Romania, Haunted by Its Past.

Author:Moses, Alfred
Position::AUTHOR INTERVIEW - Interview

When Alfred Moses, an attorney and prominent national Jewish leader, traveled behind the Iron Curtain to Romania in 1976, the impoverished country was under the thumb of the ruthless and corrupt dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. The trip changed Moses's life, inspiring him to fight for the freedom of Romania's Jews. Years later, based on his work with the country, President Bill Clinton appointed Moses as the U.S. ambassador to Romania. He assumed the post in 1994, just as Romania was taking its first tentative steps out of four decades of economic stagnation and political repression toward privatization and democracy. Moment speaks with Moses about his new book, Bucharest Diary: Romania's Journey from Darkness to Light, which recounts his decades-long relationship with Romania, and is a primer for anyone interested in Romania's history and future.

How did you become interested in Romania's Jews.? When I went there in February 1976, to lead a delegation from the American Jewish Committee, a couple of young fellows approached me. They asked me if I was American, and if I was Jewish, and I said, "Yes." Then it all poured out: They said that life for Jews in Romania was horrible, and I had to help them get out--which became my mission for the next 13 years.

What did you do to pressure Ceausescu to let Jews leave Romania? There was opposition; it was never a slamdunk, but we were successful in urging the U.S. Congress to extend the most-favored-nation status annually for Romania. In return, we made it clear to the Romanian government that continued support for Romania in Congress was dependent upon Romania allowing its Jews to go to Israel. We communicated this directly to the foreign minister, but more importantly on three occasions to Ceausescu himself.

How did you become the U.S. ambassador to Romania? It was a long shot. I had no idea that the State Department would actually nominate me. I was not a foreign service officer. I had no reason to believe that President Clinton or his staff would support my becoming ambassador. But many people weighed in on my behalf, and lo and behold, I became the ambassador. All because of my actions on behalf of Romanian Jews.

What was the biggest challenge of your three years as ambassador? Romania was a basket case when I arrived. Ceausescu had been executed on Christmas Day in 1989. Economic conditions in Romania were dreadful. I saw it as my responsibility to try to bring the country into the family of Western...

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