Rain can’t dampen Romanian spirits | TheUnion.com

Rain can’t dampen Romanian spirits

President Bush and Romanian President Iliescu embrace at Cotroceni Presidential Palace.
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BUCHAREST, Romania – My wife and I live one mile from Revolutionary Square here, where 12 years ago dictator Nicolae Ceausescu was overthrown and communism thrust aside as Romania and other Eastern European countries attempted to free themselves from Soviet influence.

The acceptance of Romania into NATO and the arrival of President George W. Bush on Nov. 23 signified the end of communism here and a celebration of the long-awaited American arrival, much hoped for since World War II.

All day, before the arrival of the President, we could hear music blaring outside and see crowds gathering. It is a tremendously exciting time for Romania and the energy was felt on the streets as people excitedly entertained themselves in anticipation of so many visiting dignitaries.

Roads have been newly paved and painted, street lights installed, and police, military and secret service agents were assigned to every main street, almost outnumbering the citizens gathered as Bucharest came to a standstill with the arrival of the presidential party.

Manhole covers were welded tight, a no-fly zone declared over the city and all windows were ordered shut on the major roadways that the president might travel. Romania, on that day, resembled the totalitarian state of the past as it secured the safety of these leaders, the difference now being the freedom and anticipation felt by its citizens in the coming of a new era of NATO integration and possible European Union admission.

Romanians, who have been impatiently awaiting some sign of progress since 1989, finally are experiencing a sense of success after years of deprivation. These people have suffered a struggling economy where the average monthly wage is $200. Water, heat, electrical systems and a broken down infrastructure are now slowly being mended and, in the last year, visible progress has been made in most areas.

There is still a generation of work to be done as people adjust to a different way of life, but the foundation is now clearly being laid.

My wife and I walked to Revolutionary Square and waded through three security checks, then waited for three hours while the president disembarked Air Force One, met Romanian President Iliescu and stopped at Cotroceni Presidential Palace before coming to greet the waiting crowd.

During our wait, the weather turned colder and a constant drizzle further chilled the crowd.

The thousands of us who stood in the rain were finally greeted by Presidents Iliescu and Bush, who spoke of the historic importance of the occasion. President Bush mentioned the importance of the newly configured NATO, calling it, “history’s greatest alliance.” He also stressed the need to maintain pressure on Saddam Hussein and his “weapons of mass murder,” as well as pointing out Romania’s strategic geographic importance in becoming a bridge to Russia, the Black Sea states, and the Mideast.

Although most Romanians avoid discussing the possible war with Iraq as a way of indicating polite disagreement, they are entirely grateful for the opportunity to be more closely aligned with the U.S. and NATO.

Walking back home was the most difficult part of the day as the crowd could not leave until the leaders had fully departed and driven off, adding another half-hour to our rain-soaked spirits. We didn’t anticipate the added security measures now in place. Had the weather been kinder, we might have enjoyed the wait, but standing out in the cold made many of us wonder how long it might take for Romania and the West to overcome the obstacles now present to our common peace and prosperity.

Lew Sitzer, a history teacher in Nevada County for almost 30 years, and his wife have been living in Bucharest for the last five years, and plan to return here next summer.

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