An Architect of Change

Nicolae Ceausescu was not exactly a team player. He adopted the title conducator – literally, the leader – and constructed his own personality cult. He defied the Warsaw Pact by refusing to allow Romania to participate in the Soviet-led 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia. He preferred to pick up leadership tips from Beijing and Pyongyang – where Mao and Kim Il Sung offered larger-than-life...
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Growing Up in Transylvania

Agnes Gagyi grew up in the city of Miercurea Ciuc in the Transylvanian region of Romania. More than 80 percent of the population of this city of 50,000 people is of Hungarian ethnicity. Most everyday interactions are conducted in Hungarian. In fact, Gagyi didn’t learn Romanian at home or on the streets, but rather through television and Romanian classes at school. Life under Ceausescu was not...
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Blues for the Balkans

Last May, a terrible set of storms swept through Serbia, Bosnia Herzegovina, and Croatia. More than 70 people died during the ensuing flooding, and nearly a million people had to be evacuated. Tens of thousands are still living in temporary shelters. There’s a new fundraising effort to link up people who experienced Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and the people who are still reeling from...
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Mowing the Lawn in Gaza

The Palestinians of Gaza are guilty of that new post-Cold War misdemeanor: voting while Muslim. The punishment for this crime has been eight years of economic hardship, international isolation, and periodic Israeli bombardments. Like the Algerians in 1990 and the Egyptians in 2012, Gazans went to the polls in 2006 and voted for the wrong party. Rather than supporting the secular choice, they...
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Making the Castle Transparent

The classic novel about government structures in East-Central Europe is Franz Kafka’s The Castle. A land surveyor, K., arrives in a provincial town after being summoned for a meeting at the local Castle. But the summons apparently has been sent in error. The land surveyor tries to visit the Castle to get to the bottom of his predicament. But he can only ever seem to circle the structure without...
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When Government Breaks the Fourth Wall

You’re at the theater. You’re sitting in your seat, paying attention to what’s going on in front of you. If the play is any good, you’ve completely forgotten that you’re sitting in a theater. You are absorbed in the new world unfolding in front of you. The theater has cast a spell over you. Then, suddenly, the actor on stage turns to the audience and begins speaking...
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