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In Romania, Show Turns the E.U. Into A Laughing Matter

By Daniel Williams
Washington Post foreign Service
Sunday, November 21, 2004; Page A26

BUCHAREST, Romania -- Romanian television has an unlikely hit on its hands, a sitcom with a cast of racy characters who sit in a country pub and get laughs discussing the fine points of the bureaucracy and regulations of the European Union.

One recent episode of "The Winding Road to Europe" delved into cattle breeding. As with just about any aspect of economic life, it is the subject of pages and pages of rules laid down by the E.U., which Romania hopes to join in 2007.

"The Winding Road to Europe," a new Romanian sitcom, is set in a rural bar called La Europa. A racy cast of characters tries to make sense of E.U. rules. (Daniel Williams -- The Washington Post)

"It's quite simple," said the town crier, one of the show's regular characters. "A young bull in its first year on the job can do 30 to 40 females. In the second year, being more experienced, he can do 60 to 80 sweethearts. But in all cases, no more than one a day."

"Uh, I see, from now on animal sex life is standardized," said the town drunk. "They will do 'it' according to the minds on the European Commission. . . . That's what I call respect for animals."

Many here hope that membership in the bloc, now composed of 25 countries, will bring prosperity and a cure for Romania's myriad social ills. But the show's producers say it's important that people understand what they would be getting into. "Winding Road" skewers the bloc -- but at the same time it educates viewers on the union's many technicalities, such as its often strange ways of saying simple things.

In E.U. literature, cultural exchanges between countries are referred to as "horizontal aspects of culture." Labor talks are called "social dialogue." Edible fish are "living aquatic resources." The language confounds quite a few people in a country where oxen still draw carts and farmers walk their pigs on leashes.

So the "Winding Road" team decided to provide lessons in E.U. life in a country pub where the language is, to put it mildly, bawdy.

"The country pub is where Romanians traditionally talk things out, exchange news and ideas," said Gabriel Giurgiu, a former engineer who is the show's producer. "Everyone speaks in a language everyone can understand, so we thought this was the best place to explain the E.U." The show has also been a hit among city dwellers.

As 2007 draws nearer, any hint that Romania is not making progress in introducing the government standards required for E.U. membership makes people here very nervous. They shudder when E.U. officials in Brussels express doubts about press freedom and continued discrimination against the Roma minority.

Prideful Romanians have grown upset that Bulgaria, the country's neighbor to the south, has gotten better grades for its E.U. preparations. Newspaper columnists frequently fret about Bulgaria's superiority in such benchmarks as privatization of state-owned companies and the cleanliness of Black Sea beaches.

Presidential and parliamentary elections are scheduled for Saturday, and leading candidates are vying to show off their enthusiasm for the E.U. Last week, presidential front-runner Adrian Nastase, the current prime minister, accused his chief rival, Bucharest Mayor Traian Basescu, of "offending" E.U. officials by suggesting that the government was trying to hastily finish membership negotiations with the union to earn electoral points and was selling out Romania's interests.

Basescu countered that E.U. membership was a "good thing," but that Nastase was making life difficult for Romanians. Basescu said the prime minister's pledges to free up utility prices, as encouraged by the E.U., would lead to increases in the cost of electricity.

One goal of "Winding Road," now completing its first season of a dozen episodes, is to reduce expectations about the ease and glories of E.U. life. "Euro-enthusiasm is dangerously high. Surveys say that about 75 percent of Romanians want to join the E.U.," Giurgiu said. "We'd like to get that down to a healthy 50 percent. That way we can avoid the hangover from membership."

George Lungoci, who plays the village tippler, said in an interview: "It is important to say that for some, the E.U. will make things better, but it is not all roses. We want to ease future stress."

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