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Within and Without

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The Bucovina Easter Egg Hunt

Three kilometres from the Romanian border with Ukraine, the train line stops dead in its tracks. Not since 1940 has a train passed through Nisipitu, a village of about 2,000. On a quest for an authentic painted Easter egg, we stumbled upon a place where time-honoured traditions are as strong as the belief in witch-healers and bandit spirits guarding their forest treasures.
Suceava_sunrise
Sunrise above Bucovina province’s largest city, Suceava photo: Daniel Cojanu

Known in both Romania and Ukraine as Bucovina, the territory was occupied first by the Ottoman Turks, then the Russians, after which it passed between the Russian and Austro-Hungarian empires until World War I. Only for three years of World War II did the region in its entirety fall within the borders of Romania– but that was under Nazi command.

Following the war’s end, territories were arbitrarily redrawn, dividing familes and friends for an entire generation, and reserving most of Bucovina for Ukraine. At least 12,000 people were deported to Siberia in 1940, and several thousand more the following year. On the Romanian side, about 20,000 Jews were deported to the disputed region of Bessarabia, where they were executed by Romanian soldiers under Nazi command. In an attempt to Sovietize the territory after the war ended, at least 41,000 Romanians were deported from Ukrainian Bucovina.
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Map from hungarian-history.hu

The border is little more than a nuance on the map today, but for Dumitru Polinciuc, it represents the line between freedom and misery.

Born in present-day Ukraine, 18-year old Dumitru chose to flee to the Nazi-controlled Romanian side rather than fight with the Soviet partisans. His family was deported to Siberia in 1940, and made the long walk back four years later. As a refugee in Romania, Dumitru worked as a wood-cutter, battling wartime conditions of typhus and widespread starvation.

Dumitriu 2photo: Daniel Cojanu

After Ukraine gained independence from the USSR in 1991, 68-year-old Dumitru was finally able to visit his family, just a few kilometres away. But since Romania joined the European Union in January 2007, crossing the border again requires a visa.

Yet, the course of history hasn’t changed the Bucovina way: whether Ukrainian or Romanian, the popular dialect has a soft, Slavic-tinged drawl; predominantly blonde and blue-eyed, each face tells the story of hard work and gentle spirit, inviting smiles and tears as they come. Like the forested hills rolling gently beyond the borders, life continues on, quietly, contentedly–as it has for generations.

We bought train tickets at a miniature train station outside of Putna, which boasts a 15th century monastery and hermit cave, the only tourist attractions in the area.

“Nisipitu? Why would you want to go there?” questioned the man behind the counter, while filling glasses of vodka and cups of espresso. “There’s no place to stay there, it’s just people living in the hills. And they only speak Ukrainian.”

Perfect.

Proud grandfather and sonphoto: Daniel Cojanu

Romania’s Ukrainian community, also known as the Hutuli, live a quiet existence in the Moldova, Bucovina and northern Maramures provinces. They’re known for their skill as wood and horn carvers, leather and tapestry making, and of course, their ornate Easter eggs.

The train let out onto the sun-dusted main street of Nisipitu, the only paved road linking Ukraine and the surrounding Romanian communities of Ulma and Brodina. A cluster of stores and a bar completed the town. A woman sat with her child on a bench outside of a shuttered café.

Main St, NisipituJust over these hills lies the border with Ukraine. Even though it’s just a few kilometres away, even the Ukrainian-speaking villagers rarely cross over.photo: Daniel Cojanu

“Do you know where there’s a lady who paints eggs?”– that was our Nisipitu equivalent of asking where the nearest hotel is.

The lady squinted at the two backpackers before her. “You’re not from here, are you?” Her three golden front teeth twinkled in the sun.

Without further hesitation, the lady gestured to her left.

“There’s a lady down the road who paints eggs, I went over to get some the other day myself. Iechimovici is the name. Lives in a long house with a metal roof, the fourth one after the train crossing.” And she waved us on.

After knocking at a few wrong doors, the sister of the famous Iechimovici led us to a long mint green house with a barn in back and a woman washing beets in a tub in front. “Maria?” her sister called. “You’ve got some visitors!”

A woman with black hair tucked into a kerchief looked up, but continued scrubbing. Her oversized and torn blue sweater had bits of hay stuck to it. The sister was explaining the situation– journalists from Bucharest here to do a story about traditional egg painting. They need a place to stay the night, and she’s the only one around with extra room– and expertise.

Maria’s face was red from the vigorous scrub she was giving the beets.

“Oh no,” she said in a powerful, dramatic voice. “I have enough to do. I haven’t even got time to make eggs.” But she was smiling. We stood there in the bright sunshine, grinning along with her.

“Nicu!’ she yelled, and a young blonde man appeared in the doorway, cell phone in hand. Mother and son consulted for a minute, and then Nicu went to go fix up a bed. Maria hustled us into the kitchen, the beets forgotten.

Maria’s calligraphyphoto: Daniel Cojanu

While the sun set outside the lace curtain window, Maria parked herself on a stool in front of a tin can with a 75 watt bulb inside it. Perched atop of this contraption was another can containing melted black beeswax and several wooden sticks with copper wire coiled around their ends–pens for applying the wax.
The process beginsphoto: Daniel Cojanu

For the next six hours, Maria wrote the story of Christ’s Resurrection in a delicate wax caligraphy, narrating the process as she went along, dabbing the dripping wax on her thumbnail before proceeding with the next detail.

Each egg may take up to 3 hours to complete. Maria works on several at once, starting with the defining detail of the Cross on the porcelin white shell. (She had already removed the contents of the egg with a syringe and dried them in the sun for a day to prevent rot.) The next step is to bathe the egg in a series of dyes, which she keeps in a steaming pot of plastic bottles on the stove.

Maria and her stylish eggsphoto: Daniel Cojanu

Once the eggs were throughly dyed– “I like them to be truly yellow,” she says, “give them some time”–she formed the next round of details, springtime symbols of abundance–the sun, sprigs of wheat, ram horns and rosebuds.

The idea is to cover the places where the colour shouldn’t change with wax before the next dye stage, keeping the traditional white, yellow, red and black motif. Each step in the process, Maria continued with even lines and curlicues of wax, weaving an intricate, symmetrical tapestry on the smooth, innocent surface of the egg.

The outcomephoto: Daniel Cojanu

Documents dating back to 1370 suggest the Hutuli have existed in the Carpathian region since before the times of Vlad Tepes (the real-life character Dracula is based on), handing down their fine craftsmanship over the generations.

But it’s the people’s industrious spirit that keeps these mountain communities going. Just as they’ve been carving wooden spoons and embroidering blouses, the Hutuli have honed the art of horse breeding and forestry, eking out a living where it’s too cold to farm anything but carrots, beets and onions.

Maria’s day begins at 6 a.m., long before the sin rises above the mountain ridge. She milks the red and white spotted cow and feeds the calf, chickens and puppies. Any milk leftover from the calf, she saves for breakfast or uses later for sour cream, yogurt and fresh cheese curd.

Although fresh fruits and vegetables must be purchased, along with household staples such as oil, sugar and flour, Maria–like her mother and grandmother before her– makes everything by hand. This is the case for all the household duties: water for washing, cleaning and cooking must be fetched from the well; the house and the oven are heated by the fir trees delivered from the surrounding forests, which she and Nicu chop up for firewood.
Woodphoto: Daniel Cojanu

Because the daily tasks of cooking, cleaning and caring for animals consumes so much of her days, Maria has little time to paint. She started making eggs around Christmas, she said, but a few days before Easter had already sold everything. For each miniature work of art, Maria asks 5 lei, or about two dollars.

illucia_drob.jpgphoto: Daniel Cojanu

Maria’s artistry cannot truly be appreciated without seeing the same hands which created such gems milking the cow or chopping firewood. This is the case for all the hard-working women of Bucovina. It’s hard to imagine how older generations mastered their famous, time-consuming embroidery and tapestries, given that they had fewer of the modern conveniences available today.

Illucia makes sarmalephoto: Daniel Cojanu

The next day, we visited a friend of Maria’s, Ileana Trifan, better known as Iliucia. She paints with different colored wax on pure white eggs––chicken, geese, peacock, and even ostrich.

Illucia’s crossphoto: Daniel Cojanu

Iliucia has been painting eggs since 4th grade, she said, but learned this style at a school for traditional arts in Sibiu– she had a certificate signed by the mayor of Ulma and the President of Ukraine to prove it. Iliucia’s eggs feature a more traditional Ukrainian style of deer, birds in a blossoming tree, haystacks, drawn within the geometrical quadrant of the cross.

Egg diversityphoto: Daniel Cojanu

These days though, her eyesight isn’t good enough to form the delicate flower vines and cross-hatched patterns which transform the eggs into symbols of the miraculous. She proudly shows us one of her last commissioned creations, a tiger on one side and the Bucharest Basilica on the other, painted on a large and sturdy ostrich egg. For these, Iliucia can get up to 20 euros, a significant source of income in an area where people live on 100 euros a month.

Illucia’s tigerphoto: Daniel Cojanu

Despite the quaint beauty of the region, making a living is tough going in Bucovina. Most of the men work miles away as lumberjacks, cutting trees for export to Saudi Arabia or elsewhere in Europe. The local school only goes up to eighth grade, meaning that options for higher education are limited to those able to support living in larger cities. Thus, a serious population decline has struck the region, taking not only the youngest and brightest, but the time-honoured traditions.

Egg knockMaria’s parents knock hard-boiled eggs from their Easter basket, a ritual said to bring good luck and fertility. They’ve been blessed with both, raising 12 children in over 40 years of marriage. photo: Daniel Cojanu

Maria is leaving herself this month, her first time out of Romania (despite speaking Ukrainian, she’s never made the 4-kilometre trek over the border). She’ll be picking asparagus in Germany for two months with other women recruited from the region, managing to make about 2000 euros. When she tells visitors of her adventure, she shows them a SelGros advertisement of canned asparagus to illustrate.

Yet Maria would never leave her home, right next door to the house her father built in 1962. The beauty, the pace of life, and–well, her eggs– make all the hard work worth it.

“So many of the ladies who painted eggs are leaving with their families for Belgium, Germany, France. Now there’s only three of us left in town,” says Maria. “They say they’ll continue the tradition over there, painting eggs. But it’ll no longer be something from here.”

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The hunchback of Orhei

    The road to the world’s oldest underground monastery threads through a hilly patchwork of pastoral bliss. 50 km away from Chisnau, Moldova’s capital, we find Old Orhei, populated since ancient times. There’s no need for a museum to bring visitors back in history…

    The freshly turned potato fields segué into forests with sheep grazing along a riverbed. photo: Daniel Cojanu

    Orhei hosts a 13th-century Orthodox church, built into the side of a limestone cliff above the Raut River. The reasons for using the hill as a church were practical- less expense for materials, less notice from Ottoman invaders. Inhabited by people since ancient times, the area was originally conceived as a natural fortress, even attracting the Moldovan warrior-saint Stefan the Great in the 15th century.

    A tale of two churches: an ancient belltower rises from the limestone, a traditional church waiting just beyond (extreme left). photo: Daniel Cojanu

    At one time, several monks lived and prayed from the depths of this cliff. Villagers would climb the fortress to light a candle for the icon and take in the chanted intonations of the priest. But in the 18th century, Russian (communist) influence caused the monks to abandon their monastery for a newer, more traditional church. Not until 1997 did people see the light and go back underground.

    On the way up the slope, people sat in a cemetery just off the path, clustered around something in front of them. Lest it be a sacred death ritual, I continued on, past a woman sitting under a rock ledge, similarly focused on the sunset coming alive on the canvas before her. Judging from the way she was dressed, this young woman wasn’t a tourist, but a local—one who knew best how to appreciate the miraculous beauty surrounding us.

    We didn’t have a canvas, but a camera will do. Yours truly, standing atop the cliff monastery. photo: Daniel Cojanu

    Approaching the belltower up a rocky incline, its rough-hewn wood and design exposed its age. It was a scene straight out of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, I thought—and to my disbelief, I wasn’t wrong. A young man stood in the doorjamb, framed by darkness. He was slight, with friendly wide green eyes, black hair under a cap, and a hump on his back. Pietre (meaning “rock” in Romanian) was his name. We enjoyed the sunset for a moment, and then Pietre gestured down the stairs behind him. The men took their hats off and the women put theirs on, groping down the stone steps in complete darkness.

    The air was cool but not chilly in the middle of the earthen chapel. Long wax candles illuminated portraits of the Virgin and Christ. A wild-haired priest acknowledged our presence with a nod, then resumed his chanted prayer, his low voice mingling with a woman’s, a voice obscured by a cloth-covered screen.

    To the left of the temple was another room, with a round hole for a window. Seven partitions in this dirt indicated the cells where the monks slept. A quiet, austere existence—but somehow cozy, a holy connection to the earth and to each other.

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To grandmother’s house we go

    We turned off the two-lane “highway” from Chisnau in the middle of hilly nowhere. A labyrinth of a dirt road, buttressed on each side by high wooden fences, lead us to Bunica’s cheerfully painted compound of lavender cottages, a vineyard and chicken coop.


Over the river and through the woods, to grandmother’s house we go.
photo: Daniel Cojanu

    “Come in, come in,” Bunica cried as we came through her iron gate. Hugging and speaking a mile a minute, this leathery woman with a bright wool cap to match her eyes, hardly seemed her 81 years. “I would love to kiss you,” she said, “but I’m feeling a flu coming on.”

    We took a tour of her dollhouse, the low-ceilinged rooms cozy with wood-burning stoves and beds in nearly every corner. The 200-year old little house was filled with remarkable cheer, each tiny window highlighting the colorful lavender, green and blue walls. In another little house, Bunica showed us the oven where she baked the daily bread; the stove where she stewed and canned vegetables for the winter. And finally, we came to the wine cellar, the enormous glass jars and wooden basins waiting for the next batch of grapes. Each year, Bunica makes an entire tonne of wine from the grapes she tends in her garden.

    We washed our hands in well pump in the yard. There is no running water in most Moldovan villages, but this one was blessed with a spring that provides water to each family’s well. The water ran clear and cold straight from the well, a delicious rarity.

    When we entered the house again, a table covered with a delicious feast à la Bunica was waiting. We toasted with her delicious, slightly fizzy wine—to Bunica’s health! She seemed to have more of a vivacious spirit than us 20-something city-dwellers.


Bunica listens to news from the city, at home in her kitchen. photo: Daniel Cojanu

    After lunch, we took a walk through the village, tiptoeing past the chicken coop where Bunica had artfully coaxed the hens. Just next door to the house she now lives in is the house she grew up in. It’s a heap of crumbling stone and concrete, the yard around it filled with weeds. After World War II, Bunica said, the Russian army took over the field to use for their horses. Not until they left 17 years ago did she have the right to go over there, but now she has no reason to.

    We strolled to a lake to try a bit of fishing. Young boys were doing the same, while their cows grazed nearby. Once in a while, a red-and-white striped bus would traverse a bridge over the water, but otherwise, time stood still.

An abandoned boxcar looking over the headwaters of the Dniester River. photo: Daniel Cojanu

    Winding our way back through the village, each twist of the rutted dirt road was awash in bright spots of colour– fresh laundry, painted well covers, red hens. Pausing for photos every few metres, we were somewhat anomalous to the sleepy village scene. Yet our curiousity was shared. A woman walking down the lane with her milk cow happily chatted with us in her lyrical Romanian dialect. As usual, my foreign status became apparent after exchanging a few pleasantaries—but for Irina, meeting an americani was cause for celebration. I received a huge hug and invitations to come for dinner any time.


photo: Daniel Cojanu

    Even the tiniest remote villages contain a microcosm of history. In this oasis of peace, people awaited American liberation from the Soviets since WW II—to their ultimate disappointment. Twenty years ago, such a casual meeting between a citizen of the USA and the USSR would have been all but impossible.

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Moldovan women break the mold

    Poverty is a global epidemic, but women and children bear the greatest burden of its symptoms. In Europe’s poorest country, rural families rely on the fruits of their labour—vegetable gardens, wine grapes, chickens and livestock—to supplement their meager salaries and pensions.

    Everything that the family eats comes from a hardworking hand—and who else is in charge of the gospodina, or home domain, but women? They grow, pick, cook and can the vegetables for winter; they make wine from heirloom grapes to drink and sell for the extras in life.


Drive-thru florist: women emerge from the forests with freshly-picked hyacinths for sale. photo: Daniel Cojanu

    In the Romanian-Moldovan tradition, March 8 is observed as a cross between Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day. Restaurants are packed with families, as mothers and wives take a break from the kitchen. The flower sales are brisk on city street corners, the fresh gladiolia, calla lily and roses sending their colourful message up the sidewalk. Normally, it’s women selling these flowers, even from the side of the road. March 8 is truly a day to bask in the gloriousness of being a woman—for those who can afford to do so.


Despite the single-digit temperatures, mini-skirts stalked the streets of Chisnau. photo: Daniel Cojanu

Check out the next post for a portrait of a truly remarkable Moldovan woman!

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Moldova: the other side

    We left Bucharest in a surge of sunshine, the kind of early spring weather that makes wearing winter boots close to unbearable. Our destination: Republica Moldova, a strip of land between the Prut and the Dniester Rivers: the netherworld between the former Soviet Union and the final frontier of the European Union. It’s a Romanian-speaking country, with Russian culture– and the poorest population in Europe. But with the guidance of a native son, Pavel, and his wife Barbara, a world opened up beyond the borders of the expected.

Waiting for destiny–or maybe just the bus– in Moldova.
photo: Daniel Cojanu

    Packed into a large white van–painted with the profile of the mythical creature Zenobia, the name of Pavel’s film company–tinted windows framed a stunning view of the 6-hour ride to Chisnau, Moldova’s capital.

    Not long outside of Bucharest, village landscape takes over. Old ladies in colorful kerchiefs chat over colorful striped fences; horse-drawn carriages compete with bikes and hitchhikers for a shoulder of the road as we whizz by. Before long, the pastoral landscape beckoned our cramped legs, our smog-filled eyes. A packed picnic lunch was great incentive–we pulled over into a field amidst the oil pumps, the factory skyline far in the distance.

    Heading northeast to the province of Moldovia, the Zenomobile traversed a technicolor patchwork of aquamarine and bright orange cottages, big white hens picking over the freshly turned black earth, the only sign of life behind each tidy gate. Little towns of crowned by blue-domed Orthodox churches followed one after another, separated by fields of grape vines and blossoming fruit trees.

    This may be one of the poorest parts of Romania, but destitution doesn’t reveal itself in a lack of pride, as it does in other parts of the country. It’s obvious that people’s spirit have persevered the ups and downs of history, as Moldovia traded hands between the Turks, Romanians, Russians and Soviets over the last five centuries.

    Arriving to the Moldovan (Republic) border, a series of roadblocks and a disinfection spray made it clear: we’d made it to the Other Side. But the pinched faces of the guards peering out from under wooly olive green papakhas, were anything but severe. Laughing with Pavel as he handed them Cokes, we were soon cleared. In the blackness of the night, it was hard to tell if the landscape was any different: I felt it with each bump on the long straight road to Chisnau.

    It’s a small piece of land, but throughout the course of history, everyone wanted a slice.

    As an entity, Moldova has existed since the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917; it was confirmed as an independent state in the Treaty of Paris in 1920. Comprised of two disputed regions, Bessarabia (desired by Romanian nationalists) and Transnistria (operated by Russian militants as an independent, unrecognized state), the country changed from Romanian/German hands to Soviet control during World War II.

    As the USSR’s grip on the region began to weaken in 1988, demonstrations of up to 1 million people demanded that Moldovan (a dialect of Romanian) be the official language of Following the collapse of the USSR, Moldova finally became independent in 1991.

    After a trip to the impressive Museum of History in Chisnau, a vibrant culture of potters and farmers–the Cucuteni–existed in the area 6,400 years ago. Archeological legend has it, the Cucuteni’s sudden disappearance is in accordance with scientific and biblical records of a Great Flood.

Chisnau police are a fixture on every street corner.
photo: Daniel Cojanu

    Modern-day Chisnau is a striking contrast from the winding chaos of Bucharest. The downtown is a grid of logical, communist order. There is only one truly commercial boulevard, Stefan Cel Mare si Sfint (Stefan the Great and Holy), an ironic name for the pint-sized Moldovan warrior who successfully held off Turkish invasion in the 15th century.

    Chisnau, our guides tell us, is built on seven hills–just like Rome. We all laugh. The low-lying buildings may not be the Colosseum, but they are impressive in their own right. In typical communist fashion, the government buildings are massive works of cement situated on a wide central square. Police are on every street corner. The running joke is that they must travel in groups or no one would be intimidated by these youngsters, despite their guns.

    Chisnau has one distinctive quality which puts other communist capitals to shame: green. Every neighborhood is graced with a large, inviting park; the straight streets are lined with walnut, poplar, elm– and another variety straight out of Dr. Seuss. Public space is clearly cherished in this quasi-communist country, where the daily newspapers are posted in glass cases for all to read, where the cafés are nearly empty but the sidewalks are packed… and where an outdoor market brings a flood of humanity and all its trappings.

Heading upstream: the Central Market of Chisnau is the lifeline of the city. photo: Daniel Cojanu

    We headed to the market for some fruits and veggies to fill our rent-by-the-hour apartment mini-bar. Again, the difference from Romania was clear. An energy, a spirit of the Olde World marketplace hung under the canopy, where old ladies in clashing aprons and handkerchiefs disputed the price of tomatoes with middle-aged women in short skirts and knee-high leather boots. I wanted to linger in the rainbow glow of the fruit-sellers (especially after the concrete grayness of the city streets) but the tide of eager shoppers pushed us onward.


Not sure what they were selling, but these lady vendors didn’t mind posing. photo: Daniel Cojanu

    Taking refuge in a dark steamy grotto of sausage and cabbage fumes, we indulged in a tepid coffee, the only taste derived from the loads of moloko (milk) and sugar the eyeshadowed, Russian-speaking waitress dumped in the plastic cups. We shared a stand-up table with a fatigued-looking woman who’d been begging for coins outside a moment earlier. Her line of sight barely cleared the countertop. She gulped the coffee like it was the best thing on earth, while other table-munchers hunkered over their plastic plates of sausage, bread and slaw. A boy with a face of an old man guzzled green liquid from a big bottle his mother gave him.

Never enough to go around: Moldovan pensioners try to stretch their meagre income. photo: Daniel Cojanu

    Nearby, an elderly couple discuss the price of pork legs, the red hue from the canopy overhead garishly reflecting their anxieties. What has life become for these people, accustomed to a communist system that at least guaranteed enough to eat? According to Pavel, communism in the Moldova was soft, easy, filled with caviar and a steady stream of Russian films. These days, urban survival is a struggle against uncertainty, against starvation. For the most vulnerable of society, the pace of modern, capitalist life threatens to leave them behind.


Fresh or frozen– this is the question. Fish are abundantly popular in this land-locked country. photo: Daniel Cojanu

    The market was a feast for the eyes, as well as the taste buds. Fish are ever-popular in the land-locked country–but so are vegetables, which grow abundantly well in the fertile ground. I was amazed to find seaweed salad, along with more typical marinated carrots and beets. I bought a kilo of olives for $5–and traded jokes about the differences between Romania, Moldova and North America with the friendly stall owners. Tare greu la oras, the saying goes in Moldovan. So hard in the city.


A man on the busride commute reflects back a life lived under communism.
photo: Daniel Cojanu

    The people of Moldova have a range of looks, with a certain Slavic tinge. Long leather coats and pointed-toe shoes are the rage among men and women alike; the streets of Chisnau are filled with a bizarre mix of the Sopranos and a bad eighties movie. But everywhere we went, people had a kindness, a sense of dignity, of decency.

    The average Moldovan (40% of the population) makes $2.15 a day, just barely above the absolute poverty line. Others drive BMW’s with German plates and down bottles of cognac and champagne in the VIP rooms of kitschy nightclubs. But no matter what’s in their pockets, Moldovans share a generosity and innocence that–dare I say it–is lacking in Romanians. Maybe it’s their isolation, or experience after centuries of occupation. But that’s the case across the Balkans. Maybe it’s the fertile soil, the fresh air and farmland heritage, roots deeper than any pocket can reach.

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Valentine’s Day in Belgrade

    Valentines’ Day is not the only manufactured holiday in Serbia. Celebrated with a mixture of enthusiasm and exasperation for the past three years, the day of love is a surprising deviation from the country’s usual resistance to imported American culture. Perhaps not uncoincidentally, Feb. 15th was proclaimed National Independence Day last year by President Vojislav Kostunica following the split of Serbia and Montenegro.


The view over the Sava River and New Belgrade from a 16th century sniper’s tower.

    But something felt off as I strolled through through the Kalemegdan (old city fortress). Amid the flower-sellers and bright heart-shaped balloons, a convoy of army-green trucks came upon the scene. Serb soldiers set up cannons overlooking spot where the Sava and Danube Rivers meet. Fighter jets screamed across the sky, interrupting the illusion of romance: that latent, diffused Balkan light straining through the clouds, heartbroken by reality.

    As the soldiers lined up several cannons along the fortress wall, the thought crossed my mind that this could actually be a preparation for war. I’ve just come from the Military Museum, where each room depicts another century of invasion and conflict. The romantic costumes and weapons of the previous century’s invaders– silk belts and embroidered jackets, shields with ornate welded roses, pistols with inlaid mother-of-pearl– somehow lack the dead serious look of modern-day warfare. During the civil wars that broke up Yugoslavia, the enemy came from within– but the threat was just as real, to a people so accustomed to occupation.

    The very ground I stood on, a stone fortress built on a high hill, was the beginning of Belgrade. First settled by the Celts in the 3rd century B.C., the site has passed from the Romans to the Byzantines to the Hungarians and even the Bulgarians. The castle fortress was reinforced in the 15th century by the Hungarian Empire to stave off Turkish invasion, only to change hands repeatedly for the next 300 years of struggle between rivaling empires. Though no battles have been fought here in some time, given recent civil strife, anything is possible.

A boy sizes up Serbian soldiers standing at attention before a row of cannons.

    But no, the cannons were just for show. I was politely asked by a red-bereted soldier, no older or more scary-looking than I, to please move out of the cordoned-off area that had gone up while I took pictures. Speakers and a microphone were placed under an ancient elm tree, as a brass band tested the sounding notes of Goran Bregovic’s ‘Kalasnikov’.

    I stepped out of my war-photographer reverie. The Serb military in 2007 is a friendly bunch of boys who pose for photos with children; on the battleground of their ancestors, Serbs assemble to watch military manuevers as entertainment.


A mural in the Military Museum depicts a massacre in a Serbian village by Turkish forces, c. 1400. Though Serbs insist they were never vanquished, Ottoman occupation stifled most of the Balkans for 500 years.

    The demonstration of military pride I witnessed is normal in every patriotic nation (in the U.S., July 4th has reached nauseating levels of beer-swilling and barbecuing with little consideration of the irony behind the ‘American way’ ). So as an American, whose country lead NATO to bomb Serbia for 78 days in 1999, I am not pointing fingers. But in a newly reborn nation which is still in deep denial over its culpability for the genocide in Bosnia, it’s shocking to see this display of militarism.

    The sun set over the river as lovers strode by the cannons, a few stopping their popcorn-munching to pose for photos. Love in a time of myopia. Given what I’d seen in the museum, I wondered: has militarism become intrinsic to the Serbian mentality? Or have their continual defeats over the centuries developed into a false pride, only to be displayed now in parades and national holidays no one cares about? Though the event in the park was innocent enough, it strikes me that it’s precisely this cavalier attitude that blinded Serbs (and Germans! and Americans!) to the atrocities being committed in their name during the 90’s.

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Market for sale

    It may not seem like a historically significant place. But behind the crumbling walls and barbecue smoke, Obor Market is one of the last standing monuments of authentic Europe, a throwback to when farmers arrived to the city marketplace by carriage, trading their surplus vegetables, herbs and honey for milled grain, fresh fish and a bit of news. They still do.


Hala Obor, looking much as it did when it opened in 1944, except for the graffiti. (archived photo)

    For three hundred and five years, Obor has been the seedbed of community in Bucharest. Over 1000 vendors (tarani) converge from the outlying districts of the capital to the market, offering in-season vegetables and imported fruits from Turkey, Greece and Spain– just as the supermarkets do.

    Even at the extremely low prices, the transactions are informal. A bit of bargaining is expected as the vendor slides her long painted nail along the iron-weighted scale. On a Sunday afternoon, one can expect to get bags of peppers, tomatoes, eggplants, oranges and apples at half price: everyone trying to pack up and get home for their own family dinner.

    But by the end of the year, Obor will be no more. Hala Obor, an imposing rectangular brick building rising out of the block-encircled flatness, will be bulldozed to make way for a 140,000 square meter, four-story hypermall. The old men, with their 2-litre plastic bottles of beer in the park, will be shoved aside by the 1,500-car parking lot. Along with them, the natural fountain which provides fresh water to the outdoor stalls.

    While the new complex will have a designated marketplace for fish, dairy and meat, the multiplex cinema, food court and arcade will be the main attractions. According to Ziarul Financiar, this mall is just one of ten due to be erected in Bucharest by 2009.

    Obor Market has been in the city hall’s crosshairs for some time. The ‘urbanization plan’ was first announced in 2005, with rumours flying that it would be bulldozed by summer 2006. News is flecked with hearsay and truthful information. On my first visit to the market, a man happy to meet a foreigner told me it was due to close down the next day. Others have sworn that nothing will ever change at this run-down, rat-infested place.

    When money is involved, even Romanian President Trian Basescu, a former mayor of Bucharest, is thinking about Obor. Three construction firms are in charge of the 117 million euro project will announce their precise demolition plans next week. The official reason for destroying the market? ‘The Mafia,’ which the local government believes has taken over the area with its trade in stolen cellphones.

    The city, in its negotiations with the three private companies contracted to erect the mall, has arranged for vendors to be moved to other markets around the city while the construction goes on. But the prospect of moving, even if temporarily, doesn’t satisfy the vendors I spoke to. They simply don’t trust the city to hold up their end of the bargain.

    Florin and Elena have spent every day but Monday since 1996 at their stall, selling plastic bags, candles and dried herbs. Prior to that, they worked on a farm in the countryside, producing cabbages which may well have ended up in the same market. Nearly obscured by the bags and strings of garlic and peppers hanging above their stall, Elena quietly acknowledges the imminent closure of the market.

    ‘This is our work, this is our life,’ she says, winding thick thread around a bunch of camomile. ‘Where can we go without this market? Who will come to shop if its privatized and becomes expensive?’

From the mezannine inside Hala Obor, a faded mural and white-shirted waiters remember a bygone era. photo: Dan Ghelase

    Built between 1939-44 during the German occupation of Romania, the hall contains a vast fish market, the daily destination for hundreds of kilos of fish from the Danube Delta lakes. A lady with a net will catch a live sturgeon and kill it on the spot, but a less fastidious sushi lover can choose from frozen herring, carp, flounder and caviar. The air smacks of fresh salty fish guts– ahh, the smell of my hometown! –whereas the butchery next door is nauseating with raw blood. A bit much for this vegetarian.

A fish vendor holds up a carp from the Danube Delta. photo: Daniel Cojanu

    Retreating into the market interior, dusty sunshine fights through enormous windows near the 50-metre ceiling. I climb a staircase to a mezannine balcony, where a group of men in traditional shepherd’s hats sit drinking beers and brandies. The surprisingly formal waiter brings coffee served in white porcelin saucers and we strike up conversation with the older gents, who, we learn, gather here every weekend. They’re Macedonian, doing what their fathers and grandfathers always did on Sundays: drink and shoot the shit.

    Looking over the aisles of stalls, piled high with detergent, dried fruits, even clothes, a Communist-era mural fades into the brick wall. Even the Macedonians, who have been meeting here for years, have forgotten what the picture represented.


The Macedonian club’s Sunday meeting. photo: Daniel Cojanu

    Looking over the aisles of stalls, piled high with detergent, dried fruits, even clothes, a Communist-era mural fades into the brick wall. Even the Macedonians, who have been meeting here for years, have forgotten what the picture represented.

    There is little in the way of community organization at the market, (or in Bucharest generally) but some private citizens have made saving historical monuments their cause. Dan Ghelase, president of ARTRAD, an organization that promotes traditional Romanian arts and culture, remembers going to the market as a kid to buy blue herring with his father. He says the building’s architect was a ‘Mozart of his era.’

    Instead of bulldozing the marketplace, Ghelase says the city should invest in it as a tourist attraction, as Paris, Amsterdam and Barcelona have done. He believes the wood craftsmen, traditionally made wine, cheese and sausages, and its nostalgia-ridden atmosphere already make it a popular destination for ‘connaisseurs.’

    ‘It’s a destruction of our patrimony,’ says the retired aviation engineer. ‘It’s necessary to reinvigorate the market, to remember its traditional Romanian look.’

    It’s true that the marketplace could use some infrastructural improvements, Ghelase says, and hygiene must be brought up to the European standard. If the city built a residence for the countryside vendors, there wouldn’t be problems with people sleeping outside.

    ‘This could be the example for the community,’ Ghelase says. ‘The social factors will multiply.’

    Ghelase works with Grupul Civic Bucuresti, group dedicated to protecting the city’s historical monuments from the incursions of urban development. He has even served as a consultant for the revitalization of Bucharest’s largest park: his report was completely ignored. Ghelase doesn’t expect the city to pay attention to the concerns of citizens and poor farmers; and he doesn’t expect the residents to express outrage– until its too late.

    Other marketplaces around the city, from the tony downtown Piata (market) Amzei to the more proletariat Piata Matache, are quite full of vendors vying to sell the same imported oranges, fresh verdeate (green herbs), fresh flowers and dirt-covered potatoes. But Obor is by far the cheapest.

    After spending an equivalent of $15 on tomatoes, honey, three kinds of fresh cheese, a kilo of kiwis, raw wheat, apples and eggplants, we duck into an outdoor shack for an impromptu February brewski. The walls of the cantina are like those you’d find in a Jamaican beach resort, except that the loosely bound straw is adorned with traditional Romanian cloths and decorative brandy flasks.

    A group of older gents occupy another corner, their beer glasses full, some of them lining up for shots of whiskey. Settling into ash-covered plastic chairs, we negotiate with a middle-aged woman with dyed firey red hair for some beers, even though she claims to be closed. In the end, she doesn’t begrudge us a couple pints, and is soon chatting with us good-naturedly.

    ‘What mall?’ she asks when we mention the new development. ‘Nothing’s going to happen to this place. It’s historic.’ When we insist that we’ve read all about the plans in the newspaper, she concedes: ‘well, they might do something to the hall over there. But not to the marketplace. It’s not for sale, it’s national land.’

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The thin black line

    During the Bush administration’s ‘war on terror,’ InterPressNews Service reports that from 2001-2005, the CIA has used European bases to transfer and/or detain ‘enemy combatants’ without due process, in violation of international law. Next week, the European Parliament will debate how Germany, Sweden, Spain, Italy, Ireland, Greece, Cyprus, Denmark, Turkey, Macedonia, Bosnia and Romania played a role in these illegal detentions.

    It’s an unprecedented step in international law enforcement, but since many of the transfers took place on American-controlled bases, offending countries may be able to plead ‘not guilty.’ And how could punishment be enforced?

    Not only are these international ‘grey zones’ beyond public scrutiny, the expanding American military empire secures the United States’ share of the Eurasian oil supply, until now controlled by its arch-rival, Russia.

    While Bush dismantled all but one of its bases in Germany during his first term, he set up several more in geo-strategic areas along the oil-rich Caspian Sea region in Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan– as well as Romania and Bulgaria’s Black Sea coasts.


source: the Energy Information Agency, a US government institution

    Could American military presence have anything to do with the oil pipeline extending from Central Asia through the Balkans? Or perhaps with the color-coded, flower-scented ‘revolutions’ of 2005, in Ukraine (Orange), Georgia (Rose) and Kyrgyzstan (Tulip), that have conveniently opened up the oil-rich provinces of the former USSR to business?

    Whatever’s behind the changes sweeping Central Asia, the Balkans are the vital link between crude oil and massive profits. Plans are in the works to connect Eurasian oil with the thirsty demand in EU countries.

    Russia is playing its oil monopoly ruthlessly, shutting Ukraine off from its natural gas pipeline last year–and Belarus this year–until they agreed to pay higher rates. With the pipeline’s final destination in Western Europe, Russia is keen on maximizing its oil profits and market share; the EU is keen on finding alternative oil sources.


source: Wikipedia

    The Nabucco natural gas pipeline running from Azerbaijan through Turkey, to Bulgaria and Romania, and finally to Central Europe bypasses Russia completely. Due for completion in 2010, the 5 billion euro cost will be split between the major shareholders, private gas companies in Austria, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, Turkey and France.

    Meanwhile, Russia’s Gazprom is hoping the Balkan countries will spring for the Blue Stream pipeline linking Russia with Hungary. After the Blue Stream pipeline link to Turkey was turned on, the United States publicly criticized Europe for becoming too dependent on Russia for energy.


source: the Energy Information Agency, a US government institution

    Romania has its own cards to lay on the the energy-diplomacy table. On Feb. 11, Romanian and Croatian ministers met in Bucharest to discuss another pipeline from Romania’s Black Sea coast though the former Yugoslavia, to Trieste, Italy and beyond.

    With proven reserves of 950 million barrels, Romania has enough oil to supply about 70% of its domestic need. Even so, Russia makes up for what Romania cannot supply on its own.

    Given that Romania’s oil industry is operated by foreign companies (which, my car-driving friends tell me, means it is sold back to Romanians at EU-standard prices, with the same substandard quality) the country isn’t exactly safeguarding its energy supply, as it did during Ceaucescu’s self-sufficient planned economy.

    The Centre for Public Integrity reports suspcious activity surrounding former (and current) Romanian government officials involved in the sale of Petrom, the national oil company. Prior to its sale to Austrian OMV in 2004, nearly all of the country’s oil assets came under control of the state-run Petrom. Valued at $2.7 billion, OMV/Petrom now holds a monopoly on the country’s reserves, refineries and gas stations. Privatization of state-run companies has been regarded as a prerequisite for IMF loans as well as for joining the European Union.

    Romanian taxpayers have absorbed the company’s $500 million debts but since price controls weren’t written into the sale, they pay the same as they would for imported gas at the pump. Evenimentul Zilei reported that based on the price of a barrel of oil, Romanians are being charged 15 times what they were in 2002. Someone’s getting rich, but it isn’t the people living here.



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Redesigning the chess board

    Last Sunday, protesters in Prague challenged the plans of their 2-day old Prime Minister, Mirek Topolanek, who is negotiating the development of an American radar base on Czech soil. Dubbed the ’son of Star Wars,’ the radar would detect incoming threats as part of the global anti-ballistic missile (ABM) defense ’shield.’ Another base in Poland would activate rockets to intercept them. The Czech protester’s question was simple: wouldn’t the existence of an American base make us more targeted than protected? And what exactly is the threat, anyway?

The fortress of Prague’s old city. Twenty-first century Czech Republic prepares for attacks by setting up an American-operated radar base.

    The Czech Prime Minister, who formed his centre-right coalition government just last Friday, has stated that the parliament will decide on whether to go ahead with the Pentagon’s wishes. Given that 65% of voters are against such cooperation, a referendum is out of the question. Sovereignty is the issue at stake: US military bases–in Germany, Italy, Poland, Romania and Bulgaria– are considered outside the jurisdiction of their host country’s laws.

    As an EU member since 2004, the Czech Republic’s geography and history might be the determining factors in its current foreign policy. After the Soviet occupation and years of communist puppet-dictatorship was toppled in the Velvet Revolution of 1989, Czechs are still wary of Russian hegemony.


We are the hollow men: a monument in Prague remembers the spiritual destruction a nation experiences under occupation.

    The promise of European Union prosperity hasn’t exactly panned out the way Czechs imagined when they joined three years ago. With its economy stagnating, Prime Minister Topolanek pointed out that the radar station could breathe new life into scientific research, manufacturing and the local economy of the radar base. And negotiating with the Americans might be the velveteen way to snub plans for a common EU defence policy.

    The prospect of US military installations so close to the Russian border is making the Kremlin nervous, The Guardian reports. Earlier in the month, the Russia said it considers Star Wars a direct threat to its security, and it would be forced to review its military capacities (which, by the way, include its own ABM shield).

    Russia, which has repeatedly defended Iran’s right to develop nuclear energy in Security Council sessions, disregards American assertions that Star Wars will stave off attacks from ‘rogue states’ Iran and North Korea. Instead, it could provoke a renewed arms race and futher destabilize the Mideast-Balkans region.

    Scotland’s Sunday Herald reports that preparations are being made at a US Air Force base in Bulgaria for B-2 Stealth bomber fueling stations (read an analysis by former US Army Colonel Sam Gardiner on Counterpunch). And that’s not all.

    Before the end of March, 3 000 US military personnel will rotate through Bulgaria’s three US bases, reports Novinite. Romania’s Evenimentual Zilei quoted Admiral Gheorghe Marin, Romania’s chief of staff, as saying that 2 000 additional American troops would be ‘temporarily stationed’ at the Mihail Kaglaniceanu air base near Constanta’s Black Sea port. What are they preparing for?

    Bulgaria, and especially Romania, are two of the only countries in the world that still promote the United States, both politically and in public spirit. The two post-communist states–perhaps seeking to recoup the millions they lent Saddam Hussein in the 70’s– joined the ‘coalition of the willing’ during the invasion of Iraq (Romania still has 50 army medics in southern Iraq, but Bulgaria pulled out in 2005). Though it may look like friendship, the Pentagon pays for this token cooperation in hard currency: military base leases.

    As good as it looks on paper, the EU is still an intangible entity, with no guarantees beyond a stable–for now– internal market. After the failure of the EU constitution, each of the 27 member states has pursued its own policy regarding security and sovereignty.

    If the EU’s weakest members are allowing American bases on their soil, it’s because they’re hoping for benefits that Europe cannot provide: military contracts, better business relations, and maybe even protection in the event of war.

    It could just be that we’re not so far away from the Cold War. And if the history of World Wars I and II repeats itself, the Balkans will be the stage for the opening act.

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Fielding dreams

Several times a year, hundreds of people come from the agricultural villages of Romania– hitchiking, or by train or even walking– to an office overlooking Gradina Cismigiu (Swan Gardens) in downtown Bucharest. Some camp out overnight to be first through the guarded doors; others wait for hours in the cold to be admitted.

    They’re waiting for an interview with an agricultural recruiting agency, which selects ‘guest workers’ for temporary jobs in Spanish fields and food processing plants. The BBC estimates 400,000 Romanians currently fill such positions in Spain, though local wisdom puts this figure closer to 1 million.


Romanian workers for Spanish strawberries: Lanuta (in red hat) waits for her turn on the assembly line. photo: Daniel Cojanu

    Lanuta, a kindly woman of 39 years, has worked in Spain every winter for the past three years. A widow for the past five years, she picks strawberries in the fields of Andalusia for about 32 euros a day. She says overall, she’s satisfied with the arrangement: her employer pays for the transportation to Spain, communal accomodation and two daily meals. With an automatic washing machine, electric stove, refrigerator and TV, Lanuta enjoys better conditions in Spain than she ever had back home.

    Nonetheless, the Spanish agricultural worker’s union (SOC) reports serious violations of worker’s rights, most of which stem from contract misunderstandings (written in Spanish). Employers have been known to pay as little as 5 euros/hour, retain worker’s passports and return tickets until the end of the season, and even– a nightmare for a migrant worker– offer only 18-20 hours of work per week. The SOC reports that nearly 20,000 Romanian and Polish strawberry pickers arrived in Andalusia in 2004, resulting in tensions with the North Africans accustomed to filling these jobs. 

    The 2,400-3,000 euros Lanuta manages to save after 3 months is about twice what she would make in that time in Romania– but after paying for the bus back from Spain and the babysitter for her youngest children (ages 5 and 12), Lanuta brings home closer to 2,000 euros. Is it worth it for this agrarian technician to leave her family to spend 50-60 hours a week in the fields across the continent? For Lanuta, the work is the easiest part.

    ‘I’m used to working in the fields, I’ve been doing it all my life,’ Lanuta says in her matter-of-fact, but uncomplaining way. ‘If we would get paid here like we’re paid there, we wouldn’t leave our kids to go so far away. It’s not that easy to be a coward and leave. But what’s to be done? ‘

    Though she’s a veteran by now, each year Lanuta must go through all the steps to get her visa, medical checkup and application approved. She won’t find out if she’s been selected until it’s almost time to leave in January.


Lanuta waits with hundreds of others hoping to be selected for a work visa. Applicants pay about half a month’s salary to complete the process, though they have no guarantee of approval. photo: Daniel Cojanu

    After waiting out the dawn in line, going through an interview, filling out forms and being shuttled to the hospital for an x-ray and blood test, Lanuta said she would sleep in the train station at night. There would be no other option for her to get home until the next morning.

    A majority of the people waiting in line one December morning were women, some as young as 20, others appearing to be in their 60’s. The Spanish employers prefer young women because they are more docile than men; the Spanish government, because they are more likely to return home to their families at the end of the season.

    As Lanuta pointed out, everyone waiting in line that morning had children to provide for. Christina, age 26, had brought her 9-year old son. They make the trip to Spain together, where the boy attends school and even helps his mom with her Spanish. Although this lifestyle is unusual, it means Christina doesn’t have to sacrifice watching her child grow up in exchange for providing him with a better life.


Men and women of all ages, many with families to support, wait for their chance to work in Spain. photo: Daniel Cojanu

    It has become common in Romania for parents to switch off household duties and working abroad. Due to the meagre incomes and job opportunities in the countryside, families live off the earnings sent back from Italy, Spain, the US or other prosperous countries. However, says Dan Ghita, coordinator of Eurosceptic.ro, the situation has resulted in villages where virtually the only residents left are the very young and the very old. What does this mean for the future development of Romania? How will the next generation be able to meet the demands in Romania’s own economy– its famed high-tech sector, for example?

    Due to low birth rates, most of Western Europe, Japan and Canada are experiencing an alarming rate of population decline. While many affluent countries encourage young, educated (and evidently, preferably Caucasian) immigrants, they also need people to fill lower-skilled jobs such as garbage collection or domestic help. Yet for these jobs, permanent residency is rarely easy to come by, even for fellow European Union citizens.

    For those lucky enough to bring their families abroad, it’s conceivable to imagine making a permanent move: in some places like Aquaviva, Spain, Romanians outnumber native Spaniards. Indeed, Spain’s economic situation 25 years ago was not too much better than Romania’s. According to recent government estimates, the country will need 4 million more workers by 2020 to meet the needs of its growing economy. But the issue of immigration is always contentious with domestic labour unions and nationalistic voters.

    Out of the 25 EU Member States, only 11 (most of which joined in 2004) said they would admit workers from Romania and Bulgaria without restrictions. While some countries fast-track permits in the high-demand service and IT sectors, work visas can be required legally for seven more years. In a way, the success of a few has come at the detriment of other migration-hopefuls. In the UK, Ireland and the Netherlands, authorities stipulated last December that they would restrict Eastern European immigration, given the abundance of Polish workers who arrived after the last accension round in 2004.


Will the ‘Polish plumber’ be replaced by the ‘Romanian retailer’ as the scapegoat for Western Europe’s econommic woes? A man waits his turn in line for a visa to Spain. photo: Daniel Cojanu

    As more and more Romanians leave behind the country they feel offers them little in return for their education, the deficit in social capital has long-lasting ramifications. Ionut Balan points out in Jurnalul that the contribution foreign workers make to the economy has an overall deleterious effect.

    Not only does Eastern Europe now suffer from ‘a lack of qualified personnel,’ Balan writes, ‘the massive cheap imports take out of the market the domestic products, while local managers have no answers to requests of higher salaries, from their employees, and cheaper and better products, from their consumers.’

    While Romanians may make higher salaries abroad, the cost of living is higher, and the rent and basic commodities they buy contribute only to those economies. The estimated 3 billion euros they send home every year often leaves the country as fast as it comes in: whether it’s coveted high-quality clothes, cell phones or computers, or lower-quality products from Asia, the majority of goods on the Romanian market are imported. Contrast this phenomenon with the reality 17 years ago, when basically everything bought and sold here was made in Romania.

    The net effect on Bulgaria and Romania’s economies has been draining. 350,000 Romanians are expected to leave the country this year, in addition to the 2 million already working abroad. It’s an ironic twist of globalization: for the first time, the Romanian government is considering their own immigration policy, due to the fact that Chinese workers have started to fill jobs in the new foreign-owned car and textile factories.

    Although the Romanian leu is experiencing unprecendented value (after winning the prize of least valued currency from January-June 2005), this means little to most worker’s paycheques. While the Basescu administration has mandated a 12% increase in minimum wage, it doesn’t compensate for the rising cost of living, especially in the capital.


Getting out of the hole: Construction is literally through the roof in Romania’s major cities. So are rents. photo: Daniel Cojanu

    The fast pace of economic growth (rated at 4-5% annually) is barely keeping up with the 4.9% inflation rate for 2006 (compared to 8.6% in the previous year). Prices are going up– from gas, to medical and water services, train tickets, sugar and cigarettes. In return, some sectors are growing and the government posts an all-time low unemployment rate of 6%. But how big will this bubble grow before it bursts?

    As the winter workers fly west this month, they will considered for the first time as European citizens. But does that mean they have equal rights and opportunities? While Italian, Austrian and other foreign corporations have made themselves at home in the skeletons of Romania’s state-owned industries, would-be migrants to the same countries are regarded in terms of economic cost-benefits rather than as people.

    After all, the EU’s goal of capital mobilty is based on the World War II victor’s desire to expand their steel markets– and by extention, to maintain peace through diplomatic means. In 2007, perhaps this noble ideal will finally come to fruition: an open society based on free movement of products and people for the common good. All people, whether they are desperate to make a better life for their children or simply interested in exploring the state of their so-called Union.

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