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Romania: President Honors Free Press

  • Sonia Winter

Washington, 20 July 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Romania's President Emil Constantinescu has ended an eventful week in Washington and is traveling to two other American cities before returning to Bucharest.

The Romanian Embassy says he is scheduled to meet with business leaders today (Monday) in San Francisco in the western state of California and will continue on to Chicago, Illinois, in the Midwest from where he is to depart for Romania late Tuesday night.

Before leaving Washington Saturday, Constantinescu paid tribute to freedom of the press, saying he owes his present position to journalists who struggled ceaselessly for truth and democracy, after the communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu was overthrown in December 1989.

Romania was then free but had to become democratic, Constantinescu said, speaking through an interpreter.

He noted that, in his words: "without the struggle of journalists during the Ceausescu area and after, I would not be President today. And I would not be representing Romania today as a free, democratic and dignified country."

Constantinescu made the comments at the Newseum, a museum about the evolution of news and a high technology, interactive news learning center.

Opposite the podium, an exhibit of 1968 news photographs showed dramatic pictures of the spring student demonstrations in Paris and defenseless Czechs blocking tanks of the invading Soviet-led forces in August 1968.

Tourists and Newseum visitors crowded around curiously as Constantinescu presented to the Newseum a small, home-made printing press that will now join the other displays to document the fight of Romanian journalists for freedom.

The handpress was made by Petre Bacanu and two colleagues with letters stolen from a state printing plant to publish a dissident underground newspaper. The three were arrested after the first printing in January 1989 and remained in prison until the December 1989 revolution set them free. Bacanu is now director of the Romania Libera daily.

Constantinescu said Bacanu and his colleagues had the courage to speak the truth at a time when the press was being paid to lie and Ceausescu's Securitate secret police spread fear throughout the country.

Constantinescu spoke after laying a wreath of yellow chrysanthemums at the Newseum's memorial to journalists who lost their lives while reporting news.

More than 1,000 names are engraved on a spiral of translucent glass panels, including two newsmen --a Dutchman and a Frenchman -- who were in Bucharest that fateful December of 1989.

The memorial names journalists, going back to the year 1812. The most recent name on the panel is Boris Derevyanko of the Vechernaya Odessa newspaper, killed in Ukraine last year.

Constantinescu, a former scientist and academic, is the first head of state to lay a wreath at this memorial.

It stands in the Freedom Park alongside the Newseum building which is dedicated to victory over oppression.

The open air exhibits include a piece of the Berlin Wall, a statue of Lenin, toppled and beheaded in the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, as well as a "talking circle" of stones of native American Indian tribes, and cobblestones from the Warsaw ghetto of wartime Poland.

Constantinescu also went to the Holocaust Museum in Washington Saturday to honor those who died during the Second World War because of racial hatred and intolerance.

A Romanian embassy spokeswoman said Romania is signing a cooperation agreement with the Holocaust Museum and will open state archives to make accessible documents about the persecution of Jews in Romania during that war.