights was the captured securitate and Ceausescu loyalists, who were brought into the studio to be humiliated and to publicly pronounce the advantages of being on the citizens' side. One of the prominent “criminals” that was brought in front of the camera was Nicu Ceausescu, the much hated playboy son of Ceausescu.
“This is Nicu, without any doubt. He confessed that he took children hostage….”
Nicu: “That's not true”
Meanwhile, on the streets, so called “terrorists” that were said to consist of securitate forces, USLA and other Ceausescu loyalists started a fierce battle with the citizens' militia. Snipers fired gunshots from different buildings and randomly shot people. They were extremely feared as there was a rumor that Ceausescu had build a vast underground network of bunkers and corridors (the same rumor about Sadam's underground network that was feared years later), and that only the secruitate and USLA knew the layout and could make an effective use of it.
The battle went on for days. Meanwhile, moral and material support from all over the world started to arrive. The whole world was watching the bloodiest revolution in Eastern Europe , and it was during the Christmas holidays.
On Dec. 25, there was an announcement of the trial of Nikolai and Elena Ceausescu by an ad hoc military court. They were sentenced to death on five accounts:
• Genocide (of possibly more than 60,000 people)
• Armed attack on people and the state power
• Destruction of buildings and state institutions
• Undermining of the national economy
• Embezzling (of more than 100milion Lei) from the state treasury and depositing it in foreign banks
The next day a short video footage of the trial was broadcast with still images of the dead bodies of the couple after they were executed on the spot. The image was broadcast repeatedly throughout the day mainly to demoralize the still-fighting Ceausescu force. People all shouted “bravo!” “He is gone!”. The whole country was in jubilation.
Romanian Revolution – the second version
…… So far, this is the version of the event that the whole world was shown, told and believed. However, as events unfolded later on it was clear that this was not what was really happening. Within only one year Romanian citizens came to learn that what had been believed as a popular uprising was in fact a coup d'etat against Ceausescu, possibly by a handful of KGB backed communist faction members (earlier in November, Mikhail Gorbachev asked Ceausescu to resign and Ceausescu refused), and dissatisfied army officers that had been sidelined by Ceausescu. Citizens were thus most likely used by these powers-to-be not only as a human shield, but also to legitimatize the coup. And what was most likely was that what was believed to be a spontaneous action was actually a planned and scripted event. Ion Iliescu had been already selected as a successor of Ceausescu some time ago. FSN, despite their promise that theirs was only an interim government and the group will be disbanded after the revolutionary period, stayed on in power as a political party – they merely changed the name to the Provisional National Unity Council that would run the country until the first election in 1990; it then split into two parties.
There was also something not transparent about the assets seized from Ceausescu --- something possibly disappeared onto the pockets of some people in the “interim government” and people who backed or created it. People learnt all these in an extremely traumatic way when Iliescu, a newly appointed President of Romania used miners from rural area to attack demonstrators just one year after the revolution, when people rallied against the decision of FSN to contest in the national election, breaking their promise. The demonstrators were hit mercilessly by miners and 100 or 200 were killed in this way (official figure was 5), and about 5000 injured. They trashed Bucharest University , museums, and opposition party offices. Iliescu thanked the minors afterwards for doing a good job. People then realized that they had only helped raise Iliescu's power and he cared nothing about human right, and that he had sacrificed so many of their lives (officially the Romanian revolution killed about 1100 people and wounded about 3350 people).
More and more accounts came to light. In the early days of the event in Timisoara , the world was shown horribly mutilated dead corpses and being told that these were the victims of the massacre by Cauasescu's securitate force. The world was outraged and showed solidarity and support to the citizen's militia as well as NSF. The corpses, now known as “ Timisoara corpses”, turned out to be not of the victims of massacre but they were dug up from a normal cemetery and “staged”2. Meanwhile, Ceausescu was persuaded by his “advisors” to visit Iran , and the same “advisors” persuaded him to hold a mass assembly. At the assembly site, automatic machine guns were set up to shoot upon people, only to create a panic among them and to start a revolt against Ceausescu. The same “advisors” also advised Ceausescu to flee in the helicopter and to go somewhere (probably they also told him where to go). Another thing people came to realize was that, the group that was labeled “terrorists” might have been not from Ceausescu's side. This was an invisible “enemy” that was produced to create fear among people and drive them to support the army and NSF. Many things remain a mystery. When the coup was planned (it may have been planned as early as 1982), then why was Milea killed? Why was the trial of Ceausescu conducted in such hurry? And why the couple had to be executed right away? Also, why was the whole tape of the trial and execution not broadcast at the time? (The whole trial was broadcast only 4 months later after the French TF1 had bought a pirate copy of the trial from an unknown person and broadcast it)
Video Mystery
After the revolution, I, together with my media researcher colleagues in Romania and in Hungary started to collect video materials. The more we collected, we realised that rather than these materials help solve some of the mysteries, on the contrary they made the mystery deepen further! First of all we didn't know why so many cameras were available all of a sudden in this impoverished country where people had almost nothing. Secondly, why only certain cameras had access to sensitive places. And the third problem was to do with manipulative camera eyes. Generally, views and knowledge of a cameraman and a director reflect in the footage and shots of any documentary film. It was the same for all the videos that were made during the Romanian revolution. But now it seemed that some of the cameramen knew who was who in the chaos, and who was about to play which role, and that complicated the situation even more in terms of seeing the relations of the “actors”.
These videos also created an unexpected effect. A French forensic expert of criminology who watched a video of the dead bodies of the Ceausescu couple concluded that the execution had been faked, because the degree of blood coagulation visible on the couple's corpses proved they were already dead several hours before the video was shot; yet another mystery.
Hypothesis of Hypocrisy
An American video maker Steve Fagin, who produced a film about the Philippine revolution entitled, “The Machine That Killed Bad People”, compared the Philippine revolution and the Romanian revolution. To him, although numerous behind-the-scenes deals were being made during the Philippine revolution like any other revolutions, bad people and good people and the motives of good and bad, were much clearer. Whereas in the case of the Romanian revolution, “Everyone wore two or three faces, making it easily the most hypocritical revolution ever.”3
Hypocrisy is the product of certain moral criteria. Yet what manner of duplicity could prevail under such extreme circumstances, as in a revolution, that instantaneously overturns all values -- a prisoner becomes a president, a head of the state gets executed, an enemy becomes a friend, a friend becomes an enemy, a communist becomes a capitalist, a system that you've believed to be paradise is trashed as no-value, and all this within minutes? How far can the criteria of hypocrisy apply? Or even, does somebody create an event only for the purpose of turning a hypocrite into a non-hypocrite? This is an extremely difficult moment for a moral crusader to accept.
Hypocrisy, hypokrisis in Greek, is an important notion of Greek theater. It means the act of playing a part on stage. The definition of hypocrisy now according to Webster is: feigning to be what one is not or to believe what one does not. Rhyme Zone adds one more definition: an expression of agreement that is not supported by real conviction. In the case of the Romanian revolution, an author of a play pretended not to be the author, and actors who played in this play played many different roles, switching them all the time. And what is the effect of this? In a society where a play of which the real author is unknown is repeated many times in history, people start to think that there must be someone up in the sky and he/she must be writing a play. This becomes religion. This is one of the reasons why, after the collapse of Soviet Union , in much of the former Eastern bloc countries and in the Balkans where the political situation is unstable, religion has sprung up. Politically, people become inactive – what's the difference if somebody up in the sky is always going to write the play? People start to believe that they only have to play a given role.
Post Revolutionary affect
During the revolution, at the Romanian TV station, there was a director who was directing the revolutionary live program. She was a young lady who normally had worked for a literature program. She was dragged in to “direct” the revolutionary program as somebody calm and rational yet decisive was needed for this tough job. I met her just after the coup. Fresh from her one-in-a-life-time experience, she was still excited and optimistic. She said that people immediately started to walk towards the TV station because they were educated in this way; they had been taught at schools that if some extraordinary political event happens they must defend the TV station first. To my question of what was the most difficult thing when directing the “revolutionary program”, she said, “ to maintain basic technical means, because electric power supply was unreliable and our old equipment was unreliable. So we had to work with a constant worry that some minor technical problem would always cut off our program.” As to directing people, she said she had to treat everybody equally, no matter who it was – an army general, a bishop, a peasant, a teacher or a prisoner – as everybody at the TV studio had equally no experience on TV. Perhaps this was a precious tiny moment in Romanian history when people had a true democracy.
After many years, in 1997, I met her again. I was surprised at how she looked - she had aged, her hair had turned gray, and she looked exhausted. She told me how life had been difficult for her during Iliescu's time, much worse than during the Ceausescu time, because so many of her colleagues at the Romanian TV station had died in mysterious circumstances 4. She had to live in fear of her life for many years. In 1996 people voted for the first democratic President in the history, Emil Constantinescu. She said, “now it is a bit better, and I hope it becomes better.”
The unsolved revolution, like a ghost, haunted the country with little democracy. Or, the fact that people had never been used to media, and had lived for a long time without access to information, they were overpowered by a small number of people who had all the know-how to manipulate media. Impatient with Constantinescu's economic reforms during his 4-year term, and under the influence of Iliescu's efficient propaganda system, people voted for Iliescu again, and again 5. As a result of this, Romanian people have had to bear a humiliating portrait of themselves as an uninformed and uneducated simple “mass”, as thought of by other European countries. They are still not accepted as a member of the European Union, and just recently they were given unprecedented humiliating conditions to meet if they want to be admitted as a member in 2008.
Today, no Romanian calls the 1989 event a “revolution”. As the group that took the power from the dictator acquired slicker and slicker name, the event that was supposed to be a people's event has lost its name. Some people call it a “so-called revolution”, and some people cynically call it “that coup”. To get out of this cynical trend, Romanian people need to get access to all the documents concerning the “revolution”, and must be properly informed about the event -- most of all, they should know who really wrote the play. And when people can fully participate in the writing of the next chapter, only then people will feel the first steps of democracy. Life may be a big play, yet it makes full sense only if you are the real author of it.■
1. The group that left FSN was lead by Iliescu and the other faction, led by Petre Roman, remained in FSN
2. For many philosophers and media theoreticians, this “ Timisoara corps” became the defining moment in media history. Paul Virilio calls it “this biggest TV manipulation in our land”, whereas Jean Baudrillard stated that after the Tmisoara corps affair, “Never again will we be able to look at a television picture in good faith.” Giorgio Agamben describes the Timisoara corps “the Aushwitz of the age of the spectacle: and in the same way in which it has been said that after Aushwitz it is impossible to write and think as before, it will no longer be possible to watch television in the same way.”
3. Another characteristic difference between the two revolution is, in the case of the Philippine Revolution, the urban lines of attack and defense were well demarcated – revolutionary forces this side, Marcos army that side. Whereas in Romania , allies and foes were scattered between isolated points of combat.
4. Besides the mysterious death of the defense minister Milea at the beginning of the revolution, more mysterious deaths occurred as the revolution continued; notably the death of the doctor who examined Ceausescu before the trial and after the execution.
5. Iliescu was elected as the President of Romania for three times – in 1990, 1992 and 2000. He served as the President for total 11 years.


News.com.au: 2007's wildest destinations

2007's wildest destinations
October 28, 2006 11:00pm

MANY tourists want little more than to spend their holiday sitting on a beach. But why not get off the beaten track and explore places that are a bit more remote and sometimes even a little risky?
Travelling off the map will do wonderful things for your understanding of the planet and its diverse cultures.
It can also do wonderful things for the communities you visit, by spreading some wealth where it can help most.
So where can you find that unique combination of experiences that make travel so memorable? This week, travel publisher Lonely Planet releases the next edition of its Bluelist, a travel compendium of things to do and places to go in 2007.
Their top picks for the year ahead include:

WITH mind-bending natural wonders, UNESCO World Heritage sites and frighteningly quick urban development, the only thing holding Romania back since Ceausescu's demise has been the country itself.
Its anticipated 2007 entry into the EU has been the catalyst for the fastest-developing tourism infrastructure in Europe. Yet peasant life thrives.
Indulge in Timisoara's friendly nightlife, then tour Maramures by horse-drawn cart and in between hike in the mountains and visit castles that have been immortalised in fiction.
Life-changing experience: Creeping through the Danube Delta's backwaters in a rowboat, fishing lines out.


Friday, October 27, 2006

Dzeno Association: Young ethnic Romas ask for state univerzity in mother tongue

Young ethnic Romas ask for state univerzity in mother tongue
20. 10. 2006

Cluj-Napoca - Various ethnic Roma youngsters' lit candles Tuesday, October 17, in Matei Corvin piazza, the position of the candles accounting for the word "Bolyai-Egyetemet (Bolyai University)".
They ask for the setting up of a state university in ethnic Hungarian language and for the financing from Romania's state budget of ethnic Hungarian private universities Sapientia and Partium."Ethnic Hungarians in Romania are the only numerous ethnic group in Europe that has not established an academic education. Babes-Bolyai university is not subject to multiculturalism because the education in ethnic Hungarian tongue has no financial autonomy and cannot be efficiently organized. We pay the taxes of Romania and we think we are entitled to a state university in ethnic Hungarian," said Cristina Sandor, president with the Hungarian Youngsters' Council in Romania. The multi-cultural university Babes-Bolyai, or UBB, was set up in Cluj, central Transylvania, with departments in ethnic Hungarian, German, Hebrew. Many ethnic Hungarians ask for UBB split-up and for the setting up of an exclusively ethnic Hungarian university, namely Bolyai, financed from Romania's state budget.Ethnic Hungarians ask the private universities Sapientia in Cluj-Napoca and Partium in Oradea receive financing from Romania's budget.
(Divers Bulletin)


Thursday, October 26, 2006


-- No werewolves here By EMERY P. DALESIO

CLUJ-NAPOCA, Romania — It's the end of October, and I'm in Transylvania, the Holy Land of Halloween. The epicenter of spookiness.
Nah. What passes for scary in this region of Romania is traffic. I wish I had a string of garlic to keep away the speeding vehicles that are supposed to come to a dead stop when you set foot into a marked crosswalk.

While you might see a horse-drawn hearse clip-clopping down a boulevard in this university town of more than 300,000 people, people here pay little attention to Halloween -- a holiday nowhere more popular than in the United States.
The end of October means simply that it's been about a month since the city has swelled with about 100,000 students attending colleges of medicine, veterinary, pharmacy, engineering, liberal arts, and more. It's been about a month to settle into new apartments and find the groove of a city more interested in fashion statements than Frankenstein's monster.
While the Romanian tourist board tries to encourage visits to the countryside by Dracula-lovers with dollars, a night out in this city is wild mostly for customers at the scores of discos and bars.

Similar to how the fan bases of rap and country don't tend to mix in the United States, Romania has its own cultural divide -- between people who like the music called "manele" and those who don't.
The rift is apparent on opposite sides of one street in Cluj.
On one side is Club Obsession (Strada Republicii 109). It's in the fancy new Sigma Shopping Center, which actually has parking -- nonexistent in most of this old town. Admission is 20 lei (about $7.25), and a round of two Jim Beams on the rocks and a bottle of Tuborg beer comes to 35 lei ($12.75). That's steep considering many university students pay 200 lei a month in rent and sleep four to a bedroom.
Transylvanian yuppies reserve low tables and glossy red sofas at Obsession by prepaying part of their expected tab. Every table is reserved. There's a remarkable number of tall, thin women. In fact, no one here appears even a tad chunky.
The club hires local university drama students to mime for the amusement of early arrivals, but the party starts at midnight with go-go dancers wearing bikinis and fishnet stockings writhing on pedestals.
Lasers are flashing. On flat-panel televisions, the club's logo vibrates with the beat that's so strong it tingles your soles and makes your hair bounce.
Now, walk out of Obsession, past the waiting taxis, to the other side of Republicii street. The sidewalk and the street are dug up like so many in this city almost 17 years after the Communist regime was driven out.
There's music coming out of the second floor of an aged concrete building. A wooden wagon wheel is enmeshed in the fencing outside the Country Pub.
"This is the kind of place were a fight can break out," warns Alexandru Cristorian, 25, my guide for the evening
You walk through swinging saloon doors, and a DJ is playing manele, a music that crosses Gypsy rhythms that have a Turkish or North African beat with lyrics about having the better bling, finer women, and more terrible enemies.
The music has been popular for more than a decade in rural and poor urban neighborhoods, but it's spurned by intellectuals and only now appears to be breaking into the country's musical mainstream.
There's no cover charge. The no-nonsense barkeep dishes up a tumbler of cognac three-inches deep, a 10-ounce glass bottle of Coke, and a bottle of local beer for 20 lei. Dancers sway together or hold extended hands to dance in small rings. Despite my guide's warning, there is no vibe of aggression as the men dance happily with each other.
Club Karma is a simple, cheap hangout in the basement of Students House, a cultural center that hosts meetings, debates and shows for any of the dozen or so public and private university campuses in town. Imagine the low-ceilinged party room at a frat house full of heavy smokers.
Ciorba, a meaty stew. Ask for the sour cream (brought in a cup and mixed with a spoon into the broth) and hot green peppers to munch with a mouthful of stew and a chunk of bread. Casa Vikingilor, which is decorated with murals of Vikings, serves huge helpings of Romanian cuisine at prices tailored to students in the neighboring dormitories.
WHAT TO DRINK: The local brewery makes a killer dark beer, Ursus Negro, that's bold yet doesn't camp on your tongue.
asap contributor Emery P. Dalesio works for the AP in Raleigh, N.C. He is teaching journalism in Romania.


Monday, October 23, 2006

News.com.au: Count me in, Transylvania

Count me in, Transylvania
By Greg Roberts

THE Romanians of Transylvania were a bloodthirsty lot.
Museums and historic sites throughout this rugged, mountainous region of central Romania are replete with gory details of executions and torture. They are a reminder that whatever the woes of the world, at least huge numbers of people are no longer impaled on stakes or sawn in half after being strung up by their feet.
Transylvania was an exceptionally violent part of the world and among the most violent of its inhabitants was one Count Vlad Tepes, better known as Dracula.
Dracula is the centrepiece of a tourism industry that has opened its doors after decades of repression under communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. Numerous towns and villages in Transylvania are flogging the Dracula name by claiming ties with the infamous count, however tenuous. Dracula paraphernalia is on sale everywhere and characters dressed in tacky themed outfits strut their stuff. Inns and restaurants with names that include Dracula abound.
Count Dracula ruled what was then the kingdom of Wallachia in the 1400s. The Romanian name Draculea, which means dragon, was bestowed on him by his father as a mark of honour. The count was, by all accounts, a barbarian. He liked to have his evening meal while watching Turkish prisoners of war being tortured to death and to relax later in a bathtub of their blood.
Folklore has it the count was the inspiration for the gothic horror novel Dracula, written by Bram Stoker in 1897. Not true, but everybody believes it anyway. The bloodsucking vampire who needs a wooden stake driven through his heart to die has inspired a cult-like following. Transylvania, the setting for the novel, is the scene of the action and it helps that many locals believe in vampires.
Count Dracula spent his childhood in the village of Sighisoara, nestled in the splendid Carpathian Mountains, and its scenery alone makes Transylvania worth a visit. Visitors can dine in a restaurant in the mudbrick abode where the count was born; the original stone floor is still in place.
Opposite the restaurant is the Piata Cetacii, a public square where executions were conducted daily when Count Dracula was a youngster; that he grew up with a bloodlust is scarcely surprising. The square is at the centre of a medieval citadel perched atop a steep hill reached with difficulty by a narrow, cobblestone road. The clock on the face of a 65m tower was built 400 years ago and still works; beneath is located the Torture Room Museum.
The citadel was constantly under siege. Exhibits in a restored goldsmiths' tower show how eight wells were dug to depths of 40m within its walls to keep water flowing during sieges that lasted for months. Indeed, it seems this part of the world was constantly at war. Throughout Transylvania there are fortified castles on hilltops with commanding views over verdant valleys. The castles have a more authentic ambience than those of western Europe because they attract far fewer visitors and much less is spent on restoring them in cash-strapped Romania.
The 13th-century fortress at Rasnov, built by the Teutonic Knights to fend off Turkish invaders, is a gem, with quaint cobblestone walkways connecting the turrets and a 150m well that two prisoners took 20 years to dig, winning their freedom as a reward on its completion. As elsewhere, the violence of the past is meticulously chronicled. Even the skeletal remains of hapless execution victims are on display.
Nearby, the castle in the neat tourist town of Bran has been dubbed Dracula's Castle because the count sought refuge here while being pursued by his Turkish enemies. The castle was the summer residence of Romania's royal family until the communists dethroned them in the late 1940s. Exquisite furniture used by the extravagant Queen Marie early last century remains on display and a labyrinth of secret subterranean passages runs below thecastle.

Gallery: Welcome to Dracula's castle »
The regional capital of Transylvania is Brasov, Romania's second city. It is regarded by many as up there with Prague and Budapest as must-see old city destinations. The huge town square, Piata Sfatului, is surrounded by the very best of Saxon architecture. The imposing Black Church is a 14th-century gothic cathedral, one of the biggest in Europe, and Lutherans still gather there for services.
The Brasov Historical Museum has a fine collection of Count Dracula memorabilia, including his original letters, which offer a sense of the demented count's perspectives. While he was busy slaughtering thousands, he wrote a long letter to a Brasov merchant quibbling about the price of a piece of jewellery. The celebration of the macabre hits full throttle in the museum, which includes a big display of original torture implements that leave nothing to the imagination.
South of Brasov is the bustling tourist centre of Sinaia where the main attraction is Peles Castle, the magnificent German renaissance-style former residence of King Carol I. The castle was used by Ceausescu as his private retreat. When Romania was a player of some consequence during the Cold War – communist but no friend of Moscow – the castle played host to a long line of overseas leaders, including two US presidents, who no doubt marvelled at the lashings of mother-of-pearl and alabaster.
Romania remains a poor country by European standards, notwithstanding the fall of the communists two decades ago. More than 100 roadside stalls are set up outside Peles Castle, all vying to sell much the same sorts of knick-knacks and souvenirs. In Sinaia's winding streets, traditionally dressed Gypsies with huge brown bears on chains wander about trying to attract the attention of visitors looking for a photo opportunity. Bears have become a tourist attraction in their own right in Transylvania. On the outskirts of Sinaia and Brasov, wild bears come out of the forest to raid public garbage bins.
The bears are unafraid of people, allowing close approach. Nowhere in Europe are there similar opportunities to see wild bears.
Nuisance bears are culled and bear meat often features on the menus of local restaurants, but the animals get their own back: they kill an average of four Romanians a year.
Gypsies, too, are a colourful part of the tourist scene. Ten per cent of Romania's population of 22 million is Gypsy, or Roma, and they live much as they did centuries ago. Their homes are often ramshackle caravans or mud-and-straw huts. The Gypsies get around in horse-drawn buggies and wagons, an incongruous sight and something of a hazard on busy motorways.
Transylvania has world-class ski resorts at Sinaia and Poiana Brasov, and they are worth a visit, even during the off-season, with reasonable rates available at chalets or decent lodges with superb alpine views. Mountain trekking is popular, with two or three-week cross-country expeditions possible through vast tracts of pristine wilderness.
Visitors to Romania should not ignore attractions outside Transylvania. Mamaia and other resort towns on the Black Sea coast, a six-hour drive from Brasov, have been discovered by western Europeans who are forever on the lookout for new beach destinations. The Black Sea beaches may not be secluded any more but they are more attractive than most on the Mediterranean and are far cheaper than those in Spain or France.
On the coast north of Mamaia are the ancient ruins of Histria, among the best-preserved ruins of the Greco-Roman era anywhere. Built 2500 years ago, the ruins are a little off the beaten track, but if you wander through these extensive remains of a city that was home to thousands, chances are you won't see another tourist. Further north is the city of Tulcea and the mouth of the Danube River. The 4000sqkm Danube delta is the Western world's biggest wetland and Tulcea is the hub of a thriving houseboat industry. Rent a boat and spend days exploring the delta's many waterways or hire a captain-navigator at little extra cost.
Because Romania is so poor, visitors need to watch out for scams. Theft, including from hotel rooms, is a problem, but muggings and other serious crimes are rare.
In restaurants, the final bill could be well in excess of what you saw on the menu; when you ask to check, the English-language menus may have strangely disappeared. But the cuisine can be very good; especially memorable are the ciorbas, or soups, whipped up in often ancient village kitchens. Romania is not for the diet-conscious, however, and vegetarians are not well catered for. Notwithstanding restaurant scams, food, alcohol (including fine wine) and accommodation is much cheaper than in western Europe.
As in other former Eastern bloc countries, car hire is expensive and there are all manner of tricks to try to mask the true cost when signing up customers. Visiting Romania requires legwork. Even in the capital, Bucharest, there is no designated tourist information office. Old bureaucratic habits die hard. At road border posts, 200 or more trucks line up, waiting to complete the copious quantities of paperwork to enter neighbouring countries. English is not widely spoken, and army personnel and police in some areas can be pushy. But people are generally friendly and helpful, if on the dour side. Best of all, visit some of Europe's finest castles and museums without endless queuing.
A common observation is that Romania is different. But expect to be enchanted with the place, bloodsucking vampires and all.


Sunday, October 22, 2006

Contra Costa Times: Targu Mures new Transylvania hot spot

Targu Mures new Transylvania hot spot
Mountainous city sports flamboyant Culture Palace, home to museums and stunning
stained-glass hallway
By Robert Reid

Most travelers heading to Transylvania envisioning wing-flapping vampires first think of Brasov, the cobbled Saxon town near the so-called Dracula Castle at Bran. Or Sighisoara, where the real Dracula (Vlad Tepes) cut his teeth in the 15th century. But lesser-known Targu Mures is Transylvania's new big gateway and up-and-coming highlight.
Budget airline Wizz Air started direct Budapest-Targu Mures service in July (currently $22 each way), making the cool hub of Transylvania more accessible to all of Europe.
Targu Mures' location couldn't be better. Set midway between Sighisoara, the student town of Cluj-Napoca, and Bistrita (where Bram Stoker set his novel "Dracula"), Targu Mures is in the middle of Transylvania's mountainous expanse, where, at times, horsecarts outnumber cars.
When I visited Targu Mures recently, I found it hard to leave. With its population of 150,000 nearly split between Romanians and ethnic Hungarians, Targu Mures evokes an open energy. Locals sometimes say "hello" just because they're happy to see visitors. One boisterous man with a big gray mustache, just back from a year in Canada, led me from a bookstore into his offices in an Austro-Hungarian city council building, pointing out where stained-glass panels had been taken down by communists.
"We don't worry about the past anymore though," he said.
Some of the past is hard to deny. Part of the Austro-Hungarian empire until after World War I (when all of Transylvania switched to Romania's hands), the city center brims with century-old Habsburg-era buildings with steepled roofs and a medieval stone fortress. Less visible is the sad Soviet soldier cemetery, lost under weeds atop the hill overlooking town; on some headstones, the "red star" over the names in Cyrillic has been chipped off.
The city's undeniable landmark is the flamboyant Culture Palace, with its glittering tiled roofs overlooking central Trandafirilor Square's open-air cafes and statues. Inside is a five-floor cultural complex, with brass reliefs in long hallways, gold-and-green floral arched ceilings, and deep Venetian mirrors. Built by Budapest architects from 1911 to 1913, the palace hosts interesting art and archaeological museums, but best is its stained-glass hallway, with 12 windows that retell traditional area folk tales (a cassette explains them in clipped, very Transylvanian, English). In the lovely hall, with its 4,463-pipe organ and velvet seats, I managed to catch a talent contest with kids belting out pop songs to thunderous cheers from classmates.
East of the square is the unlikely twofer Teleki Museum/Bolyai Library. The library includes 230,000 rare books -- including one by Benjamin Franklin -- that stem from an 1802 donation. The adjoining Bolyai Museum celebrates Targu Mures' favorite mathematician father-and-son team: Farks and Janos Bolyai. It's not just geometry, I noticed; portions of the math greats' actual scalps, of all things, are on display too.
Targu Mures makes a great Transylvanian base camp. One interesting day trip, about 35 miles east, visits the leafy historic spa town of Sovata, where you can dip in warm saltwater lakes. The biggest, Bear Lake (Lacul Ursu), is named both for its shape and for the bears berry-picking in the surrounding hills.
Five miles south, in the village of Praid, you can take an apocalyptic bus ride 400 feet down to the underground world of the Praid salt mine, giant caverns filled with swing sets, sculptures, a cafe selling beer and even an Internet cafe. Locals come to linger, as the air is believed to help with various respiratory illnesses. The kids just like it because, as one told me during an intermission of a rogue version of rugby played with a knotted sock, "it's weird."
Robert Reid has contributed to many Lonely Planet guidebooks, including "Eastern Europe," "Russia & Belarus" and the "Trans-Siberian Railway." "Travels With Lonely Planet" is coordinated by Global Travel Editor Don George. You can e-mail him at don.george@lonelyplanet.com.

• Information: Targu Mures' tourist-information center (011-40-365-404-934; Trandafirilor Sq. and Str. Enescu; www.cjmures.ro/turism; open 8 a.m.-8 p.m. Tuesdays to Thursdays, 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Mondays and Saturdays) provides free city maps and car-rental information. It's on the ground floor of the Culture Palace (admission $1.80; open 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesdays to Sundays).
A couple of blocks east is the Teleki Museum/Bolyai Library (011-40-265-261-857; Str. Bolyai 17; open 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesdays to Fridays, 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays). Sovata's small tourist-information center (011-40-265-577-421; http://www.sovatatravel.ro/) helps find accommodations and rents bikes.
For information on Praid salt mine, check http://www.salinapraid.ro/.
• Places to Stay: A few blocks northeast of Trandafirilor Square, the eight-room Pensiune Ana Maria (011-40-265-264-401; Str. Papui Ilarian 17) feels like a home for an Elvis Habsburg -- half Austro-Hungarian country home, half Graceland. Doubles are $37.
On the square, the 34-room Hotel Concordia (011-40-265-260-602; Trandafirilor Sq. 45) is London chic meets Transylvania, with large, stylish rooms with zebra-print chairs and framed fashion prints. Doubles are $140.
• Places to Eat: On the main square, Leo (Trandafirilor Sq. 36-38; open 24 hours) fills its covered sidewalk seats first. The menu packs in pizzas, salads and Transylvania grilled meats (the pork chop with corn grits and fried eggs is particularly tasty). Dishes range from $3 to $10.
A block west, family-run Emma Venegco (Str. Horea 6; open 11 a.m.-11 p.m.) is a quieter Hungarian tavern with $2 borschts and $4 four-course dinner specials, such as chicken with cucumber sauce and polenta.
The $4 business lunches, and mixed drinks, at Hotel Concordia restaurant/bar attract local jet-setters.


Nine O'Clock: Marko Bela wants Szeklers’ County autonomy, not agreeing on referendum

Marko Bela wants Szeklers’ County autonomy, not agreeing on referendum
UDMR leader and the leader of National Szeklers’ Council had a first meeting in Targu Mures where they discussed on common aspects as well as on those divergent.
published in issue 3793 page 2 at 2006-10-23

UDMR leader, Marko Bela, and the President of National Szeklers’ County (CNS), Csapo Jozsef, decided, on Friday, in Targu Mures, that these two bodies would join their efforts for obtaining the territorial autonomy of the Szeklers’ County.

“In the end, I believe that territorial autonomy is a joint desire, and we can look for joint approaches”, according to Marko Bela. The union leader added that this cooperation would not mean that UDMR agreed with all the modalities to be used for reaching this aim. “We cannot agree with the organisation of a referendum in relation to the Szeklers’ County because it is the law that does not permit the organisation of such a referendum,” Marko Bela underlined. The leader of CNS, Csapo Jozsef affirms that the will of Hungarians from Romania should be respected. “Such a decision is part of the right to express the people will freely,” according to Csapo Jozsef.

UDMR leader and CNS leader had a first meeting, where they discussed on joint issues but also on those divergent. The two underlined that the discussion on Friday was a step towards autonomy. At the end of the meeting, Marko Bela underlined that he remained open to discussions with all the representatives of the Szeklers’ political and apolitical organisations. The UDMR leader specified that a meeting was scheduled, over the forthcoming time frame, with the President of the National Council of Hungarians from Transylvania, Bishop Laszlo Tokes.

The representatives of the National Council of Szeklers are determined to continue the steps for the organisation of a referendum related to the autonomy. The final decision will be adopted on November 4 on the occasion of the Great Assembly of the Szeklers. The leadership of the Hungarian Civic Union (UCM) welcomed, on Friday, the CNS step to initiate a referendum related to the autonomy of the Szeklers’ County, considering that it was regrettable that UDMR leader was against this referendum.

PSD takes UDMR to the Constitutional Court

After the open letters sent by PSD leader Mircea Geoana to President Traian Basescu and to PM Calin Popescu Tariceanu, where he was criticizing the intensions of UDMR and UCM to organise a referendum in relation to the autonomy of the Szeklers’ County, PSD sent a notification to the Constitutional Court as well.

PSD asks for an opinion related to the legal nature of this action started by UDMR and UCM, according to Mediafax. “This intention (expressed by UDMR and UMC – the editorial office note) is against, in PSD opinion, both the laws in force, the Constitution and against the European norms and we want the Constitutional Court to pass an opinion as to the legal and Constitutional nature of this action”, according to those declared by PSD Spokesperson, quoted by Mediafax. In his turn, UDMR leader, Marko Bela, affirmed that he did not understand PSD reaction particularly that the Union did not support the organisation of the referendum.

UDMR leader declared that he was upset with the Conservative Party as well which announced, early last week, that it would submit a simple motion in the Parliament for having the vice PM Marko Bela dismissed, the charges pressed against them by PC referring to anti-State and anti-Romanian actions. In his turn, PRM leader, Corneliu Vadim Tudor, affirmed that he would support PC simple motion in the Chamber of Deputies and that his party would submit a motion with the Senate to address this topic.

Cezar Preda: Tariceanu tolerates UDMR

PD Vice-President, Deputy Cezar Preda started, on Friday, a tough attack against UDMR, accusing also PM Calin Popescu Tariceanu of too much tolerance in relation to this party. Cezar Preda mentioned from the beginning that it was about his opinion, and not a statement on behalf of PD. Preda declared that the issue of Szeklers’ County autonomy was a compromise which PM should not accept. “By its actions, the proper development of the Government activity is harmed and PM needs to react. It is not the first time when we ask PM to react against UDMR.” “How could Marko Bela be a vice PM, and UDMR within the ruling coalition, and they do a different activity than the one provided by the Governing programme?! They need to step out the ruling coalition, to ask for the autonomy from the Opposition desk, and then everything is fine,” as PD Vice-President Cezar Preda concluded.

Funar: UDMR is a terrorist organisation

Being in Satu Mare, within the election conference of PRM county branch, the Party General Secretary, Gheorghe Funar, declared that the Hungarians from UDMR “are armed and ready to initiate an armed conflict until January 1, 2007,” when Romania joins the European Union. He regards the party led by Marko Bela as a “terrorist organisation” and he informed that he would submit with the Parliament a draft law asking for UDMR to be considered an illegal party. The legislative initiative is called Law on de-communising, in relation to the temporary limitation of access to certain public offices and dignities for the persons who after January 1, 1990, acted in favour of separatist acts based on ethnic criteria.
by Simona Popescu


Saturday, October 21, 2006

UKTV: Who was Count Dracula?

Who was Count Dracula?
Scottish writer Bram Stoker’s classic 1897 tale of the bloodthirsty vampire Count Dracula is one of the most famous stories ever told, spawning scores of stage and screen adaptations. In particular, Stoker’s portrayal of the Count is now seen by many as the definitive understanding of vampire mythology

However, Stoker did not actually invent the vampire myth; rather he drew on folklore and historical fact to create his evil character and the world in which he lived. We look at the role these elements played in the creation of literature’s most famous monster. Cursed Land In the novel, Stoker wrote that Dracula came from the ‘cursed land’ of Transylvania. Stoker’s original intention was to use the Austrian region of Styria as Count Dracula’s homeland but this changed when he read “Transylvanian Superstitions”, published in July 1885 and written by Emily Gerard, the Scottish wife of a Hungarian cavalryman. Gerard’s article provided Stoker with some of the folklore surrounding the area, particularly tales of occult meetings taking place at night in ruined castles and a wolf that haunts the Transylvanian forests. Also from Gerard came the term “nosferatu,” as well as the use of garlic and the wooden stake. Another major source of inspiration for Stoker was ‘An Account of the Principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia’ by William Wilkinson, first published in 1820. In Wilkinson’s account Stoker read that Transylvania is one of three former principalities - the others being Moldavia and Wallachia - which form the modern state of Romania. At the time Bram Stoker wrote Dracula, Transylvania was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire; it would be joined after World War I with Moldavia and Wallachia to form the modern state of Romania. Wallachia in particular caught Stoker’s eye. Situated north of the Danube and south of the Carpathian Mountains, Wallachia was neighbours with Bulgaria and The Ottoman Empire - what is now Turkey, with Transylvania to the northwest and Moldavia to the northeast. However, it was when Stoker read about events from the Fifteenth Century, and in particular the life of a notorious Prince named Vlad III, that the Scottish writer knew he had found inspiration for his monstrous character. Wallachian Prince It’s important stating from the start that truly accurate facts about Vlad are scarce, as chroniclers of his life have often been clearly biased – some paint him as a heroic patriot, while others a brutal butcher of staggering proportions. What is known for sure is that Vlad III reigned over Wallachia no less than three periods: the first in 1448, then for six years from 1456 to 1462, and finally in 1476. He ruled at a time of civil unrest when many feuding families sought control over the region, combined with the mighty Ottoman Empire dominating the European map, invading all other principalities. During his various times on the throne Vlad spent most of his time in wars against the invading Turks or having to deal with in-fighting from other noble families. It was a bloody period and bloody tactics were often required to secure Vlad’s position of authority. The Impaler During his six-year reign, Vlad III earned a reputation as a cruel leader, and it is believed he executed up to 40,000 civilians, including political rivals, criminals, as well as women and children. He earned the grisly nickname Tepes, meaning ‘The Impaler’, because tradition has it that his favourite method of dispatching his victims was impaling them on a sharp pole. Despite this grisly and violent reputation today Vlad is still revered as a folk hero by Romanians for being last Walachian prince to remain independent from the Ottoman Empire, and it is believed by some that among his impaled victims are said to been as many as 100,000 Turkish invaders! To this day the Turks call him Kaziglu Bey, or ‘the Impaler Prince.’ However, over the centuries tales of these atrocities are largely believed by historians to have grossly exaggerated. While Vlad certainly did use brutal tactics to intimidate his opponents, the numbers may well be much lower. Vlad III himself was killed while fighting the Turks near Bucharest in December 1476 and the sultan impaled his head on a spike in Constantinople to prove to others that the mighty Kaziglu Bey was dead. The Dragon The connection between Vlad III and the name Dracula comes from a secret order of knights called the Order of the Dragon, founded by King Sigismund of Hungary, who was Holy Roman Emperor in 1410. Much like the Knights Templar, this order was put in place to uphold Christianity and defend the Empire against the Ottoman Turks. Vlad’s father – also called Vlad - was admitted to the Order on account of his bravery in fighting the Turks, and from that day he wore the emblem of the order and later, as ruler of Wallachia, his coinage bore the dragon symbol. During the middles ages, a dragon was synonymous with the devil, and so the people called him Vlad the Devil, or ‘Vlad Dracul’. However, when his son ascended to a position of power and recognition, he became known as ‘Vlad Dracula’, meaning "The Son of the Devil" in archaic Romanian. Stoker originally wanted to call his villain Count Wampyr, but by researching Eastern European history, Stoker found a man whose reputation, he thought, was more deserving of such a blood-thirsty character. Ancient History However, today many believe that Stoker’s research did not extend much beyond these general details. Vlad was not a count, nor has their ever been links made between the Wallachian Prince and vampirism. It is also significant that the name Vlad never appears in Stoker’s novel. Of course, there is no one element that would have singularly influenced Stoker. Other historic characters include Countess Elizabeth Báthory, a Slovak noblewoman from the Sixteenth Century who was branded ‘The Blood Countess’ for murdering hundreds of young women then apparently bathing in their blood. In more general terms, vampire mythology has existed for centuries, in countries as diverse as China and Ireland. Within the canon of these countries’ folklore, tales are rife of children being snatched in the night by ‘undead’ ghouls and demons, only to be discovered in the morning completely drained of blood. Dracula’s Castle In the years since Dracula was published, much has been made of the connection between Vlad Tepes and the most famous vampire of them all, to the extent that a booming tourist industry now exists in Romania following the fall of Communism. Today millions come to this ‘cursed land’ to visit Dracula’s homeland, his castle and mysterious forests that surround it. In fact as recently as May this year one of Vlad’s temporary homes, the gothic and grandiose Bran Castle, has made the international press as being ceremoniously given back to it’s rightful owners the Van Hapsburg family sixty years after it was seized by communists. Even though Vlad may have only stayed there briefly, the castle is now one of Romania’s top tourist attractions for it is now, and forever will be, Dracula’s Castle. Thanks to the work of fiction Vlad has been granted that which Stoker gave his fictional counterpart: immortality.


Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Nine O'Clock: Basescu: At Odorheiu Secuiesc there will be as much autonomy as in Caracal

Basescu: At Odorheiu Secuiesc there will be as much autonomy as in Caracal
President Traian Basescu declared yesterday at Targu Mures that at Odorheiu Secuiesc there will be as much autonomy as in any commune from Mures, Harghita or Covasna, because one cannot ignore the Constitution of Romania.
published in issue 3790 page 3 at 2006-10-18

Asked by the journalists how he comments the declarations of the UDMR leader, Marko Bela, regarding the risk of inter-ethnic tension if the Szeklers’ County does not obtain the autonomy, the head of the state declared: “It is an exaggeration. The Romanian citizens must observe the Constitution of Romania, otherwise they would be in collision with the institutions of the state. Of course, we have the right of expression”. In the opinion of President, “the collision” would occur only in the case of concrete actions.Basescu estimated that the declarations made lately by Marko Bela, including the one from Lutita, represent “electoral approaches” through which he tried to convince and attract on UDMR’s side the electorate of the Civic Magyar Union.He declared himself the adept of an “extended autonomy,” in which the local administration would have a bigger role in the decisions made about the community, education and health.Referring to the request of Bolyai Initiative Committee to set up Bolyai State University with tuition in Hungarian, Basescu said that he is against the segregation according to ethnic criteria and the isolation of the Romanian citizens, regardless of nationality, in a Europe in which the multicultural universities are a reality.The UDMR leader Marko Bela spoke again to the Magyars rallied last Sunday at Lutita about the autonomy of the Szeklers, stressing in his speech that the Szeklers will have a better life only after the accomplishment of the autonomy. “Neither Bucharest, nor Budapest or Brussels will offer a better life to the Szeklers, only the Magyars from Transylvania can do this through autonomy,” said the UDMR leader.Marko Bela also stated that he is not against the Romanian language and culture, but wants also the Magyar language to become an official language in Transylvania. He added that the Union will continue to be on the side of the problems of the Romanians “as long as the Magyars are allowed to settle their problems.” “Autonomy and solidarity, this is what we want in Romania and in Europe. So may God help us,” concluded Marko Bela his speech.
by Mediafax


Monday, October 16, 2006

IWPR: Saxons Fade Away in Transylvania

Saxons Fade Away in Transylvania
Old community dies on its feet - just as its heritage comes back into vogue.
By Marcus Tanner in Sibiu (Balkan Insight, 11 Oct 06)

When the sun sets on the village of Grossau - or Cristian, in Romanian - the Carpathians to the south look smoky blue in the haze. The pitched red roofs of the village houses turn flame red, while storks nesting on telegraph poles stand silhouetted against the evening sky.

In the neighbouring Romanian village of Ortan, sunset brings women in old-fashioned dress out onto the benches in front of their cottages to gossip, observe and catch the departing rays.
Who could dream of abandoning such idyllic-looking scenes? The answer is - almost everyone. Grossau may look like an illustration from a Grimms fairy tale but abundant natural beauty has not been enough to tempt the local Germans, or Saxons, as they are called, into staying.

Since the 1980s, a community that has lived in south-east Transylvania since the 12th century has streamed out, leaving none but the elderly and the intermarried behind.

"Twenty years ago there were 3,000 Saxons in this village," said Sam Hutter, a 60-year-old bell-ringer in Grossau, one of the last of the tribe. "Now there are 40."

Survivors of the exodus include his brother and sister but the sister does not live nearby and the brother is old and sick. "I've only one friend left in the village with whom I can talk German," added Hutter.

The Hutters have lived in Grossau, just west of Sibiu, for centuries, says Sam, though whether they came with the first wave of German settlers in the 12th century, or in the subsequent wave in the 18th century, under Maria Theresa, he cannot tell. But the Hutters clearly flourished in Grossau before the mass migration started to Germany, for a monument to the last century's war dead shows a long list.Life was insecure for Transylvanian Saxons. For centuries, the danger of attacks from the Ottoman Empire forced local people to encase their churches in high protective walls, which survive to this day.Inside these fortresses, Saxons built towers and cellars to store hams for sieges. Grossau's cellar is still there, though when Hutter heaves open the heavy wooden door, it leads only to a cavernous cellar that has long lain empty. Hutter rings the bells to a church that is more or less empty, too. "Sometimes there are no more than 15," he said. "In the winter, it can be even less." There is no one to help him keep the old clock in the tower in order; it takes all his ingenuity to keep it running.At least the church survives, its services performed by visiting Lutheran clergy from Sibiu, which Saxons know as Hermannstadt. The parsonage has been sold. The rest of the Saxon infrastructure in the village is gone, including shops and inns where, so Hutter recalls, Saxons sat on one side and Romanians the other.These days the prevailing influence in the village is not Saxon or Romanian. It is Roma. When the Saxons left Transylvania in the 1980s and 1990s, lured by German laws offering instant citizenship to people of ethnic German descent, Roma moved into the empty homes. Hutter remembers the hullabaloo this caused, when older villagers in Grossau accused the incomers of stealing tools, doors and even whole roofs. Now it has quietened down. "They don't bother me," said Hutter, flapping a hand in the direction of a nearby bar frequented by a young Roma crowd.A walk through the village reveals the extent of its ethnic transformation - a process replicated throughout this part of Transylvania. Grossau may look like a slice of old Germany, with quaint old German sayings inscribed in Gothic letters on the fronts of several houses, but most people seen on the streets are Roma.Not everyone feels grief-stricken about the death of the Saxon world in Transylvania. At Michelsberg, or Cisnadioara, south of Sibiu, the church looks even more idyllic than its counterpart in Grossau.

Dating from the 12th century, it must have been built shortly after Saxons first came to Transylvania, at the invitation of the kings of Hungary who then ruled the province.But a mass of war memorials sited in the church serve as a reminder that Saxon history has another side to it. Not all are as sad as the decomposing wooden cross erected to a 17-year-old boy, a member of the royal Bavarian cavalry who died in the First World War.Many are memorials to men who died in the Second - as fighters for Nazism, in other words.The fact is that Hitler found many fervent recruits in these dreamy villages, so far from the "Heimat". "This is just the kind of thing I don't care for," one German-born resident of Transylvania said, staring quizzically at the biggest of the war memorials in Michelsberg church. "These people are too conservative. They are too nationalistic for me." Her reaction was probably typical of many modern, left-of-centre Germans who find Transylvanian Saxon culture - so quaint and folkloric to outsiders - uncomfortable and evocative of a Germany they would prefer to forget.

Romanians are less troubled by memories of the dark side of Saxon history. At a garage in Sibiu, mechanics recalled departed Saxon workmates only with pride and regret. They were great guys - hard workers - the Romanians said. They "could do anything". They kept in touch with some, years after they had left for Germany.And for Sibiu's go-ahead town council, led by a popular Saxon mayor, Klaus Johannis, the Saxon connection is simply a boon. The town looks like a construction site, as workmen rush to sandblast old buildings, repave streets and repair the town walls ahead of a January deadline, when Sibiu takes up its role as European capital of culture for 2007. As part of the restoration, signs reading "Hermannstadt" have been put back on main roads leading into town. The tourist office overflows with nostalgic accounts of life in the Saxon heyday and maps of Saxon villages. Saxon heritage has never been more in vogue - certainly not since the 1940s, when the communists began their half-century of rule in Romania.

But no amount of official promotion can halt the slow decay of a community that has no heirs, and of the 60,000 remaining German-speakers in 2002 - down from 800,000 a century ago - precious few are children. Most are like Sam Hutter, getting on a bit, and married to Romanians. He has no ambition to migrate to Germany, a country he has never even visited. While he is in good heart, Grossau's church, memorial, ham tower, clocks and bells will all have their protector and historian. But after he goes, who can tell?

Marcus Tanner is Balkan Insight editor. Balkan Insight is BIRN`s online publication.