Career diplomats serve in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and diplomatic missions abroad and occasionally in regional and International organizations. Pakistan has some ninety missions abroad headed by High Commissioners and Ambassadors, and another thirty or so sub-missions – consulates and consulate-generals. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs carries out a major exercise once, if not twice, a year to post and transfer its officers and staff between the Ministry and missions and from mission to mission. It usually makes a long list. A similar exercise was being done in 1999 when the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was dismissed. Inevitably the new Military Government made changes in the list. My name was also on the list. I received a letter stating that the Chief Executive was pleased to appoint me as Ambassador to Ukraine. But these were the early days of the Military government and some European countries showed reservations about the nomination of ex-armed forces officers as Ambassadors. The list had therefore to be revised again. Consequently my country of posting was changed to Romania. Interestingly enough, the letter of intimation I received still referred to my Ukrainian posting yet said that a letter soliciting agreement had been sent to the Romanian government. It was amusing. I had been appointed Ambassador to Ukraine but agreement had been sought from Romania! One of those hilarious secretarial mistakes. But the Romanian government did give its consent to my appointment and I arrived in Bucharest soon after.
Moving, with family, from one country to another involves packing, shifting of belongings, change of children’s educational institutions etc. It all takes time. Therefore it is not always possible for the whole family to make the move at one go. I arrived in Bucharest alone while my wife and children stayed back in Islamabad to do the winding up. In Bucharest I immediately moved to the residence vacated by my predecessor. This house in Londra (London) street was rented by our Embassy in the 1960s soon after the Mission was established in Romania. It was built during the last king’s time, probably before WWII. It had four levels – basement plus three floors. The basement (consisting of several rooms, store rooms, the central heating plant, narrow stairs and alcoves) was dark and dingy. The large dining room and sitting rooms had alcoves and embossed figurines on the ceilings and walls. The most conspicuous of these gothic details was the high main entrance door, with tell-tale royal coat of arms. The house now belonging to the government of Romania (from whom we had rented it), had according to some accounts been built by the then king for his girlfriend.
It looked much like an old-style castle, spookier than Dracula’s. I wrote to my family, who were still in Islamabad, describing the house in detail and said that it felt like being in Dracula’s house. My children were much excited and wanted to come to Bucharest right away.
[quote]’Are you Pakistanis as corrupt as we are ?'[/quote]
Dracula’s Bran Castle is the most visited and famous castle in Romania. It is situated near Brasov (read Brashov) and is one of the several places linked to the Dracula legend. Although it is now known that ‘Vlad the Impaler’ never lived here, it is still marketed as the ‘Dracula Castle’. When I visited Bran Castle it was humming with tourists and visitors. There are quite a few souvenir shops in front of the castle selling all sorts of Dracula-related memorabilia. I asked one of our Romanian friends why visitors throng the place when it is known that it is not the real Castle Dracula. He said that the real castle of Dracula – the Poienari castle – is perched high on a river gorge, is in a remote place; in ruins and difficult to reach. One has to ascend 1480 stairs to reach this ‘vulture nest’, (my wife and children did visit it and walked up all 1480 stairs). But Bran castle is easy to reach and does have some link with Vlad III (it is close to the city of Brasov where Vlad led raids against the German Saxons), therefore promoting it made better commercial sense.
Think of Romania and you will have to think of Dracula too. It is interesting to note how this fictional character has become so well known the world over. Count Dracula, a human vampire, is the main character of the Irish novelist Brom Stoker’s novel written in 1897. A number of films have been made based on the novel. A famous British actor Christopher Lee played the part of Dracula in one such popular movie (the actor who also played the part of Quaid-e Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah in the 1998 biographical film written by Akbar S. Ahmed and Jamil Dehlavi).
The blood-sucking vampire has so caught the imagination of the public that many people know about Dracula even if they have never read the novel or seen the movie. One of the main reasons for Dracula’s popularity was the discovery of its connection with a real historical figure, the Romanian prince Vlad the Impaler. That connection was first brought to popular attention by the publication of the book, “In search of Dracula” by Radu Floresccu (and Raymond McNally) in 1972. Mr. Radu Florescu was a prominent Romanian academician who was also Honorary Consul of Romania in the US. He wrote about a dozen books on Dracula. I met him at one of the diplomatic receptions in Bucharest when he was visiting his parent country. He gave me a copy of his book ‘Dracula: A Biography of Vlad the Impaler-1431-1476’ and signed it for me. His work argued that Bram Stoker had based his Dracula character in his 1897 novel on Vlad the Impaler.
[quote]For some six years Dracula was taken hostage and kept in Turkey by Sultan Murad II of the Ottoman Empire[/quote]
Vlad Tepes (the Impaler), a Romanian prince was born in the fortress of Sighisoara in Nov/Dec 1431. His father, Vlad Dracula was the military governor of Transylvania at the time. The son Vlad used the diminutive ‘Dracula’, meaning ‘the son of Dracula’ as his surname. For some six years (1442 – 48) Dracula was taken hostage, and kept in Turkey by Sultan Murad II of the Ottoman Empire. He lost and regained power more than once. During his main reign (1456-1462) ‘Vlad the Impaler’ is believed to have killed about 100,000 Europeans by using his favourite method of impaling them on a sharp pole, although he also used many other brutal methods, such as getting people skinned, decapitated, hacked, nailed, roasted and buried alive. His impaled victims included thousands of Turks.
[quote]Romanians consider Dracula a national and folk hero for standing up to the invading Turks[/quote]
Romanians consider Dracula a national and folk hero for standing up to the invading Turks and driving them off. Romania is now cashing in on the Dracula legend’s big contribution to the country’s tourism industry. There are many monuments connected to Dracula. Many ‘Dracula tours’ are offered to historical places connected with Vlad Tepes. These include Vlad’s birth place – the town of Sighisoara, his presumed burial place in the Snagov Monastery, the Poenari fortress, the Bran Castle and his palace in Bucharest. Of much interest to tourists is Dracula park on the outskirts of Bucharest including a ‘Count Dracula Club’ restaurant with images of the vampire, blood dripping from the walls and rooms reflecting Transylvanian folk customs and other macabre images. ‘Count Dracula’ himself appears occasionally and mingles with the guests in the restaurant.
[quote]’Count Dracula Club’ restaurant has images of the vampire and blood dripping from the walls[/quote]
A few years back there was a surprise revelation. In an interview it was claimed that Prince Charles, crown prince of England, is related to the Romanian ruler Vlad the Impaler. If ever the monarchy was restored in Romania he could claim a stake in it. That may be too farfetched. But Prince Charles’ mother Queen Elizabeth stands a better chance. She, a descendant of Queen Victoria, is third cousin of the deposed King of Romania.
One does not know how Prince Charles regards his long lost relation Vlad the Impaler. Carrying a certain bias in favour of the Prince, having met him once in Bishkek, I am loath to consider him a relative of such a ruthless assassin. I had a very pleasant conversation with Prince Charles. The British Ambassador accredited to the Kyrgyz Republic had hosted a reception when Prince Charles was on a visit to Bishkek. All Ambassadors resident in Bishkek were among the invitees. We were informed that the crown prince would join the reception unobtrusively and would also leave quietly. The guests were advised not to stand on any ceremony. That is what happened. The Prince mixed with the guests and moved around, engaging them in small conversations. When he came to our group I introduced myself. He talked about Pakistan’s historical link with central Asia and asked me if I had read Peter Hopkirk’s book ‘The Great Game’ about the bitter contest between the Russian Empire and Victorian Britain for supremacy in Central Asia. I said I owned a copy of the book but had read only a part of it. He brightened up when I mentioned that I had read and liked his speech, delivered a few weeks earlier, in which he had said good things about Muslims.
By the time I was posted there, Romania had transformed from a centralized Communist system to a multi-party democratic form of government and market economy. The period of transition was not over yet and some social remnants were still discernible. It would not be uncommon for a uniformed guard on duty to ask you for a cigarette. The advertisements for personal secretary’s jobs would almost invariably mention that the applicants must be below thirty years of age. I asked one Romanian friend why it was so. He explained that candidates older than thirty years would have the work experience and unwelcome habits of the communist era, while the untainted younger lot had verve and drive. Greasing palms for getting any job done in public offices was taken for granted. One day my secretary asked for half a day’s leave. She needed to have her four year-old son admitted to a kindergarten. I asked why she was carrying two wine bottles, a chocolate box and a desk diary. She said this was the bribe she would pay to the Head Teacher. I further learnt that primary education being compulsory, the schools could not refuse admission, yet the parents were expected to present gifts to the teachers. Then I had a personal experience. I had to be admitted to the hospital for my hernia operation. I asked my authorized Romanian doctor to make the arrangements. He contacted the hospital authorities he knew, and informed me that getting admission officially, as Ambassador, would cost over two thousand dollars. Then he explained and suggested that I should get admission through the concerned doctor privately. That way it would cost only about 300 dollars (of which a hundred dollars would go into the doctor’s pocket and another one hundred to the duty nurses) and I would get much better personal attention of the doctor and other medical staff.
All these experiences were in my mind when we were having a conversation during the dinner I hosted for senior officials of the Foreign Ministry before my departure from Romania. We talked about the excellent relations between Pakistan and Romania and commonalities of our approach on many issues of bilateral interest. Then in a lighter vein I said that there was another thing common between our two countries – although not a pleasant one – in 2003 Transparency International had placed both Pakistan and Romania at no. 73 with reference to the corruption index. My guests laughed and one of them asked, ‘Are you Pakistanis as corrupt as we are?’