March 8, 2010

Twenty Years After the Fall of the Tyrant

Ceausescu in hat

Romania's tyrant Nicolae Ceausescu ran one of Europe's most ruthlessly repressive dictatorships until 1989 when he and his wife Elena were overthrown by their captive subjects and executed on television. The country had been so thoroughly brutalized by its own government that it was still an emergency room case even years after its communist rulers were dispatched. Unlike some formerly Eastern bloc countries, its reputation still hasn't recovered entirely even though it belongs to the European Union and NATO.

"Last time I was in Romania," independent foreign correspondent Michael Yon said to me in an email, "it was terrible. It was like hell."

"The featureless plain filled with cardboard and scrap-metal squatters' settlements as awful as many I had seen in Africa, Asia, and Latin America," Robert D. Kaplan wrote in his outstanding book Eastward to Tartary: Travels in the Balkans, the Middle East, and the Caucasus about his journey in the year 2000 from Eastern Europe to Central Asia. Romania, he wrote at the time, despite its location in Europe, was a Third World country. "The train [from Hungary] began to move," he wrote. "My face was glued to the window. An elevated hot water pipe caught my eye. Where the pipe's shiny new metal and fiberglass insulation ended and rusted metal and rags began—the same point where mounds of trash and corrugated shacks began to appear, where cratered roads suddenly replaced paved ones—marked Romania."

Transylvania Estate
Transylvania, Romania

The country doesn't look anything like the Third World anymore. It would not be in the European Union if it did. I was slightly surprised, though, by how many scars from the communist era were still visible when the Ministry of Foreign Affairs invited me and three of my colleagues to visit near the end of 2009.

Some Western Europeans seemed to lose a bit of confidence in themselves and their civilization after the near-apocalyptic traumas of the two world wars, but Romanians, like others in Eastern Europe, have emerged from a third and much more recent trauma in a different emotional state. Bogdan Aurescu, Romania's Secretary of State for Strategic Affairs, spoke for most of his countrymen as he explained it.

"The level of affection," he said, "or preference for a partnership relation with the United States is high, one of the highest in Europe. The French have a preference for the Obama Administration, but Romanians don't make distinctions between a Republican administration or a Democratic administration. It's irrespective of ideological affiliation."

His assistant served hot cups of black Turkish coffee and bottles of water.

"Since it’s irrespective of ideological affiliation," said my colleague Gregory Rodriguez from the Los Angeles Times, "what do you ascribe this preference to?"

"During the communist years," Aurescu said, "there was a sense of disappointment that the U.S. was not here. We felt separated from the Western culture we feel we belong to. Western culture, including American culture, was and still is a part of our identity. That was very much reflected after the Romanian Revolution 20 years ago in very strong support for both EU and NATO accession. We are culturally oriented, without any possibility of doubt or shift, towards Western democratic culture."

Bogdan Aurescu
Bogdan Aurescu, Secretary of State for Strategic Affairs

Romanians seem acutely aware that they're Westerners, and they want everyone who visits to know it. More than once I was told they look to Italy as a model and are "Latins in a sea of Slavs," although that's obvious to anyone who speaks a Latin-based language. Italian is as similar to Romanian as it is to Spanish. I can understand fragments of spoken Romanian, and a substantial amount of written Romanian.

In every city I visited I saw a statue of Romulus and Remus, the mythical founders of the city of Rome. Romanians seem more conscious of themselves as children of the Roman Empire than people in any country I've visited other than Italy. The old maxim that absence makes the heart grow fonder would appear to apply to nations and cultures as well as to individuals.

"How are your relations with Russia right now?" I asked Aurescu.

"It is not an easy relationship," he said. "We are at the Ostmark, the eastern border, of European and NATO space. We assume certain risks from the instability of the Black Sea region. It is important for us to extend as much as possible this space of prosperity and stability and of shared democratic values within the region."

"Does it make you nervous that Romania is the eastern most country in the European Union?" I said.

"It doesn’t make me particularly nervous," he said, "but it is a reality we cannot ignore. We are next to a region that is sometimes unstable."

He's actually understating what it's like to the east. After my week in Bucharest I took a road trip into Ukraine and Moldova and was as shocked at the instant deterioration of just about everything as Robert Kaplan was when he crossed the frontier into Romania from Hungary a decade ago. Ukraine's capital Kiev is amazing. It wowed me at once. But much of the rest of the country has yet to recover from a totalitarian system so vicious and cruel that it's still sometimes hard for me to believe it even was real. Driving from even a relatively backward country in the European Union into the remote provinces of Ukraine is like falling off the edge of civilization and into a land that was all but destroyed.

"Look at the evolution of political life in Ukraine and Moldova," Aurescu continued. "And take into account the fact that very close to the Romanian border there is a frozen or protracted conflict in Transnistria which is not yet solved. Each and every winter there are problems with the gas supply via Ukraine from Russia and other sources. Across the Black Sea there are problems in Georgia."

Members of Parliament Borbely Laszlo and Sever Voinescu made many of the same points, but Voinescu's party—the Democratic Liberal Party—was on its way out. Would a change in government have any affect on Romania's foreign policy?

"No," Laszlo said. "The foreign policy in Romania does not depend much on the changing of the government. We have very clear targets. We have very clear goals."

"I agree," Voinescu said. "I don’t think anything will fundamentally change in our foreign policy. One of our main tasks is to increase our influence inside the European Union. We are also very much dedicated to our trans-Atlantic relationship. We are the most pro-Atlanticist nation in Europe right now. According to a German Marshall Fund survey, Romanians were even more pro-Atlantic than the British. We have troops in Afghanistan. We have 1100 soldiers, as you know, and they are in a very, very difficult area."

"Which area are they in?" I said.

"Helmand," Voinescu said.

"Oh," I said. "That's the most difficult area."

"It is very difficult," he said. "It's tough. I mean, that's where the war is."

"Regarding our presence in Iraq," Laszlo said, "we didn't have a tough debate like in other countries in Europe."

Borbely Laszlo
Member of Parliamen Borbely Laszlo

"Why do you suppose that is?" I said.

"I don't know," he said ponderously as he leaned back in his chair. "In Romania there wasn't a debate in the parliament. And the population here accepts that we have to help with soldiers in Iraq and in Afghanistan."

"It’s controversial in the U.S.," I said.

"Yes," he said and laughed. "We know."

"Almost everywhere," I said.

What about Russia? Romania was never a constituent part of the Soviet Union, but its citizens were yoked to Moscow's world despite Ceausescu's somewhat dubious presentation of himself to the West as independent.

"Russia is a passionate issue in Romania," Voinescu said. "The past is a shadow upon our relationship. There are people in Romania saying, 'Hey, we should do business with these guys. Don’t talk about history, about politics, just like make money.' There are others saying we cannot forget what happened, that we should be careful, that Russia's foreign policy always has a seed of agressivity inside. We blame the president or the minister of foreign affairs when our relationship with Russia is not as good as we want, but sometimes I have a feeling we forget this is a two-way street. When you have a relation with a huge country, a global power, one should understand that the tone of this relationship is decided by the big power. Romania took a path towards the West, and Russia still has not come to terms with this."

Sever Voinescu
Member of Parliament Sever Voinescu

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman once described Poland as a "geopolitical spa," a place he liked to go to get away from the unrelenting anti-American bitchfest in Western Europe after the terrorist attacks on September 11. He just as easily could have been describing Romania or almost anywhere else in Eastern Europe other than Serbia.

"People here liked President Bush more than people in other places," Voinescu said, "but they now love President Obama. Romanians are ready to embrace any U.S. president. There is a certain kind of emotional attachment to whatever the Americans decide about their own country. I think people liked President Bush because they liked his toughness on certain issues. You know that in this part of Europe, after the whole communist era, you need sometimes a stronger approach when you talk about various issues. On the other hand, they like Obama because, you know, his charm is seductive everywhere."

I don't know if President Barack Obama reciprocates that feeling of affection, but I think Vice President Joe Biden probably does. He visited Bucharest at the same time I did to discuss a missile shield the administration hoped to install there instead of in Poland. He and the Romanian president addressed local journalists at a press conference which I also attended. What he said might read like diplomatic boilerplate, but I was barely twenty feet from him when he spoke, and judging by his body language and the tone of his voice, he's either an exceptionally skilled political actor or he's absolutely sincere.

Joe Biden in Romania
Vice President Joe Biden in Bucharest, Romania

"We serve together in Afghanistan," he said, "in the western Balkans, and in Iraq. And I feel obliged to tell the Romanian people how grateful President Obama and I and the American people are for the Romanian troops that are in Afghanistan. Our troops—and I mean this sincerely, my son just got back from Iraq after a year as a captain in the United States Army—our troops are proud to serve next to Romanian troops because you are incredibly competent. Your kids—I wish you could all see, as I got to see, just how incredibly competent they are. You should be proud. And to all the mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, husbands and wives of those 1100 Romanians that are stationed in Afghanistan, I mean this sincerely, as a parent, thank you. Thank you. Thank you."


Roughly 25 percent of Romania's work force left the country during the transition to the market economy according to Dan Lazar, an economic advisor to the president. Even now, while Romania looks reasonably prosperous on the surface, people are struggling in a high-expenses low-wage economy.

"We wanted to have some social protection," he said. "We had to choose between high unemployment but with high salaries, or low unemployment with low salaries. We chose the model with the lower unemployment."

Catalin Baba, another economic advisor to the president, said the unemployment rate was still only around six percent even during the steep global downturn.

Low wages or not, there is a lot of money in Bucharest, especially compared with the Romanian countryside. That's how it is in every country I have ever visited, and that's most likely how it is everywhere in the world, but Romania is strange because some of the smaller cities look like they're richer.

Ceausescu's communist urban planners chopped up Bucharest with a meat axe.

Bucharest Skyline and Power Plants
Bucharest, Romania

They pulled down most of the classical buildings that once made the city aesthetically pleasing, then they put up a bunch of crap in their place. The streets are too wide. Buildings don't match, and sometimes there is far too much space between them. There isn't much coherent fabric or feel to most of the city, even in most of the old city center. It is very nearly an antithesis of Paris.

Communist housing blocks Bucharest Gray Sky
Bucharest, Romania

The brilliant Anthony Daniels, who now writes under the pen name Theodore Dalrymple, loathes ghastly brutalist architecture as much as I do. He properly blames the Swiss architect Le Corbusier and his baleful influence for wrecking so many once beautiful cities like Bucharest and even marring cities like London.

"Le Corbusier was to architecture what Pol Pot was to social reform," Daniels recently wrote in City Journal. "In one sense, he had less excuse for his activities than Pol Pot: for unlike the Cambodian, he possessed great talent, even genius. Unfortunately, he turned his gifts to destructive ends, and it is no coincidence that he willingly served both Stalin and Vichy." Le Corbusier, he says, "was the enemy of mankind" and "does not belong so much to the history of architecture as to that of totalitarianism."

The grotesque modern architect once described a house as "a machine for living in" and is still scandalously lionized by many professionals in the field even today. (Do such people stay in the asteroid belt of tower blocks in the suburbs of Paris when they visit on holiday, or do they prefer the beautiful parts of the city such as the Latin Quarter like normal human beings do?)

Bucharest in the Rain
Bucharest, Romania

Corbu's work and that of his disciples is hard on the eyes in Western cities, but it's positively brutal in some of the formerly communist capitals. There you can see what all of Europe might have looked like if the man were able to convince Western leaders—as he tried to do—to raze their cities and let him start over.

No sector in Bucharest survived communism intact, and just a handful of streets look like the Europe most of us know. The vast majority of the traditional buildings left standing are wedged now between shoddy modernist blocks, and entire neighborhoods beyond the city center consist almost entirely of dreary public housing units that don't even meet Corbu's dismal standards.

Horizontal Communist Block Bucharest
Bucharest, Romania

On a blank gray wall in the parking lot across from my hotel, an artist painted cogs in a machine the size of Godzilla chewing the city to pieces.

Communist Cog City Mural 1

Communist Cog City Mural Closeup

I felt a tremendous sense of relief when my guide Olivia brought me to the tiny section of the old city that hadn't been bulldozed.

"This is fantastic," I said. "It's too bad the whole city doesn't look like this."

Bucharest Old City
Bucharest, Romania

"I love this place," she said. "It's amazing. You should have seen it a year ago. It was terrible. For so many years I dreamed that the old city would look like this someday, and now it does."

Olivia Bucharest
Olivia Horvath, Ministry of Foreign Affairs

A few blocks from the old city is Romania's parliament—the second largest building in the world after the Pentagon.

Looming Palace of the People
Ceausescu's monster palace

When it was still under construction before he died, Ceausescu called it the "Palace of the People," though ordinary people would never have been allowed to set foot in it. The apartments lining the main boulevard in front belonged to high-level officers of the repressive Securitate. Even today that boulevard looks like an intimidating Champs-Elysees of a totalitarian state, and it's so monstrous in scale that it can only really be photographed from the air.

Back then, fake stores that pretended to sell goods not even the elite could afford were at ground level. According to Ion Pacepa— Ceausescu's chief national security advisor and a general in the Securitate who defected to the United States in 1978—Ceausescu once visited Macy's on a trip to New York and thought it, too, was a fake. He wondered aloud in the car how long it took the Americans to "set it up."

Some of my official meetings took place inside the parliament building, and I took photographs whenever I had a chance.

Inside Romanian Parliament
Romanian Parliament

"What do you think of this building?" Olivia asked me. She seemed to think I loved it since I took so many pictures. It was certainly more pleasant to look at on the inside than on the outside.

"It's impressive in some ways," I said, "but it's also—well, it's big."

"We hate it," she said. "So much of the city was destroyed to make room for it. And it constantly reminds us of him."


"Communism changed our mentality," said Daniel Apostol, editor in chief of Romania's Money Channel. "We are still fighting now to come back to what we were. We lost the culture of private property. We lost this sense of privacy and respecting each other’s time and respecting people as individuals, as human beings. That was the worst thing that happened to us. This is why we are struggling so much now to get back to the capitalist society, to the free market, which can run only if there is respect for private property."

"You had to learn these concepts as an adult?" I said.

"Yeah," he said. "We didn’t have it before. And we are still learning it. We cannot just one day say, 'Ok, we get it.'"

I couldn't see or feel what he was talking about exactly, but I did hear things that struck me as odd.

"You should take the bus in this city," said Alina, my translator. "Every time there is an argument between two people, everyone on the bus gets involved. Everybody takes sides. A husband will yell at his wife, and half the bus takes his side while the other half takes hers."

Alina Bucharest
My translator Alina

Maybe this sort of thing would have happened in Bucharest even if communism never existed, but it certainly wouldn't happen in the U.S. where we're taught from childhood to mind our own business and leave other people alone.

Apostol is my age. He was a teenager when Ceausescu's regime was overthrown, so he remembers it vividly. It began suddenly--bang, just like that--when thousands of people attending one of the dictator's rallies started booing and jeering.

"I went home," he said, "and my mother said there is something on the TV, Ceausescu is speaking on TV. I switched on the TV set and saw that huge gathering in Bucharest. People started screaming at him. I thought it was a joke. I didn’t realize what was actually happening."

Ceausescu initially didn't realize what was happening either. The screaming crowd was cheering just moments before. In hindsight it's obvious that they only applauded because they feared terrible consequences if they did not, and it's entirely possible that each person who privately loathed the man while pretending to love him thought few others felt the same way.

Elena Ceausescu2
Elena Ceausescu

It's nearly impossible for individuals to resist totalitarian states. The first people who dare say anything are hauled off to prison or worse. It's hard for us in the West to truly appreciate how much nerve it takes to say no to that kind of tyrant even in private let alone outside while the boss is giving a speech. As Jay Nordlinger recently wrote, Ceausescu and his wife "had the entire country wired. Citizens were spied on, day and night. And they were defenseless. Privacy was virtually nonexistent. Every single telephone came equipped with a microphone—not merely to record phone conversations, but everything that went on in the room."

No regime, though, can arrest everyone in a crowd of thousands. There is some safety in numbers even if, as we can see today in Iran, there is not absolute safety. As soon as a few brave souls in the back of the audience dared to boo and hiss at Ceausescu, everyone realized they weren't the only ones who hated his guts. The tipping point came at once, and the Ceausescus would be tried and executed on camera in a matter of days.

You can watch excerpts from the revolution, trial, and execution, but be warned. Portions of the video below are a bit gruesome and may be disturbing for some viewers.

Still, Daniel Apostol couldn't believe what he was seeing on television when citizens in that crowd let their dictator have it.

"But you knew other communist governments had already fallen, didn't you?" I said.

"Yeah," he said.

"So," I said, "it wasn’t unthinkable, was it?"

"We knew what was happening in Poland, in Hungary, and the Czech Republic," he said. "We knew that."

"So didn’t you feel like Romania might be next?" I said.

Daniel Apostol
Daniel Apostol, editor in chief of Romania's Money Channel

"We were frustrated because all over the world things were changing," he said, "but nothing changed inside Romania. What was wrong with us? I had to ask, is this really happening? Or, no, it’s impossible, these people did a stupid thing and will be in jail in a few hours. In the evening I went out in the center of town. Everything was in turmoil. The political leaders were out of their offices. There was a revolution in every city on the 21st of December, and on the 22nd everything was burning in Bucharest."

"What's the feeling in Romania towards communist regimes today?" said my colleague Larry Luxner from the Washington Diplomat.

"I don't have any good feelings about them," Apostol said. "I can't say anything positive. I just can’t. Nothing good came to me from the communists. Ok, I'm alive. I was born. I am still here, and now no one bothers me. But I would have a much better life if they never came."


Bucharest is an interesting place for students of totalitarianism. I can still feel that it was once communist. While walking around near Ceausescu's monster palace and the Borg hive neighborhood of the old Securitate, that feeling was overwhelming, even crushing.

Romanian Parliament from Above
Ceausescu's monster palace

The Transylvanian countryside is another world. The region north of the capital would make an outstanding European vacation destination, especially for travelers on a budget. You can soak in the atmosphere and charms of old Mitteleuropa while spending less than a third of what it costs in the nations immediately to Romania's west.

It's hard to believe the city center of Brashov, just a little more than an hour's drive north of Bucharest, is even in the same country.

Brashov Square
Brashov, Romania

Charming Brasov Street
Brashov, Romania

The communists more or less left it alone architecturally, and the city leaders—or whoever is in charge of such things—seem to have made aesthetic restoration a higher priority than the local officials in Bucharest who are still only half-finished restoring what's left of the old city.

Clock Tower Sigishoara
Sighisoara, Romania, birthplace of Vlad the Impaler

Sigishaora Street
Sighisoara, Romania, birthplace of Vlad the Impaler

Some of Romania's smaller towns and villages seem to have recovered so nicely, even though they don't have much money, that I could almost believe Ceausescu neglected them and focused all his attention on Bucharest. The Institute for the Investigation of Communist Crimes in Romania, however, dispelled that illusion.

The institute files criminal charges against individuals who tortured and murdered their fellow citizens for the old regime.

"We have launched complaints against more than 300 persons accused of killing people during the communist era," said Raluca Grosescu, head of the Research and Documentation Department. "The institute is also building a politics of memory by developing educational projects."

"What have you learned and uncovered in your investigations," I said, "that wasn’t known before you started working?"

"At the macro level," she said, "it was known that in Romania people were killed, but there are personal stories which were completely unknown. When we move to the micro level, the human level, we help the families find the bodies and learn what happened to each person."

"What was the main thing that could get a person killed during the communist era?" I said.

"Most of them were killed because they opposed the collectivization process," she said.

So much for the idea that Ceausescu didn't mess with the countryside.

Atmospheric Transylvania 2
Transylvania, Romania

"They were peasants," she continued, "who didn’t want to give their properties to the state. They were people who formed resistance groups in the mountains or even individuals who just didn’t want to do this."

The killers worked for the dreaded Securitate. They were the agents of total surveillance who turned their country into a vast open-air Panopticon.

"Do you interview the perpetrators? Larry Luxner said.

"Yes," she said. "Of course."

"Were they honest?" he said. "Did they make excuses?"

"Do they have a conscience?" said Victor Shiblie, also, like Larry, from the Washington Diplomat.

"Some admitted it and even apologized to the families," she said, "but these are rare cases. Let me give you an example of the general behavior. We logged a complaint against a former communist general of the Securitate. He admitted on a TV show that he was involved in political torture, but he said it was legal at the time, that he was defending the communist state from its enemies. He said he was not sorry. In fact, he was proud of it because he defended his country. Most of the perpetrators have this kind of attitude."

Bran Castle
Bran Castle, Transylvania, Romania. Vlad "the Impaler" Tepes supposedly once spent the night here.

I asked her what on earth the average Romanian must think while listening to these people on television.

"The first ten years of transition," she said, "were characterized by the politics of forgetting."

The same thing happened in Lebanon after the civil war. So many people had done terrible things to their neighbors that a general forgiveness may not have been possible, at least not for a while. Amnesia helped them live with each other in the meantime. I asked one Maronite Christian why he still hated Israelis for the siege of Beirut in 1982 but was able to forgive his old Lebanese enemies. His answer might not be what you'd expect.

"I don’t have any choice,” he said as he hardened the muscles in his jaw line. “Because…they live here.” His voice sounded anguished as though he were remembering horrors I can only imagine, horrors that he tried hard not to think about but could never truly forget. “The Israelis don’t live here. The Israelis live over there, so I don’t have to forgive them!”

I couldn't help but think of the Middle East while in Romania. My colleague Larry couldn't help but think of Cuba since Fidel Castro's prison island is part of his regular beat. Raluca Grosescu had recently returned from Havana herself, and he wanted to know what she thought of it.

"Cuba is still a country with a communist regime," she said. "Fighting against communists in a post-communist period is easy, but when you fight against communists during a communist period, it is very…it is not so easy. When I was in Cuba last year, it reminded me of what was happening in the 1980s in Romania."

"Would you say it is more repressive there than under Ceausescu," Larry said, "or not quite as much?"

"From an economic point of view," she said, "it is worse in Cuba than it was in Romania. They are transitioning to a market economy, but the economy is still controlled by the state. Cuban people try to work in tourism in order to get some convertible pesos because you cannot buy anything in Cuba with pesos. You cannot buy anything. So what's happening—and this is sad—is you have people abandoning their work. Architects are working in bars, and students are making tourist guides."

"What's the younger generation in Romania like?" Larry said. "Do you have to pull them in to be interested in what you are doing? Do they care? The ones who never saw communism?"

Romanian Village
Romanian village

"Most of them don’t care," she said. "I think this is normal. They care about their own lives, the present. But at the same time there is new interest in the past. This is something that happens in many countries after transitions of around 20 years. It happened in post-Nazi Germany. The politics of memory started in the 1970’s. In Israel also. During the first 20 years it was a problem to talk about what happened. Only in the 1960s did they begin a politics of memory. It also happened in other countries like Greece where they had dictatorships."

"Why do you suppose this happens after 20 years?" I said. "Is it because there is a whole generation of people don’t know much about it?"

Raluca Grosescu
Raluca Grosescu, Institute for the Investigation of Communist Crimes in Romania

"I believe," she said, "it's because there is a whole generation that wasn’t involved. In Romania, for example, more than ten percent of the population were informers of the Securitate. Another 25 percent of Romanians were members of the Communist Party. Ten percent were part of the nomenclatura. In this moment we have a generation willing to talk about the past because it is not their personal history. It is painful to talk about your own involvement."

I've always wondered what democrats who grew up in communist countries thought of communists who grew up in democratic countries. Hardly anyone in the West ever voted with their feet, so to speak, by moving to a communist country, but communist dictatorships created millions of refugees who fled their homelands for Western democracies. East Germans were willing to risk being shot to make a run over the wall, Cubans are still willing to risk drowning to reach Florida, yet once in a while I still meet Westerners who have a warm spot in their hearts for regimes like Castro's.

"What do you think," I asked her, "of people in the West who think communism is a good idea but haven't actually experienced it? There are quite a few people who admire the system in Cuba. You know the types I mean. The people who wear Che Guevara t-shirts."

Che Guevara-1
Che Guevara

"Ah, yes," she said. "They are ridiculous. But somehow I can understand them. Let’s take the example of France. In France they were all socialists when they were young. Sartre was a close friend of Castro's. Gerard Depardieu was a close friend of Castro's. They believed in this ideal, but after they saw what Stalin did they couldn’t look to the Soviet Union. So they turned their hopes to Cuba. Then they saw what Castro did. The only one who still seemed to live up to the ideal was Che Guevara. So they turned to Che Guevara. I understand them. They were wrong their entire lives, and it is difficult to admit this."


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Posted by Michael J. Totten at March 8, 2010 12:39 AM
It would be wonderful if Romania could rebuild some of the traditional architecture. I realize it would take money to do it and that is difficult in these economic times. It doesn't hurt to dream, though.

I read recently about a firm that can scan photographs taken by different people from different angles of places and then scale them and piece them together to create three dimensional graphic displays of what the area looks like. There must be millions of photographs in various national archives and even military reconnaissance photography from World War II that could be used to show what various areas looked like before the war.

Even if the construction isn't exactly like the original and only looked like the original, I believe it could give Romanians a lift of spirit to regain a bit of a long lost past as well as be a boon to tourism.

A project as noble as rebuilding a city, even if only parts of it, would be something many might want to be a part of.
Posted by: crosspatch at March 8, 2010 1:37 am
Ahh, apparently it wasn't a firm, it was the University of Washington.
Posted by: crosspatch at March 8, 2010 1:41 am
Interesting article, as usual.
Posted by: idit at March 8, 2010 2:48 am
A pretty guide AND a pretty translator!? Lucky guy :)

Thanks for this post. I just learned about 10x more about Romania than I knew 10 minutes ago.
Posted by: Craig at March 8, 2010 4:33 am
Is Le Corbusier the reason why most buildings are ugly, especially high rises? I always liked Frank Lloyd Wright's style and wondered why most architects did not copy his styles. I always thought it was a cost issue. Somehow Wright's designs were inherently more expensive to build than the convention ugly designs most buildings have. I was not aware that it was an aesthetic ideological reason that most buildings are ugly.

Now I know the name of the person to blame for hating most high rise buildings.
Posted by: Lindsey Abelard at March 8, 2010 8:59 am
Excellent. The story of this pair of tyrants should be widely publicized. Has there ever been a marxist/communist regime that did not oppress its people? Worth pondering when we think of the sins of capitalism...
Posted by: Bill at March 8, 2010 9:11 am

You can blame Le Corbusier for the concrete brutalist style, but not for every ugly style.
Posted by: Michael J. Totten at March 8, 2010 10:12 am
You really should give a shout out here to last year's Nobel prize in literature winner - Herta Müller. She grew up in an ethnic German village in Communist Romania in the 50s and 60s, and writes very eloquently about the nastiness of the Communist system, as well as what it was like growing up basically in a medieval peasant village smack in the middle of the 20th century. When we talk about Romania being "in the West", we shouldn't forget that Western Romania was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire for centuries - and largely inhabited by Hungarians and ethnic Germans. It was always closer to Vienna and Budapest than Moscow or Istanbul.
Posted by: Ivan N at March 8, 2010 10:36 am
I first went in 1998 and adopted two teenage sons in 2001 (one now a Marine). This is a very accurate assessment.

Additional points. All of Romania's history from 1890-1990 was suppressed because there was still an heir to the monarchy, Michael in Switzerland. Neither Gheorghe Dej nor Ceausescu could afford to have anyone know about Queen Marie, probably the only decent ruler Romania has had, because it would lead to uncomfortable questions. My sons had never heard of her, nor had 99% of other Romanians I met.

The first years after the revolution were only a partial escape from communism, as Iliescu was communist himself, though not on the order of the madman. Economic reform did not really get underway until 1996.

The bright colors in the villages are new. Everything was grey, brown, dark green, and closed off until recently. This is why dramatic, even garish colors are favored now. Great for tourist charm.
Posted by: Assistant Village Idiot at March 8, 2010 12:57 pm
Michael, another fantastic piece. Thank you for writing about Romania. By the way, regarding Robert Kaplan's work, I urge your readers to pick up a copy of Kaplan's Balkan Ghosts, a terrific and haunting account of Balkan history.

regarding western useful idiots in Che t-shirts, more times than not, when I encounter a 20-something college type with that t-shirt and ask them why they wear it, its not due to any political or ideological reason, they wear it because its hip and trendy, like wearing chic Palestinian keffiyehs.
Posted by: Mike R at March 8, 2010 1:12 pm
Michael, if you enjoy the writing of Anthony Daniels aka Theodore Dalrymple, you might enjoy this piece by him in The New Criterion on the architectural legacy of Communism in Romania:

Also, I would recommend the chapter on Romania in his book The Wilder Shores of Marx, entitled Utopias Elsewhere in the United States. (Naturally, I would recommend anything he's ever written.)
Posted by: Steve at March 8, 2010 4:53 pm

"In every city I visited I saw a statue of Romulus and Remus, the mythical founders of the city of Rome. Romanians seem more conscious of themselves as children of the Roman Empire than people in any country I've visited other than Italy." Very interesting. Romulus and Remus are descendants of Aeneas:
Aeneas--son of Aphrodite (Venus)--was arguably the second best warrior on the Trojan side after Hector.

The Romans were a Turkish or Asian people.

If you go further back, there are substantial similarities between the ancient Latins, Greeks, Iranians and South Asians. Common sounds, words, and grammar. I have been told about the commonalities between Romanian and ancient Sanskrit.

To change the topic, I think Biden really is pro East European, South East European, and Caucuses. This is no act for Biden. And the people in these countries love Biden too.

To change the topic once again, MJT, Romanians have not deployed troops to Helmand to my knowledge.

The Romanians have had a presence in Zabul for many years. Until recently, the Romanian lead ISAF force, Romanian lead Zabul ISAF PRT, 205 ANA Corps, and ANP were massively under resourced inside the province.

Zabul might be the most anti ISAF province in Afghanistan. The insurgency there is local; unlike many other parts of Afghanistan. The Taliban might really have popular support in Zabul. [As background about 80% of all Afghan Pashtuns are against the Taliban. Some might argue 75%. Perhaps 91% of all Afghans oppose the Taliban.]

Hoh was one of only 3 US civilians assigned to the Romanian led PRT in Zabul. I have heard that Hoh didn't get along with the ANA and ANA advisors in Zabul; which may have lead to Hoh quitting and the big media bruhaha.

When Hoh attacked ISAF, he really meant Romanian lead ISAF, since Hoh hasn't really been exposed or informed about ISAF outside of Zabul. When Hoh attacks ANA and ANP (which if you listen carefully is the heart of his argument), he really means Zabul ANSF; which are in part Romanian advised. Again, Hoh knows little about ANSF outside of Zabul.

It would be interesting to hear Romanian perspectives on Hoh, given how much Hoh de facto criticized the Romanian performance in Zabul.

It would be very interesting to ask questions to the head of the Romanian forces in Zabul. Zabul is one the provinces I would most like to learn about.

I wonder how many non Romanian ISAF troops are now under Romanian command, how many non Romanian ISAF are in the Romanian lead Zabul PRT, and about the full extent of Romanian advising for the ANA and ANP.
Posted by: anan at March 8, 2010 6:49 pm

Now I know the name of the person to blame for hating most high rise buildings.
--- Lindsey Abelard

Lindsey, if you want a good analysis of this that's fairly readable, I recommend:

From Bauhaus to Our House
by Tom Wolfe

It's a good, relatively short history of how minimalist architecture came to fruition in the aftermath of Victorian influence.

Wright had problems of his own, he tended to do things that weren't long-term effective with the materials he had -- hence there are a lot of serious cracks in the concrete slabs he used in so many places, and the corner windows he used in some places supposedly leak like sieves.

I have a friend who is a major fan of Louis Kahn, if that matters.

Posted by: O Bloody Hell at March 8, 2010 9:39 pm
Thanks for posting this, MJT. A colleague of mine is from Romania--she's still fairly young, but just old enough to remember what life was like under the Ceaucescus. I asked her once about it, and I got an earful. The words just poured out of her--it was like she had just been waiting for me to ask her and she *had* to tell me. I'll never forget either her obvious, aching love for her beautiful country or her cold anger when talking about Ceaucescu's crimes. I agree, it's almost impossible for us who didn't grow up under totalitarianism to understand what it's really like or the marks it can leave on you.
Posted by: colagirl at March 8, 2010 9:43 pm

P.S., from something written long before 9/11:

"...There's the... World Trade Center in New York, a vigorous expression of anti-style. There, instead of wit, you have sheer, dumb force. If the Chrysler Building says 'Hey, look at me!', then the World Trade Center says 'Move along, you insignificant little turd, or I'll fall on you'."
- Paul Fussell -

Posted by: O Bloody Hell at March 8, 2010 9:46 pm
Ugly architecture is like graffiti you can't hide with paint. While acknowledging differences, Michael's report makes me wonder what Albania under Hoxha looked like and felt like.
Posted by: Paul S. at March 8, 2010 10:15 pm
As a non-architect who has an occasional interest in architecture I think Le Corbusier had lots of good ideas, but his architectural style and his grand architectural and urban planning theories were tremendous failures.

Lindsey: to expand on Michael's response, Le Corbusier's buildings often employed expanses of unfinished concrete, which was called Brutalism, from "brut", meaning "raw" in French. In English, the architectural school's name has a particularly appropriate apparent meaning.

A number of his buildings are very interesting, but a number of his followers have produced some of the world's major architectural disasters, ranging from Brasilia, capitol of Brazil, to the Empire State Plaza in Albany, NY and Boston City Hall in Government Center (which also includes the unloved City Hall Plaza and another piece of Brutalism, Government Service Center).
Posted by: Sam at March 8, 2010 10:24 pm
Michael Totten's article is published on March 8, exactly 27 years after President Reagan's Evil Empire Speech.
Posted by: Frank Warner at March 8, 2010 10:46 pm

I'm so glad I left Boston before Government Center---and the Big Dig, as if the streets weren't a frustrating enough maze already. And then there's Logan Airport...

However, the Brahmin sections of Beacon Hill were, and I hope still are, worth a walking tour.
Posted by: Paul S. at March 8, 2010 10:56 pm
I haven't read this article yet (will tomorrow, but I have already looked at your pictures), and I note that you mention Vlad the Impaler (Dracula) three times.

I happened to know a young couple (mid twenties) from a nearby bigger city (Cluj-Napoca), and they said that after living in the US for maybe a year (early '90s), they heard more about Dracula than in their whole lives living in Transylvania. When people figured out that they were from Transylvania, they were always asked about Dracula, and they couldn't answer anything. They said that this was simply not a topic over there. Do Americans always talk about ... the Salem witches?

Why are Americans are so "in love" with Dracula? Who was after all a sadist?

Posted by: Vilmos at March 8, 2010 11:58 pm

Sadly, many young Americans might assume the Salem witches were actresses or a pop group, an appreciation of history being "so last generation." Why vampires? The power to rob someone of...essential fluids, maybe? Calling, Dr. Freud...

You'd have to ask a 12 year-old American girl why the movie series "Twilight" was so hugely popular, I guess. I'll ask my niece.

But there's just no accounting for taste and its fascinations; see: Germans and David Hasselhoff.
Posted by: Paul S. at March 9, 2010 12:33 am
I second Craig's compliment, Michael. Prior to your report, what I had learned about Romania was limited to the terrible Allied toll from the Ploiesti oil field raids during WW II.
Posted by: Paul S. at March 9, 2010 1:12 am
Vilmos: When people figured out that they were from Transylvania, they were always asked about Dracula, and they couldn't answer anything. They said that this was simply not a topic over there.

Well, while walking around the medieval quarter in Sighisoara I came upon a statue in the dark that looked strikingly like Vlad the Impaler. And it turned out the statue was of Vlad the Impaler. I had no idea Sighisoara was his hometown until that moment.

The man may not be a topic of conversation in Romania generally, but he hasn't been forgotten where he came from.

Cluj is a bit far from Sighisoara.
Posted by: Michael J. Totten at March 9, 2010 1:40 am
[...] Twenty Years after the Fall of the Tyrant in Romania – Michael J. Totten [...]
Posted by: Tuesday Morning « the news links at March 9, 2010 5:10 am
Another interesting and insightful piece on a fascinating country. Keep up the excellent work Michael.
Posted by: Nick at March 9, 2010 5:27 am
Paul S, Boston is much nicer now thanks to the Big Dig. The walk along the harbor is now very pleasant, and the North End is finally reattached to the city. Yes, losing Scollay square was a disaster, but that was 40 years ago...
Posted by: Ivan N at March 9, 2010 7:04 am
Why are Americans are so "in love" with Dracula? Who was after all a sadist?

I'd guess that some Americans are "in love" with Vampire myths for the same reason some love Che. They believe in the myth of the "noble savage" - that uncivilized beings who act on the basis of their emotions are essentially good, and that people who live by the rules of our (supposedly) corrupt democratic, capitalist, industrial society are bad.

Che is seen as the personification of the revolutionary. He lived outside of the bounds of corrupt society and he sought to destroy it. He acted on his 'feelings', with no reasonable plans or logic.

In American pop literature, writers like Anne Rice and Charlaine Harris portray vampires as total noble savages, more civilized than we are despite the fact that they kill and eat people. Yes, this makes no sense, but since this school of thought believes that common sense is bad, logic can't touch their beliefs. It also helps that pop vampires and the poster version of Che are attractive.

American pop vampires have no relation at all to Vlad the Impaler, just as pop Che has no relation to the real Che. They're just used as a childish way of saying NO to society. A 'Twilight' or Che t-shirt is cooler than a shirt saying "I won't eat my broccoli!"
Posted by: Mary Madigan at March 9, 2010 7:50 am

Well said. Myths are powerful.
Posted by: Man From Tulsa at March 9, 2010 9:33 am
The Romans were a Turkish or Asian people.

Anand, the stories about Rome's origins are mythology. I've seen Iranians providing evidence that Rome was settled from ancient Persia too. But, archaeologists have discovered pre-Roman artifacts from over 14,000 years ago. The Aryan migrations were about 10,000 years ago. Since no theory I've seen places the point of origin of the Aryan tribes on the Italian peninsula, I'm gonna guess that the Romans were unrelated.
Posted by: Craig at March 9, 2010 9:58 am
Michael-Thank you for this article. I can add one little story regarding Bucharest's architecture. One of more former athletes visited Europe specifically to study planning issues and the types of buildings used to address those goals. When she and a group of other students visited Romania they went on a tour around Bucharest to see mostly the public buildings.

The guide, an expat Englishman, mentioned the Bauhaus movement and gushed about Le Corbusier. He turned once and mistook the looks of horror on his the faces as aproval and really pumped up the adulation for people's architecture. After he wound down one of the students told him they hated the buildings and couldn't understand why he admired them so much. His response was that it wasn't his fault that the former occupants murdered so many and damaged the reputation of Le Corbusier.
Posted by: Pat Patterson at March 9, 2010 9:59 am
anan, you can get the full scoop about the language similarities by googling "Indo-European." A lifetime of study.

Re Dracula. He is remembered as an important defender of Romania. He was held as a prince hostage by the Turks as a child and learned their bloody, intimidating methods, including impaling the heads of defeated enemies on pikes. As a ruler in Romania, he employed these tactics back on the Turks when they attacked, and they got the message. This style was considered horrible by the Europeans, and so he got remembered as particularly evil. He would have been a typical Turk.

The American fascination with Vlad caught the Transylvanians by surprise, but they figured out how to make souvenirs and give tours pretty quickly.
Posted by: Assistant Village Idiot at March 9, 2010 10:57 am
[...] TOTTEN: Romania, Twenty Years After The Fall of the Tyrant. Note that Totten’s supported by reader donations, so if you like his work, consider hitting [...]
Posted by: Instapundit » Blog Archive » MICHAEL TOTTEN: Romania, Twenty Years After The Fall of the Tyrant. Note that Totten’s supported b… at March 9, 2010 11:52 am
[...] totalitarianism’s scars run deep. Michael Totten writes a great article. The photo of the gigantic carbuncle of a parliament building is one of the better visual [...]
Posted by: Random Nuclear Strikes » Romania 20 Years After at March 9, 2010 11:58 am
Excellent report on Romania. I had the chance to travel there this past summer, and I was quite impressed by it. The countryside is beautiful, and the historic towns are on par with any other comparable towns in Western Europe. You definitely can see the Austro-Hungarian influence.
As for the cities, Bucharest was doubtlessly marred by the terrible Soviet style architecture. At the same time, it was fascinating to see how Romanians have adapted the city fabric to welcome modern retail and free markets.

I've written at lengths about my trip here:

By the way, Romanians are among the most generous, most welcoming people you will ever meet.
Posted by: corbusier at March 9, 2010 1:09 pm
Micheal, I'm unemployed so I can't afford to hit your tip jar...but I have put up a short note on my blog asking my (now) 35 or so loyal readers to come here and hit your tip jar. Thank you for doing what you do.

Rich Vail
Pikesville, MD
Posted by: Rich Vail at March 9, 2010 1:37 pm
Ugh, I keep wanting to force fans of Brutalist architecture to be forced to live in one. These are the people who are resisting getting rid of Boston's City Hall:

None of the voice work there, of course.

As un-lovely a building and space as you can imagine, squatting among some of the oldest buildings in America.

And Paul S., now that the Dig is done, it really is quite lovely. The city is whole again, without the North End walled off by the e-way.
Posted by: Ben at March 9, 2010 1:42 pm
[...] Read the whole thing. [...]
Posted by: What Communism really does to people at March 9, 2010 2:23 pm
I like how you end with commentary about the naivete of Western communists. The standard excuses you will hear is that the practicing communists didn't do it right, that they weren't actually communists but run-of-the-mill totalitarians. What they don't get is that any communist transition is going to get brutal and dictatorial. Even if the goal is a stateless society, the path there involves divesting people of property and forcing them to live in ways that they resent. You can't do that without a massive application of force and coercive violence. Even the most benevolent leader of a communist revolution will find that he has to kill or jail people on a grand scale. You can't have communism if half the people choose not to participate. The beauty of the free market is that no one is forced to participate. Want to go collectivist and disavow money in America? Go for it. Want to go free market in Cuba? Welcome to the gulag.
Posted by: JTHC75 at March 9, 2010 3:11 pm
Are Romanian women generally as beautiful as the ones pictured here, or did you just get lucky?

I've met maybe two Romanian women in my life and they were also quite attractive.
Posted by: BLBeamer at March 9, 2010 4:09 pm
Umm, Elena Ceausescu is the exception that proves the rule, maybe? Ugh.
Posted by: BLBeamer at March 9, 2010 4:10 pm

Yes, lots of attractive women in Romania, and Elena Ceausescu definitely wasn't one of them.
Posted by: Michael J. Totten at March 9, 2010 4:31 pm
Women there tend to be more attractive than the men on average. I don't really understand how that's possible since they're all from the same gene pool, but my traveling companions and I all noticed it and remarked on it.
Posted by: Michael J. Totten at March 9, 2010 4:34 pm
Ivan N & Ben,

Thanks for the Beantown update. I was living with friends on the "economical" side of Beacon Hill circa 1969-70, having grown up in the suburbs. Folks, in the fall New England is wonderful; rent a car, see the foliage, enjoy the seafood and take in the history.
Posted by: Paul S. at March 9, 2010 4:42 pm
Romanian women are supposed to be beautiful....that's their reputation at least.
Posted by: seguin at March 9, 2010 4:58 pm
Maybe Michael or other eurotravelers know; did Enver Hoxha inflict this level of brutality on Albanian culture?
Posted by: Paul S. at March 9, 2010 4:59 pm

Hoxha (pronouced Hoja) was an absolute monster. Albania was as oppressive as North Korea. I've been there, too, and it's still ramshackle and stunted. Kosovo, which is ethnically Albanian, is Switzerland by comparison.

That said, there is a great deal to like and admire about Albanians if you understand them.

(As an aside, according to Gallup International surveys they are the most pro-American people in the entire world.)
Posted by: Michael J. Totten at March 9, 2010 5:09 pm
[...] [...]
Posted by: Michael Totten: Romania 20 years after Ceaucescu « Spin, strangeness, and charm at March 9, 2010 5:33 pm
Thank the U.S. taxpayer for the free speech of the Internet. This thorough an article would never appear in the mainstream media.
Posted by: PacRim Jim at March 9, 2010 6:33 pm
> As an aside, according to Gallup
> International surveys they are the most
> pro-American people in the entire world.

Does it include the ... Americans? :-) I ask it since once I asked that the Poles are so pro-Americans that they are more pro-Americans than Americans themselves...


PS.Thanks everyone for the info regarding Dracula.
Posted by: Vilmos at March 9, 2010 7:38 pm
> I like how you end with commentary about the
> naivete of Western communists. The standard
> excuses you will hear is that the practicing
> communists didn't do it right, that they
> weren't actually communists but run-of-the-mill
> totalitarians.

An excerpt from this webpage:

> In sum the communist probably have murdered
> something like 110,000,000, or near two-thirds
> of all those killed by all governments,

So my question for those who think that they didn't do it right, 110 million was not enough? Where should we stop and finally recognize that it simply doesn't work?

One of the problems with Communism (and similar totalitarian) systems is that since they remove any brakes, they are excellent entry points for psychopaths to wreck society.

A note to Michael: You mention Mr. Laszlo. Well, Borbe'ly La'szlo' is a Hungarian name, and in Hungarian the family name comes first. So he should be properly called not Mr. Laszlo but Mr. Borbely.

Posted by: Vilmos at March 9, 2010 7:49 pm
Vilmos: Borbe'ly La'szlo' is a Hungarian name, and in Hungarian the family name comes first. So he should be properly called not Mr. Laszlo but Mr. Borbely.

I didn't know that. I knew he was an ethnic Hungarian because he told me so, but I don't know the first thing about how the language works.

I had dinner in Budapest with a friend who was glancing at the local newspaper. The waiter, in an astonished tone of voice, asked if he could read Hungarian.

My friend said no.

The waiter shook his head and said, "our language is just terrible."

We all laughed. I don't know if your language is terrible, but it sure is different from English.
Posted by: Michael J. Totten at March 9, 2010 7:56 pm

I had angry asian students tell me they hated English because it wasn't logical, like mathematics; "More or less"...Well, which is it!?! And spelling that hasn't evolved at the pace of pronunciation. And silent letters. And fewer rules than exceptions. An English professor told me once, "Please, just don't ask me why." When William came over from France and told Londoners they'd no longer be speaking English, they shrugged and ignored him; common usage creates its own logic.

I was surprised too to hear how many Americans tripped over a name like "Svetlana", because of the "Sv".
Posted by: Paul S. at March 9, 2010 10:42 pm
[...] However, I ran into a more granular and subtle example in a long piece by Michael J Totten entitled Twenty Years after the Fall of the Tyrant about present day Romania. In it he describes Vice Presidents Joe Biden in a way that probably [...]
Posted by: Refreshing Independence :: New MediaTheory at March 9, 2010 11:41 pm

Vilmos got me thinking. I'll guess that many, if not the majority of Americans, probably assume the United States, from its creation, has been a nation based on Christian principles. Whereas, a nation like Albania? (No value judgment here; FWIW, I happen to be an American atheist.)

But freedom to choose, and the right to hang onto what has been chosen and worked for, are probably more "American" than religious preference to others elsewhere, I'll assume. I hope that doesn't seem like arrogance on a foreigner's part, presuming to know what the rest of the world is thinking. Add your perspectives, please. Given the current (far?)left-leaning administration in the White House, I wonder what it is about America---today---that others admire, and aspire to be like? Intuition leads me to suspect the "pro-American" sentiment is more generic than contemporary, more founding fathers than Obama. I think I'd wonder this even if I wasn't a conservative.
Posted by: Paul S. at March 10, 2010 12:05 am
Paul: Intuition leads me to suspect the "pro-American" sentiment is more generic than contemporary, more founding fathers than Obama.

I think so, too.

Albanians, like Romanians, Poles, Kurds etc., admire us consistently whether we have a Democratic or Republican administration. They couldn't care less about our political squabbles.

(I feel the same way about countires I genuinely admire. My respect and affection for them doesn't depend overly much on what happened in the last five minutes. I admire Albanians and couldn't tell you if the left or right won their recent election. I don't know and don't care.)

Anti-Americans are the reverse. They hate us no matter who is in charge and no matter what we are up to. I think the Obama Administration is starting to figure this out, but is still holding out hope that it might not be true.
Posted by: Michael J. Totten at March 10, 2010 12:51 am
Does anyone have anything to say about the multi-generation-spanning murderous grudgeholding that seems to be the norm in Albanian society?

(Or is it just an urban legend meant to besmirch this wonderful people?)
Posted by: Barry Meislin at March 10, 2010 1:27 am

Oh, it's not a myth, but it's finally going away now after a brief post-communist resurgence.

What's really interesting about it is the rule book, the Kanun, which governs how the grudges are to be avenged. It is both ruthless and civilized. They spent a long time thinking it through.

The Kanun, I should add, is not part of Albania's current legal system. It's the set of pre-modern traditional laws, and is typical of the Mediterrean region.
Posted by: Michael J. Totten at March 10, 2010 1:38 am
"ruthless and civilized"

Posted by: Paul S. at March 10, 2010 2:17 am
Yeah, it's that kind of place. I imagine Albanians scare the hell out of most other Europeans. They're way outside the mainstream and are almost comically un-PC, but there's a lot there to respect if you're an American and make the effort to understand them.

They're also pleasant to be around personally, so effort to understand is not strictly necessary.
Posted by: Michael J. Totten at March 10, 2010 2:27 am
Maybe the Romanians have a lesson for us, civil-disobedience-wise when it comes to putting up with Federal restrictions on frigging fishing.
Posted by: ALEXISTAN at March 10, 2010 8:14 am
[...] us instead of Christ.  Michael Totten is a fantastic independent journalist, and he has posted a great look at Romania today, after communism.  It is definitely worth a read, all I could think of while reading was that this is what [...]
Posted by: Human systems cannot save us at March 10, 2010 10:50 pm
Excellent report.
I would caution you though that countries like Romania, Ukraine, Moldova lack of economic development pre-dates the communists. These were barely industrialsed agrarian states at the start of world war two with tiny middle classes.
These countries had never experienced democracy, nor practiced modern capitolism until the communists fell in 1989 and the early nineties. Pre world war two, conservative populist authoritariansim was by far the most popular political ideology, idealising the countryside, nationalism, the orhtodox church etc. These movements hindered capitolistic development in comparison to western Europe. Romania had its own right wing totalitarian terrorist movement(the Iron Guard. Hitler and Mussolini had real political support. In other words, when the communists came to power they didn't dismantle devolped democratcic, indutrialised countries so much as they built their own failed states. The tragedy is that since the fall of communism eastern bloc countries first have had to dismantle what the communists built, in order to start over.
Posted by: frydekmistek at March 11, 2010 6:45 am
Romania is working closely with Jordan in Zabul province, Afghanistan.

About 800 of Romania's 1100 troops are in Zabul, Afghanistan. Zabul might be the most dangerous, pro Taliban, and Taliban controlled province in Afghanistan. Serving alongside them are 1,000 US troops and one section of Jordanian special forces.

In addition, the Romanians lead an ISAF PRT for Zabul (that use to have only 3 Americans in it, one being the famous Hoh.)

I would be curious to learn more about how the Romanians, Jordanians and US troops are helping train the ANA, ANP, and civilian GIRoA agencies in Zabul.

I would also be curious to learn about the full extent of collaboration between Jordan and Romania in Zabul (including through the Romanian lead ISAF PRT.) I would imagine it is extensive; and not something the Jordanians would like aired to the public.

MJT, do you have any ideas about how to e-mail questions to the head of Romanian forces in Afghanistan, or the head of the Romanian lead PRT for Zabul?

One of the only sources about the Zabul PRT, Zabul ISAF, Zabul ANSF, and Zabul government is Matthew Hoh. And he is suspect.

Here is one recent article about Zabul:
Posted by: anan at March 11, 2010 9:38 am
Wow! Absolutely fantastic article!
Posted by: EscapeVelocity at March 11, 2010 5:24 pm
Nice travelog. I like the details, photos, and interviews.

It is true that Marxism-Leninism in general and Ceausescu's megalomania in particular wrecked Romania. But you omitted that the West, including the U.S., had close diplomatic ties with Ceausescu (one of the worst Communist leaders) because after 1968 he was anti-Moscow. (He did not help the Warsaw Pact crush the Prague Spring and he had a relationship with that alliance a bit like Charles de Gaulle's within NATO.)

I don't say this to launch a wave of bashing, only that the omission makes things appear simpler and more black and white than they were. It is a little bit of nuance that shows us one of the dilemmas of Western foreign policy in these years. (IE, is it good to support a particular bad small dictatorship, if it helps undermine a larger imperial dictatorship?)
Posted by: Ombrageux at March 12, 2010 1:16 am
But you omitted that the West, including the U.S., had close diplomatic ties with Ceausescu (one of the worst Communist leaders) because after 1968 he was anti-Moscow.

Well, I can't write about everything in 5,000 words.

I hate it when the West makes common cause with fascists and communists. Once in a while I realize it's necessary, but it's distateful at best and frequently despicable.

Ion Pacepa--Ceausescu's advisor and Securitate officer who later defected--wrote an interesting book partly about how Ceausescu's sort-of alliance with the West was a fraud, and that the dictator couldn't believe Western leaders were dumb enough to believe he was sincere.

It should be required reading for diplomats.
Posted by: Michael J. Totten at March 12, 2010 1:40 am
One can't cover everything, but you use the story to feed quite a long aside on the naive Leftism of people like your's truly :-) (Which, ipso facto, leads to Ceausescu-like tyranny, which the conservatives/West/powers that be have nothing to do with.)

I will definitely look out for Ion Pacepa's book.
Posted by: Ombrageux at March 12, 2010 2:04 am
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