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From Bucharest to Chernobyl (De Bucarest à Tchernobyl)

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“The defeat of communism 20 years ago,” Matt Welch writes in Reason magazine, “was the most liberating moment in history. So why don’t we talk about it more?” That is an excellent question. I don’t talk about it, write about it, or even think about it much either, but that’s about to change.
October 2009. I have just arrived in Bucharest, Romania. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs invited me and three other journalists to spend the week here, and they have us scheduled to meet some serious and interesting people.

Romania was in rough shape not long ago. Michael Yon told me it was “like hell,” as he put it, when he came here shortly after the Cold War ended. Now I’ll get an up close and personal look at how much the country has healed since its communist tyrant Nicolae Ceausescu and his Lady Macbeth of a wife Elena so thoroughly and violently ravaged it.

propagande ceasescu

Romania during Communism

Romania during Communism

The Lady Macbeth of Romania, Elena Ceausescu

After I’m finished with the official program in Romania, my old friend Sean will join me on a road trip to Chernobyl and the radioactive ghost city of Pripyat in the Exclusion Zone of Northern Ukraine. We’ll pass through Moldova and Transnistria on the way.

You may recall that Sean and I drove from Istanbul to Iraq for lunch a few years ago. If you haven’t read that story, you’re in for a treat. (Am I supposed to say that about my own writing? I don’t know. Who cares?
If you haven’t heard of Transnistria — and I’m almost certain you haven’t because hardly anyone has — you’ll be in for another treat (I hope) when I come home and write about that crazy place. It’s a quasi-communist breakaway province of Moldova that’s secured, if that’s the right word, by the Russian military as South Ossetia is in Georgia.

Poster in the Museum of Communism in Czech Republic

Modova’s Communist Party had a majority in parliament until — believe it or not — just this summer. Communists trashed a huge part of our world, and not every part of it has been free of them for the last 20 years. Some parts of it still aren’t completely free of them, not really, not even in Europe.

Chisinau, Moldova, and its brutal Stalinist skyline

One of these days, when I have enough material, I just might write a book about my road trips with Sean. He and I have already driven to Kosovo and Iraq, we’re about to drive to Chernobyl, and we’re seriously thinking about road trips to Afghanistan and Somalia.

Pripyat, Ukraine, Chernobyl Exclusion Zone

Despite my jam-packed itinerary, I won’t actually be gone very long. I can’t afford to be because I have a book to write. This trip, though, is a welcome break that should keep me from hitting the wall or flaming out. I’ll try to post some photographs from the road.

See you soon.

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