Empowering Women in Romania

The Women’s Association of Romania (AFR) began as a mass movement constructed out of the ruins of the previous Communist-era women’s organization. When I visited the offices in 1993, AFR was possibly the largest NGO in the country, with 240,000 members. Its activities were all over the map, from providing services to singles through a Club of Lonely Hearts to maintaining a job referral...
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Hungary’s Independent Peace Movement

One of the great stories of the 1980s to be obscured by the success of civil society organizations like Solidarity in Poland and Civic Forum in Czechoslovakia was the rise of an independent peace movement in a region dominated by official peace councils. Freedom and Peace (WiP), for instance, had a tremendous influence on what would become Poland’s first non-Communist foreign policy. The...
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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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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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