Spotlight | Observations During a Europa Trip (Part II) The Danube

 

 

By Sigrid Weidenweber

Europe is proud of the Danube. At 1,775 miles long, it is Europe’s longest River after the Volga. It flows through ten countries while the Volga only flows through Russia proper. It is interesting to note that, like the invaders in historical times, Communism moved along the countries of the Danube. From Rumania into Austria, Vienna, it went, only to be stopped by the American troops in Germany. While our ship traveled full steam all night, we reached almost the end of Rumania. A long bus ride conveyed us deep into the countryside to the cities of Velikovo Tarnovo and Arbanasi. Besides cultural, impressive natural sights and grand forts, Rumania exhibited the most splendid sunflower, flax, mustard, wheat and corn fields. Wonderful sights in which we found great pleasure.

Suddenly, we saw amid the rich rural splendor an enormous, old and rusty industrial complex. Among exclamations of, “what on earth is that? And why in the middle of nowhere?” our guide enlightened us speedily. Deep rancor filled his voice.

“You see amidst our fruitful fields the horrors of planned industrial Communism. Told by Moscow that we were a rustic, insignificant backward country that would never amount to anything without industry, our elites decided, planned and build these factories. All over Romania you can see these ruins of Communism’s five-year plans. So, why did they not work? They were designed and build by idiots without any business training. They built plants without proper roads to feed a steady supply of materials to the factories; without a proper fleet of vehicles and often without the production of the materials; the chemicals, the leather, steel and aluminum that was needed. The minuscule amounts the country could provide in material goods went to the building excesses of Ceausescu’s.” The guide then spoke in even greater detail about all the planned failures and mentioned how people lost their land and livelihood. But I believe I need not elaborate the point anymore. I think I made my case.

Next day, the 12th, we arrived in Vidin, Bulgaria. Vidin is situated along the Danube across from Romania. Here the gorgeous countryside burst forth with the same bounty as Romania’s. Of course, both countries have grown vineyards since Roman times, producing very good wines.

Here, too, we heard of the terrible Communist past. The same elitists, controlling all planning, had left a desiccating mark on ecology and economy. In a private home the owner told us the tragic tales of injustices and deprivations that befell her family during this time. They were tales of prisons, job loss and the takings of private possessions without remuneration—of homes, fields and livestock.

To brighten the outlook of the traveler, there was the mighty fortress of Baba Vida, the best-preserved medieval fortress in all of Bulgaria and well worth the rugged clime. This was partially accomplished with the help of steep metal ladders; yet, the viewing over the countryside from atop the fortress was well worth the effort. This is a part of the country I would gladly travel leisurely again to savor the details.

In the afternoon of 13, July 2019 our ship arrived in Belgrade. We had sailed throughout the day through some of the best scenic parts of the Danube: its Iron Gate—spectacular gorges slicing through the Carpathian and Balkan Mountains, ancient Roman roads and buildings set into the mountain sides, on the Serbian side Trajan’s tablet, on the Romanian side a monumental rock carved into the likeness of Dacian King Decebalus. It was for me a most exhilarating day.

Serbia, like Bulgaria is a Parliamentary Republic. As most other cities in the region, it arose around a fortress to protect the surrounding countryside. Therefore, Belgrade, too, derives its character from its Kalemegdan Fortress. Set on a white stone ridge above the city, the fortress is Belgrade’s hallmark. In ancient times the entire city was enclosed by the walls of the fortress. Belgrade itself, like the other ex-Iron Curtain cities, shows, disconcertingly among beautiful old buildings the imprints of Stalinist architecture. However, Serbia as part of the former Yugoslavia seems to have escaped the most egregious excesses of Communism. Our guide reminded us that it was the genius of Josip Broz Tito that forged the separate parts of Serbia, Herzegovina, Bosnia, Croatia, Macedonia, Slovenia and Montenegro into the governmental region Yugoslavia.

Years ago, I had been familiar with all European political and historical facts, the guides lectures were a good refresher course. How quickly we forget. I remembered now, how, at the time, I admired Tito’s bold strategic dealings with Moscow, for he soon realized that Moscow planned to use his beloved region as a colony to be plundered at will. Of all the communist leaders of the Iron Curtain Countries, he was the only one to successfully challenge Stalin and implement what he named “national communism”. So, without completely breaking ties with the Soviet Union, he steered his own course and managed to keep Yugoslavia on a higher plane than the other Soviet-Pact countries.

Of course, like every Communist leader with too much personal power, he later, too, succumbed to his own excesses.

And so it goes; give a speaker a microphone and he knows not brevity—give a leader unrestrained power, and he becomes a tyrant.

The Monument of Liberty is the modern symbol of the great Danube town of Ruse, Bulgaria. The author of the monument is the famous Italian sculptor Arnoldo Zocchi., Dreamstime

Part One: Historical Context | Observations During a Europa Trip (Part I)


 Sigrid Weidenweber grew up in communist East Berlin, escaping it using a French passport. Ms. Weidenweber holds a degree in medical technology as well as psychology and has course work in Anthropology.  She is co-founder of Aid for Afghans.  Weidenweber has traveled the world and lived with Pakistani Muslims, learning about the culture and religion. She is a published author and lecturer. You can find her books on Amazon.com


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