By DANIEL DIVILIO Staff Writer | Posted: Sunday, November 6, 2011 1:00 am
EASTON Watching the Arab Spring unfold this year reminded a state senator and his journalist wife of the wave of change that captured the world’s attention 20 years ago the fall of Communism in eastern Europe.
State Sen. James Rosapepe, D-21-Prince George’s and Anne Arundel, served as the U.S. ambassador to Romania from 1998 to early 2001 and saw how the country, home of the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s “Dracula,” worked to become a strong democracy.
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Sheilah Kast, Rosapepe’s wife, spent those years in Romania, as well, and was in Russia as a newscaster for ABC when a coup of hard-line Communists attempted to overthrow Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1991.
The couple fell in love with Romania, a country they think is largely misunderstood here in the States, and is seeking to dispel many of the myths about it in their new book “Dracula is Dead.”
“(Romanians) really are taking their place in the world, and we wanted folks in the West to know about it,” Kast said.
Rosapepe said this year’s uprisings in countries like Tunisia, Syria and Egypt have many interesting analogies, culminating in the violent death of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi and the 1989 Christmas Day executions of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife.
Rosapepe said when the Iron Curtain fell from eastern Europe, the political upheavals took place without the killing of former leaders. He said Romania, the citizens of which had so longed to be a part of West, was the only exception.
Kast said questions linger among some Romanians as to whether what happened in their country 20 years ago was a revolution or a coup. She said the death of Ceausescu has led to some unresolved issues regarding the history of his regime.
Kast said the death of such a leader has both benefits and drawbacks for citizens. She said it immediately severs the ties to the old guard and keeps buried potentially damaging matters, but at the same time can lead to so many other questions being left virtually unanswerable.
“There’s something that happens that might be valuable to getting a democracy started, but there’s also a lot of sorting out that doesn’t get done,” Kast said.
Kast viewed the pictures of Gadhafi’s capture and death, and in them she said she saw Libya going down much the same road as Romania. She said Egypt may see some of those ugly matters brought back to the surface by bringing former President Hosni Mubarak to trial.
“It’s hard to get a democracy going, and I’m not smart enough to know whether it’s harder when you have the dictator there to go through a trial or not,” Kast said.
Rosapepe said the commonly held belief of Romania being a very rural, even backwards, country is not totally false. He said it, along with Poland, are the two largest agricultural countries in Europe, and there are in fact villages looking straight out of the 19th century with cows walking in the roads.
Rosapepe said Romania is also heavily industrialized, having been the largest oil producer in Europe prior to World War II and being the home now of a variety of manufacturers, Ford included, and very talented engineers. He said Ceausescu tried to build six giant steel mills, and though all were started, only one was completed.
Kast said Romania always wanted to be connected to the West, and though some in the rural areas may lack sophistication, many of the nation’s citizens are quite worldly. She said Romanians, whose own language is based on Latin, generally speak a variety of western languages, including very good English and French.
“And so, being stuck behind the Iron Curtain was just perhaps psychologically worse for them than other countries that were stuck behind the Iron Curtain,” Kast said.
To find out more about Rosapepe’s and Kast’s book, visit www.draculaisdead.com.