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BRUCE MIASAMORE: The cost factors—and that’s part of the evaluation that we’re doing—are higher than what we would like. But certainly I think Russia would like to be a major supplier.
KRISTIN MCHUGH: This week on Common Ground, Russia taps the US oil market.
KEITH PORTER: Plus, one woman’s first-hand account of chaos in the Congo.
MICHELA WRONG: We were sort of staring out of the balconies looking into the parking lot, realizing that the presidential guard had got all their families staying in the hotel where we had decided we were going to be safe. And this was the same place that they thought they were going to be safe. So there were, sort of, men strolling up and down with sort of huge weapons—very, very nervous atmosphere, very tense. They were, they were very uptight.
PORTER: And, meet Elmo’s South African cousin.
A CHARACTER FROM THE SOUTH AFRICAN VERSION OF SESAME STREET: “When can Zikwe take Neno for a ride? Neno wants to go for a ride.”
MCHUGH: More after this.
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PORTER: Common Ground is radio’s weekly program on world affairs. I’m Keith Porter.
MCHUGH: And I’m Kristin McHugh. Any good businessman will tell you shipping ice to Eskimos isn’t a sound investment. So it seems the same would also apply to shipping oil to Texas. But as Simon Marks tells us from Houston, that’s exactly what’s happening.
[The sound of a helicopter.]
SIMON MARKS: To see history in Texas this summer, you needed to take a helicopter 75 miles off the coast of Houston. Lying at anchor in the Gulf of Mexico—the Astro Lupus, an oil tanker larger than a football field, which sailed into American waters in early July. In a test run designed to examine the economic feasibility of shipping Russian oil to the USA, the supertanker is laden with 2 million barrels of Siberian crude. Its journey is as much a sign of the times as the fact that Yukos, the Russian oil company behind the shipment, has hired Houston native Bruce Misamore to be its CFO. He says Yukos and Russia’s other oil producers are ready to emerge as an alternative source of global supply.
BRUCE MISAMORE: We’re trying this out, and let’s—I think—you know, our impression is that it’s going to be workable. And to the extent that we can increase the number of shipments to here, that’s exactly what we’ll do. You know, we’re looking at it on a purely economic basis, but also it certainly enhances the politics between the two countries.
MARKS: The Astro Lupus brought the first direct shipment of Russian oil to the USA, and its journey followed President Putin’s pledge to President Bush that in the event of turmoil in the Middle East, or war with Iraq, Russia will be ready to throw the USA an energy lifeline. So does the Astro Lupus represent the first ship in an armada of supertankers that could soon be trekking here from Siberia?
Fiona Hill: Well I’m sure they can help out but it’ll be a bit of a drop in the bucket.
MARKS: Fiona Hill of the Brookings Institution just published a paper about the Russian oil industry. She says it’s in terrible shape, needs huge infrastructural investment, and has a long way to go before it can make an appreciable contribution to the US market.
Hill: In short, it’s going to take a lot of investment in infrastructure and port facilities for Russia to export large amounts of oil to the United States.
MARKS: Yukos acknowledges it won’t be smooth sailing. Just to off-load the oil that arrived in Houston, three separate smaller tankers are required because the company doesn’t yet have access to the country’s only cost-effective deep water port in Louisiana. But Yukos CFO Bruce Misamore says the oil’s arrival is more than symbolic.
MIASAMORE: The cost factors—and that’s part of the evaluation that we’re doing—are higher than what we would like. But certainly I think Russia would like to be a major supplier.
MARKS: Pipelines and new ports, he says, could be built within four years, though that hinges on inward investment, and on global oil prices. But even skeptics acknowledge that whatever happens next, in Houston at least, the Russians have arrived.
[The sound of a helicopter.]
MARKS: For Common Ground, I’m Simon Marks in Houston, Texas.
MCHUGH: Elmo’s South African cousin, next on Common Ground.
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MCHUGH: The theme from Sesame Street. It’s familiar to many Americans who’ve either grown up, or had children, in the past 30 years. But, Sesame Street isn’t just an American television staple; it’s a global phenomenon. There are now versions of the program in 20 different countries.
PORTER: Sesame Street is known for diversity and tackling tough life issues. This fall, Takalani Street, South Africa’s version of the popular children’s program will feature an HIV-positive Muppet. Common Ground‘s Cliff Brockman takes us behind the scenes of Takalani Street.
[A song from Takalani Street.]
BROCKMAN: Music is different. There’s an African village that doesn’t look anything like New York City. And there’s a flying train. But wait—the village is inhabited by furry puppet-like creatures that look vaguely familiar. And there’s the trademark green and yellow street sign. But it has a different name—Takalani Sesame.
Robert Knezevic: It means “be happy” in Venda.
BROCKMAN: Robert Knezevic is with Sesame Workshop in New York. He helps develop international versions of Sesame Street. The newest, Takalani Sesame, is airing in South Africa.
Knezevic: In early ’90s our President and CEO now went down to South Africa to see if there was anything that Sesame Street can do for the children of South Africa. And there was a long development period with consultations with various organizations and groups. And it was about in the mid-90s that USAID had come on board and come up with some funding for us to develop a local version of Sesame Street. And that was in essence how the origin began. It was a long and consultative process on how to really bring this kind of educational media to a developing country.
BROCKMAN: Sesame Workshop leaders say language was an exciting challenge for them. There are 11 official languages in South Africa, along with several other indigenous dialects.
DR. CHARLOTTE COLE: Language is really regarded as something that offers a wonderful richness to this project.
BROCKMAN: Dr. Charlotte Cole is in charge of education and research for the Sesame Workshop.
COLE: We met with local educators, again just as we had developed the educational curriculum. We also had a seminar on language. What resulted from the seminar was a belief that language itself could be used as a window into cultural appreciation and helping children understand the great diversity in their country. But on a practical standpoint—how then to translate that wonderful asset? English ends up sort of being the glue of the program. But children are introduced to other languages, other South African languages several ways. Many of the characters, the characters are bilingual and so when there is, for example, a counting segment, the characters might count both in English and another language. Some of the live action pieces are done where there’s more than one language that’s presented simultaneously. So, someone might start in one language and then present another language where, you know, in a voice over kind of situation.
And then there’s some other clever ways that the television producers have introduced multiple languages where you have situations where characters do what’s called “code switching,” where they start in one language and go to another language. But if you’re watching the segment, through the context of the segment, you can understand what’s actually happening.
A SOUND BITE FROM THE SHOW: Here is a queue of people waiting to get on the train. [Then the same phrase is repeated but in another language, not English.]
BROCKMAN: This is a Muppet character running back and forth along a line of people, or queue, as he calls it, at the train station.
A SOUND BITE FROM THE SHOW: [The Muppet character continues to speak in alternating languages.] “And this is the beginning of the queue Ha-ha! Oh, no! And now, I shall show you the end of the queue [speaks in a non-English language]
BROCKMAN: Dr. Charlotte Cole says Takalani Sesame is specifically designed to support South Africa’s national education curricula. Learning to count falls under the heading of numeracy, or basic math skills.
COLE: We worked directly with the Department of Education to develop an educational framework for the program that would really meet the national curriculum needs and the needs of the children in the country. What resulted was curriculum that gets at three basic areas, which are directly related to the national curriculum. Those are literacy, numeracy, and life, what they call life skills. The literacy element are basic fundamentals of reading and writing. Numeracy gets at very preliminary, fundamental mathematics skills such as being able to count, identifying shapes. And then the life skills, which is seen as a very critical component of the national curriculum, gets its social emotional elements, problem solving, and aspects of just being able to cope in a modern world. In some ways its similar to the curriculum here in the United States, but it also has a very direct focus that’s based on this national curriculum. And related to that life skills piece is an appreciation for South Africa’s diversity, and that comes across very strongly in the program.
A SOUND BITE FROM THE SHOW: [The characters are speaking a non-English language, then speak English. Then Neno starts the conversation.]
“When can Zikwe take Neno for a ride? Neno wants to go for a ride.”
“I’ll take you for a ride as soon as work out a way to fix this engine. Okay! Ha-ha! Let me try tightening these loose bolts here. Okay, Neno!”
BROCKMAN: Teaching basic skills is primarily the job of a cast of puppets, or Muppets to be more precise. Robert Knezevic says Takalani Sesame has its own unique set of characters.
KNEZEVIC: The one character that could be familiar to our American audience is a character by the name of Neno in South Africa and he is known as Elmo’s South African cousin. And of course he’s the cute little red fuzzy monster. There is Zikwe, a fuzzy blue ageless monster who is in fact a taxi driver and he has an old VW bus on the set, which of course never can get started.
A SOUND BITE FROM THE SHOW: [The sound of a car unsuccessfully trying to start. Then Neno starts the conversation.]
“Why aren’t we moving?”
“We need to find another way to try and fix this engine.”
BROCKMAN: Other characters include a Big Bird-like mongoose, and Zuzu, a young girl enamored with learning.
[The cast of Takalani Sesame sings a song.]
BROCKMAN: Takalani Street isn’t limited to television; it’s the first Sesame program to have a radio version.
COLE: South Africa has a long tradition of good educational radio programming.
BROCKMAN: This again is Dr. Charlotte Cole.
COLE: The reach of radio is much greater than television and there was a consistent feeling among many of the people that we talked to that television would not be enough. That if we really wanted to reach the most disadvantaged populations, which was of course our goal, radio would be the best way to do that.
KNEZEVIC: They are the same characters. We certainly use a lot of songs. And of course it’s the same curriculum that we use. It is in essence a version of Takalani without pictures. Songs obviously play a large part and language obviously plays a large part. In the beginning there were three local radio stations that aired this. And we, of course, consulted with the local radio stations on how best to reach and format a radio program that would appeal to that radio station’s audience. We have developed what seems to be working. And now in the new season we are now adding an additional language and an additional station to reach even further into the country. But yes, it is in essence Sesame Street on radio, with all of the humor, with all of the education, and with all of the singing, and you know, and the excitement that you would find in television.
BROCKMAN: Both Knezevic and Cole add the radio program is more than just airing the audio portion of the TV show. The radio programs, they say, are specifically designed for the ear—like this instrumental song.
[The sound of a song with lots of sound effects, like banging, clanging, and a slide whistle.]
BROCKMAN: Also, unique to the South African version is a training component and supplemental materials. The project distributes some 10,000 posters, books, and teacher’s guides. The idea is to help teachers train parents to work with their kids at home. The long-term goal of Takalani Sesame is to become self-sustaining. The program is already produced in South Africa. Much of the project is currently funded by the United States Agency for International Development, along with a South African insurance company. Eventually Knezevic and Cole say they hope all the money to finance the program will be raised in South Africa. The immediate future appears bright. The South African Broadcasting Company recently agreed to air Takalani Sesame for at least another three years. For Common Ground, I’m Cliff Brockman.
[The sound of the Takalani Sesame theme song.]
PORTER: Revolution in the Congo, next on Common Ground.
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PORTER: The Democratic Republic of Congo was formerly known as Zaire and before that as the Belgian Congo. Zaire was ruled for 32 years by the dictator Mobutu Sese Seko. Mobutu’s reign ended in 1997, and author Michela Wrong was an eyewitness to the revolution. Her book, In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz, describes turmoil in a country larger than all of Western Europe.
MICHELA WRONG: What we’re talking about is a vast nation. And it’s right in the heart of Africa. And it’s got nine neighboring countries. So the feeling that diplomats always had was that anything that happened in Kinshasa or in Congo or in Zaire—you know, the names are used interchangeably these days—would have an enormous potential impact on, on a vast area. Because of the fact that it bordered on so many other countries.
PORTER: And it’s also very rich with natural resources, correct?
WRONG: Well, it’s completely theoretical because those riches have not had any effect on the population. But yes, it has amazingly pure deposits of copper. It’s got cobalt which used to be very much in demand making sort of the, the noses of fighter jets, I believe. It has uranium. The first uranium that was ever dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima came from Zaire. It’s got gold. It’s got industrial diamonds. It’s got oil. You know, this is a country which has sort of just about everything you could ever wish for.
PORTER: Is this what King Leopold was after when he got Belgium to create a colony in Africa?
WRONG: I don’t think it was the minerals so much, because at that stage, that wasn’t what mattered. What did matter to them was firstly, ivory, which was then in abundance. There were these huge herds of elephants. And then after that very quickly it became rubber. Rubber grew wild in Congo. And that was just when the sort of, the motor car was taking off and people were beginning to understand about tires. You need rubber. And there’s this sort of huge source. So that was really, I mean, it was natural resources but they were different ones at the time that drew Leopold into that region, that’s what made it so very attractive.
PORTER: Ultimately what was the colonial legacy in the Congo?
WRONG: Well, the colonial legacy was disastrous because Leopold was, he was a recent colonizer. It was Belgium’s only colony. And he had always looked around him, looked at all the other European countries and thought, “They’ve done really well out of colonialism. I’m going to do the same. I’m going to build my empire. I’m going to build my city, Brussels, on all these resources.” So he stripped the place dry and it was incredibly brutal. He used a mercenary army and had, there were these fixed quotas. Villagers had to produce a certain amount of rubber and if not there would be punitive expeditions. And this is when you have these famous horrible pictures of people with their hands cut off—Congolese—they hadn’t, they’d either sort of defied the mercenary army or they hadn’t met their quotas. The men would go in and they’d just chop off their hands and bring them back as proof that they had done their job properly.
PORTER: As you look around Congo, and perhaps Kinshasa in particular, do you still see the colonial legacy? I mean, can you still tell that this was a Belgian colony?
WRONG: Kinshasa was a very well laid out and very ordered city. Up until sort of fairly recently. You can, you can see that. But I think, you know, what always used to strike me was that there were these plinths lying around town which were empty. And they were the places where they had had statues of Leopold, or of the governor of Kinshasa, and of Stanley. And at a certain point when Mobutu came in he said, “We’ve had enough.” You know, he’d been in power for at least 10 years by then but he said, “We do not want these symbols lying around the city any more. We’re gonna find our African identity.” So there was a big sort of ceremonial toppling of these and they were all dumped in a field where they lie to this day. And I’ve been, and I’ve seen them and it’s a very kind of poignant image, these sort of toppled statues lying by the river.
PORTER: That’s amazing. Sort of like the statues we saw toppled in Moscow and across the Soviet Union.
WRONG: Yes. It was, it was that kind of event. Yes.
PORTER: In 1960 a man named Joseph Mobutu took over the country. He changed his name to Mobutu Sese Seko and he changed the name of the country to Zaire. He ruled for more than 30 years. How was he able to stay in power?
WRONG: He was a very canny, a very smart operator. Not a great intellectual but survival was something he was very good at. At the start he was enormously, genuinely popular. Because what had happened is, there had been these years of wrangling, of deep, deep instability. Patrice Lumumba, the first elected leader of Congo had been assassinated. The whole place had seemed to be about, to be on the verge of splitting up. The UN had been called in. And here was this man, this military strongman, the diplomats thought he was great, that he was the only one who could hold things together. And the population really shared that feeling. So he was genuinely popular at the beginning of his rule.
Then he made a series of very serious economic mistakes. He nationalized a lot of the industry. It never recovered from that. And gradually what you saw was the development of this incredibly corrupt regime. And he was getting less and less popular, more and more hated. But by that stage he had managed to convince the US, France, Belgium—his key friends abroad—that really without him the whole place would fall apart. Maybe it would go communist. They needed him because the US was supporting a rebel movement in Angola, so this was how they were getting arms into that area. He had become the man that everyone needed. It was very much a myth but he managed to sustain that myth and they fell for it, in classic Cold War style.
PORTER: Wow. What finally led to his downfall?
WRONG: Well, effectively he had set up, it was a very clever bluff. Because the thing about Mobutu is that he had this army that everyone was very frightened of and his presidential guard that everyone said was amazing. And in fact these men were not paid. They were demoralized. They had no real loyalty to Mobutu. The whole country had been so pauperized. At a certain stage he made the mistake of giving haven to the people who had committed the genocide in neighboring Rwanda, the extremist Hutu killers. He was giving them haven. They were staging raids across into Rwanda. Rwanda, which is a small, very determined, you know, a former military administration had come in and they were saying, “Well, we simply can’t, we can’t deal with this. If Mobutu isn’t going to handle these people, if he isn’t going to call them in, then we’ll deal with it ourselves.” And they were basically the driving force between, behind this rebel group that ended up marching all the way to Kinshasa from Rwanda, which is an incredible physical feat. They marched into the city and Mobutu got on a plane and got out.
PORTER: What year was that?
WRONG: That was in ’97. And I was there at the time and it was very dramatic. I mean, everyone was afraid that the city was going to end up going in flames. But what was so remarkable was that Mobutu’s feared presidential guard that we had always been told were, were the only ones who were really well trained and well armed and really would fight to the death, they just packed up, changed into track suits, took off their uniforms, and left. You know, they weren’t going to fight for him by that stage.
PORTER: Your book just has a fascinating eyewitness account of how that revolution played out, primarily at the Hotel Intercontinental, in Kinshasa. Can you just give us a brief flavor of that scene at the hotel over those days?
WRONG: Well, I was staying there which was a sort of very appropriate place for me because that’s, actually when I was a journalist I used to live there permanently. And so it was very familiar ground. And there was this sort of growing sense of siege because what was happening is that at the time the rebels were coming into the city, all the, kind of, Mobutu cronies, the people who’d gone rich during his regime, and had their nice villas on the hill with swimming pools, were coming down into the hotel with their luggage, with their armed guards, with their, with their cars. They were parking them in the parking lot. And they were just trying to get out, get their visas, flee to South Africa or wherever it was—Switzerland, Canada.
And then in the last days, as the rebels really were physically walking into Kinshasa, the presidential guard did the same thing. So we were sort of staring out of the balconies looking into the parking lot, realizing that the presidential guard had got all their families staying in the hotel where we had decided we were going to be safe. And this was the same place that they thought they were going to be safe. So there were, sort of, men strolling up and down with sort of huge weapons—very, very nervous atmosphere, very tense. They were, they were very uptight. And families rushing in and out. And what happened is that in the end they walked down to the river, which is very close to that hotel. The Lebanese community in Kinshasa had arranged for boats to be laid on. And the DSP, the special presidential guard, got into the boats and went across the river to Brazzaville. And so this sort of, the threat that there was going to be a standoff around the hotel was averted. But I mean, as one of the guests I was very frightened at one stage that was what was going to happen.
PORTER: Well, I wondered as I read your account, I kept wondering whether or not you—how frightened you really were during that time.
WRONG: I think these things are quite surreal when they’re really happening. And if you’re a journalist there’s always a sort of, sense of you, a part of you is always saying, “This is really fascinating.” And I think this is like being doctor. You know, you’re so intellectually amazed by what you’re seeing, you’re so intrigued, that it keeps fear at bay. And it’s only sort of looking back on it that you sort of think, “Hmm, that really wasn’t a very savory situation.” So, I, one does things like that and then afterwards you sort of think maybe, maybe it would have been better to leave beforehand. But I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
PORTER: In your book do you think you’ve identified any larger lessons that the West should learn as it continues to deal with postcolonial Africa?
WRONG: Well, I think there are larger lessons and they stretch far, far beyond Africa. I mean, Mobutu was the classic cautionary tale. You shouldn’t befriend people like him. You shouldn’t hang on in there if you’re America or the West, long after they’ve become completely discredited, hated by their population, manifestly corrupt. And I think, you know, these are the lessons that everyone since September the 11 should be thinking about these things. You know, this is the Saddam Hussein lesson. This is the Osama bin Laden lesson. You know, bad friendships that should never have been formed, should not have been continued as long as they are; come back and sort of slap you in the face. And I think Africa is paying a very high price for the fact that the US, France, Belgium, IMF, the World Bank, everyone, decided to turn a blind eye to Mobutu’s faults and shortcomings, and the shortcomings of his entire system long after it was blatantly obvious to everybody else. And I think, you know, we can’t learn that lesson more thoroughly than now.
PORTER: Michela Wrong, your book is subtitled, Living on the Brink of Disaster in Mobutu’s Congo. But the main title is In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz. In the last minute or so that we have left here can you explain that reference to our audience.
WRONG: Yes. It’s probably a slightly pretentious title. Basically anyone who knows Joseph Conrad’s book Heart of Darkness will be familiar with Mr. Kurtz. This is the character that was played in Apocalypse Now by Marlon Brando. He’s the Belgian station manager. He goes out to the Congo with high ideals. He’s gonna do good. He’s a sort of, almost a missionary-type figure. He goes out there and ends up making an awful lot of money, beheading local villagers, setting up this complete reign of terror in the whole area, going basically mad. And I think that the whole point about Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad’s book, is that it’s about Western interference and how appalling its consequences can be on countries. And this is something that the more I wrote and researched about Zaire the more you felt that, you know, so many of the problems you’d lived with and you’d seen on the ground just could be traced back to European interference, American interference. It’s an old, old lesson, but it really came home to me. So that was why I called it In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz.
PORTER: Michela Wrong has reported from Africa for Reuters, the BBC, and The Financial Times. Her book is titled, In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz.
MCHUGH: I’m Kristin McHugh.
PORTER: And I’m Keith Porter. Coming up this half hour on Common Ground, Transylvania’s theme park dreams. And recreating the ancient Silk Road.
DIANA PARKER: I think everybody came out of September 11 wanting to somehow make a contribution to making the world what we thought it should be again.
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MCHUGH: Thousands of people each year flock to Romania to catch a glimpse of the country’s many historical sites. And now, Romania’s Tourism Ministry is hoping a new theme park will attract even more. But as Drew Leifheit reports, the plan has critics ready to draw first blood.
DREW LEIFHEIT: Maria Popescu sits in a drab, basement office located in the villa complex of Romania’s former dictator. For over a decade, she’s been trying to promote Romania as a cultural tourist destination. Popescu says it’s not easy and there are never enough funds to do it effectively.
MARIA POPESCU: The selling points of Romania as a cultural tourist destination are relating to its areas of excellence: Bukovina’s painted monasteries, the wooden churches in Maramoresh, and last but not least, with whatever Transylvania has to offer in point of medieval vestiges and built heritage.
LEIFHEIT: Despite the wealth of historical treasures—many of them designated world heritage sites by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, Popescu says those who worked in tourism during communism lack the proper marketing skills for promoting Romania, and that it’s also difficult to convince foreign travel agencies that Romania is a reliable tourist destination.
POPESCU: This is a stage where we have to sensibilize people about what Romania is worth visiting for and then try to sell the best cultural tourist products we’ve got and then look in our pocket and see whether there is enough money for that.
[The sound of a church bell.]
LEIFHEIT: Popescu says one town in Transylvania called Sighisoara is especially intriguing, that it’s Romania’s best preserved medieval town. Located in the citadel at the top of a hill in Sighisoara, is a striking medieval clock tower, similar to those in majestic cities like Prague.
[The sound of the medieval clock tower chiming.]
LEIFHEIT: At certain hours of the day, the old sage rings its bells while different figures representing the sun, moon and planets make revolving-door like appearances on the clock face overlooking the city. Locals tread along the cobblestone streets past houses dating back hundreds of years. Within walking distance up an adjacent hill, a historic church is being refurbished with the help of international funding.
[The sound of people walking on cobblestone streets.]
LEIFHEIT: A seemingly likely tourist destination, Sighisoara’s old citadel only has a couple of restaurants, one or two shops, and a museum at the base of the clock tower. Just down the way is the birthplace of someone who has come back to haunt the city of Sighisoara—Vlad the Impaler Sepesh, otherwise known to the outside world as Count Dracula through Irish writer Bram Stoker’s book written in 1897.
BELA LUGOSI: [speaking in the 1931 film, Dracula] The year, 1462. Constantinopol had fallen. Muslim Turks swept into Europe with a vast superior force, striking at Romania, threatening all of Christendom. From Transylvania arose a Romanian knight of the Sacred Order of the Dragon, known as Dracula.
LEIFHEIT: It’s this popular notion of Dracula—like Bela Lugosi’s fanged, blood-sucking character in the 1931 film—upon which Romania’s ministry of tourism would like to capitalize. Last fall, the ministry announced a $35 million project to build a Dracula park about a mile outside of Sighisoara. Deputy Minister of Tourism Alin Burcea describes the project.
ALIN BURCE: It’s a little bit like, like Disneyland. It is a main street, left and right different restaurants, pubs, shops selling a lot of things. Of course the theme is Dracula. It will have the Dracula castle, which is a little bit separate on the right side. Also the Institute of Vampirology where all those associations of vampires or Dracula fan clubs, they will come to have conferences. And there’s going to be a artificial lake and forests—something more, more strange and as you said, exotic.
LEIFHEIT: The ministry plans to start the project this year and finish it by 2004. The Dracula park would be run by a private company, the local government being one of the shareholders along with other private investors. Alin Burcea says that the area around the park will require extensive infrastructure improvements from the government including road building and expanding the town’s railway station. But historical preservationists, as well as environmentalists, say the park is being built too close to the medieval city.
Maria Berza heads Pro Patrimonio, a foundation which seeks to preserve cultural treasures in Romania. The organization purchases sites, refurbishes them, and uses subsequent earnings from tourism to continue the cycle of purchasing and restoring. Berza says the foundation is not categorically against the idea of a Dracula park.
MARIA BERZ: But what we say is that it should be placed somewhere else where it does not hinder or destroy heritage. There are many other places in Romania and we have suggested some of them where Dracula could flourish, develop, bring tourists, bring money, bring whatever.
LEIFHEIT: Berza says that Sighisoara became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999, along with 18 other sites, while she still worked in the Ministry of Culture. She believes that the prospect of Sighisoara hosting a mass tourism project like Dracula park does not bode well for the town because some tourists would not be visiting to enjoy Sighisoara’s cultural heritage.
BERZA: It’s a very different category of people. And all they would do is show disrespect to the heritage.
LEIFHEIT: Berza’s organization hopes to convince the Ministry of Tourism to utilize another site for the Dracula park. Berza is not the only naysayer. Environmentalists in Romania are dismayed at both the close proximity of the Dracula park to the town and the fact that construction of the park would mean destroying a grove of ancient oak trees on the site proposed for the park. Tourism Minister Alin Burcea brushes those concerns aside.
BURCEA: The reality is not as they say it is if we could cut all the hills and all the trees, of course, the distance is 1.5 kilometers. But coming by road there are about 6 kilometers. So it is a very correct distance and nothing can happen to the city. Also, all those trees they’ll become attractions in the park because they look very strange and are very interesting. Some of them they have 200, 300 years and I think they can be useful to the park theme which is Dracula.
LEIFHEIT: But considering Sighisoara’s world heritage site status, the biggest potential naysayer to the project is UNESCO. In the organization’s meeting last winter, the International Council on Monuments and Sites expressed concerns about the Dracula project’s proximity to Sighisoara and that “The tourism generated by this park would constitute a mass tourism of a very different kind than that generated by cultural tourism experienced by the town itself.” The UNESCO committee was also dismayed that Romanian authorities had already approved the project without consultation, urging them to explore alternative locations. Still, Alin Burcea says the Ministry of Tourism—not UNESCO—will have the final say about the project.
BURCEA: They can give us advices in order to protect the Sighisoara medieval city, but they can’t say yes or no.
LEIFHEIT: Burcea says the idea of the Dracula park has sparked the imaginations of Romanian entrepreneurs who would like to market everything from Dracula candy and clothes to vampire-like figures.
BURCEA: More than 100 people they came to me. And one of them, he came with the idea of taking the blood, a little bit of the blood from each one and to write of a piece of letter, either his name on an already written text, to be written in the Dracula castle in Sighisoara and to be written with his own blood.
LEIFHEIT: While entrepreneurs may try to market anything they can sink their teeth into, cultural tourism promoter Maria Popescu explains who the real Dracula actually was.
POPESCU: Both history and Bram Stoker’s fiction start from the violence of this Romanian prince who in reality would impale his enemies, whereas in fiction and in films he would be a fierce vampire and kill his victims.
LEIFHEIT: Back in Sighisoara, many of the locals are interested in the prospect of a significant increase in tourists, bringing more jobs and prosperity to the sleepy town. The owner of the medieval theme restaurant located in the building where Vlad the Impaler was born says Dracula park could be a good thing for his business.
ROMANIAN RESTAURANT OWNER: [via a translator] We are happy when people come from all over the world because we’re dependent upon this for our living. We’d like as many tourists as possible to be our guests.
[The sounds of visitors in museum.]
LEIFHEIT: And there’s been some talk of Dracula park proceeds going to fix things up in Sighisoara’s citadel, things like the clock tower and its tiny adjacent museum which contains archeological findings from the town’s first settlers. On this day, Romanian students on a field trip to Sighisoara pack the museum’s entrance. Adrian Antihi is the director of the clock tower museum. She says that although some renovation has been done to the workings of the clock, completely restoring it at present would be prohibitively expensive.
ADRIAN ANTIHI: [via a translator] It would be a very good thing if the money from the park were used to restore the citadel—it deserves to be in a good state. We also need new roads—they would build them to connect the town with the park. This would also help tourists enjoy the natural beauty surrounding the town and we think it will give people jobs.
LEIFHEIT: Employed in a newly opened Internet café, Sighisoara resident Istvan Boti says he’s proud to live in the town and worries it could change.
ISTVAN BOTI: This town is peaceful—it’s, there no noise, no, not too many cars and so on. If this thing will happen—the Dracula park—then everything will be such a big, big city. It’s not so big and it’s, I think it’s beautiful and it’s good how it is.
LEIFHEIT: Still Boti admits he wouldn’t mind if the development brought more entertainment facilities to town for young people—things like a movie theater. Whether the Dracula park will be built just outside of Sighisoara remains to be seen. This spring the Romanian government was having a tough time getting potential investors to commit the necessary funding. Still, the Ministry of Tourism has promised to push the project forward. Zoltan Fejos has researched the effects of mass tourism upon culturally important sites. He says an influx of tourism has its plusses and minuses.
FEJOS: This is a new situation where it’s very easy or a little bit easier than earlier to get cash, funds for development. But from the other side, the normal critique goes that it’s very bad for the local people, because destroys the tradition, it destroys the life, and so on and so on.
LEIFHEIT: Fejos says that the world heritage designation can serve as an effective marketing tool for those promoting a cultural destination. Cultural tourism, he says, is a growing facet of the overall tourist experience.
FEJOS: The world heritage sites are more and more popular all over the world, and they attract more and more people, And it is part of the philosophy, I guess, that it’s important that more and more people come and see what is important on a global scale.
LEIFHEIT: Still, Fejos adds that massive influxes of tourists can place stress upon and even harm precious sites, especially small ones. But, he says it’s impossible to say “Stop! No more people here!” when a culturally important treasure belongs to humankind. For Common Ground, I’m Drew Leifheit.
PORTER: You’re listening to Common Ground, radio’s weekly program on world affairs.
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PORTER: Thousands of years ago, traders traveled thousands of miles between Japan and Italy on a series of land and sea routes that became known as the Silk Road. They journeyed across the steppes and mountains of Central and South Asia, intermingling their cultures in ways that can still be seen today. And this summer, visitors to Washington, DC, could see them, too.
MCHUGH: The Smithsonian Institution put on a massive outdoor festival in the shadow of the Capitol Building that recreated the Silk Road. The cultures of over 20 countries were represented, many of which were familiar to Americans only because of their recent appearance in the news, often in an unfavorable light. Judith Smelser has the story of this major undertaking.
[The sound of people walking.]
JUDITH SMELSER: A stroll along the National Mall in Washington this summer was more than just a walk from the Capitol building to the Washington Monument.
[The sound of Japanese drum music.]
SMELSER: It was a journey along the storied Silk Road, from Japan and China to Venice, Italy.
[The sound of Tajik music.]
SMELSER: Along the way, visitors got to experience places that many Americans know only from the news—if they know about them at all. Places like Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, Iran and Afghanistan, Tuva and Mongolia. Each summer, the Smithsonian puts on a Folklife Festival, but usually it represents a couple of US states and one foreign country. Never has it undertaken anything this ambitious.
[The sounds of Yo-Yo Ma signing autographs at the festival.]
SMELSER: The idea to go the extra mile—or thousand miles, to be more accurate—came from world famous cellist Yo-Yo Ma. His many years of touring got him thinking about some of the lesser-known countries along the Silk Road, and he started an organization devoted to studying the cultural interconnections sparked by the ancient trading routes.
YO-YO MA: About five, six years ago, I started thinking more and more about, why is it that I don’t know anything about Central Asia? What, is how you look at the globe and you sort of flip it around and say,” Okay, I’ve been there, I’ve been there,” but I don’t know huge regions of the Earth, and why don’t I know that?
SMELSER: He set out to learn about those regions, and he wanted other Americans to learn about them too. Six million dollars later, this festival came to life. Yo-Yo Ma hoped it would create a modern version of the culture sharing that went on along the real Silk Road.
MA: I’m not sure what is gonna be captured because it depends on the people, it depends on the participants, it depends on, on the people that are visiting to make that connection themselves. We can’t make the connection. It’s when people get excited and they wanna make a connection, then it happens. You can never tell people “Connect!” you know.
SMELSER: Festival organizers did their part to make those connections possible. They flew in 350 people—cooks, artisans, craftspeople, musicians, and dancers—from over 20 countries along the Silk Road. And Festival Director Diana Parker says getting them here was no picnic.
DIANA PARKER: In the first place, just getting visas from 22 different countries is complicated enough. September 11, everything we do out here became more complicated. We have guests here from Syria, Iran, from Afghanistan, from Pakistan. And it’s a complicated thing to get that many visas, especially when some of our folks are exactly the kind of people that have the most difficulty getting visas. They don’t have property back home, they’re single, that sort of thing.
[The sound of Tajik music.]
SMELSER: Many of the artists, like these traditional musicians from the mountains of Tajikistan, came from remote areas. And some of them didn’t even have birth certificates. But all the trouble paid off. Record numbers of people braved the heat and humidity to mingle with Pakistani stone carvers, Uzbek cooks, Indian silk weavers—and Tuvan throat singers.
[The sound of Tuvan throat singers.]
SMELSER: The Russian province of Tuva has gained its slice of fame from people like this man. Yes, that’s just one man, with no instruments, making all those sounds by himself. Festival Director Diana Parker says the chance for Americans to interact with people like him became even more important after the events of September 11 thrust many of the Silk Road countries onto the world stage.
PARKER: By the middle of September we all knew this might be the most important thing in the world we could do. I think everybody came out of September 11 wanting to somehow make a contribution to making the world what we thought it should be again. And for us, doing that meant bringing these artists from a part of the world we just don’t know enough about.
SMELSER: But if getting the people here was difficult, bringing in miles of painted canvas, blocks of stone, a couple of weaving looms, several yurts, and even a painted truck from Pakistan, was an even greater challenge. And then there was the matter of language instruction for the camels.
PARKER: We were gonna bring camels from Kazakhstan for the nomads to use. They were gonna take their yurts down and load them on the camels and move them and then re-load them. But we couldn’t with hoof and mouth disease and so forth, the quarantine time was too long to bring camels from there, so we had to find camels from here. But they had to be able to respond to commands in Kazakh because otherwise, they couldn’t work with the nomads. So we had nomads doing tapes of commands that they sent to the camel trainer in Texas who played the tapes for them while he was executing commands with his hands.
SMELSER: After four years of work, everything came together. The Mall was transformed into the Silk Road, and visitors were treated to music like this.
[The sound of Chinese music.]
SMELSER: Betty Xiang and Yang Wei are originally from China, but they’ve lived in Chicago for the past six years. Now they’re part of the Silk Road Ensemble—another of Yo-Yo Ma’s creations that’s made up of several groups of musicians from Silk Road countries, all dedicated to exploring the musical relationship between tradition and innovation. Betty and Yang play traditional Chinese instruments, but they subtly weave in some distinctly Western elements.
[The sound of the American folk song melody, She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain, played with Chinese instruments and in Chinese style.]
SMELSER: Yang calls this piece Chinese in America—a takeoff on George Gershwin’s An American in Paris He says Gershwin has been a strong influence on his and Betty’s music since they moved to the US, as have a number of other American musicians.
YANG WEI: Actually, Betty learned [from] the very famous singer called Ella. And she listened to her music a lot. And I listened to many banjo players, and so we imitated many, many this kind of musical things and tried to absorb as much as possible.
SMELSER: Betty’s “Ella” is of course the great jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald.
[The sound of Yang Wei and Betty Xiang playing.]
SMELSER: On stage, Betty and Yang’s faces light up the room. They are as much actors as they are musicians, having a playful conversation through their instruments, and drawing every person in the room into the discussion. The audience loves it. And Yo-Yo Ma is backstage grinning from ear to ear—a hundred new connections have just been made.
[The sound of the American folk song melody, She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain, played with Chinese instruments and in Chinese style.]
For Common Ground, I’m Judith Smelser in Washington.
Our theme music was created by B.J. Leiderman. Common Ground was produced and funded by the Stanley Foundation.
Copyright © Stanley Center for Peace and Security