|Wednesday, 20 November 2019|
RFE/RL Newsline, Vol. 5, No. 219, 01-11-19
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
Vol. 5, No. 219, 19 November 2001
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
[C] END NOTETOURISM INDUSTRY
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
 ARMENIAN FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS KARABAKH'S RIGHT TO INDEPENDENCE IS KEY BARGAINING CHIPYerevan's insistence that "firm legal grounds" exist for the full independence of the currently unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic or its reunification with Armenia is an important bargaining chip in the internationally sponsored peace talks with Azerbaijan, Vartan Oskanian told RFE/RL's Armenian Service in a telephone interview on 16 November. He argued that in order to reach a mutually acceptable compromise agreement with Azerbaijan, the Armenians should "show that we are giving up something, because Karabakh deserves to have a status which is higher than the one proposed by the international community." Oskanian claimed that the case for Karabakh becoming an internationally recognized part of Armenia is "much stronger" than Azerbaijan's insistence on the preservation of its territorial integrity. LF
 FORMER KARABAKH OFFICIAL SENTENCEDAfter a trial lasting over one year, former Stepanakert city Mayor Karen Babayan has been sentenced to 5 1/2 years in prison on charges of abuse of power and illegal possession of weapons, Noyan Tapan reported on 16 November. The state prosecutor demanded that the sentence be extended by one year. Babayan was arrested in the spring of 2000 following an abortive attempt to assassinate Arkadii Ghukasian, president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. Babayan's brother Samvel, a former commander of the Karabakh Defense Army, was sentenced in February to 14 years in prison on charges, which he denied, of masterminding the attempt to kill Ghukasian (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 February 2001). LF
 AZERBAIJANI OFFICIALS AFFIRM READINESS TO COOPERATE WITH OPPOSITION...The Azerbaijani authorities are prepared to cooperate with the "constructive opposition" with the aim of strengthening "civic solidarity," but cooperation with the "hostile" opposition is "impossible," presidential administration official Ali Hasanov told Turan on 16 November. He did not specify which Azerbaijani political parties he considers fall into which category. Hasanov added that many opposition parties regard cooperation with the leadership as "betrayal," while cooperation with foreign organizations which may be hostile to Azerbaijan is considered a normal phenomenon. It is not clear whether Hasanov's offer was made in response to the cooperation agreement signed on 5 November between the influential Azerbaijan National Independence Party and the reformist wing of the Azerbaijani Popular Front Party, and the far smaller Taraggi (Progress) party. LF
 ...SETS TIME FRAME FOR CREATION OF PUBLIC TELEVISIONDuring the same 16 November interview with Turan, Hasanov said that Azerbaijan is complying with its media-related commitments made to the Council of Europe. He said a law will be drafted on public broadcasting, after which a public television channel will be created, probably by May 2002. LF
 AZERBAIJANI PARLIAMENT ENDORSES BUDGET FOR 2002By a vote of 90 to six, deputies approved the draft 2002 budget on 15 November, Turan reported. Revenues are set at 4.780 trillion manats ($1.017 billion) or 16.6 percent of GDP, and expenditures at 5.13 trillion manats, resulting in a deficit of 350 billion manats which is equal to 1.2 percent of planned GDP. Taxes are to account for 75 percent of all budget revenues. LF
 UN SECRETARY-GENERAL APPEALS TO GEORGIA TO EXPEDITE ABKHAZ SETTLEMENTIn a letter to Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has expressed concern at recent setbacks in the Abkhaz peace process, including the fighting last month during which a UN helicopter was shot down, the resulting suspension of talks between Georgian and Abkhaz representatives, and the failure of the members of the Friends of the UN Secretary-General group of states to reach agreement on a draft document outlining the division of powers and responsibilities between Tbilisi and Sukhum, Interfax and Caucasus Press reported on 16 and 17 November respectively. Annan expressed the hope that at Shevardnadze's planned meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin (for which no date has yet been set), the two presidents will agree to designate a settlement of the Abkhaz conflict one of the priorities in their bilateral relations. LF
 KAZAKHSTAN'S PRESIDENT RECONCILED WITH SON-IN-LAWOn 16 November, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service quoted "reliable sources" in Astana as reporting that President Nursultan Nazarbaev's son-in-law Rakhat Aliyev, who resigned two days earlier as deputy chairman of the National Security Committee (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 November 2001), was under house arrest. The same day, Interior Ministry troops surrounded the Almaty headquarters of the independent television channel KTK which is controlled by Aliyev, and which temporarily stopped broadcasting. On 17 November, Aliyev convened a press conference at which he told journalists that he has accepted a post as deputy commander of the presidential guard. Aliyev added that he has proven his "innocence," but did not say of what specific charges. Unconfirmed reports suggest that the catalyst for the deterioration in relations between Nazarbaev and Aliyev was the latter's estrangement from Nazarbaev's daughter Darigha. LF
 KAZAKH OBLAST GOVERNOR FOUNDS NEW POLITICAL MOVEMENTAppearing on TAN-TV on 16 November, Pavlodar Oblast Governor Ghalymzhan Zhaqiyanov accused Aliyev of precipitating what he called "a very serious political situation, I would say a political crisis" by using the media outlets under his control to disseminate what Zhaqiyanov termed "disinformation" about events in Kazakhstan, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. He demanded the convening of an emergency session of parliament at which the country's leadership would be required to explain the present situation. On 18 November, Zhaqiyanov together with other senior officials, including Deputy Prime Minister Uraz Djandosov and Deputy Defense Minister Zhannat Ertlesova, and several parliament deputies including Tolen Toqqtasynov, who first accused Aliyev last month of abusing his official position (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12, 15 and 19 October 2001), announced the founding of a new movement to be named Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan, Interfax reported. In a statement released the same day, they expressed concern that "democratic reforms in Kazakhstan have stopped," and pledged to initiate new reforms. LF
 KYRGYZSTAN ASKS PARIS CLUB MEMBERS TO RESCHEDULE DEBTSThe Kyrgyz government has asked Paris Club members to either write off or restructure its debts to them which total some $350 million, Finance Ministry official Bakyt Satybekov told RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau on 16 November. Kyrgyzstan's total foreign debt amounts to $1.5 billion. LF
 KYRGYZ OPPOSITION FIGURE DENIED PERMISSION TO TRAVEL ABROADErkindik Party Chairman Topchubek Turgunaliev told RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau on 17 November that he has been informed by the National Security Service that he will not be allowed to leave Kyrgyzstan to undergo medical treatment abroad. Turgunaliev was sentenced in September last year to 16 years in prison on charges of plotting to assassinate President Askar Akaev, but was released in August 2001 in response to pressure from western governments and human rights organizations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August 2001). LF
 KYRGYZSTAN'S ELECTION LAW AMENDEDKyrgyzstan's Central Election Commission decided on 13 November to revoke the amendment to the election law passed last month that bans NGOs that receive funding from abroad from monitoring elections, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported on 16 November quoting the Coalition of NGOs. LF
 CRIMINAL CHARGES BROUGHT AGAINST KYRGYZ PICKETERSThree residents of Djalalabad Oblast in southern Kyrgyzstan have been charged with hooliganism, breach of the peace, and resisting the authorities for their role in a protest demonstration last month in which some 800 people blocked the Bishkek-Osh highway to protest low cotton procurement prices, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline, " 24 October 2001). LF
 UZBEK PRESIDENT VISITS KAZAKHSTAN...Islam Karimov made an official visit to Astana on 15-16 November which his host President Nazarbaev described as laying the foundation for new and close relations between their two countries, Interfax reported. RFE/RL's Kazakh Service quoted Nazarbaev as speaking of "shared blood and shared culture." Interfax said Nazarbaev expressed his satisfaction at the recent signing of a five-year agreement under which Uzbekistan will provide southern oblasts of Kazakhstan with natural gas. The two presidents signed a Treaty on the Delimitation of the State Border between their two countries. They also discussed regional security, the situation in Afghanistan, bilateral economic cooperation, and the use of water resources. LF
 ...DENIES HIS COUNTRY WILL HOST FOREIGN TROOPSSpeaking at a press conference in Astana at the end of his official visit, President Karimov rejected as deliberate disinformation Russian media reports that some 10,000 U.S., German, British, and French troops are to be deployed on Uzbekistan's border with Afghanistan, Russian agencies reported. LF
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
 KOSOVA ELECTS FIRST DEMOCRATIC PARLIAMENT...Approximately 65 percent of Kosova's 1.25 million registered voters turned out on 17 November to cast their ballots in the province's first democratic legislative election, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline" and "End Note," 16 November 2001). About 70 percent of ethnic Albanians went to the polls, as did between 50 and 60 percent of ethnic Serbs. Many Serbs voted only after dark, perhaps to avoid being seen by organized extremists who called for a boycott, AP reported. Belgrade leaders and prominent representatives of the international community, including U.S. President George W. Bush, called on Serbs to vote to ensure they have a voice in Kosova's future. Some 10 of 120 legislative seats are reserved for Serbs, but their relatively high turnout could mean a Serbian bloc of about 22 seats. There were no serious incidents reported. PM
 ...WITH RUGOVA CHOSEN FOR 'FREEDOM, DEMOCRACY, INDEPENDENCE'The first official returns are not expected until late on 19 November, but initial projections indicate that moderate Kosovar leader Ibrahim Rugova's Democratic League of Kosova (LDK) will receive just under 50 percent of the votes, AP reported. Former guerrilla leader Hashim Thaci's Democratic Party of Kosova (PDK) is expected to have about 24 percent, and Ramush Haradinaj's Alliance for the Future of Kosova may have about 8 percent. Serbian parties took about 10 percent, with the remainder going to smaller parties. The LDK's slogan was "freedom, democracy, independence." All of the parties representing the 90 percent ethnic Albanian majority want independence. The Prishtina independent daily "Koha Ditore" said in its headline on 18 November: "Now, toward statehood for Kosova!" Rugova said, "We take this opportunity once again to call for the formal recognition of the independence of Kosova as soon as possible," Reuters reported. PM
 LOCAL SERB LEADER STRESSES SERBIAN TIESSerbian voters, however, cast their ballot in hopes of remaining "within Serbia and Yugoslavia," as stressed in the run-up to the election by Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica and the governing Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) coalition. Local Serbian leader Oliver Ivanovic told AP on 18 November in Mitrovica: "We will now switch to parliamentary struggle with the active participation of Serbia and Yugoslavia." He added, "Serbian deputies in the parliament will make efforts to preserve peace and, in cooperation with the international community, to build Kosovo as a democratic society, good enough for all who live here," Reuters reported. He stressed, however, that this must be "a society within Serbia and Yugoslavia." He dismissed Albanian demands for independence, saying: "It doesn't mean anything. They'll have the entire international community against them" if they seek independence. PM
 YUGOSLAV PRESIDENT HAILS KOSOVA VOTEKostunica said in Belgrade on 18 November that he is pleased with the Serbian turn-out in Kosova, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. He urged Serbs to remain involved in political life, noting that the international community has promised that the legislature will not have the right to declare independence (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 6 and 16 November 2001). But Rasim Ljajic, who deals with interethnic relations for the Belgrade government, said that the government-sponsored Povratak (Return) coalition would have won "at least six or seven more seats" if Serbian nationalist hard-liners had not boycotted the vote. PM
 ALBANIA PRAISES KOSOVA ELECTIONPrime Minister Ilir Meta said in Tirana on 19 November that the election proved that Kosovars are capable of establishing and managing democratic state institutions, Hina reported. He also praised members of the Serbian minority who voted. Meta promised that the Albanian government will do all it can to help promote a democratic society in Kosova with rights and freedoms for all. Opposition leader Sali Berisha called the election "a big day in the history of all Albanians and an example for the other nations in the Balkans." PM
 WESTERN KUDOS AND WARNINGS FOR KOSOVA...EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said in Brussels on 18 November that the elections are a "decisive step in the development of democracy," Reuters reported. He reminded Kosovars, however, that independence is not on the agenda: "I call on these leaders to exercise their new authority with wisdom and responsibility, and to adhere strictly to the constitutional framework and to UN Security Council Resolution 1244," which specifies that Kosova is part of Yugoslavia. In Berlin, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said: "The elections lay the foundations of a democratic future for Kosovo and for the stabilization of the entire region, " AP reported. He stressed that all ethnic groups should be "appropriately represented" in the new government. UN civilian administrator Hans Haekkerup said in Prishtina on 19 November that the turnout was good by European standards and that there was minimal violence in the course of the campaign, Hina reported. PM
 ...AND FOR RUGOVAOn 19 November in Brussels, Austrian Foreign Minister Benita Ferrero- Waldner was specific: "These elections were certainly not elections for an independent Kosovo, this is what we [in the EU] all think... [Rugova] knows very well the international community is against independence, but [the LDK sticks to] this idea... We have to sit down and really consider what could be a solution, but I am not in favor of independence as such." An unnamed EU diplomat added: "The trouble is that Rugova has two languages -- one for local consumption and the other for the international community. To us he has this mantra of moderation, but his press outlet [editor's note: the daily "Bota Sot"] is more rabid than the radicals. We will have to make clear to Rugova that he has to make sure the first thing parliament does is not to declare independence." PM
 RUSSIA SEEKS 'DEMOCRATIC PROVISIONAL GOVERNMENT'Unnamed Russian "diplomatic sources" told Interfax in Moscow on 17 November, "It is important that these elections should be democratic and should not become a shield used for legitimizing extremists' attempts to separate Kosovo from Yugoslavia, to create a mono-ethnic state formation." The sources noted "the importance of the participation of the Serbian population in the elections" and of providing security for Serbs. Russia hopes that the elections will lead to "the formation of a democratic provisional government in Kosovo." PM
 CONFLICTING AGENDAS FOR KOSOVASerbs and Albanians will sit together in the new parliament -- itself no mean achievement -- but virtually all observers agree on one thing: there does not appear to be an easy way to reconcile the Albanian demand for independence and the Serbian desire to "remain in Serbia and Yugoslavia" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 November 2001). A plan to partition the province by removing the northernmost, largely Serbian areas has long been in circulation and linked to Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic. "The Guardian" of 19 November quoted Kosovar human rights lawyer and presidential candidate Flora Brovina as insisting on independence as an expression of self-determination and majority rule. In an illusion to the recent Haekkerup-Kostunica pact, she said: "Democrats of the world have come here to present democracy. But with their behavior they show they are not democrats. They may write different agreements, but they should know they have no value without our signature. The internationals do not have to create Kosovo's independence. We will establish independence." PM
 INDEPENDENCE FOR KOSOVA IN THE CARDS?"The Guardian" reported on 19 November that "political analysts in the region predict that such statements [as Brovina's] will become more common and that relations between the UN and Albanian population will get increasingly uneasy. 'Among the international community I see an increasing uneasiness to talk about it [independence],' said Peter Palmer, the Prishtina director the International Crisis Group think tank. 'The problem is, as long as they avoid the issue, there will be an unsatisfactory status quo, and Albanian impatience will grow... As long as this continues, both sides [Serb and Albanian] will regard each other as a threat.'" (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 February 2001). PM
 CROATIA MARKS 10TH ANNIVERSARY OF VUKOVAR MASSACREPresident Stipe Mesic said in Vukovar on 18 November that Croatia wants all war criminals brought to justice, whether before a domestic court or in The Hague, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. He noted that it is necessary to try not only former President Slobodan Milosevic but also the former Yugoslav military command, the political leadership of Serbia that was in power 10 years ago when Serbian forces entered Vukovar, as well as individuals who took part directly in the massacre of Croatian civilians and hospital patients. More than 10,000 people attended the memorial service, "Jutarnji list" reported. The siege, fall, and massacres of Vukovar are widely regarded in Croatia as the single most important episode in the 1991 chapter of the 1991-95 war for independence, followed perhaps by the shelling of Dubrovnik. PM
 MACEDONIA ONE STEP CLOSER TO AMNESTYOn 16 November, President Boris Trajkovski issued an amnesty to former ethnic Albanian guerrillas that "plugged some of the loopholes" of an earlier decree, Reuters reported. The new measure makes it clear that only persons "indictable" by The Hague-based war crimes tribunal may still be arrested and held. Trajkovski said in a letter to the EU, NATO, and the OSCE that he has "official statements and firm commitments" from leading hard-liners, such as Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski and Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski. But Albanians still insist on an amnesty formally approved by the parliament. PM
 MACEDONIAN PARLIAMENT TO DISCUSS DISSOLUTIONParliament speaker Stojan Andov announced that he will convene the parliament on 23 or 24 November, the Skopje daily "Utrinski vesnik" reported on 17 November. The parliament will discuss whether and when it will dissolve itself. Andov expects the decision on dissolution to be made on 26 or 27 November. The Ohrid peace agreement signed by the leaders of the main political parties provides for early parliamentary elections on 27 January 2002. In recent weeks, there were rumors that Georgievski's nationalist Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Movement (VMRO-DPMNE) will try to form a new government without holding elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 November 2001 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 9 November 2001). That party is faring badly in the polls. UB
 SERBIAN MUTINY ENDEDThe Serbian Interior Ministry said in a statement on 17 November that members of the restive Red Berets elite paramilitary police have agreed to be "reinvented" as an antiterror unit subordinated directly to the minister, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 November 2001). The men had balked at Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic's plans to integrate them into the civilian police. PM
 CEFTA SUMMIT IN BUCHAREST CONDEMNS INTERNATIONAL TERRORISM...The leaders of the Central European Free Trade Agreement, meeting in Bucharest on 16 November, issued a declaration condemning international terrorism and said they are prepared to participate in the struggle against it, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. They also agreed to invite Croatia to join CEFTA as of 2002. The declaration also embraced the earlier agreement between CEFTA agriculture ministers to solve disputes concerning tariffs on a bilateral basis (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 November 2001). The Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia agreed to further liberalize trade in agricultural products. MS
 ...SIGNALS POSSIBLE BREAKTHROUGH OVER STATUS LAW DISPUTEPrime Minister Adrian Nastase and his Hungarian counterpart, Viktor Orban, who participated in the CEFTA summit meeting, said after a meeting held separately from the summit that the encounter was "a success." Orban said that "in two or three years, we shall remember this day as having been very important." The two premiers discussed the ongoing disagreements over the Status Law, and Nastase handed Orban a letter summarizing his government's positions on that legislation. Nastase said Romania has no objections to the Hungarian government's efforts to safeguard the cultural identity of the Hungarian national minority, as his cabinet is making similar efforts to maintain the identity of ethnic Romanians abroad. He said the disagreements are limited to the stipulations providing for granting special economic and social rights to ethnic Hungarians. Orban pledged that his cabinet will quickly analyze the Romanian letter and reply to it. MS
 U.S. PRESIDENT THANKS ROMANIAN COUNTERPARTPresident George W. Bush has sent a letter to his Romanian counterpart Ion Iliescu expressing "gratitude" for Romania's "proof of friendship" and backing of the U.S. in the wake of the 11 September terrorist attacks, Romanian media reported on 16 November. Bush also said he has directed the Federal Agency for Crisis Situations to take into consideration the friendly Romanian position when allocating funds for combating terrorism. On 17 November, Bruce Jackson, chairman of the US NATO Committee, said Nastase's visit earlier this month to Washington has "enormously contributed" to convincing NATO members of Romania's determination to implement reform programs and that the "political will" to do so exists. MS
 REGIONAL ROMANIAN PARTY MERGED INTO RULING FORMATIONThe Party of Moldovans has merged into the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) and its leader, Iasi Mayor Constantin Simirad, has been elected a deputy chairman of the PSD Iasi branch, Romanian radio reported on 18 November. MS
 MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT IN RUSSIAPresident Vladimir Voronin arrived in Moscow on 18 November and is scheduled to meet on 19 November with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to sign the new bilateral treaty between the two countries, ITAR-TASS reported. This is the seventh meeting of the two presidents this year. Voronin will also meet with Premier Mikhail Kasyanov and with the speakers of the two chambers of the parliament, Yegor Stroev and Gennadii Seleznev. Before departing for Moscow, Voronin described the relationship between the two countries as a "strategic partnership." He also said he is "satisfied" with the Russian troop withdrawal from the Transdniester. On 17 November, the Russian Foreign Ministry said Moscow has now fulfilled all its commitments to withdraw or destroy military hardware in the Transdniester. MS
 MOLDOVAN FOREIGN MINISTER LINKS SEPARATISM WITH TERRORISMForeign Minister Nicolae Dudau told the UN General Assembly on 16 November that separatist forces in Moldova and elsewhere have links to international terrorist organizations, an RFE/RL correspondent in New York reported. Dudau said arms are illegally produced in the Transdniester and are known to have reached conflict zones in which terrorists are active. He said the UN should focus on these links as part of its efforts to counter terrorist activities. MS
 MOLDOVA, UKRAINE FAIL TO SOLVE BORDER CHECKPOINTS ISSUEUkrainian Prime Minister Anatoliy Kinakh and his Moldovan counterpart, Vasile Tarlev, signed an agreement in Kyiv on 17 November on the passage of goods through five checkpoints at their border, but failed to reach an agreement on the joint checkpoints at the border with Transdniester, ITAR- TASS reported. They instructed experts to work further to reach an agreement on the two checkpoints at that border within 15 days. Flux said that the negotiations on this issue "have failed." MS
 PARVANOV WINS BULGARIAN PRESIDENTIAL CONTESTGeorgi Parvanov, leader of the Bulgarian Socialist Party, won the 18 November presidential runoff and outgoing President Petar Stoyanov conceded defeat, international agencies reported. All six polling agencies that produced exit polls identified Parvanov as the victor, with a figure of between 51.9 and 56 percent of the vote. Provisional official results give Parvanov 53 percent and Stoyanov 47. Full results are due on 20 November. Turnout was about 54.6 percent. Parvanov pledged to "work for continuity and speed up Bulgaria's progress toward membership of EU and NATO." But he also said it is "extremely important" for Bulgaria to revive its relations with Russia, Ukraine, and other "strategic partners." Stoyanov said he "made many mistakes" in the campaign, and that it had been "difficult for me to convince people that I have succeeded as president when their lives are poor." Arguments about European and Atlantic integration, he said, "seem wrong when someone has nothing to eat." MS
[C] END NOTE
 DRACULA PARK EXPECTED TO PUMP FRESH BLOOD INTO ROMANIA'S AILING TOURISM INDUSTRYBy Eugen Tomiuc
On 5 November Romania's tourism minister, Matei Agathon Dan, launched the "Dracula Park" project -- a $31 million theme park to be built in central Transylvania. Officials say the park, which is to be completed over the next two years, will attract millions of tourists and revive a region plagued by chronic poverty and unemployment. But the park, which is being built near a medieval town on UNESCO's world heritage list, has already attracted criticism from environmentalists and architects, and has prompted a counter initiative by the political opposition.
Dracula Park, which will occupy a hilly 130-hectare plot near the town of Sighisoara, will be built by the German company Westernstadt Pullman City, which operates an American Wild West theme park in Germany. The park, based on the half-real, half-fictitious Dracula character, will feature amusement rides, a castle wired with spooky effects, a maze garden, restaurants, shops, and hotels, all encircled by a miniature train line. It will also host a more-or-less-serious international center for vampirology. Tourism Minister Dan said that despite being based on a vampire character, the project will not be a horror show but rather a tongue-in-cheek theme park meant for family entertainment.
Funding for the project will come from the state budget as well as from an initial public offering of shares (IPO) expected to raise some $5 million. "With the money from the shares, we will begin work on the project," Dan said. "By the fall of next year, at least two objectives will be completed: the Dracula Castle and the vampirology institute. The foundation will also be completed for the remainder of the park."
The project marks a turn in the way Romania is viewing the Dracula character popularized by Irish author Bram Stoker in his 19th-century best- seller and later depicted in hundreds of horror movies.
For decades, Romanian communist officials tried to counter the Western image of Count Dracula -- the Transylvanian vampire whose blood-covered fangs have become a Hollywood trademark -- with their own homegrown hero, the cruel-but-brave Prince Vlad Draculea, the terror of Turkish invaders.
Stoker was indeed inspired by the real-life Romanian prince when he wrote his novel. But Stoker himself never set foot in Transylvania, and his book is a melange of fantasy and more-or-less accurate historical fact.
Known to Romanians as Vlad the Impaler because of his penchant for impaling invaders and personal enemies, the real Draculea was born in Sighisoara in 1431 and ruled the principality of Wallachia on three separate occasions.
Vlad fought against Turkish invaders and distinguished himself through acts of both bravery and gruesome cruelty. He is said to have impaled an entire Turkish army on one occasion and to have driven nails through the heads of Turkish messengers.
His defenders, however, point to Vlad's success in ridding the country of thieves and intruders, and say cruelty was the norm rather than the exception during the Middle Ages. Vlad, in fact, was reputed to have acquired a taste for cruelty at the Turkish Sultan's court.
According to Romanian historians, Vlad's surname, Draculea, meant "son of the dragon" -- a reference to his father, Vlad Dracul, who had been invested with the knightly Order of the Dragon. But "drac," the old Romanian word for dragon, also means devil, and some say Vlad got his name in recognition of his devilish cruelty.
Dracula was turned into a Western pop-culture icon in the 1930s in a series of Hollywood movies loosely based on Stoker's book and starring Transylvanian-born actor Bela Lugosi.
Romanian communist officials, irked by what they perceived as Western defamation of one of the country's heroes, tried to counterbalance the Dracula myth with books and movies of their own depicting a patriotic Vlad defending Europe from Turkish invaders.
After the fall of communism, however, Romanians were quick to realize that Dracula the Vampire was a potential gold mine, while Vlad the Impaler was better relegated to the history books.
Despite considerable tourism potential, postcommunist Romania failed to attract foreigners in large numbers due to a lack of promotion and Western- standard infrastructure. Only some 3 million foreigners visited Romania last year -- compared to 15 million visitors to neighboring Hungary.
A whole tourist industry based on the Hollywood-style Dracula began to grow in Romania, bolstered by Director Francis Ford Coppola's 1992 Hollywood blockbuster, which for the first time attempted to bring more accurate historical background to Stoker's story.
But Romanians soon learned that the U.S.-based Universal Studios, which produced the original vampire movies, had the copyright on Dracula's image.
To avoid paying royalties, Tourism Minister Dan said Dracula Park will not use the traditional image of the vampire. "I do not agree with depicting Dracula's classic image in the park -- with black cloak, bloody long teeth, and a powdered face, as his image is generally perceived," Dan said. "We have architects [and] designers who are already working on a different image. But we have already launched the park's slogan, which is simple and suggestive: 'Welcome Forever.'"
The project is expected to create some 3,000 jobs in Sighisoara, a city of 38,000 where the unemployment rate reaches as high as 50 percent. Already, property prices have soared and new hotels are being built.
But in Sighisoara, Dracula Park has met unexpected opposition from the very locals supposed to benefit most from it.
A 200-member civil-rights group consisting of environmentalists, artists, and even priests from Sighisoara is protesting the creation of the park, which they say will be built on the site of one of the country's oldest oak forests and will place huge pressure on the old town, whose 13th-century center is on UNESCO's world heritage list. "If the park proves viable and attracts the number of tourists that the feasibility studies envisage, the pressure on the environment in the whole Sighisoara area will be very tough, " said Alexandru Got, the leader of the protest group. "I personally believe environmental NGOs should request a detailed study on the effects of such a park on the Breite Plateau [oak forest] and its surroundings."
Romanian officials said the oaks will not be destroyed and will actually be part of the park's attractions. But Gota said infrastructure work such as plumbing and road building will inevitably affect the trees.
Some architects are also against the park, which is expected to bring more than 1 million visitors per year. They say its location near Sighisoara will put the historic city in great danger.
But Tourism Minister Dan said that, in many similar tourist areas of Europe and even Romania, the daily number of tourists is larger that the 3, 000 people expected to visit Dracula Park on any given day. He pointed out that the park is six kilometers away from Sighisoara's Old Town. "I am not building a new Chernobyl or a steel works there that could harm the environment," Dan said.
Dan also said that a large share of the profits from the park -- estimated at nearly $3 million per year -- will go to the local budget and will fund the restoration of the old town.
But critics say profit expectations are overly optimistic. In a country where the average monthly income is about $100, not many Romanians are likely to pay the $5 admission to visit Dracula Park.
Furthermore, since the legend of Dracula the Vampire remains a foreign concept for many Romanians, the success of the project will most likely rely on whether it can attract Western tourists.
On 12 November, the opposition National Liberal Party (PNL) unexpectedly came up with its own counter-initiative. The PNL proposed that the park be located near the Bran castle, in the vicinity of Brasov, which is popularly known as Vlad's (and hence Dracula's) home. And they said "their" park will cost only half as much as that proposed by Agathon -- $18 million. Agathon denounced the initiative as "immensely foolish" and said he would consider suing the PNL for using for the park a name similar to that he proposed, i.e. the "Dracula Rasnov Brasov Transylvania Park." One wonders how Vlad the Impaler would have reacted. Meanwhile, the daily "Evenimentul zilei" ironically wrote that the Romanians "cannot make Swiss watches, American films, Russian bombers, or German cars," but they could try "building Dracula parks and exporting Dracula dolls throughout the world."
Eugen Tomiuc is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Prague
Reprinted with permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty