Romania has 275 kilometers of Black Sea coastline. The country tries to attract tourists by touting its sandy beaches, temperate climate, spas, and resort hotels. It's tough competition. I met a couple of Romanians who said straight out that they prefer to vacation along Bulgaria's Black Sea coast. And Turkey is a more popular destination for European and American travelers.
Tanase Barde, along with two colleagues, owns two hotels on the Romanian coast. They're located near the town of Mangalia in two resorts named after Roman gods: Jupiter and Venus. They're seasonal hotels. Even though we were meeting in season -- at a restaurant in the Black Sea port city of Constanta in May 2013 -- business, he told me, was not particularly good.
"The Romanian state doesn't help businessmen," he told me. "No one wants to help. No one wants to develop. Everybody just wants to take."
Barde put much of the blame on Romania's political culture. "I'm very disappointed about the evolution of Romania," Barde observed. "The people involved in politics are at a very low level of education, of knowledge, of vision. We don't have an evolution. We have an involution. This has happened because we can't talk about democracy without responsibility, without education. It's very good to have democracy. It's the only way, and I don't know another way. But if we don't have responsibility, if we don't have a minimal education, then democracy can be very bad. And this is what has happened in Romania now."
Barde, who by profession is an engineer, tried his hand at politics. Some time after the changes in December 1989, he joined the National Peasant Christian Democratic Party. Five years later, he was elected to parliament and served one term. He was happy about some of the changes that his party was able to push through in coalition with the Liberals.
"At that time, we adopted the law on privatization, which helped us moved further along on our road to Europe," he recalled. "We also adopted the law on the banking system. In 1996 when we came into power, we had very big problem with the banking system. Iliescu and his party stole a lot of money because we didn't have good clear laws and rules. So, at that time, we adopted these laws. Laws like these made it difficult for Romania to backtrack from its commitments to join the EU."
But ultimately, politics was not for him. He had a falling out with his party's leadership. He jumped ship to Traian Basescu's Democratic Party, but couldn't make a go of it there either. So he went into business.
Some of the frustrations that Barde with politics have carried over into the business world. He complains about the lack of infrastructure devoted to tourism. This makes it very difficult to attract foreign tourists to his hotels. But it goes beyond the physical shortcomings.
"We don't know how to treat tourists," he confesses. "When I say this, I'm talking about the ordinary people: the people who come to the table to serve you. They don't have the right attitude. They're not happy to serve you. It's a very big problem."
I told him that I'd encountered that attitude a few times in Romanian restaurants and hotels. "It's also a big difference between Turkey and Romania," he continued. "You were in Turkey? The Turkish people from my point of view are number one in tourism. They are very happy if you sit down at a table. If you ask for something, he doesn't say, 'I don't have that.' He says, 'Okay, okay,' he goes out to buy it, and then he gives it to you."
He's trying to change that image with his hotels. "We try to offer good service," he concluded. "We carefully select our staff. We stay in the season all the time there. We invest."
Do you remember where you were and what you were thinking when you heard about the fall of the Berlin Wall?
I was a student at that time. I was in Bucharest, staying in a workers' neighborhood. Of course I was very glad to hear about the fall of the Berlin Wall. My father had been in prison when he was 12 years old so --
Really, he was in prison when he was 12 years old?
It was something like prison. They took the whole family from their village. And they put them in a place where there was nothing. Nothing. Just the earth. And they said, "You live here from now on."
Ah, yes, I heard about this.
They made him cut reeds when he was 12. I grew up hearing stories about this period. And that's why I was very happy to hear about the fall of the Berlin Wall.
You grew up here in Constanta but studied in Bucharest?
And what were you studying?
Electronics and telecommunications. I'm a telecommunication engineer. After I graduated, I worked in the national telecommunication system. At that time, we had only one national telecommunication system.
Were you also in Bucharest on December 21?
I was in my last year at the university. For those of us in the last year, we were allowed to finish school early to prepare for the final exam. We had three or four months to prepare for that exam. So, in December I was here in Constanta.
And what happened here in Constanta at that time?
The people went out on the street. Everybody went over to the headquarters of the Communist Party.
Is that where the city hall is now?
Yes. They broke down the doors. They went inside, and they declared the end of the Communist Party and the Securitate. Everybody was happy.
Were there any casualties? Did anybody get killed?
Not in the Constanta area, but in Cernavoda. Three or four young people were killed there. But it was a mistake. Here in Constanta the revolution was very peaceful. In Bucharest there was a big fight. Also in Timisoara and in Sibiu. But not here.
Did you participate? Did you go inside the building?
Yes, I was in the front.
How did it feel?
I felt happy. And hopeful. I thought everything would be shining and beautiful and free.
Did your parents also participate?
No. My father was at work at that time. After a few hours, I went to see him and asked if he'd heard that Ceausescu had fallen. He'd heard.
And then what happened? Did you go back to your studying?
To read the rest of the interview, click here.