Wednesday, December 30, 2009

WSJ: From Ceausescu to the New Italy


The recent election in Romania, in which President Traian Basescu was re-elected with 50.3% of the vote, underlined why, 20 years after the fall of Ceausescu, Romania has become the new Italy.

In both countries, politics are hard-fought, polarized, and periodically bizarre. The comedy and melodrama of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi are well known. But the failed impeachment of Mr. Basescu and the odd bedfellows and political pillow fights of Romanian politics are rarely noted outside Bucharest.

The parallels are remarkable. Both countries reclaimed democracy when they executed their dictators Benito Mussolini (April 28, 1945) and Nicolae Ceausescu (December 25, 1989). Both emerged from dictatorship flat on their backs economically and with many friends in the West fearing they would not sustain democracy. And within 20 years, with support from America and Western Europe, both became firmly democratic, much more prosperous, and economically and militarily relevant members of the European Union and NATO.

Today, both continue to punch above their weight classes in areas such as artistic and design creativity, peaceful relations with their minorities and neighbors, corruption, and culture (Herta Muller, born in Romania, won the 2009 Nobel Prize in Literature).

With nearly 22 million people, Romania has the seventh-largest population in the European Union. Even though it emerged from communism in a deeper hole than almost any other former Soviet satellite, it has come a long way in a relatively short time. It has attracted more than $100 billion in direct foreign investment. For five of the last six years, its growth rate was almost 7%, one of the highest in Europe, East or West. In less than two decades, it has become the 11th largest EU country by nominal GDP and eighth largest in purchasing-power-parity terms. Prior to the recession of 2009, it had become the tiger of the Balkans.

They call themselves Romanian for a reason. Unlike those of its neighbors in the Balkans, Romania's language and culture are Latin. Like Italy, it traces its roots to the Roman Empire. In the second century, Emperor Trajan conquered the native Dacian population of what is now Romania. That's why three-fourths of the Romanians who have gone abroad to work, as southern Italians went north in the 1950's and '60s, are in Italy and Spain. They talk (sort of) the same language and send more than $6 billion a year back to their families, building new homes, and outfitting them with new washing machines, ovens, and televisions.

. Like Italy's, Romania's political geography was split for centuries between Germanic culture (Austria in both cases) and Mediterranean influences (the Spanish in southern Italy; the Ottoman Turks in southern and eastern Romania). And predictably the Germanic areas are more modern, prosperous, and clean than the southern ones. The ethnic German mayor of the overwhelmingly Romanian city of Sibiu, Klaus Johannis, was re-elected to a third term last year and became a respected, serious candidate for prime minister.

But when Western Europeans think of Romania, two things likely spring to mind: vampires and corruption. The latter stereotype, at least, is not unfounded. In Transparency International's recent survey of corruption, Romania ranked 71st. That's well below the U.S. (19th), but only eight slots below Italy. But, as corruption did not hold Italy back from becoming the 7th largest economy in the world, neither has it stopped Romania from having one of the fastest growth rates in Europe. And significantly, for those who claim Romania and Italy are "too corrupt" to be successful, Transparency International ranks both less corrupt than Brazil, China, India and Russia, the "BRIC" countries that are said to be driving the world economy.

For much of the past decade—until the world-wide slowdown this year—Romania's biggest economic problem was a labor shortage. The car maker Renault makes its popular Logan in Romania, and ships it all over the world. European and American manufacturers—from big firms such as Alcatel, Siemens, and Ford, to family-owned companies from Italy—are making Romania the workshop of Europe. Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, and dozens of IT companies are profiting from Romanians' longstanding software skills.

Today, Romania is what Romanians like to call "a normal country." Shopping centers line the roads outside most cities, middle-class families vacation in Greece and Turkey, students work and study in London and Paris, and credit cards, mortgages, and consumer loans are the coins of the realm.

By this year, the country had become more "normal" than was good for it. With foreign banks taking over the financial system and rising incomes driving expectations, Romania had its own real-estate bubble. When 70% of Romania's exports go to the EU, a recession in Germany means a recession in Romania. Also, the boom in foreign investment drove up the value of Romanian currency, and too many Romanians borrowed in euros and Swiss francs. But mortgage debt in Romania is just 4% of gross domestic product; in the U.S., it is 104%, with a lower home-ownership rate.

Outside of Romania, and sometimes even inside, good news travels slowly. Romania has had one of the highest ratios of bad international press to real achievement of any country in the world. Despite its remarkable progress since 1989—a free press, a democratic political system, peaceful relations with its neighbors and among ethnic groups, and an economy that grew rapidly—the foreign snapshot is still too often dominated by abandoned children, corruption, and chaos.

Those who look closer see more. One diplomatic colleague told us, "Like my own people, I find the Romanians stronger on spontaneity than discipline. And as the Italian ambassador to Romania, I myself am caught between two spontaneities!" Now, 20 years after the collapse of Communism, Romania's spontaneity is paying off, just as Italy's did in the 20 years after World War II.

Mr. Rosapepe, former U.S. Ambassador to Romania, and Ms. Kast, former ABC News Correspondent who reported on the post-communist transition from Moscow, Tbilisi, and eastern Europe, are co-authors of "Dracula Is Dead: How Romanians Survived Communism, Ended It, and Emerged Since 1989 as the New Italy" (Bancroft Press, 2009).

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Romanian MPs to start 2010 budget talks on Jan 11

BUCHAREST, Dec 29 (Reuters) - Romania's parliament will begin talks on the centrist coalition government's austere 2010 budget bill on Jan. 11, key to freeing up a 20 billion euro aid package led by the International Monetary Fund. 

The IMF has said it would return to Bucharest once a budget has been approved in January and was optimistic Romania could receive its next loan tranches in February after it put disbursement on hold last month.

Together with aid from the European Commission, funds could amount to 3.3 billion euros and are badly needed to help Romania ward off a deeper recession.

"Parliament reconvenes on Jan. 11 to start the (budget) debate," opposition Liberal deputy Ludovic Orban told reporters.

"We are reasonable people and we will try to sum up amendments and pass the bill in such a time that will allow the (IMF) board to unlock the aid tranches."

The coalition cabinet of Prime Minister Emil Boc, which took power last week, has pledged to enforce painful steps to rein in ballooning spending and has planned to get the budget through parliament by Jan. 15, which Orban said was "realistic".

The 2010 budget bill aims to cut the deficit to 5.9 percent of gross domestic product, from 7.3 percent this year. It envisages up to 100,000 public sector job cuts and a freeze on pension and wages.

Orban said legislators had until Jan. 7 to submit proposed changes to the bill. However, analysts had said they expected the bill to pass parliament unchanged, as Boc's coalition has up to five votes more than needed for a majority.

Traders have said the leu currency could firm early next year, buoyed by the expected passing of the budget and hopes that the IMF will return to the table.

Romania sells 786 mln lei in 6-month T-Bills

BUCHAREST, Dec 28 (Reuters) - Romania sold a more than planned 786 million lei ($270 million) of 6-month treasury bills on Monday at the finance ministry's 10 percent cutoff yield, which analysts say could lower early next year. 

The ministry has struggled to stick to issuance plans this year, as prolonged economic and political crises have put upward pressure on yields and stalled foreign aid, but analysts say yields could fall early next year as turmoil comes to an end.

A mission from the International Monetary Fund, which put Romania's 20 billion euro aid package on hold last month, will return to Bucharest on Jan. 21 to resume aid talks, the senate's speaker said.

The finance ministry, which had planned to sell 500 million lei on Monday had said it would not go above a 10 percent yield for leu debt, which is well above government borrowing levels seen in the euro zone or Romania's better-off regional peers.

"Over the next quarter ... there is some optimism as the IMF is expected to deliver its aid tranche and the central bank to cut interest rates," said ING Bank economist Vlad Muscalu.
"Yields could likely stay at 10 percent in January, but starting with the second half of February we could see a lower yield."

Monday's tender, the ministry's last this year, puts 2009 local currency issuance at 64.6 billion lei, five times more than last year as the government struggled to plug a yawning budget deficit targeted at 7.3 percent of GDP.

Romania also sold 2.7 billion euros on the local market this year.

On Monday, the ministry said it plans to issue debt worth 10 billion-12 billion lei ($3.4-4.1 billion) on the local market in the first quarter of 2010, down from 20.2 billion lei in the same period of 2009.

Romania 11-month budget deficit at 6 pct/GDP

BUCHAREST, Dec 28 (Reuters) - Romania's consolidated budget deficit jumped to 6 percent of gross domestic product in the first 11 months of the year, from 5.1 percent in January-October, finance ministry data showed on Monday. 

Under Romania's 20 billion euro aid package from the International Monetary Fund and other lenders, the European Union state targets a deficit of 7.3 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in December.

Romanian budget spending tends to soar in the last two months of the year, particularly at the level of local administrations, a risk magnified in 2009 by a two-round presidential election that ended on Dec. 6.

But the IMF, which put Romania's 20 billion euro aid package on hold pending the approval of a cost-cutting 2010 budget bill, said earlier this month it expected Bucharest to meet this year's shortfall target due to last-minute spending cuts.

Among harsh measures Romania took to cut spending this year are freezing state wages and furloughing 1.3 million public workers for 8 to 10 days.

The budget for 2010 is expected to be more austere, aiming to lower the fiscal gap to 5.9 percent of GDP. It envisages up to 100,000 public sector job cuts and a freeze on pension and wages.

The IMF has said it would return in January once a budget has been approved by parliament and was optimistic Romania could receive its next loan tranches in February.
Together with aid from the European Commission, they could amount to up to 3.3 billion euros.

In nominal terms, the deficit reached 29.8 billion lei ($10.3 billion). January-November revenues were 143.4 billion lei, or 28.8 percent of GDP, while spending reached 173.1 billion lei.

Monday, December 28, 2009

IMF to send mission to Romania on Jan. 21

BUCHAREST, Dec 28 (Reuters) - A mission from the International Monetary Fund will return to Romania on Jan. 21 to resume aid talks, senate speaker and opposition leftist leader Mircea Geoana was quoted as saying by daily Romania Libera on Monday. 

Last week Romania's new centrist coalition government approved an austerity budget for 2010, key to unlocking loan tranches from a 20 billion euro IMF-led aid package.

The IMF has said it would return once a budget has been approved by parliament and was optimistic Romania could receive its next loan tranches in February, which together with aid from the European Commission could amount to 3.3 billion euros.

Prime Minister Emil Boc has said his main priority was to get the budget through parliament by mid-January.

But Geoana said the deadline could be delayed slightly as deputies need time to analyse the budget plan and propose potential changes.

However, analysts had said they expected the bill to pass parliament unchanged.
"It is not the end of the world if during the week that the IMF is in Bucharest, Jan. 21-28, there is a 2-3 days delay (in passing the budget)," Geoana was quoted as saying.
The IMF office in Bucharest declined comment.

The 2010 budget bill aims to cut the deficit to 5.9 percent of gross domestic product from 7.3 percent this year. It envisages up to 100,000 public sector job cuts and a freeze on pension and wages.

The Sad End of Romanian Jewry

Alan Elsner

Author, Journalist
Posted: December 25, 2009

In a classic Yiddish theater song from the 1920s that is still popular today, Aaron Lebedeff, known in his day as "the Maurice Chevalier of the Yiddish stage," opened with a striking cantorial-style refrain: "Roumania, Roumania, Roumania, Roumania."

The first verse declared:
"Once there was a beautiful land - Roumania!
Life was so good!
No cares, just wine,
Mamaligeh (Romanian polenta),beautiful girls and merriment!"

Lebedeff was exaggerating the charms of the Eastern European nation, which even before the rise of Nazism was known for its virulent anti-Semitism. Between 280,000 and 380,000 Romanian and Ukrainian Jews were killed by Romanian civilian and military authorities in Romania and areas it controlled during the Second World War. Still, the majority of Romanian Jewry survived the Holocaust. In 1947, there were still around 430,000 Jews in the country.

During successive decades, most left for Israel. Romania's communist dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu, allowed Jews to leave in exchange for billions of dollars in secret payments from Israel and world Jewry. Today, there are probably fewer than 10,000 Jews remaining, many of them aging and poor.

But in a strange twist of history, even as the indigenous Jewish community falls away, Israeli investors, businessmen, companies and products have been building a growing commercial empire in the East European state.

According to Bucharest Business Week, Romania hosts over 5,000 companies with Israeli capital. Elite coffee, Prigat juices and soft drinks and Sano cleaning products are just a few of the Israeli brand names on sale in Romanian supermarkets. Bank Leumi has branches in all the major cities.Food conglomerate Tnuva opened a dairy production facility outside Bucharest a few years ago with a planned capacity of 60 million litres of milk a year. Israeli developers completed construction this year of the largest shopping mall in Eastern Europe, outside Bucharest. Some of the best hotels, casinos and cafes in Bucharest are Israeli-owned. Wandering the streets of Bucharest, one often hears Hebrew being spoken.

It is a little sad and strange to compare this vibrant economic activity with the plight of the few Jews who remain.

When my wife and I spent nine months in Bucharest in 2007, we made friends with one couple in their 80s who had decided not to leave the only country they had ever known when most of their friends emigrated. In failing health, they barely made ends meet on meager government pensions. Forced to grapple with a dysfunctional and corrupt public health system, this unfortunate couple faced a grim daily struggle to survive.

Efforts are underway to revive the community. The opening of the Lauder Reut school in a renovated Yiddish theater in 1997 was a significant step. It quickly won a reputation as one of the best private schools in the city.

Students learn all their subjects in English, which they begin studying in kindergarten. By the time they reach second or third grade, most have achieved a remarkable mastery. They take Hebrew, taught by emissaries from Israel and locally based instructors, three times a week beginning in first grade.

But many of the students have only a tenuous connection to Judaism. Some have Jewish grandparents or great-grandparents, some have Israeli fathers who came to do business and married Romanian women. Some have no connection whatsoever. In a survey, when asked to state their religion, many children wrote "orthodox" -- by which they meant the Romanian Orthodox Church.

During our stay in Romania, we didn't experience any expressions of anti-Semitism, although some Israeli friends did encounter racist remarks from time to time. Most Romanian racism nowadays -- and it can be virulent -- is directed at the country's significant gypsy or Roma population.

Traveling around the country, one often sees abandoned synagogues, unused for 30 or 40 years. We visited a town in Transylvania called Deva and were introduced to the head of the Jewish community, which numbered seven. The youngest member was in his 40s and had no children. We were taken inside the once-gorgeous synagogue with beautiful stained windows, two galleries with lovely wooden carvings and an ark with an intricately embroidered red velvet covering. But there were holes in the ceiling, mold grew on the walls, the dust was several inches thick and the wooden pews were turned upside down or piled on top of one another. On one bench, we found discarded candlesticks, menorahs and even some beautiful Torah crowns lying abandoned.

It seemed like a fitting metaphor.

In Romania, Ceausescu's death haunts Christmas

Many Romanians regret that reviled Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu were hastily executed on Christmas Day in 1989.

By Sinziana Demian — Special to GlobalPost
Published: December 25, 2009

CLUJ-NAPOCA, Romania — Twenty years ago, as Romanians were celebrating their first free holiday in decades, they rejoiced at the news that dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife Elena had been shot dead on Christmas day. It was the ultimate proof that the communist regime had crumbled irrevocably and that the late-December revolution had indeed succeeded.

But every Christmas since has brought a feeling of uneasiness — even anger at times — at how the Ceausescus were handled during their final days, after being apprehended in the small town Targoviste. Especially on this anniversary year, as the country closely revisits the events of eastern Europe’s only bloody 1989 revolution, Romanians vehemently contest the Ceausescus’ execution, which followed a one-and-a-half hour kangaroo-trial.

Many, such as retired engineer Aurel Badea, think that the hasty court proceedings were just a “masquerade” meant to eliminate the couple for the benefit of others who wanted to grab the power fast and easy. “They should have had a proper trial and then lengthy, harsh penalties,” Badea said, “in order to suffer just as much as others had suffered under their regime.”

One of the key people able to explain the decision to set up the military tribunal and then carry out the execution in such a rush and in a secret location is Ion Iliescu, who became the first leader of the revolutionary forces and then twice the president of democratic Romania. After giving many vague, stereotypical justifications over the years, this month he admitted that this episode was “quite shameful, but necessary.”

According to Iliescu, the chaos that gripped cities and towns across the country after the Ceausescus fled Bucharest by helicopter on Dec. 22, 1989, could only be stopped by taking them out of the picture. Indeed, soon after they were executed, the random street shootings that claimed more than 1,100 civilian lives during those very confusing days came to an end. (Culprits for the massacre, said to be either army personnel and/or so-called “terrorists,” have yet to be identified, found or brought to justice.)

Be that as it may, conceded 57-year-old math teacher Georgeta Pop, the situation was still mishandled. “It was the biggest mistake of the Revolution,” she said. “Of course we were all ecstatic to get rid of them, but under no circumstances should they have been killed on such a holy day!”

On this particular point, Romanians usually bow their heads, some with shame, some with an uncomfortable feeling of guilt. A very religious people, many of whom celebrate Christmas with long traditions, such as singing carols and going to church, they are not particularly proud to carry the legacy of such a crime.

“It’s a very delicate matter,” said psychologist Maria Dragomir. “Every December, Romania honors its fallen heroes of the Revolution, but many will also have a pious thought for the anti-heroes Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu, exactly because of their horrible end. The fact that they were executed so monstrously on Christmas day gave them a special kind of recognition among the people, who otherwise hated them so very much.”

Dragomir pointed to a “collective feeling of guilt,” as Romanians often say “we killed them,” in reference to the Ceausescus, even though only a handful of people were actually involved. In the heat of the moment, many said they would have lynched the Ceausescus had they caught them — that’s how enraged they were at their despotic leaders of 24 years. (While Nicolae was the country’s president, Elena was deputy prime minister of the Communist Party and deeply reviled by Romanians.) So in hindsight, some have come up with other justifications for the leaders’ deaths.

Ninety-one-year-old Elena Busuiocescu said she thinks that “they earned such an ugly death on such a big day simply because they had been cursed so badly for starting to demolish churches in the late 1980s.” In an attempt to clear vast spaces for large-scale communist projects, Ceausescu had begun to bulldoze many historic buildings, among them churches, which infuriated Romanians even more than the virtual lack of any food and decent living conditions in the years leading up to the Revolution.

Along the same lines, some feel that the executions have brought a curse upon the country itself. In an editorial this week, the web publication Tricolorul, which belongs to extreme right-wing politician Corneliu Vadim Tudor, offers that Romania is in a such bad shape 20 years after the Revolution exactly because it has been unable to make amends with this horrific crime, and punish, in turn, those who perpetrated it.

Although they admit that having freedom is priceless, many Romanians are visibly worried about the state of their country, which has been mired in a deep political crisis for months and whose economy is in a bad shape. A vast majority routinely indicate in opinion polls that they miss certain elements of their life under Ceausescu’s regime, such as the security offered by the state and a certain order in which the country was functioning. And then there are those who are nostalgic for Ceausescu himself, saying that the politicians who grabbed the power after 1989 are much more ruthless than he ever actually was. Every year, a select few even stop by the Bucharest cemetery where he and his wife are buried on Christmas day, to pay homage to their memory.

Ceausescu execution 'avoided mob lynching'

Twenty years ago Romania underwent a week-long revolution, leading to the overthrow of leader Nicolae Ceausescu. The BBC's Nick Thorpe speaks to one of the key figures during those times - General Victor Stanculescu.

In chequered shirt and dark brown jacket, Gen Victor Stanculescu looks frail but as straight-backed as one would expect from a retired soldier.

We meet in the prison hospital club at Jilava, just north of Bucharest, where only last year he began serving a 15-year sentence for aggravated manslaughter.

He was found guilty of ordering troops to open fire on the crowds in the western Romanian city of Timisoara on 17 and 18 December - a charge he has always denied.

Outside in the prison yard it is bitterly cold, minus 7C.

There are watch towers, rows of barbed wire, and stray dogs inside the prison compound.
“ I did not give any orders to anybody. And I did not order any unit under my command in Timisoara to carry out any acts of repression ”
Gen Victor Stanculescu Former Romanian Defence Minister

Some inmates are hard at work with shovels, trying to clear the snow and ice. If hell was cold, it would be like this. There is even a snowman, wearing a grey prison cap.

The prison hospital where Stanculescu is held is slightly friendlier - a modern-looking three-storey building painted yellow and white.

Critical moment

On his lapel, the general proudly sports a badge. I peer closer. It's in English: Romanian Snooker Association.

"I'm the president of it," the general says proudly.

As minister of defence on 25 December 1989, Stanculescu oversaw the trial and execution of Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu, the president and first lady of Romania, his own commander-in-chief.

Was the very brief trial and verdict just, necessary or both?

"It was not just, but it was necessary," says Stanculescu.

"If we had left it to the people of Bucharest, they would have lynched them in the street."

He describes two incidents to illustrate how critical the moment was.

On his way to the military barracks where the Ceausescus were being held after their capture, he took the precaution of ringing the anti-aircraft commander in advance.

They agreed that he would be wearing a white scarf as he arrived by helicopter.

The commander had been told to expect an attack by "terrorists" intent on freeing Ceausescu. Thanks to the white scarf, he ordered his men to hold their fire.

'Recognise the sacrifice'

After the trial and execution, as they were taking the bodies away in an armoured vehicle, they were shot at, and three soldiers died, according to Stanculescu.

"This proves that there were some army generals who still supported Ceausescu," he said.

Stanculescu joined the revolution, and served as minister of defence then minister of industry in the new government.

He was first put on trial in 1997, after his ally President Ion Iliescu lost power.

Stanculescu was convicted, but 10 years of hearings and appeals followed. He was only definitively convicted and sent to prison in November 2008.

"I did not give any orders to anybody. And I did not order any unit under my command in Timisoara to carry out any acts of repression," Stanculescu said.

So should those who really were responsible be found and charged?

"All the main actors are now dead, so there's no point in prosecuting them. It should be enough to recognise the sacrifice of those who fought in the revolution - and to make sure their families can live decently," he replies.

Peaceful means

Twenty years on, Romanians who lived through the revolution are still trying to make sense of it, and of the legacy of Ceausescu's rule.

"I often ask myself, if Ceausescu were alive today, would he have a chance if he ran for the presidency?" says Stejarel Olaru, head of the Committee to Investigate Crimes of the Communist Era, which was established by President Basescu.

"And I believe he would. People believe Ceausescu did many good things... that he gave the people houses, jobs, and good salaries. His mistake, they think, was that he didn't put food in the shops."

It's a stupid line of thinking, he says, but quite a commonly-held one. The flats were small and cramped, the jobs were often unproductive. And people have too easily forgotten the all-pervading fear of the secret police.

"December 1989 was a conflict between the state and the people of Romania,"' says Claudiu Iordache, director of the Institute of the Romanian Revolution in Bucharest.

"And that fight is still going on today, but by more peaceful means. The state is still imposing its will on the people, who suffer as a result."

Story from BBC NEWS:

Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Romanian Jewish Writer Rediscovered

Benjamin Fondane as Poet, Critic and Filmmaker
By Benjamin Ivry

The mission of any historical museum is to recuperate what might be lost or forgotten by posterity, and Paris’s Shoah Memorial, which bills itself as a “research, information, and awareness-raising center,” succeeds brilliantly with a new exhibit about Romanian-French poet, critic and filmmaker Benjamin Fondane.

An eponymous exhibit about Fondane, Benjamin Fondane, which opened on October 14 and runs until January 31, is accompanied by a fascinating catalog that urgently needs translation into English. Until it does, Fondane (born Benjamin Wechsler in 1898, and murdered in Auschwitz in 1944) will remain under-celebrated internationally.

Valiant efforts are being made by a small group of admirers in the B. Fondane Association, by co-creators of this exhibit, by French publisher Editions Verdier, which keeps some of Fondane’s works in print, and by a handful of academics, like Michael Weingrad. There is also Arta Lucescu Boutcher’s “Rediscovering Benjamin Fondane” (Peter Lang Publishers, 2003), an academic study that deserves wider circulation. On top of this, but still in France, a new bibliography of Fondane’s works from Editions Non Lieu, and “Between Jerusalem and Athens: Benjamin Fondane in Search of Judaism,” (“Entre Jérusalem et Athènes, Benjamin Fondane à la Recherche du Judaïsme”) from Editions Lethielleux, have just appeared. This latter work, which includes essays on Franz Kafka and Martin Buber, suggests that French publishers are finally waking up to this writer’s attraction.

Fondane, however, deserves to be celebrated outside France, as well, as his far-ranging gifts and accomplishments are at the heart of 20th-century Jewish artistic and philosophical modernism.

From his childhood in the Moldavian city of Iasi, where his grandfather Benjamin Schwarzfeld was a Hebrew-language poet and leader of the Haskalah movement, Fondane adopted the pen name “Fundoianu,” after the name allotted to a patch of family farmland, to write in local Zionist periodicals alongside the pioneering Romanian-Yiddish poet Jacob Ashel Groper, poet-physician-essayist Avram Steuerman-Rodion and Zionist journalist Abraham Leib Zissu.

Fondane was also close to Romanian-Jewish modernists like Ilarie Voronca and Tristan Tzara, and like them, he was lured to France (in 1923) to flee Romanian antisemitism and approach a wider artistic world. Although once he arrived in Paris he Gallicized his name as Fondane, his poems remained deeply imbued with Jewish imagery, like “Simple Song” (“Chanson Simple”) from 1922: “Still, this shout erupts: ‘I love you,/and I would love a stone if it were formed into Hebrew letters.’”

Likewise, in 1933 he published a long poem, “Ulysses,” in which he declared about Homer’s wandering protagonist, “Jewish, naturally you were Jewish, Ulysses,” thereby following the precedent set by Leopold Bloom in James Joyce’s “Ulysses” (1922). In 1934, Fondane also celebrated Marc Chagall in a key essay, praising that artist’s vision of a “paradise of poverty, garlic, and pogroms, of bric-a-brac trade where one prays to a very ancient God, a flea-market God…. A paradise in which Chagall is hand-in-hand with I. L. Peretz, Sholom Aleichem, and Mendele Mocher Sforim.”

Simultaneously, Fondane was portrayed by artist friends like Man Ray, who elongated the poet’s head in funhouse-style photos, and his fellow Romanian-Jewish émigré, artist Victor Brauner, who in 1931 painted a horrifyingly prophetic surrealist oil on canvas, showing Fondane as a gorily beheaded Holofernes from the Book of Judith.

This kind of violence seems to echo Fondane’s own uncompromising artistic spirit. As a great lover of film (and director of “Tararira,” a now sadly lost 1936 musical filmed in Argentina), Fondane did not take kindly to the advent of talkies, observing, “As soon as films become garrulous, they become nationalist.” Likewise, in his unidealizing study “Rimbaud the Thug” (“Rimbaud le Voyou”), Fondane protested against the genteel school of elegant literary biography (“What an invention of emasculated minds!”) as epitomized by French-Jewish author André Maurois (born Émile Herzog). Whether in poems or in essays, Fondane expressed himself in French that is exotic in its fever-pitch emotion, miles away from the coolly Cartesian prose style of such leading 1930s writers as André Gide.

Fondane was also a close friend and colleague of path-breaking Ukrainian-Jewish philosopher Lev Isaakovich Shestov (born Yehuda Leyb Schwarzmann), and eminent French-Jewish thinkers like sociologist Lucien Lévy-Bruhl and philosopher Jean Wahl. As the catalog for the Shoah Memorial exhibit percipiently notes, Fondane, like Paul Celan, Kafka and others, sought in the Bible an “alternative to rational Western thought… with high spiritual standards and the strength to disobey.”

Fondane would doubtless have continued to follow this path of ardent literary and philosophical disobedience for decades longer had he not been arrested in March 1944, sent to the Drancy internment camp and then deported to Auschwitz, where he was gassed. While still at a Paris police station before being sent to Drancy, he fatalistically told his wife, Geneviève, “If ever there was a Jew, an authentic Jew whom Hitler should have arrested, it’s me.”

Romanian-French aphorist Emil Cioran, a close friend of Fondane in his later years, often told me how he rushed to Gestapo headquarters in Paris to plead for Fondane’s release on the grounds of his great literary talent, assuming that because the famed Jean Cocteau managed to get the Nazis to free French-Jewish humorist Tristan Bernard from Drancy, where he had been deported, the then-unknown émigré Cioran might be equally successful. After Geneviève alerted other friends higher up in the French literary establishment, Fondane was indeed offered the chance to leave Drancy as the husband of an “Aryan,” but his sister Line, who had been arrested with him, would have to remain. Fondane refused to abandon his sister under such circumstances, and both were deported to Auschwitz and killed.

The last descriptions of Fondane after his arrest heartbreakingly prove his kindness, humanity and unquenchable creative spirit. His friend, philosopher Stéphane Lupasco, recalled seeing Fondane at the police station just after his arrest, busy consoling a little Jewish girl who had been arrested as she left school, and who “wept excruciatingly.” While still in Drancy, Fondane sent his wife lucidly typed instructions detailing what she should do with his literary remains, showing that he had no illusions about his future fate.

A fellow Auschwitz prisoner who survived the ordeal, Dr. Lazar Moscovici, would later recall how Fondane was brutalized, but although “starving and enfeebled, his deep blue eyes were [still] lively.” Other witnesses recall him inventing poems, speaking them to fellow prisoners in Auschwitz — poems now lost to posterity, just as Fondane’s achievements might have been, had it not been for the new publications and the majestic Shoah Memorial exhibit.

Benjamin Ivry is a frequent contributor to the Forward.

The unfinished business of Romania's revolution

On the anniversary of Ceausescu's death, Daniel McLaughlin examines the questions that continue to trouble the country the dictator tyrannised

Thursday, 24 December 2009

The former Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu addresses the public in Bucharest a month before his execution in 1989
Tomorrow, it will be 20 years since Dan Voinea helped send Nicolae Ceausescu before a Christmas Day firing squad.

But the anniversary of the climax to Romania's revolution will not bring unalloyed joy to the prosecutor, or indeed to his compatriots, as they struggle to unearth the truth of what really happened in those extraordinary days, and to discover whether it was a vengeful people or a communist clique that really toppled the Romanian dictator.

Ceausescu and his wife, Elena, had been forced to flee Bucharest, after a wave of protests against their quarter-century of despotic rule swept across the country from the western town of Timisoara, reaching the capital on 21 December. The loathed couple fled the next day, flying by helicopter and commandeering cars on country roads on their wild dash for freedom, before finally being caught.

Mr Voinea was called to the provincial army base at Targoviste to make the case against the elderly, dishevelled couple before a hastily arranged court. The case for the prosecution had no lack of material or popular support.

Ceausescu, the son of a peasant, had crippled Romania economically, socially and morally. Having bankrupted the country paying off foreign debts to bolster his political independence, he was forced to export almost everything the country made, creating desperate shortages. Ration books and heating, lighting and hot water cuts were the daily norm.

As his 23 million people sank into poverty, Ceausescu strengthened the Securitate secret police to keep them in check. At least 700,000 people are believed to have informed for the Securitate, which bugged countless apartments, spied on every Romanian who had contact with foreigners, and ensured that no coherent dissident movement ever emerged.

Even as Mr Voinea was preparing his case, fresh blood was colouring the damning file on the Ceausescus, who had been running the country together in the late 1980s because of Nicolae's deteriorating health.

Security forces loyal to the couple had killed dozens of protesters in the days leading up to their arrest, and reports and rumours at the time suggested that thousands of demonstrators had been massacred. "There were lots of coffins in Bucharest hospitals of people who had been shot on Ceausescu's orders. I felt I was doing something to punish Ceausescu for all these murders," Mr Voinea said in an interview.

"Everyone was against Ceausescu. The street demanded the trial to start even if we did not have time to produce a normal file on him. We had enough evidence that he ordered the security services to open fire on the demonstrators, and at that time we thought thousands may have died." He requested the death penalty for his country's rulers on the charge of crimes against humanity, and it was granted.

Valentin Ceausescu, the couple's eldest son, had last seen his father on the night of 21 December. That night, Nicolae had delivered a speech, only to find it booed and jeered by the normally obedient Bucharest crowd.

His son remembers a man out of touch with his people, unable to countenance Romania undergoing the kind of change that had swept across the communist bloc during that momentous autumn of 1989, which had seen free elections in Poland, the toppling of the Berlin Wall and the Velvet Revolution in Prague. Romania's revolution was to be the last – but also the bloodiest.

The next time Valentin saw his father it was on national television, lying dead in a crumpled heap beside his mother. Valentin had been taken to an army base where he watched footage of his parents' execution. "I was there with the commanding officer and maybe another officer. I didn't look at them," Valentin, now 61, recalls. "I was ashamed. Ashamed of being Romanian... It's not about how one treats one's leaders, it's nothing to do with that. It is hard to describe but I got this feeling when watching, that it was sort of a dirty thing... that it was shameful to watch this."

Valentin – a nuclear physicist who was never involved in politics – was jailed for eight months and then released into a country that was already questioning the real nature of its revolution.

Along with many other Romanians, he believes it was in fact a group of communists opposed to his father and seeking personal gain who seized power, under the cover of the mass protests, having used army units to create bloody chaos around the country before presenting themselves as the "National Salvation Front".

The most powerful member of the NSF was Ion Iliescu, who became Romania's president after the convulsions of 1989 and dominated the country's politics until 2004. While supporters credit Mr Iliescu and his allies with guiding Romania towards European Union and Nato membership, their many critics at home and abroad accuse them of presiding over a kleptocracy which did its utmost to conceal what really happened in 1989.

As Romania grapples with endemic corruption and an economic crisis, the successors to the communists remain hugely influential today: Mircea Geoana, the leader of the party founded by Mr Iliescu, lost out in this month's bitterly fought presidential election by less than one per cent.

It was Mr Iliescu's group that summoned Mr Voinea to act as prosecutor in the Ceausescu trial, and whom he obeyed, believing they had some legitimacy as leaders of the revolution. He now sees them as usurpers of the genuine people's revolt that erupted in the west and then spread to the capital. "This group must take responsibility for all the killings that took place after the 22nd," said Mr Voinea. About 1,000 of the 1,200 or so people killed in the revolution died after Ceausescu had fled.

"After the arrest of the Ceausescus, the state apparatus of repression continued to fight against the protesters. In the name of defending against 'terrorists' this [NSF] group seized all the major institutions. They portrayed themselves as Romania's saviours and people believed them. The people were very easily deceived and were quickly persuaded to accept these men as leaders."

Mr Voinea is now a member of the December 21st Association, which is seeking a full inquiry into the revolution, the release of all relevant files and the prosecution of those responsible for killing and injuring thousands of protesters.

The head of the association is Teodor Maries, a former professional footballer who was one of the first to break into Communist Party headquarters on 22 December, just as the Ceausescu helicopter was rising from the roof.

This year, Mr Maries lost 30 kilos during a 74-day hunger strike to demand a proper investigation into the events of 1989. He, like most Romanians, feels pride and pain when casting his mind back two decades to a revolution that he feels was stolen from the people.

"It is tragic and painful that we haven't been allowed to present what really happened to the public... and that these files haven't reached a judge's table," he said, opening cupboards in his Bucharest office piled high with copies of dossiers that officials sought to hide or destroy.

Mr Maries remembers how, after the Ceausescus had escaped, he came face-to-face with Iulian Vlad, the head of the Securitate, inside the communist central committee building as gunfire crackled around Bucharest. "He said to me: 'Come outside and I will show you the betrayal – you have overthrown the dictator and are putting the communists in power'."

Eldest son says Ceausescu fooled by advisers

Posted: Dec 23, 2009

Associated Press Writer

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) - The late communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu was deceived by his advisers and still believed Romanians adored him hours before his overthrow, his only surviving child said Wednesday in a rare interview two decades after the fall of the regime.

Valentin Ceausescu described his father as removed from reality in the hours before a rally organized to show support for the Stalinist leader turned against him, forcing him to flee the capital and leading to his overthrow.

Ceausescu suggested that his father's advisers kept him in the dark and led him to misjudge popular anger over his misrule, and that his father instead blamed the Soviet Union for trying to overthrow him.

"He was not informed about the (scope of) the discontent," said Valentin. "Things were kept from him that he wouldn't like."

Some 1,100 people were killed during the Dec. 1989 revolt that ended Ceausescu's 25-year-rule. Most of the deaths occurred between Dec. 22, when the Communist leader fled after the rally, and Christmas Day, when he and his wife, Elena were executed after a hasty trial.

Ceausescu said he would have preferred to see his father killed immediately because hundreds of innocent lives were lost in the interim.

As other Communist regimes collapsed in Eastern Europe, traditionally tolerant Romanians rose up, angered by years of draconian rationingas the dictator tried to pay off the country's foreign debt. Meat, cooking oil and butter were severely limited and blackouts were common. In winter, Bucharest was the communist bloc's gloomiest capital, its potholed streets gripped by ice and darkness.

When the elder Ceausescu heard that the revolt that began in Timisoara on Dec. 16 had spread to Bucharest, he believed it was instigated by "the Russians," angered by his maverick stance in the Warsaw Pact against Moscow, especially his criticism of the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia.

"I knew it wasn't only the Russians," Valentin said. "It was a rebellion against Ceausescu."

Valentin, 61, has worked for two decades as a nuclear physicist at the Institute for Nuclear Physics outside Bucharest. He said he followed his parents' trial on television while he was under arrest for undermining the state economy.

"I just watched it and I felt ashamed I was Romanian. I didn't feel they were my parents," he said softly of the trial and its aftermath, including stark black-and-white televised images of his parents slain by a firing squad.

"They should have simply killed him," after he was captured on Dec. 22, Ceausescu said of the former henchmen who fell out with his father and went on to become national leaders. "They didn't need a trial."

Democracy swept away communism in East Germany and Czechoslovakia but the Romanian old guard that took over after Ceausescu perpetuated communist practices, including cronyism and corruption.

"It was not a revolution in the normal sense. It was a mess the way it developed," Valentin Ceausescu said, chain-smoking Lucky Strikes and drinking unsweetened espresso in a hotel bar.

Today, Romania is mired in debt - with foreign obligations of almost euro78 billion ($113 billion) dependent on an International Monetary Fund lifeline and paralyzed by political infightingincluding a hotly contested presidential election marred by allegation of widespread fraud.

"People hoped for something from this revolution and didn't really get it," Valentin said. "I see a lot of disillusioned people and it doesn't make me happy."

Romanian Revolution Reconsidered

Twenty years ago this week Romania’s hated dictator Nicolae Ceaucescu and his wife Elena were executed, bringing to an end a series of revolutions in 1989 in which the nations of the Eastern bloc repudiated their communist past.  But unlike its neighbors, the transition to democracy in Romania was violent.

Political Contrasts with the Neighbors

 “Unlike the 1989 revolutions in Poland, Hungary, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Bulgaria, which some historians have called ‘revolutions arranged by political elites,’ the revolution in Romania was a popular uprising,” according to Daniel Nelson, the author of six books on the region.  And it was sparked by a Hungarian Protestant pastor in the western Romanian city of Timisoara.

“The army began by being unsure of its role, but eventually decided it had to join the people against the Securitate, the secret police,” Nelson said.  “And the army literally battled the Securitate in the center of Bucharest,” he recounts.

“The Romanian experience was the most exciting and most dangerous part of this miraculous year of 1989,” recalls German journalist Matthias Rueb of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.  And it took more than 10 days until it was finally clear that the New Salvation Front was in power.  “The Romanian regime was the most Stalinist – the most surreal – regime you can imagine,” Rueb said, “and if you entered Romania from Hungary, you really entered a strange world.”
“It was the North Korea of Europe,” Rueb explains, “so remote and so brutal and so devastating for the people living there.”

Unresolved Controversy over the Historical Record

Rueb says that some of the actual events of December 1989 remain shrouded in mystery.  “It was a popular uprising, and at the same time it was a coup from inside the regime.”  There was a show trial, followed by the “extra-judicial killing” of the President and his wife.  “I think to this day it’s not clear whether the old regime and Ion Iliescu and Petre Roman and others who were in the Salvation Front after the execution of the Ceaucescus, and whether part of the old regime just staged the fighting, or it was really remnants of the Securitate that really fought for the old regime in order to bring down the Salvation Front.”

“I think it really tarnished the legacy of Romanian democracy,” Rueb says.  Romanian journalist and political commentator Andrei Brizianu agrees.  Today a professor at the Catholic University of America, Brezianu was the senior editor of VOA’s Romanian Service in December 1989.  “Romanians had no information from their own media about the turmoil that led up to the toppling of the Ceaucescus on Christmas Eve,” he recalls.

“After that, the slogan was, ‘Today Timisoara, tomorrow Bucharest and the whole country.  Astazi Timisoar, maine in toata tara.’  In Romanian, it rhymes, as in poetry,” Brezianu notes.  “That connection would not have been possible,” Brezianu adds, “without VOA and the other international broadcasters.”

The Romanian Dictator

But in the West, Nelson recalls, many people did not initially regard Nicolae Ceaucescu as a brutal dictator, largely because in 1968 he had broken ranks with Moscow over the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia.
“However, by the 1980’s he was reviled by the population, not only because of his behavior and his personality and the cult that included his wife and his family but also because he was destroying cultural artifacts throughout the country – churches, synagogues, neighborhoods, and villages – with the crazy goal of modernizing Romania,” Nelson explains.

According to Nelson, the only close comparisons are with the North Korean dictator and the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia.  “However, I’ve often said – when people ask me about Ceaucescu – he didn’t kill as many as Pol Pot did, but he made a lot of people want to die because their lives were so miserable,” Nelson adds.

Progress toward Democracy

Andrei Brezianu says he agrees with historians who compare the Romanian experience in 1989 with the French Revolution of 1789 and with the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 – in its drama.  But in a political sense, Romania continues to lag far behind its neighbors.  “Democracy is not a huge success in the case of Romania,” he says.

“In 20 years, other countries in the former Soviet bloc have made huge progress, and there is no comparison to be made with Poland, Hungary, the eastern part of Germany, or even Bulgaria,” Brezianu notes.  There is corruption, he says, fuelled by special interests, greed, and money.  “According to polls, most Romanians are disappointed.  That’s the sad truth.”

Nonetheless, today Romania is a member of NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and of the European Union.  On Monday, Romanian President Traian Besescu was sworn in for a second term, vowing to carry out reforms.  But his run-off election on 6 December was marred by accusations of fraud from his challenger’s Social Democratic Party.

In the Romanian 'canyons of horror'

By Bob Wylie
Former BBC Scotland reporter

It was Boxing Day 1989 and I was sitting in my flat watching the early afternoon news.

The leading item was about the execution of Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu, the hated communist dictators of Romania.

The phone rang - it was my old friend George Galloway, then the MP for Glasgow Hillhead.

"Haw Boab fancy going to Romania?" he bawls down the phone. Six words which would change my life.

The Bucharest we arrived in early in January still had smouldering ruins from the street fighting of the last of the anti-communist revolutions which engulfed Eastern Europe in 1989.

I had witnessed Warsaw and Prague, but Bucharest would be the bloodiest with the darkest of secrets - among them a hitherto unknown epidemic of child Aids.

George Galloway and I first stumbled upon the rumours of dying children with faces like haunted geriatrics a matter of days after we reached Bucharest.

But it was in the Black Sea port of Constanta that we came face-to-face with the epidemic that would stay with us for life.

Nothing could really prepare you for your first visit to the Municipal Hospital in Constanta, and the child Aids ward there.

Here were what I would describe later as "canyons of horror" - children who were grey, sunken skeletons, many with hands outstretched and twitching as they approached death.

The stench was overwhelming. There were 63 children sharing 43 cots that day in the hospital in Constanta.

I know because I counted them in. Counted them out also.

Galloway, by then a veteran of sub-Saharan Africa as well as the famine in Ethiopia, stood in their midst with a solitary tear rolling down his cheek.

Malnourished children

"We cannot walk away from this", he said.

And we didn't. In fact, with the assistance of a public appeal in the Guardian newspaper which raised tens of thousands of pounds, we were able to set up a small Scottish charity to link Constanta with the City Hospital in Edinburgh.

Dr Jacqueline Mok came from Edinburgh to Constanta with nurse Christine Rafferty. "Gifts from God" is how the Romanians would describe them.

At that time, Dr Mok was at the epicentre of the child Aids problem in Edinburgh, which was a consequence of heroin abuse.

In the spring of 1990 when she arrived in Constanta she had seen three children die of Aids in Scotland's capital.

By the end of the year, deaths in Constanta alone reached 100-times the Scottish total. Canyons of horror right enough.

The Romanian epidemic was borne of poverty and government rule.

In those times the Romanian government used to give malnourished children in the hospitals micro-transfusions of blood - ostensibly to boost their health.

But the same needles were used again and again. So instead of improving the childrens' well-being the transfusions infected them with HIV.

In the days when we visited Constanta it was feared that a huge HIV epidemic would engulf Romania.

But although nearly 5,000 died, the Romanian health service contained the outbreak.

At the start there were more than 10,000 children in the orphanages who were HIV positive.

The eventual total for Aids was just over 10,000 - a success story for Romanian medicine which included free HIV tests for all those who wanted them.

During our time in Romania, Galloway and I also met Nicu Ceausescu, the despised son of the dictator, in the hospital wing of Jilava jail, on the south side of Bucharest.

By then he was dying of cirrhosis of the liver.

The entry to the show was obtained through negotiation with Nicu's redoubtable lawyer Paula Jacob. The gate money was the purchase of two sirloin stakes and two cartons of Kent cigarettes for the Dauphin of Romania.

He was 39 when we meet, but thin and drawn, and looked at least 10 years older.

His odd unmatched clothes and red anorak looked more Victor Hugo than Hugo Boss. He chain smoked the Kents throughout the interview.

We quizzed him about his legendary ways with women - including the once delectable Olympian, Nadia Comaneci.

Greatest contribution

He wouldn't be drawn except to say that although she now accuses him of raping her daughter, that she was glad to take what he had to offer in those other times of wine, women, and song.

"What about dying?" asked Galloway.

"This is a return ticket question," Nicu replied. "I have nothing against God and I certainly hope He has nothing against me," he said, before nodding and waving goodbye.

My adventure in Romania which started with George Galloway would go on to embrace our being co-authors of a book on the Romanian revolution, further extensive charity work for me in the Romanian orphanages, and falling in love with Lida Teodorescu, from Brasov, who is now my wife.

I met with Galloway recently to reminisce about our Romanian exploits 20 years after they started.

His view is that his greatest contribution to Romania was making the child Aids epidemic known and, in a small way, doing something about it.

But for me he says it was life changing - it established my reputation as a journalist, gave me a beautiful Romanian bride and a wonderful Romanian family.

"Haw Big Man," he said, referring back to that 1989 Boxing Day, "bet you're glad I made that phone call."

Bob Wylie's documentary Tales from Romania - 20 Years After Ceausescu will be broadcast on BBC Radio Scotland on Sunday 27 December at 1000 GMT. 

Story from BBC NEWS:

NYT:Jiggers: Here Comes the Dictionary!

Published: December 23, 2009

True to its title, the new Romanian film “Police, Adjective” is a story of law enforcement with a special interest in grammar. Its climactic scene is not a chase or a shootout, but rather a tense, suspenseful session of dictionary reading.

I’m not being in any way facetious. The movie’s director, Corneliu Porumboiu, whose previous feature was “12:08 East of Bucharest,” has a talent for infusing mundane, absurd moments with gravity and drama as well as humor. The dictionary in that scene is a versatile comic prop, and also an instrument of instruction and humiliation. It is introduced by an officious police captain (Vlad Ivanov, who played the predatory abortionist in Cristian Mungiu’s “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days”) who wants to teach his underling a lesson.

To say exactly what is learned would not only spoil the ending — this is a cop movie, after all, with a bit of a twist in the tail — but would also blunt the bite of Mr. Porumboiu’s mordant satire. So let’s just note that the Romanian word for “police” is used as an adjective in two ways. The first usage applies to (I quote the English subtitles) “a novel or film involving criminal happenings that are in some degree mysterious, resolved in the end through the ingenuity of a police officer or detective.” In an unexpected and somewhat underhanded way, that describes the action of “Police, Adjective.” It is at least as relevant, however, that the other cited use of the adjective is to modify the word “state.”

“All states depend on the police,” says the captain, waving off not only his country’s specific history, but also a possibly significant distinction between its old totalitarian regime and its new democratic order. Mr. Porumboiu, whose hapless characters debate whether the revolution of 1989 really took place in their corner of the country, is not making an argument that nothing has changed in Romania since the bad old days. Rather, he is investigating the nature of bureaucratic authority and the perverse, crushing effects it can have on an individual.

His protagonist is Cristi, a detective played with brusque, weary likability by Dragos Bucur, who in previous roles (notably in Radu Muntean’s “Boogie” and Cristi Puiu’s “Stuff and Dough”) has embodied the malaise of early adulthood in post-Communist Romania. Cristi is working on a case that would, by the standard of American television cop shows, be less than trivial. He is gathering evidence against a high school student who smokes a little hashish and has been informed on by a friend and smoking buddy.

Cristi suspects that the one he calls the Squealer wants to get the other boy out of the way and make a move on his girlfriend, who also hangs out with them. And as Cristi follows them, stakes out their houses and files his reports, he feels more and more uneasy. In other countries, he explains to a prosecutor who is a little more sympathetic than the captain, the casual possession and use of small quantities of hashish is not really a police matter at all.

The crux of the drama in “Police, Adjective” is the tension between Cristi’s professional duty and his conscience, a conflict the dictionary is called on to adjudicate. And the substance of the movie is a series of slowly paced scenes that follow him through his routines. He deals with pushy or recalcitrant co-workers, trudges through days of surveillance work without changing his sweater and returns home for desultory conversations with his wife, Anca (Irina Saulescu), who matter-of-factly tells him that things are not working out between them and then continues as if nothing of consequence had been said.

At another point, as Anca, a teacher and something of a linguistic pedant, listens to a romantic pop song over and over on her computer, she and Cristi have a debate about images and symbols in literature. Why, he wonders, don’t people just stick with the literal meanings of words, and forget about all the fancy stuff. His position is a hyperbolically blunt statement of an impulse that drives much recent Romanian cinema, away from metaphor and toward a concrete, illusion-free reckoning with things as they are.

This can be called realism, but that sturdy old word is not quite sufficient to describe “Police, Adjective,” which is at once utterly plain, even affectless, and marvelously rich. Mr. Porumboiu’s style might be called proceduralist. Like Cristi writing his reports, Mr. Porumboiu scrupulously records details in a manner that only seems literal-minded because his technique is invisible, and his intelligence resolutely unshowy.

“Police, Adjective” tells a small story well. At the level of plot, it is consistently engaging, and the psychology of the ambivalent detective, a staple of film noir, is given a new twist in the character of Cristi. But the more closely you look, the more you see: a movie about a marriage, about a career in crisis, about a society riven by unstated class antagonisms and hobbled by ancient authoritarian habits. So much in this meticulous and moving film is between the lines, and almost nothing is by the book.


Opens on Wednesday in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.

Written, directed and produced by Corneliu Porumboiu; director of photography, Marius Panduru; edited by Roxana Szel; production designer, Mihaela Poenaru; released by IFC Films. In Manhattan at the IFC Center, 323 Avenue of the Americas, at Third Street, Greenwich Village. In Romanian, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 53 minutes. This film is not rated.

WITH: Dragos Bucur (Cristi), Vlad Ivanov (Anghelache), Irina Saulescu (Anca), Ion Stoica (Nelu), Marian Ghenea (the Prosecutor) and Cosmin Selesi (Costi).

Controversial Romania pick alarms EU

BRUSSELS, Dec. 23 (UPI) -- The nomination of a glamorous and controversial minister to lead Romania's regional development efforts has alarmed European officials, observers say.

Elena Udrea, 36, currently minister of tourism under the caretaker government of Prime Minister Emil Boc, will add the regional development position to her portfolio upon Boc's reappointment as premier. She will be responsible for spending $5.3 billion in European Union aid, the EUobserver reported Wednesday.

A protege of recently re-elected President Traian Basescu, Udrea has posed for glossy magazines in her underwear, and has been accused of cronyism and was investigated by criminal prosecutors in connection with public money used to fund media campaigns -- accusations that never resulted in charges.

Her appointment reportedly has alarmed European analysts.

"To entrust Ms. Udrea with the bulk of EU funds is simply scandalous ...," Alina Mungiu-Pippidi, an analyst with the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin, told the EUobserver, said. "The Romanian media repeatedly reported the very favorable public contracts her husband's company received in the last years and her privileged access to the president have made her a hugely controversial character."

Romanian Parliament Approves New Centrist Government

BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Romania's new centrist coalition won parliamentary approval on Wednesday, promising painful action to tackle the financial crisis and meet the requirements of an IMF-led international aid deal.

Prime Minister Emil Boc pledged measures "which are not necessarily popular but badly-needed," and analysts said he faces one of the toughest jobs in Romania's post-communist history as his government must speed up economic recovery while preparing to adopt the euro currency.

Boc said his main priority was parliamentary approval by mid-January of a budget to cut the deficit to 5.9 percent of GDP from an estimated 7.3 percent this year. This belt tightening is essential for meeting the International Monetary Fund's demands and unlocking the stalled 20 billion euro aid package.

Wednesday's vote solved a three-month political crisis but Romania may yet face long term instability as feuding political parties look no closer to setting aside their differences on making the reforms needed to fight the recession.

Boc's line-up is built around his Democrat-Liberal party and comprises an ethnic Hungarian party and independent allies. The cabinet faces three years with no elections if it can complete its term but has only a slim parliamentary majority.

"The fact that the next election is quite far away, it's clearly a positive, especially since other countries in the region have elections in 2010," said Nicolaie-Alexandru Chidesciuc of ING Bank in Bucharest.

"The problem with having a fragile majority is obvious. It'll make reform implementation more difficult. Support comes from independents and their backing is not safe in longer term."

However, analysts say parliamentary endorsement for Boc's team was good news for financial markets and could provide short-term support for the leu currency. The leu led gains in emerging European economies on Wednesday.


A draft budget, imposing up to 100,000 job cuts in the state sector and a freeze of pensions and wages including keeping the minimum salary at 600 lei ($204) a month, is expected to be finalised by the new cabinet later on Wednesday.

"My priorities are: observing commitments under the accord with the IMF and the European Commission," Boc told parliament.

"2010 will be also a difficult year ... we must be aware that before we reach a bit of wellness we have to undergo a bit of hardship ... so I will need to take responsibility for measures which are not necessarily popular but badly-needed."

Romania has already taken harsh measures to cut spending this year -- including freezing wages and laying off 1.3 million public workers for 8 to 10 days -- but the 2010 budget still depends on quick parliament approval.

The IMF said last week it was optimistic Romania could receive its next loan tranches in February, which together with an European Commission aid disbursement could amount to 3.3 billion euros ($4.72 billion).

Boc's task getting the 2010 budget through parliament next month should be straightforward as his coalition has up to five votes more than the necessary majority. His cabinet won Wednesday's confidence vote with 276 in favour and 135 against.

But market watchers said Boc may struggle to get longer-term economic and judicial reforms through parliament due to a strong leftist opposition and possible absenteeism, a frequent problem in the Bucharest legislature.

"Work ahead is not going to be easy, as the government is actually relying on the tacit support of numerous independent/(ethnic) minority MPs, making a vote of no-confidence always a possibility," said Cheuvreux strategist Simon Quijano-Evans.

(Writing by Radu Marinas; editing by David Stamp)

FT: Turmoil ends with Bucharest anxious for aid

By Chris Bryant in London

Published: December 23 2009

Romania attempted to leave behind weeks of political turmoil on Wednesday when parliament approved a new centrist government that will seek quickly to restore much needed financial assistance from the International Monetary Fund.

Parliament voted 276 to 135 to endorse a 15-member cabinet led by Emil Boc, the prime minister, who spoke of the “need to return to reason and stability” after three months of political deadlock.

The leu, Romania’s currency, rose to a three-month high following news of the government’s confirmation.

Twenty years after a revolution toppled the communist dictatorship of Nicolae Ceausescu, the new government faces a challenging year as it seeks to restore economic growth and narrow the budget deficit, while hold together a fragile coalition.

Romania has been ruled by a caretaker government since October, when a previous administration led by Mr Boc collapsed, forcing the IMF to put a €20bn ($29bn, £18bn) aid package on hold. The prime minister is an ally of Traian Basescu, the president, who was re-elected in bitterly fought elections earlier this month.

The new government is composed of members of Mr Boc’s Liberal Democrat party (PDL), the ethnic Hungarian UDMR, as well as independents.

Its priority will be to pass a credible budget that will persuade the IMF to unlock payments to the recession-hit country as early as ­February.

“The fact that we have a government is good news,” said Ionut Dumitru, chief economist at Raiffeisen Bank Romania.

“They can now implement the measures needed to comply with the IMF requirements.”

The IMF is pressing Romania to narrow its budget deficit from 7.3 per cent to 5.9 per cent in 2010, forcing the new government to consider a range of austerity measures.

Although Mr Boc has promised to maintain the 16 per cent flat tax and 19 per cent sales tax, he is expected to cut about 100,000 public sector jobs and freeze public sector wages next year. The cabinet also plans to adopt a fiscal responsibility law and reform the creaking pensions system.

The economy is forecast to contract by at least 7 per cent this year, before returning to modest growth of 1.3 per cent next year.

Romanian Parliament Approves Boc to Unlock IMF Loan

By Adam Brown and Irina Savu

Dec. 23 (Bloomberg) -- Romania’s Parliament approved a government led by Prime Minister Emil Boc, ending an impasse that has left the country without leadership since October and damaged relations with international creditors.

Parliament voted 276-135 today to approve Boc as premier, Sebastian Vladescu as finance minister and 13 other proposed Cabinet members. Most members of the second and third-largest parties in the legislature opposed Boc.

“This is pretty much a secure majority,” Adrian Moraru, a political analyst at the Institute for Public Policies in Bucharest, said by telephone after the vote. “It is comfortable enough to ensure passage of the budget and other urgent issues. The majority will also probably increase with time.”

The new government must act within weeks to satisfy International Monetary Fund demands to stick to budget pledges. The absence of political leadership in the European Union’s second-poorest member delayed payment of part of a $30 billion IMF-led loan. Standard & Poor’s has warned the vacuum may trigger credit-rating downgrades.

“This will bring things back to normal and we can make the political decisions we need,” Boc said in a speech to Parliament. “In the coming years, we need a return to reason and stability.”

Government Collapse

Parliament originally ousted Boc in October, leading to the collapse of his Cabinet. Opposition lawmakers then rejected other candidates for premier nominated by President Traian Basescu before Basescu was re-elected in Dec. 6 elections.

Basescu, won the election with 50.3 percent against 49.7 percent for opposition leader Mircea Geoana, a difference of 70,000 votes in the nation of 22 million. Geoana claimed fraud and appealed to the Constitutional Court, which upheld the results more than a week after the election. Basescu then re- nominated Boc, 51.

Romania is the most corrupt nation in the European Union, according to Berlin-based monitor Transparency International. The Balkan state joined the EU in January 2007 along with southern neighbor Bulgaria. More than 20 Cabinet ministers and former ministers have been accused by prosecutors of corruption and the EU in July warned Romania to accelerate steps to fight graft.

The vote backing the government included 167 members of Boc’s Liberal Democrat Party, which is loyal to Basescu, as well as 31 from the Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania, an ethnic minority party. The rest came from independent lawmakers, other representatives of ethnic minorities, and defectors from the opposition.


Geoana, president of the Social Democratic Party, and Crin Antonescu, leader of the opposition National Liberals, said they will remain in opposition. The government has an “unstable” majority based on “traitors,” Geoana said.

“The anti-crisis and economic plans of this government are unclear and that is a principal reason for voting against this government,” Geoana said in a speech before the vote. “What we see he is a recipe for repeating mistakes of government in recent years.”

Budget Approval

The leu strengthened 0.6 percent to 4.1940 to the euro in Bucharest after the vote. The currency fell to a seven-month low and bonds plunged after the Oct. 13 government collapse. The benchmark BET stock index rose 0.2 percent to 4661.56 after today’s vote.

Romania needs to approve the 2010 budget by Jan. 16 to release two loan payments the following month totaling 2.3 billion euros ($3.3 billion), Basescu said last week. That would include a delayed December transfer and advance payment of one slated for March. The EU said it may also release 1 billion euros as part of the delayed package.

Boc said he will maintain the 16 percent flat tax and 19 percent value-added tax next year and direct 20 percent of the budget toward investment. He also said today he will extend a tax exemption on re-invested profit into his new term.

The IMF said in an e-mail on Dec. 18 that, if Parliament approves a government and passes the budget, the fund’s board may meet in February to discuss resuming loan payments. It also raised Romania’s economic growth outlook for 2010 to 1.3 percent from 0.5 percent.

To contact the reporter on this story: Adam Brown in Bucharest at

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Romania Since Ceausescu: The Ethnic Dog That Didn't Bark in the Balkans

With December 22 being the anniversary of the overthrow of Romania's dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu, most Americans will likely focus on the violence that accompanied it and the thousands of ill-treated abandoned children whom the media discovered in the months after. If anyone pays attention to Romania's path since then, persistent corruption, roughhouse politics, and the current recession will dominate the snapshot.

But the big picture will be lost. The truth is that, since 1989, Romania has become a dynamic, if flawed, democracy, an economy which is increasingly prosperous and competitive in the 21st century, a member of the EU, and an ally of the US in NATO.

Even that leaves out its remarkable story of ethnic peace in the Balkans. Romania, with more than twenty million people, is the largest Balkan country and the fourth largest former Communist country. And its Hungarian minority in Transylvania is the arguably the largest ethnic minority in Europe.

But most Americans have no idea that almost a million and a half Hungarians live in Romania. They know about ethnic minorities in Iraq, Spain, Ireland, Bosnia, and Sudan, but not in Romania. There's a simple reason: In Romania, the large Hungarian minority lives in peace.

That doesn't mean there are no conflicts -in fact, there are serious ones, including use of the Hungarian language in public services, participation of Hungarians in the police force, and the re-creation of Hungarian universities. It doesn't mean they don't have a long, sometimes violent history. It's simply that today, ethnic Hungarians in Romania press their concerns in ways familiar to Americans-running for office, writing newspaper editorials, and debating in the Parliament. Because Romanians and Hungarians work hard at living together in peace, and because history has dealt them a little good luck, they manage their conflicts democratically.

As always in competing ethnic histories, especially those involving land, there is debate about who got to Transylvania first, the Hungarians or the Romanians. No one disputes that Hungary governed Transylvania until 1918. But to say "governed" understates what life was like for Hungarians and Romanians. In a world in which a person was officially labeled Hungarian, Romanian, German, or Jewish on his or her identity papers, which ethnic group controlled the government was more than a matter of politics. Across Transylvania, Hungarians were the top dogs. They, and German and Jewish minorities, lived in the cities.

Romanians lived overwhelmingly in the villages. For those visiting a Transylvanian city, even today, echoes of that history are alive in the statues of Hungarian nobility erected in city squares, in the public high school buildings converted from nineteenth-century Hungarian preparatory schools, and in the location of Romanian churches outside of city walls.

In 1918, the world of Transylvanian Hungarians and Romanians was turned upside down. Hungary had backed the losers in World War I, Romania had backed the winners, and the border of Hungary moved miles northeast. Transylvania was now part of Romania, where it remains today.

During the Communist period, the Romanian government periodically made efforts to strengthen Romanian domination of Transylvania, through education and by encouraging Romanians from Moldavia to move west across the mountains for jobs in the new industries Ceauşescu was building.

The result was that, by 1989, Romanians were a large majority in Transylvania. Today, most Hungarians live in cities with Romanian majorities. Their homes are in the same apartment blocks as their Romanian neighbors, not in Hungarian neighborhoods. They probably watch Hungarian television and read Hungarian newspapers, but they speak Romanian fluently. A smaller number of Hungarians live in their own villages.

And then there are the several hundred thousand who live in two counties, Harghita and Covasna, in the center of Romania, hundreds of miles from the Hungarian border, where Hungarians make up the majority.

Shortly after the fall of Communism, forces in Romania, not unlike some of those around Slobodan Milošević in Yugoslavia, tried to maintain power by creating violent divisions between Hungarians and Romanians. Indeed, in early 1990, there were a number of such conflicts in which people died.

What's striking is that, in contrast with the former Yugoslavia, Romania did not go down the road of violence and ethnic cleansing. Instead, it developed a democratic culture of ethnic relations in which the Hungarian minority is well-organized and active in local and national politics. The political party most supported by ethnic Hungarians has been a member of every Romanian government coalition since 1996.

In 1999, at the height of NATO's action in Kosovo to stop ethnic cleansing of Albanians in Yugoslavia , President Bill Clinton asked, "Who is going to define the future of this part of the world? Will it be Mr. Milošević .who tell(s) people to leave their country, their history, and their land behind, or die? Or will it be a nation like Romania, which is building democracy and respecting the right of its minorities?"

Clinton bet on Romania. Ten years after the war and twenty years after Ceauşescu, it's clear he picked the winner.

Jim Rosapepe, former US Ambassador to Romania, and Sheilah Kast, former ABC News Correspondent who reported on the post-communist transition from Moscow, Tbilisi, and eastern Europe, are co-authors of Dracula Is Dead: How Romanians Survived Communism, Ended It, and Emerged Since 1989 as the New Italy (Bancroft Press, 2009).

The enduring legacy of Romania's Securitate

How those who terrorized Romanians under communism continue to instill fear.

By Paul Hockenos — Special to GlobalPost
Published: December 22, 2009

BUCHAREST, Romania — As a young correspondent covering central Europe in 1989, I vividly remember the terror that the Securitate, Romania’s secret police, wreaked on ordinary Romanians in the last, harrowing months of the dictatorship. In no country in the former Eastern Bloc was the reach and the power of the intelligence services so vast as in Romania, where the the Securitate held a uniquely tight grip.

The dictatorship’s secret services commanded such an immense network of informers that no one felt safe speaking his mind, even among friends. Since foreigners were persona non grata and even just conversing with them raised suspicion, I had only to seat myself in a public place, like at bar or in a railway station, to cause locals to scatter like birds. I visited Romania with names and phone numbers written in code and stuffed in my shoes. The price was high for those deemed uncooperative: Careers were made and unmade by the Securitate, to say nothing of the hundreds who perished in its prisons.

Yet since Romania’s bloody Christmas revolution — an exception among the “velvet revolutions” of that year — no country in Eastern Europe has dealt less thoroughly with the legacy of its secret services under communism. Romania never passed a lustration law like those in Germany, the Czech Republic or Poland that thoroughly vetted public officials. It took until 10 years after communism’s demise — under European Union pressure — for the Securitate archives to be opened, by then much purged or altered by the very people whose careers they threatened. Not a single person has been tried and sentenced for killings during the 1989 revolution, when more than 1,000 people lost their lives.

“Romania today is impossible to understand without understanding the networks that these people — Securitate officers, apparachiks — created for themselves,” said Gabriel Andreescu, a former dissident and human rights activist. “They reach into politics, the business world, the media, and even the Orthodox Church.”

Andreescu claimed that a younger generation is now also involved, the offspring of Securitate or people somehow indebted to them, who protect their interests in exchange for entry into the power structures. These tightly knit networks, said Andreescu, are very difficult to crack. “These institutions,” he said, “are the very ones that should set lustration in motion. No wonder it hasn’t happened.”

Romania’s case is unique because the dictatorship of tyrant Nicolae Ceausescu was the fiercest in the Eastern Bloc. Since it broached no dissent, there were only very weak reform-minded factions in the ruling Communist Party and nothing like the underground opposition movements that existed in Poland, Hungary and even East Germany.

Thus after the revolution, the second tier of the former communist apparatus took over: There was no one else. It is estimated that still today at least a third of the “new” intelligence service, the Romanian Information Service (SRI), is made up of former Securitate officers. Those in retirement received a pension three times that of ordinary Romanians.

After years of stalling, the new information agency finally released files of the estimated 1 million people persecuted by the regime. But they are woefully incomplete. The Romania-born German writer Herta Mueller, recently named Nobel Prize laureate for literature, said whole years are missing from her files. "Ceausescu’s secret service wasn’t dissolved,” she wrote, “it simply renamed itself.”

In the recent article in the German weekly Die Zeit, Mueller calls her file “a botched creation of the SRI in the name of the Securitate.”

“They had 10 long years to ‘process’ it [her file],” explained Mueller. “You can’t say it was touched up, it was eviscerated.”

By destroying the relevant files and undermining a lustration process in Romania, wrote Mueller, the former collaborators turn the Securitate into “an abstract monster devoid of identifiable, human faces.” This way, the guilty are protected and a rational public debate is undermined.

The secret service today, Mueller wrote, still functions in much the same way it did before. Even today, she claims, she is followed and her phone bugged when she is in Romania. Her demands to get back all of her Securitate file have gone nowhere.

Romanian political scientist Alina Mungiu Pippidi said that Mueller’s charges of continued persecution are not far-fetched, although it is probably not the SRI itself behind it.

“The networks of the Securitate have been privatized into lucrative businesses,” she said. “Their people fear anyone who can expose them the way Mueller does in her fiction. The fact that they use familiar methods to intimidate is not surprising.“

Mungiu Pippidi thinks it is simply too late now to expect a full-scale lustration to be effective. “If I had my way,” she said, “I’d just have [the files] all burned. The whole system is too infiltrated for these archives to be useful, in a positive way. Lustrstion is only valuable when it can affect the power structures it has been designed to vet. There is no chance of this happening in Romania today.”