BUCHAREST - CITY OF REVOLUTION
At first sight, Bucharest, the capital of Romania, appears to be an ugly city. The Communist dictator, Ceausescu, had destroyed the old city and attempted to build a new one of Parisian grandeur. Huge, monstrous neo-classical or rather neo-Stalinist buildings (e.g., Palace of the Republic) were built everywhere in this city. Most of them were half-completed when he was overthrown and executed during the December 1989 Revolution. Since then, the country has neither the will nor the resources to either tear down or complete Ceausescu's monuments, to maintain existing buildings or to repair those structures damaged during the ferocious battles of December 1989. The result was a city full of half-constructed monuments and decaying facades. Important buildings like the Telecom Building and the Architecture School still bore bullet holes and relics of the Revolution.
Little crosses dotted the city mourning those martyred in the Revolution and wall graffiti condemned the current government were everywhere. Signs of sadness and poverty prevailed. (This was the only city where I was chased and harassed by a few gypsies in the city centre.) Bucharest appeared to be on the verge of yet another revolution. During the two days I was there, I met at least 2 local prophets of doom who proclaimed another Yugoslavia about to occur in this country
Historical figures, like many other Balkan states, are taken very serious here. Heroes of the past inspire people to work towards certain political goals. This is particularly important in countries where boundaries are new, or are disputed, and leaders need the past to justify policies and objectives. To the Romanians of today, perhaps the most important political leader is Michael the Brave (Mihai Vitezul), the leader of the first unified Romanian state in history. This prince of Walachia briefly united the Romanian provinces of Walachia, Moldova & Transylvania in 1600, before being murdered by his Austrian enemies on 9 August 1601. Ever since, Michael the Brave has been the rallying cry of all Romanian calls for unification. His message was not lost when Romanian delegates gathered at Alba Iulia, where he declared the union of the provinces in 1599, on 1 December 1918 to call for the unification of Transylvania, Banat, Crisana and Maramures with the Romanian state. Today, Romanians have once again look at the past and wonder if it is time for the unification of the last remaining part of Romanian land not in the motherland - Moldova - which was incorporated by the Soviets in 1940. Moldova had become an independent country in 1991 with the fall of USSR, but whether they want to join an impoverished Romania, and risk the rebellion of the Russians/Ukrainians in the Transdnestirian region is another question...
It was here that I had an unhappy encounter with blackmarketeers. It was a Saturday and money changers were all closed. I wanted to purchase a ticket to Sofia, Bulgaria, but didn't have enough Romanian Lei. I was approached by a blackmarketeer who said he could assist me. He tried to get me to change bigger sums but having heard about tales of unscrupulous money changers in Eastern Europe, I changed only what I needed ~ US$15. Just as I had completed counting the banknotes he passed me, a man suddenly appeared to say hi, and the blackmarketeer pulled the notes towards himself, and then thrusted them into my palms again. I thought something was wrong but didn't know what, as the notes appeared to me like the same pile I had counted, especially when they did not seemed to have totally left my palms at all. I walked towards the ticket counters, flipped through the banknotes, and suddenly, I realised that the notes had been switched. What I had now were, apart from the few on top and below, notes of very small denominations like 200L ~ about US$0.07, and which had been declared invalid by the government some time ago. Even though I had only lost about US$15, the loss was a great blow to my self-esteem. I had never expected to fall for such a scheme, especially so when I'd heard so much about such deceptions, and that blackmarketeer fitted into the description of a typical con-man described in the Lonely Planet - one that wears a jogging suit and who would pretending that he's just jogging when discovered. I comforted myself by pretending that I have paid the money for a magic show for indeed it was almost like one.
Anyway, despite all these, I wouldn't mind visiting this city again, as a Romanian professor I met (on the train to Sofia) said, it's not fair judging the city after such a short visit. Let's hope things will change when I'm back again...and that the prophets of doom are wrong.
Directory of Romanian Sites
Some sites with info on Romania : Romania - Information & Romania [plymitl.ca]
Transylvania Dracula, Transylvania, photos and more
See Walter George's Transylvania/Dracula site, with pictures and more, plus the most comprehensive listing of WWW links on Transylvania & Dracula
Welcome to Bucharest - great site on the city, best read with Netscape 2
Hungarian Human Rights FoundationLearn about the plight of Transylvanian Magyars here.
Romanian Political Page - Interesting site with discussions on Romanian political affairs
To Bulgaria : Sofia & the beautiful frescoes of Rila
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