Thursday, November 26, 2009

Authors dispel myths about Romania

Thursday, Nov. 26, 2009

State senator, former news reporter focus on former communist nation
by Dennis Carter | Special to The Gazette

While world leaders commemorate the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall this month, authors Sen. Jim C. Rosapepe (D-Dist. 21) and wife Sheilah Kast want to counter misconceptions about former eastern bloc state Romania and remind Americans that Dracula is, in fact, dead.

Rosapepe, who was elected to the state senate in 2006, and Kast, a former ABC News correspondent who hosts the local radio show "Maryland Morning," released "Dracula is Dead: How Romanians Survived Communism, Ended It, and Emerged Since 1989 as the New Italy" Nov. 9.

The book is available at and autographed copies can be purchased from the book's Web site,

The College Park couple based the book around Rosapepe's service as ambassador to Romania from 1998-2001, supplementing their firsthand experience with deep historical background aimed at creating a clear picture of Romania before, during and after the Soviet Union's fall.

Kast said the book title drew from the shallow pool of facts many Americans have about Romania, home to Transylvania — the central hideout for a dreaded horror movie icon.

"Dracula is one of the few things Americans think they know about Romania," said Rosapepe, who added that the couple has worked on their book since returning from Rosapepe's ambassadorship eight years ago. "We think a lot of the negative perceptions Americans have had of Romania are dead. They are myths, just like Dracula is a myth."

The couple hopes to debunk the perception of Romania as a virulently anti-American eastern European nation after decades of isolation behind the Iron Curtain. Romanian polls show that Romanians are the most pro-American people in all of Eastern Europe, Rosapepe said. In fact, "Dracula is Dead" documents the Romanian hope that Americans would save the country from communism as late as the 1970s.

"What was always surprising to me was the intensity and breadth of the pro-American sentiment," Rosapepe said of his time as ambassador.

Kast and Rosapepe present Romanians as hard-working people who don't follow typical Western office hours but instead stay committed until well after the sun disappears.

"They don't tend to start work real early in the morning," Kast said, "but you'll always see people working until late at night."

"Dracula is Dead" tracks evolutions in Romanian culture since the Berlin Wall crumbled in 1989. The tradition of men kissing women's hands as a greeting, Kast said, has dissipated as popular Western culture melds with local customs.

"[Hand-kissing] is extremely charming," she said. "It's not yet faded ... but I can't imagine a generation from now that it will still be done."

The proliferation of higher education under communism created a Romanian culture that encouraged widespread pursuit of postsecondary degrees. Rosapepe saw this firsthand when a college applicant working as a waitress in Bucharest quoted Aristotle in casual conversation.

"The culture in Romania is much more supportive of education than it is in the U.S.," he said. "And that certainly had a huge impact on me."

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