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February 19 2014

The Journalistic Purgatory of Eastern Europe

'The rose and the newspaper'

‘The rose and the newspaper’ by Borislav Dimitrov on Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

We were told the end of totalitarian regimes would lead to a free press, but Central and Eastern European media is less free now than at any point in the past 20 years.

Governments in the region, long used to having unadulterated control over media content, have been reasserting authority. Strong-arming, threats, amendments to law, arrests, destruction of media equipment and property, and beatings have been documented throughout the region with increasing frequency.

In sitting down to write this piece, I was confident I could shed light on the worst examples of media repression from Eastern Europe, as I follow the subject daily and live in Serbia. But as I began looking at case after devastating case, I began to see a larger picture that taken together point to a media system that is badly broken.

To begin understanding, we must clarify the image the typical global reader has of Central and Eastern Europe from 20th century history. Countries in the region with the most threats on freedom of the press, regardless of whether they are EU member states, have double-digit unemployment rates and an enormous gap in income disparity. A very small percentage of extremely wealthy citizens are frequently connected to government, while the vast majority of citizens barely make ends meet. The strong, stable middle class that many Central European socialist countries maintained for some 50 years has been virtually wiped out.

Social and economic factors lay the foundation for the media landscape, because livelihoods depend on the decisions of their local and national government officials. This leads the citizens of most Central and Eastern European to pay close attention to local politics. Societies which follow their governments so avidly should have highly active investigative journalist networks. A host of factors mediates against this from happening in practice.

Follow the Money

Members of the media are very poorly paid for their work, often employed as part-time or outsourced staff, while operating budgets for reporting are minimal. Investigative journalism rarely occurs in this economic environment. Low wages also open doors to bribery of journalists and editors, cash payment for publishing articles and for pushing or ignoring stories based on non-journalistic interests.

Several Eastern European countries have started cracking down on significant investigative journalism. Macedonia, for example convicted investigative journalist Tomislav Kezarovski in October of 2013 and jailed conspiracy-theorist and journalist Zoran Bozinovski less than a month later. Although the vast majority of Macedonia's press is private, the government was among the 50 biggest media advertisers in 2012, securing a huge influence in both state and private media, say Macedonian journalists Tamara Causidis and Dragan Sekulovski in a guest article on Index on Censorship.

The media houses in all these countries rely mostly on advertising revenue to stay afloat. Business money is frequently connected to politics and political figures. The consequence is self-censorship. Eastern European journalists who write critically of those in power risk offending those who control the advertising money, and thus risk their livelihood and, at times, their physical safety.

In Albania, which last year ranked 102nd of 173 countries in the Reporters without Borders “Freedom of the Press Index”, the media market is so poor and overcrowded it's difficult to sustain, says Besar Likmeta in an article on Balkan Insight. “Most Albanian media are dependent on big corporate advertisers as their main source of revenue, and internal emails show that they can easily skew editorial policy,” says Likmeta.

The situation is similar in most countries of the region. Self-censorship can be further encouraged through unofficial calls from those in power, killing stories before they reach publication. Journalists and editors who publish regardless risk lawsuits, threats, harassment, and even violence.

OSCE Freedom of Media representative Dunja Mijatovic often expresses concern regarding increased media regulation. In Hungary, she has warned of disproportionately high prison sentences for defamatory video and sound recordings, saying such laws are easy to use to silence critics or differing views. In Romania in last year, she called on the Romanian government not to “re-criminalize free speech” saying it could have a chilling effect on investigative journalism through fear and self-censorship.

In Ukraine, before the ongoing Euromaidan protests in the country, many already drew attention to the lack of media freedom, that has only worsened since. Ukraine scholar Andrew Wilson wrote on openDemocracy in October 2013, just weeks before the anti-government protests began:

Now it is media freedom that is under attack. Ukraine’s biggest TV channel ‘Inter’ was still showing signs of independence around October; in February, however, it was taken over by the Head of the Presidential Administration, and a leading oligarch.[...]

Next in line is Ukraine’s most famous web site, Ukrainska Pravda (Ukrainian Truth).[...] Its founding editor, Georgy Gongadze, was a thorn in the side of the then authorities. He disappeared in September 2000, and two months later was found gruesomely murdered.

There are dozens more examples of conflict of interest, intimidation, bribery and corruption in Eastern and Central Europe. The media landscape of the region finds itself in purgatory.

Less Safety Online

Internet penetration rates in Central and Eastern European countries are high and their citizens have a historical habit of turning to alternative sources of information, due to the closed character of official media under communist and socialist regimes in the 20th century. Citizen media and social networks were for several years viewed as a way out of this stalemate, for some perhaps even as a “safe zone” for freedom of expression, due to the respective governments’ lack of monitoring.

This, however, has now changed drastically. Governments in Ukraine, Serbia, Albania, Bulgaria and Hungary now see the influence citizen media and social networks can have on politicians’ reputations and elections. They have responded with close monitoring, and attempts to control what users are uploading and saying. Without much success, of course, but the result is direct pressure on common citizens’ freedom of expression and added pressure on media.

In Serbia for example, online commentary and information was fairly freely passed between users in the late 90s during the Milosevic era, whose regime appeared not to view the Internet as a major threat and thus seldom monitored citizens in public online spaces. Today, personal websites and social network profiles are under direct attack in Serbia for sharing a satirical video of the Deputy Prime Minister and similar materials.

Significant political and economic news in most Central and Eastern European countries now spread through human networks by word-of-mouth and are often reshaped into rumor. Journalists hold back important news stories in their heads, or on post-it notes in their drawers, unable to research them, much less hand them in to their editors for publishing. Citizens, even when afforded a venue where they could express their opinions, now often choose not to. These countries and their media have visibly reached an informational stalemate.

But the tighter the grip of politicians on media, the greater the anger of the people. Media are either unable or unwilling to fight for journalistic freedom, a condition echoed in the development of democracy in the region. Now, in countries in which governments have stifled the free expression of their citizens on the Internet, people are beginning to rise against those in power, calling them out for corruption and incompetence.

After Bulgaria, Ukraine and others, Bosnia-Herzegovina is the latest country in the region to see mass protests both on the streets and online. On February 11, 2014, in the midst of protests in Tuzla and Sarajevo, the Cantonal Court in Sarajevo ordered “temporary seizure” of all media property documenting the protests in Sarajevo. Decisions like this to silence media only fuel citizens’ demand for access to information and freedom of expression. When all boundaries have been crossed, change is bound to happen.

Danica Radisic is the Central and Eastern Europe Editor of Global Voices. She is a corporate communications consultant, writer, blogger, poet, and native speaker of Serbian, English and Portuguese. A Serbian native, she was born and raised on the Iberian Peninsula, with some time spent in the Middle East and U.S. She is a mother of two and CEO of Krazy Fish Consulting.

January 21 2014

Young Romanian Builds First Car Entirely Made of LEGO Blocks

20-year-old Raul Oaida from Romania has built what many dreamed of as children – the world’s first life-size LEGO car. The car, including the engine which actually runs, was built using 500,000 LEGO pieces. The vehicle can only achive a speed of some 20 to 30 miles per hour, but – it runs on air!

The young Romanian, a self-taught tech genius, paired up online with Australian entrepreneur Steve Sammartino, who procured the funds for this project on Twitter and got twice as many investors as needed in just days. The car was built in Romania and then transported to Australia, where the two unlikely partners met for a test drive.

The engine of the car is also entirely made of LEGO. It has “four orbital engines and a total of 256 pistons.” According to the project website, the top speed isn’t very impressive, around 20 to 30 km. “We were scared of a Lego explosion so we drove it slowly,” the founders wrote. Steve and Oaida say that the project was possible only because of the internet. The two even met online, when Steve accepted Oaida’s Skype request. “I’m teaching him about business and he’s teaching me a bit about physics,” Steve told the press.

January 20 2014

European Citizens Call for the Protection of Media Pluralism

For updates follow @MediaECI on Twitter and 'like' the Facebook page European Initiative for Media Pluralism.

Website: MediaInitiative.eu. For updates follow @MediaECI on Twitter and ‘like’ the Facebook page European Initiative for Media Pluralism.

“European institutions should safeguard the right to free, independent and pluralistic information”. The quote, from the Media Initiative website, summarizes the main idea behind a pan-European campaign that aims at urging the European Commission to draft a Directive to protect Media Pluralism and Press Freedom.

The Media Initiative is running a European Citizens’ Initiative - a tool of participatory democracy “which allows civil society coalitions to collect online and offline one million signatures in at least 7 EU member states to present directly to the European Commission a proposal forming the base of an EU Directive, initiating a legislative process”. The petition is available in 15 languages and can be signed online:

Protecting media pluralism through partial harmonization of national rules on media ownership and transparency, conflicts of interest with political office and independence of media supervisory bodies.

A short video presents the campaign:

Reposted bycheg00 cheg00

November 24 2013

One UK Suburb's Un-Neighborly Reaction to Slovakian Roma Immigrants

After a wave of discriminatory statements against Roma communities in France made by French Minister of the Interior Manuel Valls, Slovakian and Romanian Roma in England are now getting the same message from authorities and neighbors.

According to an article in the Guardian, Sheffield locals in an area with a high level of Roma settlements created patrols in an attempt to calm the tensions between the Roma community and other local citizens, an effort that seems to be making things worse. As the article explains:

“In an interview with BBC Radio Sheffield the former home secretary [now Sheffield MP David Blunkett] also accused the government of “burying their head in the sand” over the scale of Roma settlement in the UK and said the Roma community had to make more of an effort to fit in with British culture: “We have got to change the behaviour and the culture of the incoming community, the Roma community, because there's going to be an explosion otherwise. We all know that.”[...]

Nobody knows for sure how many Roma people have come to Sheffield since Slovakia joined the EU in 2004. The council's best guess is that 1,500 eastern European Roma children now live in the city as a whole, with around 500 in the small Page Hall area. Miroslav Sandor, a Roma community worker in Page Hall, gives a much higher estimate. He thinks there may be 600-900 large families in the city, mostly concentrated in Page Hall.

November 10 2013

Hungary Criticized for Lenient Naturalization Policy

With unemployment and economic concern growing in the European Union, Hungary is among some of the EU member states being criticized by its Union neighbors for more lenient laws passed in 2011 for attaining Hungarian citizenship. Charles Richardson explains why on Crikey's blogs:

Hungary has been giving some grief to its neighbors with a new law that allows people to claim Hungarian citizenship if they have (a) a direct ancestor who was a Hungarian citizen and (b) a basic knowledge of the Hungarian language. Apparently the latter requirement is being leniently interpreted.[...]

Two things make this more controversial than it might sound. One is that substantial chunks of Hungary’s neighbors were, at times in the last century, Hungarian territory. That means that a lot of Serbs, Slovaks, Romanians and Ukrainians are potential claimants, and it may make some of those neighbors worry about whether Hungary’s leaders have really given up the dream of recreating the “Great Hungary” that existed prior to 1920.[...]

The BBC reports that more than half a million people have taken advantage of the new law since it came into effect at the beginning of 2011, with about 100,000 from Serbia alone.

November 05 2013

‘Women Should Be Submissive', and Other Google Autocomplete Suggestions

A series of ads by UN Women, revealed in late October, used the Google Autocomplete feature to uncover widespread negative attitudes toward women. Global Voices followed reactions to the UN Women campaign and conducted its own experiment in different languages. The results of searches conducted both within the UN Women campaign and Global Voices revealed popular attitudes not only about women’s social and professional roles, but also about their sexuality, appearance and relationships with men.

UN Women ad featuring Google autocomplete suggestions for the phrase

UN Women ad featuring Google autocomplete suggestions for the phrase “women shouldn't”

The creators of the UN Women ads used search phrases like “women cannot”, “women shouldn’t”, “women should” and “women need to” completed by genuine Google search terms to highlight overwhelmingly negative stereotypes, sexist and highly discriminatory views held about women by society globally. The ads quickly went viral and sparked a heated discussion online. Last week, creators have announced that they are planning to expand the campaign in response to the mass online reaction.

The auto-complete function for searches, according to Google, predicts users’ queries based on the search activity of all users of the web as well as the content of indexed pages. The predictions may also be influenced by past searches of the particular user if they are signed into their Google account.

Global Voices asked its contributors from around the world to carry out Google searches using the same or similar phrases as those used in the UN Women campaign, in their own languages. The searches done between October 19 and October 25, 2013, revealed attitudes about the roles women are expected to take in society, often demonstrating the same global prejudices, but sometimes showing contradictions in different countries. Below are searches in 12 languages from different countries and continents:

Spanish

Chile

“Women should not…”. A screenshot by Silvia Viñas. October 21, 2013.

Women should not…
Women should not preach
Women should not work
Women should not talk in the congregation
Women should not drive

Peru

“Women cannot…” A screenshot by Juan Arellano. October 21, 2013.

Women cannot…
Women cannot preach
Women cannot be pastors
Women cannot donate blood
Women cannot live without man

Puerto Rico

“Women should…”. A screenshot by Firuzeh Shokooh Valle. October 21, 2013.

Women should…
Women should be submissive
Women should use the veil
Women should preach
Women should work

French

France

“Women should…”. A screenshot by Suzanne Lehn. October 21, 2013.

Women should…
women should stay at home
women should work
should women preach
women should wear skirts
women should be submissive
women should know
women should vote
women should stay at home
should women work
women should do the cooking

“Women don't know…”. A screen shot by Rayna St. October 21, 2013.

Women don’t know…
women don't know how to drive
women don't know what they want
women don't know how to be in love
women don't know how to read cards

Arabic

Egypt (similar results in Jordan)

“Woman cannot…”. A screenshot by Tarek Amr. October 21, 2013.

Woman cannot…
Woman cannot live without marriage
Woman cannot live without a man
Woman cannot keep a secret
Woman cannot interpret man's silence

Chinese

“Women cannot…”. A screenshot by Gloria Wang. October 21, 2013.

Women cannot…
Women cannot be too smart
Women can't drive
Women cannot give birth
10 topics women cannot discuss with their husbands

Romanian

“Women should not…”. A screenshot by Diana Lungu. October 21, 2013.

women should not…
women should be loved not understood
women should not be understood
women should not wear pants
what women should not do in bed

 Italian

Italy

“Women should…”. A screenshot by Gaia Resta. October 22, 2013.

Women should…
Women should stay at home
should play hard to get
should stay in the kitchen
should be subdued

“Women should not…”. A screenshot by Gaia Resta. October 22, 2013.

Women should not…
Women should not be understood
should not work
should not be understood but loved
should not read

 German

Germany

“Woman should not…”. A screenshot by Katrin Zinoun. October 21, 2013.

Woman should not…
Woman should not teach
My wife should not work

“Woman can…”. A screenshot by Katrin Zinoun. October 21, 2013.

Woman can….
Woman cannot come
Woman cannot get pregnant
Woman cannot cook
Woman cannot get a baby

 Hebrew

“Women don't…”. A screenshot by
Gilad Lotan. October 21, 2013.

Women don't…
Women don't work
Women are not modest
Women don't know how to drive
Women don't want to have kids

 Hungarian

“A woman should be…”. A screenshot by Marietta Le.
October 21, 2013.

A woman should be…
a woman should be a chef in the kitchen
a woman should be pretty and ruthless

 Danish

“Women cannot…”. A screenshot by Solana Larsen. October 20, 2013.

Women cannot…
Women cannot drive
Women cannot control vagina
Women cannot be color blind
Women cannot barbecue

In Danish, the searches for “women cannot” and “women can” yielded the same results.

Russian
Russia

“Women should not…”. A screenshot by Veronica Khokhlova. October 19, 2013.

Women should not…
Women should not be believed
Women should not lift heavy things
Women should not drink
Women should not be trusted

 English

The UK

“Women should…”. A screenshot by Annie Zaman. October 25, 2013.

Women should…
Women should be seen and not heard
Women should stay at home
Women should know their place

 Not all searches carried out by members of Global Voices community turned up negative terms. Nevertheless, the results of the experiment largely confirm UN Women’s worrying conclusion that a great deal of work still remains to be done in order to advance women’s rights and empowerment around the world.

October 04 2013

New Romanian Law Takes Aim at Bucharest's 65,000 Stray Dogs

A deadly dog attack on a four-year-old boy last month has brought new attention to an old problem in the Bucharest area in Romania. A pack of dogs attacked the boy near a park and the boy passed away from the injuries.

The city reportedly has about 65,000 stray dogs, and animal welfare officials say about 1,100 people were bitten by stray dogs in Bucharest in the first four months of 2013. Romanian law was changed on September 9, 2013, legalizing euthanasia after stray animals spend 14 days in public shelter. The Romanian Parliament has ruled that all stray dogs will be killed if, after these 14 days, they remain unadopted.

As Romanian Insider reported:

The Chamber of Deputies approved the law which sets a two week day deadline for stray dogs in shelters to be adopted, following which they will be put down. City Hall, however, retains the power to delay the lethal injection.

The law passed by a majority of votes, with MPs from the Democrat Liberal Party (PDL), the Social Democrat party (PSD) and the National Liberal Party (PNL) all in favour of euthanizing stray dogs.[...]

During the debates, the President of the Chamber of Deputies, Valeriu Zgonea, said none of the NGOs protecting stray dogs had filed a request to attend the vote.

On that day, hundreds of Romanians rallied in support of a plan to kill stray dogs in the capital after a tragic accident.

Aurica Anghel, the grandmother of the little boy who was mauled to death, also attended Sunday's demonstrations. Ms. Anghel told the BBC:

I hope for a change for the better – I don't want to see dogs on the street anymore.

Another citizen present at the rally said that in her neighborhood packs of dogs roamed the streets after dark, adding:

I'm afraid to go out.

The mayor of Bucharest, Sorin Oprescu, first announced a referendum would be held on the matter sometime in October. The actual question that would have been asked through the local referendum would have been: “Do you agree with euthanasia for stray dogs captured on Bucharest’s public domain, who will not be adopted within the legal deadline?” In the meantime, Romanian Parliament passed the law and President Traian Basescu said he would issue a Presidential decree backing the law already passed by Parliament, which would be the last step in the bureaucratic process of making the new legislature final.

The case has fired up a fresh debate about the packs of stray dogs, a problem that has plagued Romania for years, some calling it the biggest stray dog problem any country in Europe has had since World War II. Romanians seem divided over the two main options available: euthanasia or sterilization. While many people say the authorities should be able to take radical measures, including putting down dogs, animal rights groups advocate neutering and spaying the dogs.

However, efforts in recent years to sterilize the dogs and return them to the streets have proven inefficient. More than 6,500 stray dogs were sterilized in Bucharest last year, at the cost of some 200,000 euros (about 270,000 US dollars). Meanwhile, local authorities face severe overcrowding at city dog pounds and lack the funding needed to build and run more shelters.

The blog Romanian Journalist reported that new polls show that Romanian citizens would also most likely back the new euthanasia law:

New poll shows over one third of the Romanians (34,7%) believe stray dogs have to be sterilized and placed in shelters, 31,8% say they should be adopted or euthanized, while 25% say the solution for stray dogs is euthanasia.

But social networks are covered with thousands of messages describing peoples’ distress at the Romanian government's decision. In protest, thousands have changed their Facebook profile page to show a bright red dog paw under the name “Red Card For Romania”.

In protest, thousands netizens have changed their Facebook profile page to show the bright red dog paw

In protest of Romania's plan to euthanize stray dogs, thousands of netizens have changed their Facebook profile page to show this bright red dog paw.

Founder and President of Save the Dogs and Other Animals, Sara Turetta, tweeted:

A personal trainer from Italy, Angel Fernandez, reported a cruel incident on Twitter:

#ROMANIA #DOGS DECAPITATED, MASSACRED…stop the genocide of stray dogs in Romania #romaniastopanimalabuse

Twitter user and journalist Isabella P.P, along with many others, shared a link to a petition to stop the new law and what many are calling an open “massacre” of stray animals:

Mina*Bad Yoga Kitty* reported about the involvement of celebrities regarding this case:

September 26 2013

Europe Warns French Minister over Statement Regarding Roma Community

Manifestation de Roms à Paris en 2007 photo Philippe Leroyer licence creative commons

 ”Stop the Raids” Roma protest in Paris – photo by Philippe Leroyer – creative commons license 3.0

The statement from the interior minister of France Manuel Valls gave new life to the tense relationship of France with the Roma community. Mr Valls said on France Inter radio [fr] on September 24 :

ces populations ont des modes de vie extrêmement différents des nôtres et qui sont évidemment en confrontation [avec les populations locales]“.

This community has a way of life that is very different from ours and their way is clearly at odds with the way of life of their neighbors.

The statement got plenty of reactions from the francophone community on twitter, some with a hint of sarcasm :

Roma people are the reasons for all of our misfortunes. It's because of them that more than 25% of youngsters in Europe are unemployed.

These families are caught between a rock and hard place: a declining Europe that rejects them and the mob that is getting richer

On a subject that was already quite sensitive for Human rights in France, the Minister's statement got him a warning from the Council of Europe:

Ce débat perpétue une tendance inquiétante vers une rhétorique anti-roms discriminatoire et incendiaire, et risque de prendre un virage dangereux avec les prochaines élections municipales et européennes.”

This debate is taking a worrisome path towards a narrative hostile and discriminatory towards the Roma community. It might also take a turn for the worse during the next European parliamentary and municipal elections.

September 20 2013

Floods in Romania Take Nine Lives, Thousands Evacuated

Nine people are known to have lost their lives in flash floods that swept the area around the Danube port of Galati in eastern Romania. Floodwater has affected 21 localities so far and has destroyed hundreds of hectares of crops, also washing away a lengthy portion of railway tracks and causing the derailment of several empty passenger coaches.

The floods have forced thousands to flee their homes in eastern Romania in the last four days. Torrential downpours caused the water level to rise rapidly on Thursday, September 12, 2013. Among those who died was an eight-year-old girl swept away from her father's arms.

Rescuers and locals push through the floodwater in Eastern Romania; photo courtesy of Balkan Inside, used under Creative Commons license.

Rescuers and locals push through the floodwater in Eastern Romania; photo courtesy of Balkan Inside, used under Creative Commons license.

Eugen Chirita, an emergency services spokesman for the Galati region, said: “The toll since Thursday is nine dead, 6,900 evacuated and 1,735 homes flooded.”

EU Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid & Crisis Response Kristalina Georgieva tweeted:

Another Twitter user, @FauziPewarisPG, wonders if this is a result of climate change:

Jim Bedient, a weather watcher and astronomer, tweeted from Ukraine:

In the meantime, thousands of rescuers, soldiers and police are at work, while Romainian Prime Minister Victor Ponta is said to be gathering more information about the situation on the ground. The video below shows the level of damage and amount of floodwater on the first evening of the floods, as rescuers and locals salvage villagers and livestock.

August 17 2013

Romania to Open Communist Leader Ceausescu's Execution Site to Tourists

According to reports in the Romanian press, Romania is about to turn the former military base Targoviste, the site where former Romanian communist leader Nicolae Ceausescu was executed, into a tourist attraction.

The execution site of Ceausescu, deemed by many to have been a notorious Romanian dictator, will be open to the public next month.

Italian journalist Giampaolo Poniciappi was among those who announced the unusual news on Twitter:

#Romania, the barracks where the #Ceausescu‘s were shot turns into a museum open to tourists

— Giampaolo Poniciappi (@Infoconte) August 10, 2013

Ceausescu became general secretary of the Romanian Communist Party in 1965 and served as Romania’s President from 1967 to 1989, during which time he suppressed any and all opposition using brutal force.

photo used under Creative Commons license.

Archive photo of Ceausescu during is days as President of Romania; photo used under Creative Commons license.

Ceausescu and his wife Elena fled Bucharest in a helicopter after angry crowds gathered in front of the Communist Party headquarters in the final days of the Romanian Revolution on December 22, 1989. The army soon intercepted them and ordered a three-day trial by a special military tribunal. The main charge was genocide, and Ceausescu was blamed for the deaths of some 60,000 people — though historians have disputed that figure. The court sentenced the pair to death by firing squad on Christmas Day in 1989.

A soldier standing guard in the proceedings was ordered to take the Ceaușescus out back one by one and shoot them, but the Ceaușescus demanded to die together. The soldiers agreed to this and began to tie their hands behind their backs, which the Ceaușescus protested against, but were powerless to prevent. A TV crew who were to film the execution only managed to catch the end of the terrible event, as the Ceaușescus lay on the ground shrouded by dust that was kicked up by the bullets striking the wall and ground.

Before his sentence was carried out, Nicolae Ceaușescu sang “The Internationale” while being led to stand against the wall before the firing squad. After the shooting, the bodies were covered with canvases.

The Ceaușescus were the last people to be executed in Romania before the abolition of capital punishment on 7 January 1990. Their graves are located in Ghencea Cemetery in Bucharest. They are buried on opposite sides of a path. The graves themselves are unassuming, but they tend to be covered in flowers and symbols of the regime. More than 20 years after their death, the Ceausescu couple has not ceased to attract the attention of the public.

Elena Ceausescu was the object of a personality cult as intense as that of her husband, which exalted her as the “Mother of the Nation.” By all accounts, her vanity and desire for honors exceeded that of her husband. As with her husband, Romanian Television was under strict orders to take great care portraying her on screen. For instance, she was never supposed to be shown in profile because of her homely appearance (though it's been said she had been very attractive in her youth) and large nose. Publicly, Ceaușescu said that it was an honor to be referred to as “comrade”, but Romanian expatriates in the United States frequently referred to her as “Madame Ceaușescu” with great disdain.

The huge interest in this bizarre tourist destination is shown in the reactions of netizens, who conveyed this on social networks. However, there aren't either positive or negative reactions concerning this unusual decision by the Romanian government yet. Interest among netizens is certainly large, but most seem to be simply surprised and waiting to see what will happen in September when it opens.

Laura Desere, a journalist covering international affairs, tweeted the news:

An Egyptian Twitter user, Essam Man, said:

@AlMasryAlYoum: #Romania #Ceausescu The opening of the place where the execution of Ceausescu and his wife took place, venue open in Septhttp://t.co/e3kfug0quG@M_abd_elkhalek

— daydreamer … (@EssamMan) August 11, 2013

Teacher and translator Paul-Sorin Tita from Romania added:

Twitter user Antonio Silva:

Italian jornalist Matteo Pazzaglia has a rarely seen opinion:

In good and bad, Nicolae #Ceausescu was the onl president to secure a strong identity for #Romania. http://t.co/Hl39l1IwqC

— Matteo Pazzaglia (@cimbolano) July 24, 2013

In the meantime, in Romania, workers have completely restored the unlikely attraction near the central Romanian town of Targoviste to its original state so it will look just as it did when Ceausescu and his wife Elena met their end at the hands of a firing squad and, reportedly, some 120 bullets.

“Visitors will be able to see the wall where the Ceausescus were shot,” Ovidiu Carstina, the director of the museum site, told Bucharest-based Mediafax news agency. “The inside of the building has been repainted in the same colors as in 1989, and the furniture will be the same. We are recreating both the room where the improvised trail took place and the bedroom where they spent their last night.”

The site will also feature an exhibition detailing the structure’s earlier history as a cavalry school from 1893 to 1914. Officials said they decided to open it to the public this September after growing demand from foreign tourists. Tickets will go for just seven Romanian leu (two US dollars).

Bucharest, Not Budapest: A Chocolate Bar Explains the Difference

The capitals of Romania and Hungary, Bucharest and Budapest, respectively, are so often confused that those unfamiliar with the region often book airplane tickets to Bucharest, when their intention is to get to Budapest and vice-versa. In fact, 400 soccer fans from Spain chartered a flight last year to the 2012 Europa League Final in Budapest. Their only problem was that the actual final was in Bucharest.

Bucharest, Not Budapest; one of the official images of the ROM chocolate advertising campaign.

Bucharest, Not Budapest; one of the official images of the ROM chocolate advertising campaign.

(more…)

July 13 2013

Tragedy Ignites Online Friendship Between Romanians and Montenegrins

In one of the most tragic road accidents ever seen in Montenegro, 18 Romanian nationals lost their lives and 29 were injured on June 23, 2013 when a Romanian bus full of tourists ran off the Grlo bridge 30 kilometers away from the Montenegrin capital of Podgorica into a 40-meter-deep ravine of the Morača canyon.

News of the accident soon spread, and due to the generosity of the Montenegro people toward the victims and their families, so did an outpouring of messages of gratitude, empathy, solidarity and adoration soon ensued on social networks from both countries.

One of the most shared images on social networks related to this tragic event; image courtesy of Lazarica.

One of the most shared images on social networks related to this tragic event. Image by Lazarica.

On Facebook, two pages soon appeared to thank Montenegro's citizens for their help and support. The pages, titled Montenegro, Respectful Thanks [ro], with more than 5,000 fans to date, and Thank You, Montenegro [ro] are overflowing with messages of thanks from Romanian citizens and images of Montenegrin citizens lending a helping hand in the aftermath of the tragic incident.

Twitter also saw an abundance of messages and interactions of true friendship and connection. Messages like Catalin Iote‘s (@Catalin_IoteR5) from Romania became a common and heartwarming site on Twitter:

@Catalin_IoteR5#Montenegro you're the best! We, #Romania are so happy because you are near by us.

Twitter user Eliza (@CronicileElizei) from Romania also expressed her gratitude:

@CronicileElizei: I just wanted to thank to our wonderful friends in #Montenegro that helped our people injured in a bus accident.#Romania is really grateful!

Evelina (@MissEveBaroiu) from Bucharest, like many others, wanted to show her respect and renewed faith in humanity in the region:

@MissEveBaroiu: Respect Montenegro! Thank you for showing us that,regardless of race, nationality and language,we all are human beings! #Montenegro #Romania

Social media users from across Montenegro reciprocated the feeling of friendship, such as user Klausbites from Podgorica who included one of the most shared images from Romania related to this event, shown below:

Romania, your welcome! #montenegro #romania

One of the most shared images on social networks and blogs from Romania.

One of the most shared images on social networks and blogs from Romania.

Diplomats and public officials of the two countries are also collaborating extensively in the wake of this unfortunate event that brought the two countries closer together, while the survivors, mostly pensioners from Romania on holiday in Montenegro, were first treated in hospital in Podgorica, then transferred to Romania by the Romanian government.

July 03 2013

Eastern Europeans to Boost UK IT Industry

As of January 1, 2014, the UK labour movement restrictions placed several years ago to prevent migrants from Romania and Bulgaria from moving permanently and seeking employment in the UK will be lifted. Some predict large migrations of workers from these two countries, among the poorest in the European Union, while others say that migrations will be so small they will barely be felt and many emphasize the fact that Romania has a growing, innovative IT industry that will also benefit the British IT industry. Other Eastern European countries have also helped boost the UK's thriving IT industry in the recent past, such as Estonia, Lithuania, Slovenia and more. The Independent covers several sides of the developing story, with quotes from Eastern European immigrant IT entrepreneurs in the UK:

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April 15 2013

Running 1,000 Miles for Europe's Trafficked Children

Run For Love 1000

This month, Rob Martineau, Tom Stancliffe, and Guy Hacking are running 1,000 miles from Odessa to Dubrovnik, via Ukraine, Moldova, Romania, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Kosovo, Montenegro, and Croatia, as part of the Run For Love 1000 campaign, whose aim is to raise funds for Love146, a UK charity that “gives care and hope to trafficked children, and to raise awareness of the scale of human trafficking across Europe.” Follow their run on the RFL1000 website, on Facebook, and on Twitter; support the runners by donating here (215 donations have been made so far, with nearly £12,500 raised).

March 18 2013

Welcome Spring and Good-bye Evil Eye

File:Martenitsa E5.jpg

Martenitsas on a blossoming tree.
Source: Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0

Μάρτης [el], мартеница [bg], мартинка [mk], mărțișor [ru]…however you call it, an ancient tradition [el] with multiple variations that takes place in the Balkans. So, weave your red-and-white threads for protection against the “evil eye” or to welcome Spring!

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February 15 2013

Japan's Conservation Groups Fight to Preserve Wetlands

Damp and marshy, they seem boring and barren. But contrary to their appearance, tidal flats or coastal wetlands are rich in biodiversity and help maintain balance in the water cycle. For Japan, which hosts 46 of the 2,087 registered wetlands worldwide [pdf]their conservation is essential.

Concern for Japanese precious wetlands is international, with Japan belonging to the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance treaty, better known as “the Ramsar Convention“, which promotes conservation and sustainable use of wetlands.

But community organizations in Japan down on the ground and deep in the mud are the ones who have led the fight in recent years to protect these valuable ecosystems from the encroaching threat of land development and pollution.

A changing landscape

Wajiro Tidal Flat, image from wikimedia commons, photo taken on 2009 (CC BY SA 3.0)

Wajiro Tidal Flat, image from wikimedia commons, photo taken on 2009 (CC BY SA 3.0)

The Save Wajiro Tidal Flat Association [ja], based in Fukuoka city, has fought an uphill battle for more than two decades to preserve the resources of their hometown, the site of the Wajiro Tidal Flat.

The Wajiro Tidal Flat, located in the closed-off section of Hakata Bay, is the largest tidal flat in the Sea of ​​Japan. The flat is also an important stopover and wintering ground for migratory birds.

The landscape of the once tranquil tidal flat in Hakata Bay began to rapidly change around 1994 with the construction of artificial island. Although Japan's bubble economy was bursting at that time, public officials made development a priority despite doubts over the environmental assessment of the project.

The resulting change in tidal stream has deteriorated the water cycle, with a part of the flat corrupted by algae.

The tidal flat was selected by Japan's Ministry of Environment as a candidate for designation as a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance in 2004, but designation was never made official.

'Wajiro Tidal Flat at Sunset' KIRIE-Cutting Paper Art by Hiroko Kusuda used with permission

‘Wajiro Tidal Flat at Sunset’ KIRIE-Cutting Paper Art by Hiroko Kusuda. Used with permission.

 

Hiroko Kusuda, a paper cut-out artist who launched The Save Wajiro Tidal Flat Association in 1988, detailed the practical as well as the poetic significance [ja] of the tidal flat in an article in Radix, the newsletter of Kyushu University:

波静かな和白干潟は,子供たちを水で遊ばせ,人々を恵みの海産物でうるおします。四季を通じて魚貝類,エビやタコ,のり等の食物で人々の命を救い,干潟や浅海域の生物たちの営みで海水を浄化してきました。稚魚や稚貝を育て,和白干潟は生き物だちの命のゆりかごだったのです。
私の命一心も体もこの和白干潟を通して育まれました。自然の美しさや雄大さ,そして厳しさは,感性を豊かにします。和白干潟の自然とのかかわりは,私を創作活動へと導いていきました。大人になった今も,和白干潟は心の安らぎを与えてくれます。

The gentle waves of Wajiro tidal flat let children play in the water, bestow the people with a wealth of wild seafood, fish and shellfish, octopus and shrimp, and seaweed throughout the year. The tidal flat has been here to purify the water by taking care of the creatures of the tidal flat and shallow water and nursing young fish and young shelled sea creatures. The Wajiro Tidal Flat has always been the cradle of life. It has nurtured my mind and body. Beauty, grandeur and rigor of nature provide us an emotional richness. My relationship with the Wajiro Tidal Flat led me to creative activities. Now as an adult, the tidal flat still gives me peace of mind.

 

'Spring in Wajiro Tidal Flat' KIRIE-Cutting Paper Art by Hirorko Kusuda used with permission

‘Spring in Wajiro Tidal Flat’ KIRIE-Cutting Paper Art by Hirorko Kusuda used with permission

Continuing with its efforts, the Save Wajiro Tidal Flat Organization conducts water and sand quality studies every month and organizes popular seashore cleanup events for local residents. Local elementary school students are invited regularly to observe the tidal flat to supplement their lessons.

E.I., who helped oversee the elementary school students, wrote [ja] on the Save Wajiro Tidal Flat Association's blog about how the organization piqued the children's curiosities about the wetland:

今日観察した鳥や、植物、貝殻、海藻の紹介の後、子どもたちから拾った鳥の羽の種類の質問や、アシ原になぜカニの巣穴があるの?などの質問が出されました。拾ったピンクや黄色の小さな貝殻は名前がわからないものもあり、守る会の宿題になりましたが、後で調べたら「ユウシオガイ」というそうです。和白小学校4年生の子どもたちの和白干潟での観察会はこれで終わりですが、2月末には学校で1年間の観察会の発表会があります。私たち守る会も毎年学校に出かけ、発表を楽しみにしています。

After our staff explained about birds, shells and seaweeds that children observed by themselves today, the students asked questions such as the type of bird feathers they found or why crab burrow is in reed bed. Some small yellow and pink shells found by the students couldn't be identified. It became our homework to figure out what they are. On examination, we found out they are Moerella rutila. Today was the last session of Wajiro tidal flat observation for the fourth grade children. But at the end of February there's an annual presentation of the year’s observation by children in school. It is our pleasure to visit school for that every year. We, members of The Save Wajiro Tidal Flat Association, are looking forward to seeing their presentation.

The ebb and flow of conservation work

In 2011, the Ramsar Convention celebrated its 40th anniversary. Reflecting on the years gone by, Japan Wetlands Action Network advisor Satoshi Kobayashi reflected [ja] on JAWAN REPORT on how Japan's long-held belief that it could master nature might finally begin to change. The Japan Wetlands Action Network has fought to conserve wetlands on a national and international scale since 1991:

これまで比較的長い間、日本人は高度な技術を制御し、自然を制御しようとしてきた。そしてそれらは制御できるものと思い込んできた。しかしながら、2011年、その思い込みは逆襲される。技術は時に制御できずに悲劇を生むことがあり、自然もまた制御できない側面を持っていることを思い知らされた。
ここで日本人が踏みとどまり、エネルギー政策、国土計画、公共事業の在り方を軌道修正していくことが出来れば、そして世界にモデルを示すことが出来れば、日本人は行動によって世界を変えていくことが出来るのではないか。

For a relatively long time until now, the Japanese have been trying to control nature by using advanced technologies. We have been clinging to the idea that we could do that. But, in 2011, that assumption was smashed. We realized that technology could go out of control and incidentally, could produce a tragedy. Also we realized that nature, too, could go beyond anyone can handle.
If we pause and think, if we shift to make bold initiatives of change for energy policy, national planning and public works, if we demonstrate a role model by doing so, we could change the world by taking such action.

A year later, the organization attended the Ramsar Conference of the Contracting Parties (COP11) in Bucharest, Romania. After participating in the conference, Mr. Kobayashi explained [ja] that now is not the time for conservationists to pat themselves on the back. Progress in tidal flat preservation is a matter of perspective:

会議の運用規則等事務的な手続きが進む中、午前中の最後には条約の科学技術検討委員会(STRP)の議長ヘザー女史からの報告がありました。前回COP10に末娘8歳を連れて参加していたということで、最初にCOP10会議場の前で撮影された娘さんの写真を出しました。おかあさんはどんな業務に関わっているのか知ってもらおうと、会議の最後の方で数時間だけ、末娘に会場後ろの方で聴いていてもらったんだそうです。そして、韓国からの帰りの飛行機で会議はどうだったと尋ねると、「湿地保全の大事さは何となくわかったんだけど、私が大人になったらほとんど湿地が残されていないんじゃないかと心配になっちゃった」と娘さんが言ったんだそうです。「なんだか湿地の保全というのは、あまりにもゆっくりとしか進まさそうな調子だったし…」と続けられて、COP10が実り多い会議だったと思っていたヘザーさんは、言い返すことができなかったんだそうだ。子供恐るべしですね。

While clerical procedures such as operating rules of the meeting progressed, Ms. Heather the Chairman of Scientific and Technical Review Panel (STRP) told us a story at the end of the morning session. She showed us her daughter's photo taken in front of convention hall of COP10. She took her youngest daughter at the age of 8 to the conference to let her know what her mother's doing for work. She asked her daughter to listen in the conference sitting at the back of a room only for a while near the end of the meeting. Then, in the flight back from Korea Ms. Heather asked her daughter what she thought about the conference. The daughter said “I think I got the importance of wetlands conservation but I have worried now that wetlands might not still be here by the time I am an adult.” she continued “Because it seems the conservation of wetlands barely makes any progress…” Ms. Heather said she had not been able to find anything to say back since she had thought the meeting was fruitful.

Children are sharp, aren’t they?

The Japan Wetlands Action Network promotes a nationwide campaign, Wetlands, Tidal Flats Campaign Day [ja], every spring, organizing a variety of events, such as nature observation, discussions, and art exhibitions to help raise public awareness about the conservation of wetland biodiversity. Registration for participating groups is now open [ja].

February 08 2013

The Romanian-Hungarian “War of the Flags”

Hungarian Spectrum writes about the ongoing diplomatic confrontation between Romania and Hungary, sparked by the Romanian authorities’ ban on flying the flag of the Székely Land, an ethnic Hungarian enclave currently demanding territorial autonomy within Romania.

February 07 2013

“Transnistrian Conflict: State of Affairs and Prospects of Settlement”

Black Sea News publishes Natalya Belitser's paper [en] – “Transnistrian Conflict: State of Affairs and Prospects of Settlement” – written for the international conference on “frozen conflicts” in Europe, which was held in September 2012 in Bled, Slovenia (via Andrei Klimenko).

January 01 2013

02mydafsoup-01
in memoriam Mihaela Ursuleasa (* 27th September 1978 in Brașov/Kronstadt Romania / Rumänien; † 2nd August 2012 in Vienna/Wien, Austria/ Österreich,  romanian pianist / rumänische Pianistin

yt-playlist

Franz Schubert 1797-1828  
Trout Quintett / Forellenquintett D. 667
(1819)
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trout_Quintet

Artists:
 
Julian Rachlin,
Mischa Maisky,
Nobuko Imai,
Stacey Watton

Mihaela Ursuleasa

 more about and with her:
http://www.artsjournal.com/slippeddisc/2012/08/reports-tragic-death-of-an-international-pianist.html
https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=Mihaela+Ursuleasa
https://www.google.com/search?q=Michaela+Ursuleasa

December 05 2012

“Romania’s Non-Election”

Romania's general election is scheduled to take place on Dec. 9. Bucharest Life notes that “this has been the most lacklustre Romanian election campaign since 1990″ and that “it’s not the outcome of the election that we need to pay attention to, it’s the outcome of the outcome”:

[…] Given how boring the campaign itself has been, the week or two after the election could be fun.

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