Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Bucharest’

Remembering Ivor Porter

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 18th December, 2012

Ivor PorterMarilena Lica-MasalaI first met Ivor Porter, the British diplomat, writer and sometimes Special Operations operative, shortly after he had served as Ambassador to Senegal, at a time when I was Honorary Consul for the Islamic Republic of Mauritania to the Court of St. James’s, though the fact that we were both Liberal Democrats (as we call ourselves these days) tightened the bond. Ivor died earlier this year at the grand old age of 99 and this evening, at the Romanian Cultural Centre in Belgrave Square, a trilingual publication of tributes and his last interview — with Romanian scribe Marilena Lica-Masala — was launched in the company of his widow Katerina, various other family members, Romanian Ambassador Ion Jinga, numerous other Romanians and a good group of Kensington and Chelsea LibDems. Ivor first went to Bucarest as a lecturer at the university in 1939, but after a few months, as the Second World War took hold, he was absorbed into the British Legation, in the cypher department. He was at that time approached by the Special Operations Executive (SOE — a branch of the secret service that supported the resistance in occupied countries) before being returned to the UK in 1941, only to be parachuted back in with two intelligence colleagues in 1943. Unfortunately, they were captured, though their “imprisonment” was hardly uncomfortable, as they were held in a villa to which champagne and cavair were regularly delivered. After British planes bombed the city, Ivor’s Romanian “hosts” replaced the champagne with local firewater. The full account of his wartime exploits can be found in his entertaining memoir, Operation Autonomous. Later he would return to the country as UK Ambassador and he wrote a biography of King Michael, who had the surely unique distinction of carrying out a coup d’état against his own country’s pro-German dictatorship. Slight of build and diffidently erudite, Ivor — who liked to think of himself as training to be a Renaissance man — brought light into many people’s lives and it is good to have another slim volume to keep his memory bright.

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AEJ Congress 2011 Bucharest

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 13th November, 2011

The location inevitably influences the content and atmosphere of any international professional or political gathering and such was certainly true over this long weekend at the 2011 Congress of the Association of European Journalists (AEJ) in Bucharest. The affiliated local organisation is the Romanian Association of Independent Journalists (who hosted us delightfully) and the significance of that word ‘independent’ is obvious a mere 22 yeas since the downfall of the Ceaucescu Communist dictatorship. Just how awful that was — not least in human rights terms — was brought home to us participants in the final working session yesterday, when we were shown a film about the memorial established in the former political prison where pre-Communist political leaders, bishops, priests and other ‘undesirables’ were kept in inhumane conditions, tortured and in many cases assassinated, their bodies being disposed of in unmarked graves in the middle of the night. The Securitate, Communist Romania’s equivalent of the Stasi and KGB, monitored and harassed and intimidated journalists, writers and artists, becoming particularly paranoid about anti-regime sentiments in that regime’s final year of 1989. But the new Romania has its challennges for journalists, too — not so much pressure from the government (though that can occur, as elsewhere) but in particular from various oligarchs who own huge slices of the TV market, which is especially important in a country where most people still get their news from evening TV bulletins. We were reminded that a similar situation exists in Ukraine, from which we heard some thought-provoking testimony, as well as from Moldova, Belarus (probably the worst) and Turkey (where 66 journalists are currently in prison, and many others are the subject of legal proceedings). In Britain and so much of the EU people take a free Press for granted, but we don’t know how lucky we are. And of course, Britain doesn’t exactly have an unblemished record itself, given the recent phone hacking scandals, the (now threatened) influence of Rupert Murdoch & Co and the corrosive legacy of Downing Street spin, crafted so devilishly under Tony Blair’s watch. A Congress such as this weekend’s Bucharest event underlines how important it is to have such an interchange of experiences and analyses, not just as an act of solidarity (important though that is) but also to show how responsible journalism can contribute positively to the European project and Europe-wide high standards of human rights and freedom of expression, which was after all the main reason for the AEJ’s foundation.


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Teodor Baconschi and Media Responsibility

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 12th November, 2011

The Romanian Foreign Minister, Teodor Baconschi, gave the keynote address at this morning’s Bucharest AEJ Congress session on ‘Freedom and Responsibility in the Mass Media’, though his remarks were so brief that they served more as a starting point for discussion. He said that after the fall of Communism in Romania there was a great concentration on trivia in the media, and he urged journalists to avoid creating pessimism or panic. ‘More freedom entails more accountability,’ he declared,which raised some eyebrows in the conference hall. It is not just that some journals and journalists are close to particular politicians or parties; more significant is the influence of certain big businessmen and vested interests. There is a lot of corruption in the Press, we were told, ‘because of the dark side of business.’ In some cases, journalists are not seen as free spirits but as mercenaires. Interestingly, the Minister revealed that he no longer watches television, not just because he is so busy but because he feels he will not get good access to news and commentary there. In that, of course, he resembles some of the younger generation who have abandoned ‘old media’ for the Internet and social networks — both very powerful, but also to be treated with even greater caution, I would argue. And both are often without the necessary level of responsibility or critical engagement.

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A Day at the Car Factory

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 11th November, 2011

In the bad old Communist days, a visit to a showpiece factory was de rigeur part of any Western journalist’s visit to Eastern Europe, so I was amused that the highlight of the first day of the AEJ’s Congress in Bucharest today was a trip to the Dacia car production plant, about two hours’ drive out of the capital. This entailed a 6.30am start but of course the visit was not quite what it would have been in the old days. The French firm Renault took over Dacia in 1999 and has since totally streamlined its output. Last year, almost 350,000 vehicules were produced at the industrial site I visited, 90% of which last year went for export, the cheapest, perfectly acceptable four-door little car selling for around 4,000 euros, or ten times the average monthly wage in this country. Dacia pays its own workers about twice that norm and interestingly around 30% of its workers are female. Visitors are driven round the huge complex in a little toy train of the sort that ferries holiday-makers round British seaside resorts, but this jaunt was followed by a slap-up buffet lunch on-site (no alcohol, of course). Dacia is Romania’s main export earner and is determined to maintain that distinction. It’s true, I saw an awful lot of them when I was in Algiers two weeks ago!

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