Wednesday, November 15, 2006

I don't have time tonight to add cutlines and might not tomorrow either but here are some pictures from Transylvania.

Romania is more paradoxical than other Balkan countries I've visited. Romania will join the EU in January 2007 yet the country struggles with issues of procedural transparency and the "can't do" or "someone else should be responsible for doing it" attitude. I am perhaps overly simplistic when I say that Romania suffers not just from the legacy of Communism but from the despair created by legacy of President Nicolae Ceausescu's world of rationed Communist existence. Perhaps it was the simple act of trying to survive in harsh times that makes people unwilling to be more proactive today. There are certainly entrepreneurs here but the employment laws make it difficult to fire employees, perform relevant employment performance reviews and offer productivity or merit pay increases. Much of this is true elsewhere in the region but the challenges surprise me because of the EU membership.

I spoke for an hour today with a trade unionist who insisted the problems with Radio Romania lie with the government--including influence of former Communists who are too close to the seat of power. I'm sure there's truth in what he says but he was unwilling to acknowledge that the trade unions appear to be stonewalling any changes that they don't fully support. There are about 2,500 employees with Radio Romania in Bucharest plus another 800-900 at the eight regional stations. How many of the Bucharest employees are mere ghost employees, put on the payroll by a brother, father, uncle or mother, and none of the ever show up for work? It is strictly a wild guess of mine but when I examine the amount of programming that seems to come from Bucharest, I can't help but believe that several hundred people may be ghost employees. I could go on but friends tell me they'd rather read about the adventures of travel and not the politics.

The drive from Bucharest was easy and comfortable. Two drivers made the as far as Sibiu....the other drove to Cluj. The didn't take unnecessary chances when passing and kept their speeds to reasonable rates. I traveled to Tirana, from the Albanian border with Montenegro, and practically saw my life flash before my eyes with the "aggressive" driving.

For dinner tonight I had a wonderful meal of cabbage rolls...cabbage leaves stuffed with meat, rice and spices and baked at a low temperature. I talked through with my host the preparation steps and will repeat this at home. Also, I ate polenta and white cheese as an appetizer. Very good (and traditional) as well.

Last night's dinner included baked cheese--a hard cheese dipped in egg or milk, covered with bread crumbs and fried, and chicken liver and onions served with country potatoes. The country potatoes were first boiled and then grated, mixed with some onion and paprika and fried. Very tasty. Both meals have included Romanian red wine and sparkling water.

The good news is that I only eat two meals a day....breakfast and lunch. Breakfast has been similar to meals I've eaten elsewhere in the Balkans....that means tomato wedges, cucumber slices, and sharp white cheese. Again, wonderful!

I've not seen much of the city. My hotel is a short walk from the radio stations and too far in the early night of November to walk. Tomorrow I will have a chance to see some of the city.

There's a small grocery store a short distance from my hotel. I'm going to walk over there and see what's on the shelves!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Whew. It's been a long day and I need a night's rest but it has been a successful day and I just have to make a few comments. I'm visiting a regional Romania Radio station in Clij, Transylvania. The people have been great. I've met with the management team and we've had good discussions. I'm impressed with the station's operation....they accomplish a lot given their circumstances--tight budgets and a typical post-Communist mix of employees, some you can't fire or otherwise get rid of and others who are pretty good to very good employees.

In most of the countries I've visited, former government enterprises are stuck with all of the former employees who worked at the business and there's no way to fire them--even if they show up for work and do nothing. There's also no way to give performance pay increases to employees either--not unlike my own work situation.

I've had interesting insights into the nature of people in Romania. It's said that one generation was sacraficed in the fighting of two world wars. Another generation was lost to Communism. Now the question is whether the next generation will thrive or be lost in years of transition as the country tries to get on the right path.

Romania Radio is a national radio service that covers almost all of the country--probably 98%. The service produces programming for listeners but doesn't actually own the broadcast transmitters that distribute their programs. Those are held by the national telephone service. It was all part of the paranoid former dictator's plan to decentralize control and avoid potential threats by groups who might try to take over the radio system. At one point in the late 1980s, Romania Television broadcast for only two hours per day--and that was mostly news about the president. A Romanian joke was that the first hour was a reminder to watch the second hour for news about the president.

I'm pleased to be here. It has been a good learning experience. I hope tomorrow to be able to talk with the station management about ad sales, employee performance reviews and job a discussion about audience research.

Enough for now.
Greetings from Transylvania! I'm in the heart of Romania and it's a rainy and cold morning. What's the difference between Romania and the U.S.A.? In the U.S., a city named Transylvania would be filled with tourist joints playing on the Dracula theme. In Transylvania, Romania, there's minimal tourist play on the Dracula name--though the regional history is a prominent part of the region and heritage. I will add that I did see a billboard for one Dracula-themed motel.

On the way here (I'm in the city of Cluj), we traveled by car from Bucharest and passed probably 20 horse or oxen drawn wagons on the highway. I saw probably another 15-20 in the fields. Agriculture is a hands-on business as it was in the U.S. 100 years ago. People heat with wood instead of electricity or gas in the small villages and rural areas.

I'm standing at the front desk of the hotel using a wired Internet connection...their WiFi is down and my room connection doesn't work....over my shoulder is a television set with an English language soap opera. It's "The Young and the Restless" and airs on a station called ProTV.

More later...have to start the workday.