Frontline World

Romania - My Old Haunts, October, 2002



THE STORY
Synopsis of "My Old Haunts"

INTERVIEW WITH ANDREI CODRESCU
On the Road in Romania

WITNESS TO HISTORY
Exclusive Article and Archival Diary

REPORTER'S NOTEBOOK
House of Tudor

TALES OF DRACULA
Examination, Interview and Quiz

DID YOU KNOW?
Facts and FAQs about Romania

LINKS & RESOURCES
The Revolution, "Gypsies," Background

MAP

REACT TO THIS STORY

   


The Story
Bazar Dracula banner; Go-go dancer; Photo of castle

Watch Video Writer and NPR commentator Andrei Codrescu escaped Romania when he was 19 years old. He left a country where the state controlled everything, and food shortages were common. "We lived in a socialist utopia where people marched, sang and praised their leaders -- on an empty stomach," recalls Codrescu. Thirteen years after the revolution that brought down the dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and introduced rugged capitalism, Codrescu returns with FRONTLINE/World to explore a nation struggling with its new freedoms.

"How is my native country faring?" Codrescu asks. "I'm here to take her temperature."

Codrescu rediscovers a beautiful country of 22 million ethnically diverse people, blessed with a natural bounty of mountains, rivers and rich soil. But, as Romanians like to say, they have been cursed with bad leaders. Perhaps for that reason, the country lags behind most of the former Soviet Bloc on the road to prosperity. Though many people earn less than $100, but still, Codrescu finds the stores well stocked and the restaurants full of well-dressed people.

Exploring the contradictions of post–communist life, Codrescu seeks out a fellow poet, Mircea Dinescu, who became a symbol of the revolution. In December 1989, when the communist regime was crumbling, Dinescu was a dissident poet under house arrest. When the dictator fled, Dinescu was rushed to the state television station to announce to the country that the revolution had succeeded. Now, Dinescu owns a country estate on the Danube River. He is a publisher and a television personality, a bon vivant and patron of the arts. "I put away my revolutionary jacket," he tells Codrescu. "I became a capitalist."

Dinescu recalls the days when poetry was a way to communicate and inspire in a country silenced by censorship. "If there's one thing we gained from the revolution, it's freedom of speech," he says. "But liberty can breed monsters."

Free speech is a new concept in Romania, yet many have taken to it with the fervor of converts. One example is the popular hip-hop band Parazitii -- The Parasites -- whom Codrescu meets in their underground recording studio. The band was one of the first to challenge postcommunist norms with gritty songs about sex, drugs and life on Bucharest's mean streets. Like their counterparts in the United States, they intend to be heard and to make money in the process. They call it "the Romanian Dream."

For a tour of Bucharest, Codrescu enlists the help of a successful entrepreneur named Nicolae Marinescu. Marinescu brings him to a favorite nightspot called Club Dracula, where they encounter the Romania that Westerners know from their nightmares -- the Romania of debonair vampires in their cave lairs. Count Dracula may be just a Western myth, but in Romania the myth coexists with the real history of Vlad the Impaler, the diabolic 15th-century ruler who inspired the fictional character. Marinescu thinks of Dracula as a symbol of Romania's rebirth; Codrescu is mortified by the kitschy Dracula revival.

Romanian capitalism has distributed opportunity unevenly. And Marinescu's main business can be seen either as a way of providing opportunity to those who lack it or as a form of exploitation. Marinescu operates an academy where he trains young women as exotic dancers for export to wealthy countries like Italy and Japan. These women tell Codrescu that without leaving Romania to make money, they would stand no chance of making a success of their lives.

Free-market capitalism offers a harsh reality to many older Romanians, who are struggling to survive on pensions. Codrescu finds a long line of people outside church on Saint Anthony's Day, hoping for a miracle. "We pray to die," one woman cries. "After working hard your whole life, to live in misery, this is not fair in a civilized world."

The man who says he has the answers to Romania's problems is Vadim Tudor. A charismatic senator and newspaper publisher, Tudor heads the ultra-nationalist Greater Romania Party, which has become the leading opposition party in the country. His dark horse candidacy in the 2000 presidential election shocked the nation when he finished second, with one-third of the vote. Tudor is a populist, who has gained support through vicious attacks on corrupt politicians and businessmen as well as on national minorities like Hungarians, Jews and Gypsies. "I have a big mouth," Tudor concedes. "But I am not violent."

Codrescu meets Tudor at Bran Castle, the famous Transylvanian fortress often associated with Dracula. "Dracula was a cruel man, but a good leader," insists Tudor, who plans to run for president again in 2004. "I am not a dictator, but I think at this moment Romania needs someone with an iron hand."

Though Tudor and his supporters continue to disparage Gypsies and to use them as scapegoats, Codrescu finds that there is a revival of Gypsy culture in the new Romania. The Gypsy music known as manele is particularly popular, especially when performed by a 4-foot 7-inch pop star known as the Miracle Child.

Codrescu leaves Romania with deep ambiguity about his homeland's future. He is impressed by its vitality, yearning and creativity. But the country's recurring pessimism seems to crop up everywhere, as when Codrescu visits a famous Gypsy fortune teller who claims to have advised Elena Ceausescu, the dictator's wife, to flee only days before her execution. Codrescu asks her to predict Romania's future, and she draws the black card that heralds misfortune.

"I realize that postcommunism is a long convalescence," Codrescu concludes. "It has to run its course."

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Credits

Reporter
Andrei Codrescu

Producer/Director
Marian Marzynski

Producer
Jason Cohn

Associate Producer
John Ely

Cameraman/Editor
Jason Longo